Handwritten letters offer insight into Emily Carr’s novels and her final days


This Week in History:

Archivist, Genevieve Weber sorts through delicate pieces of Emily Carr’s handwritten correspondence from the early 1940s.

“So this letter is really insightful. It’s talking about how she’s upset about how The Book of Small has been doing. And I really like how she refers to the book as ‘she’.  She says I feel dreadful about Small that she’s flopped. Failures do hurt. It hurts my head to cry, but I’d like to, I’d like to cry for the three of us, Ira and you and me.”

The Royal BC Museum recently acquired several documents and manuscripts from the estate of William H. Clark, Carr’s publisher. The acquisition solidifies the RBCM as having the largest collection of Emily Carr’s work, which includes several of her iconic paintings.

Carr wrote a number of books throughout her life, ‘Klee Wyck’ which was one of her most popular and ‘The House of All Sorts’ was about the boarding house she ran in Victoria.

The new collection also includes a marked-up manuscript of one of Emily Carr’s later books, ‘Pause’.  The author making edits in the margins and sewing together the chapters with thread.

Weber flips through more files, “Seeing letters like this is really special.  What’s unique is that you’re getting the person’s voice. There’s a really cute moment in a letter, in a postscript to a letter where she has been in touch with her publisher and at the end, he says, ‘P.S. don’t you think you should call me Emily now?’ So obviously they’ve always addressed her as Ms. Carr.”

The museum believes they have some of the last letters Carr ever wrote.  The archivists pointing out Carr’s deteriorating notes as her health fails.

Weber picks up another smaller document from March 1945, “So this is a telegram from Ira Dilworth to the publishing company, stating that Emily Carr died this afternoon after sudden severe heart attack.”

The new acquisitions are available to the public through the BC Archives.  Currently, those who are interested must make an appointment.

“The collection is very fragile, so we are scanning it and we will be putting it online,” says Weber. “As an archivist, we’re not supposed to interpret the records;   they’re meant to speak for themselves, but of course you can’t help getting drawn into something as interesting as this body of work.”

Brad MacLeodBrad MacLeod

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