Authors: Emily Carr,Emily Carr
THE UNKNOWN JOURNALS OF EMILY CARR AND OTHER WRITINGS
edited by Susan Crean
Copyright © 2003 by Susan Crean
First United States edition published in 2004
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NATIONAL LIBRARY OF CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Carr, Emily, 1871–1945
Opposite contraries : the unknown journals of Emily Carr and other writings / edited by Susan Crean.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Carr, Emily, 1871–1945 — Diaries. 2. Painters — Canada — Biography.
I. Crean, Susan, 1945– II. Title.
Editing by Saeko Usukawa
Design by Ingrid Paulson
Printed and bound in Canada by Friesens
Printed on acid-free paper
Distributed in the U.S. by Publishers Group West
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data is available
The publisher gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the British Columbia Arts Council, and the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program (
) for its publishing activities.
Anyone who has gone looking for information in the public ..archives knows how seductive they are. How easily the material distracts attention from the task at hand, enticing you off on detours and down dead ends, one thing leading to another while the hours slip past in a stream. Like a trip to the Sally Ann, the search is often serendipitous: you go looking for one particular thing and come back with something else entirely, something you perhaps hadn’t known you needed or even wanted. If the search is into a person’s life, it is more like a treasure hunt. Lists aren’t much help; intuition and visual alertness are your best assets, as chance and circumstance have more to do with what is left behind than rational activity on any person’s part. Of course, the highly ordered conditions in which historical documents are kept — every page catalogued and accounted for — tend to contradict this. Nonetheless, “the record” is a capriciousness thing, and this is especially true of people who become famous late in life, as Emily Carr did. Lawren Harris, who met her in 1927 and corresponded with her over many years, but intensely through the period 1928–34 during her artistic flowering, did not keep her letters. A decade later, Ira Dilworth, who shepherded Carr’s first book,
into publication and watched the ailing painter receive a
Governor General’s Literary Award for it in 1942, diligently kept her correspondence. For her part, Carr preserved the letters from both men. Harris had been an intellectual and artistic lifeline for her, a connection for which she was starved at the time. Dilworth, who was much more than an editor to her, inspired her confidences and her love, and his letters were longingly awaited and treasured. Writing to him in 1942, Carr mentions that she was rereading Harris’s letters and had burned a few she thought too personal. Such was her attitude; she had kept Harris’s letters for private reasons, but now she was keeping them for public ones. And, indeed, she was right. His letters to her serve as a unique record of the artistic crisis he underwent as he moved away from representational art into abstraction.
Archival research, I am suggesting, depends rather more on coincidence than people like to admit. And just as happenstance seems to control what makes its way into climate-controlled safekeeping, so the job of ferreting out the details that will tell the whole story years or decades later defies logic. It has as much or more to do with stamina and empathy than with intellectual application, for there is a psychological dimension to the activity; a spiritual relationship, you could almost say. Something like the bond that exists between birds and birders, which explains how it is you can sometimes go out into the woods and see nothing and at other times be astonished by the number and brilliance of the winged ones you encounter. In the archives, there are days when the slog over miles of curvilinear lettering strung across fields of yellowing paper yields nothing more than a sore neck and bleary eyes. And then there are moments when documents reveal themselves, as the birds
do. It took time, but one day I realized I had finally got the gist of Carr’s difficult handwriting and could read whole tracts of it without faltering. I had became familiar with her misspellings (“shure” for “sure”) and contracted words, and could anticipate her meanings. I was no longer an intruder reading a script; I was present, listening to her speak. With birds, that same sort of thing happens when proximity between creature and human being becomes an unconscious thing, and the barrier in between disappears. It did the other night when a young barred owl, whose territory I inhabit on Gabriola Island, called to me from a perch in a fir tree high above the cabin porch. “Up here!” he insisted as I tried to find him in the twilight. Once spotted, he drifted down to a bare twig on the adjacent arbutus, closer, more visible, and curiously looked at me through great brown eyes. The ancients thought of owls as prescient and wise. Human beings have always warmed to their curiosity, their boldness and their throaty calls, but we are unnerved by their stealth and by the sense that they know something we do not. So it is with the business of wresting the past from piles of paper; the sense that truth lurks among them, if only we could see it.
