Literary Carr

When Emily Carr was occupied as a landlord in Victoria and had minimal time and energy to devote to her painting, she began to imagine translating her childhood memories into short literary sketches. She enrolled in a writing course in 1926 and started to think seriously about becoming a writer. When she returned to painting with renewed intensity and vigour in the late 1920s, she put her writing aside, but in the early 1930s Lawren Harris encouraged her to compile her recollections of her time in First Nations villages and to begin to write her autobiography.1 In 1934 Carr enrolled in a summer course at the Provincial Normal School taught by Bellie de Bertrand Lugrin, a professional writer. Throughout the course, Carr honed her writing style, focusing on animal, First Nations and childhood stories, and one of her works, "The Hully-Up Paper," was voted best in the class.2 She sent her work to the publishers of popular magazines such as Maclean's, Saturday Evening Post and Atlantic Monthly, only to receive a flurry of rejection letters.

Carr continued to draw and paint sporadically throughout the 1930s until a heart attack in 1937 left her bedridden and unable to paint. She began to devote all of her creative energy to writing, and she completed the drafts of most of her works in the years between 1937 and 1941. Carr continued to have difficulty securing publication for her stories, until Ira Dilworth, a CBC executive and teacher who had known Carr since childhood, helped to establish her reputation as a writer. Immediately after he was introduced to her literary works in 1938, he broadcast some of her stories on CBC Radio. He then negotiated with Oxford University Press in Toronto on Carr's behalf and eventually persuaded the press to publish both Klee Wyck and The Book of Small.3

Klee Wyck, first published in 1941, was a huge popular success, partly because Canadians depressed by the war sought refuge in Carr's tales of First Nations communities. The book was a critical success as well: Carr was awarded the Governor General's Literary Award for non-fiction in 1941. The Book of Small, published a year later, solidified her reputation as a successful writer, and she finally won the acclaim that she had hoped to gain with her paintings.

When Carr died in 1945, she left her manuscripts to Dilworth and named him literary executor of her estate. He edited and arranged publication for her remaining texts, including Pause: A Sketchbook, a memoir of the time Carr spent in an English sanatorium; House of All Sorts, recollections of her colourful tenants at Hill House; and Growing Pains, her autobiography.

With the exception of Fresh Seeing, a compilation of her public addresses published in 1972, Carr's writings have remained in print since their original publication. Her stories have been translated into French and Japanese, and new editions of her work with expanded introductory texts by Carr scholars continue to be published. Her books have played an important role in establishing her legacy and continue to influence the ways in which successive new generations appreciate her art and her life.


Emily Carr's Published Work

The Book of Small. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1942.

Fresh Seeing: Two Addresses by Emily Carr. Preface by Doris Shadbolt, introduction by Ira Dilworth. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1972.

Growing Pains: The Autobiography of Emily Carr. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1946.

The Heart of a Peacock. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1953.

House of All Sorts. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1966.

Klee Wyck. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1941.

Pause: A sketchbook. Toronto, Clarke, Irwin, 1953.

1 Paula Blanchard, The Life of Emily Carr (Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987), p. 236.
2 Blanchard, Life of Emily Carr, p. 237.
3 Maria Tippett, Emily Carr: A Biography (Toronto: Stoddart, 1994), p. 256.