"Dear Nan": Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney, and Humphrey Toms


436 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 0-7748-0348-7
DDC 759.11





Edited by Doreen Walker
Reviewed by Terrence Paris

Terrence Paris is Public Services Librarian at Mount St. Vincent
University in Halifax.


In 1930, at the age of 59, Carr wrote her first letter to Cheney, an
artist of more modest talents, whom she first met three years earlier.
Of the 250 letters dated to 1945, the year of Carr’s death, 131 are
“Dear Nan”; 19 are written to Toms, a young admirer; the remainder
is largely correspondence between Toms and Cheney who met through Carr.
This 15-year period was a productive one for Carr despite a series of
heart attacks and strokes that left her increasingly more enfeebled and

Walker has preserved Carr’s misspellings and grammatical
irregularities—a wise decision in light of Myfanwy Pavelic’s
observation that to read a letter from her was to hear the voice of the
author with its stops and starts and original turn of phrase. The
letters vibrate with Carr’s lively, acerbic wit. She left little doubt
as to her dislikes—these included art appreciation courses, artistic
pedants, theosophy, housekeepers, and the host of individuals to whom
she applied a colorful array of abusive epithets. She took delight in
her menagerie of birds and beasts, the poetry of Walt Whitman, and
friendship. Carr was no misanthrope, and valued companionship. A
poignancy underlies her last years, as a growing estrangement distances
her from Cheney. One noteworthy omission is any reference to the Indian
people and culture for which Carr had a special sympathy.

The letters serve as an invaluable addition to Carr’s
autobiographical writings. Walker’s annotations, in particular her
short biographies, enhance our knowledge of the Canadian art scene of
the period. Her review of the archival holdings suggests that much
correspondence remains to be published.


“"Dear Nan": Letters of Emily Carr, Nan Cheney, and Humphrey Toms,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/11861.