- Corresponding Influence: Selected Letters of Emily Carr and Ira Dilworth
She was sixty-eight years old when they met in 1939, he forty-six. Their correspondence began professionally:
Dear Miss Carr: I am returning all your scripts ... This should have been done as soon as the fourth talk on the air was completed. Before we conclude this little chapter of our relationship (I mean the broadcasting chapter) I hope you will believe me completely sincere when I tell you how very much I have appreciated meeting you ... and how deeply indebted we are to you for your ready co-operation with us. Kindest personal regards. Yours sincerely, I Dilworth. (29 February 1940).
A year later, in one of their frequent exchanges about poetry, he was quoting Browning to her: 'Grow old along with me! / The best is yet to come,' and avowed, 'You must remember that I have had very few friends in my life – lots of acquaintances but they did not get inside me as you do (11 July 1941).' He had just corrected the galley proofs of her book Klee Wyck, which Oxford University Press were publishing as a result of his influence. He was still 'Yours affectionately, I. Dilworth.' Soon he became 'Yours devotedly, Ira,' and the sender of 'oodles of love' to her childhood persona, Small.
Reading this series of letters (142 selected by editor Linda M. Morra from the more than 440 that survive), we watch the growth and flowering of a deep romantic relationship – the last great love of Emily Carr's life. These are gifted, articulate correspondents who engage in a dance of self-revelation and mutual recognition, of courtship and retreat, of giving and demand. In temperament they are opposites – he a buttoned-up English professor, neat in handwriting, careful and measured in expression, she an orchestra of directly conveyed emotions and of spontaneous vitality. Together they range the gamut from self-exploration to teasing humour, to gleeful play with words, to anger at people and the world. If their expression is sometimes sentimental, it is balanced by the mature sense each had of the necessary limits of this odd relationship and of the compensating joys of sharing, being known, accepted, needed, and desired.
When she met Dilworth, Carr was already the most accomplished Canadian avant-garde painter of her generation and under his aegis she would become a major literary figure. Where should we place this [End Page 321] collection of letters within her biographical narrative and within her literary production? So many eventful years of adventure, social vicissitude, and artistic achievement had preceded her years with Dilworth that her biographers have dealt only cursorily with this late-life association. Because they are full of reminiscence, her letters to Dilworth have been treated as a mine of information while he himself has remained a dull and stodgy background figure. Reading the letters themselves makes a very different impression.
In literary terms, writers' letters fall into a grey area. Is this a genre? What criteria do we apply? As a reader I found I was so caught up in the suspense and momentum of their relationship that I soon found it difficult to put the book down. After reading Ira's last letter to Emily it comes as a blow to the solar plexus to learn that she probably never read it, for the next morning she died.
We have here a book that is comparable in interest to Carr's extremely successful published journals, Hundreds and Thousands. After 1941, writing to Ira replaced her journal writing and traces a trajectory that is intense but poignant because of Carr's aging and illness. This raises the question of how the letters can be brought to an equally broad audience.
Linda Morra has done an excellent job of transcribing, selecting, and annotating. In her valuable preface, she traces a fascinating aspect of the letters – Carr's adoption of a number of different personae in her dialogue with Dilworth – she is by turns Emily, Klee Wyck, and Small...