Being familiar with archives, I was wary, reluctant to get involved. Yet, when Saeko Usukawa remarked to me one day that someone “really ought to go back and reread Emily Carr’s actual journals,” it started me thinking. Not being much of a betting person, the idea of rummaging through the forgotten corners of the Emily Carr archive on the lookout for missing bits of her story struck me as sentimental. How big could that archive be, anyway? How likely were any new revelations? As I had been researching Carr’s life and afterlife as an icon to
recent generations, I knew that the record was well worked over by biographers, art historians, artists, students, teachers, film-makers and the general public; and the list goes on.
Still, what was taken out of
Hundreds and Thousands,
the published journals, might indeed tell a story. Moreover, references in the literature to those expurgated sections, quotations from them and from some of the correspondence with Ira Dilworth, made me curious about the context in which they originally had appeared. Already, one phrase from a letter that Carr wrote to Dilworth in November 1942 had become infamous: “the brutal telling” hangs like a cloud over Carr’s story, giving rise to rumours of paternal abuse and sexual interference. So potent is it now that Vancouver choreographer Jennifer Mascall took the phrase as the title for the dance she created in 1998.
I set about planning an expedition to the British Columbia Archives in Victoria. The work would take several weeks and involve reading notebooks and letters written by hand and in pencil by Carr. I’d have to make a written transcript in pencil myself, as no pens are allowed. I’d need pencils, sharpeners, lined paper and a notebook to keep track of the project. I started off using the microfilm version of the journals, working in a dimly lit room reserved for the machines that display them, film on a grainy screen. By the end of the day, having had to stop twice in deference to the line of citizens waiting to do genealogical research and having then to find my place in the agonizing scrawl once again, my eyes were beyond tired; they felt awash with ground glass. Working on the horizontal and the vertical together, hopping from lighted screen to unlit page and back, transcribing the faded Carr text, was going to be impossible. I decided to appeal to the archivists on humanitarian grounds, and
they graciously agreed to let me work with the originals. Wearing standard-issue white cotton gloves to protect the old paper from oily fingers and following a strict set of rules (sit where security can see you at all times, leave any and all food, drink, ink, pens, pocket knives and briefcases outside), I embarked.
My initial impression of the journals as I read them in the original was one of amazement. Despite Carr’s struggles with writing and her conviction that she was deficient in both English grammar and stylistics, the prose in her journals is highly polished. Very little editing of any sort had been done to produce
Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr,
which appeared posthumously in 1966 and has been in print ever since. As I began reading, I noticed that relatively little seemed to have been taken out. However, as I progressed through the scribblers, I found more outtakes and longer ones, approximately 45,000 words in all. In addition to passages and entries that formed part of the chronologically arranged and dated journals, there were several short stories or reminiscences, undated except by association with their place in the journals. These stories were each titled and seemed to be separate and unrelated except for the subject matter, the artist’s life. They were started and restarted in several cases; most were scratched out whole as if they had been drafts.
The publisher’s foreword to
Hundreds and Thousands
notes that Carr intended her journals to be published. While this is no doubt true, it is also evident from letters that the original idea for the book was a collection of stories in the format she had used for all her other books. It may be that she regarded her journals as raw material for that venture. Whatever the case,
Hundreds and Thousands
appeared twenty-one years after her
death, and four years after Ira Dilworth died. The journals were not published as a literary memoir but as primary source material — the document as the writer left it. As such, and given that they were written over the course of fifteen years and not maintained as a regular practice, they are full of inconsistencies. There are times, for instance, when Carr clearly is addressing an audience, and other times when she is writing in breathless point form to herself. You could swear she had forgotten anyone was going to be reading them. Throughout, though, her voice remains clear and sharp, and her own.