- A Painter's Journey 1966–1973, and: Woman Behind the Painter: The Diaries of Rosalie, Mrs James Clarke Hook
Before me sit two diaries by women artists. One is by Rosalie Hook, a painter in her own right, written when she went to Italy with her new husband, James Hook (who would become a member of the Royal Academy) in the historically significant years 1846–48. This handsome edition with colour illustrations and photographs, carefully prepared by her descendent Juliet McMaster, also includes a less verbose diary covering her years at home in England from 1853 to 1896. The other diary, presented in a fitting minimalist style, is written by Barbara Caruso, an artist connected to the vibrant Toronto literary scene between 1966 and 1973. Both of the diaries cover, in part, trips taken to Italy (over 130 years apart) to see the artistic landmarks. Both diarists get there, thanks to funding. Rosalie Hook travels with her husband when he gets a stipend from the Royal Academy; Caruso travels with her partner – beginning in England, then through Holland, Germany, [End Page 297] and France, before reaching Italy – when they both get funding from the Canada Council. She writes on 12 April 1971, 'It still seems unreal. We will receive travel funds – I will see Europe at last – in the fall.' Even with the great span of years separating the two, similarities resonate. Here are two women wondering how to reconcile their artistic ambitions with those of their artist partners. Caruso writes of carving out physical space in a shared apartment so that she and her partner can have the room they need for their work; Hook, however, increasingly sees her role as chief organizer of domestic peace so that her husband can pursue his career. So there are differences too. Caruso's art is the predominant theme of her diary, and she received support in this work from her partner. Examples of her art survive, circulate, and provoke critical responses. Not all of Hook's sketches survive. Many were in the original version of these diaries that were lost over the years, leaving only a transcript made by her son, Allan J. Hook, when he prepared a memoir of his famous father. The central theme of her Silverbeck diary in particular, the second diary in the volume, is family. Art persists as a preoccupation in both diaries, but the women develop very different relationships to art and artists. The differences led me to imagine that these are diaries could have been written by Mrs Ramsay and Lily Briscoe, those characters from To The Lighthouse.
It is perhaps unfair to thrust Rosalie Hook into the role of Mrs Ramsay, but the editor does frame the text in such a way as to lead us to that conclusion. McMaster begins by saying, '[M]others like cold cabbage,' as a way to explain or perhaps contextualize women's eagerness to serve others before themselves. She ends the introduction by concluding that Mrs Hook embraced the role of family anchor, and that may be entirely true. The diaries show how that role was put into effect daily. This central concern, then, is not to be ignored in favour of discerning some proto-feminist kernel in the diary. It must be acknowledged and accounted for, and the lengthy introduction shows to good effect Juliet McMaster's energetic and direct writing style, ideal for explaining complicated truths. McMaster's introduction is crucial for understanding the significance of the diary and its writer.
The diary of Barbara Caruso is an unusual work, capturing in writing a certain tone that echoes her minimalist print work. Caruso is known in literary circles for her affiliation with Canadian poets like bpNichol, Nelson Ball, bill bissett, and Michael Ondaatje. Caruso and the writers were a closely aligned bunch, with many of the poets working on visual poetry at small presses like Coach House and Seripress (where Caruso was...