Klee Wyck


152 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55365-022-5
DDC 971.1'00497






Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University. She is the author of several books, including The
Mountain Is Moving: Japanese Women’s Lives, Kurlek and Margaret
Laurence: The Long Journey Home.


This small book, a reprint based on the original 1941 edition, is one to
linger over and reread with pleasure and reflection. Emily Carr
(1871–1945) gives the reader 21 short tales of her visits with Native
people on Canada’s northwest coast. Many stories are set in wild and
remote areas. “Klee Wyck” means “The Laughing One” in the
Chinook language. The name was given to Carr by the people of Ucluelet
on her very first visit to the West Coast when she was only 15 years
old. Carr went back many times, often to remote areas, to paint the
people, their totem poles, and their villages.

Kathryn Bridge’s introduction, “The Lost Klee Wyck,” reminds
readers that this collection of stories and sketches won the Governor
General’s Award for non-fiction and rapidly became a bestseller and,
in time, a classic. Bridge’s study of the original manuscript showed
her how Carr reworked and polished her text based on principles similar
to ones she used in her paintings: “Get to the point as directly as
you can,” she wrote, “and never use a big word if a little one will

Bridge’s summary of Carr’s life and career sketches her goals as an
artist and the difficulties she tackled. Carr was born in Victoria and
spent much of her life there. She had a group of women friends whom she
called her “listening ladies,” and it was one of these women who
passed Carr’s stories on to Ira Dilworth, then regional director of
the CBC in Vancouver. Dilworth was delighted by Carr’s plain but
captivating style. His forewords to Carr’s 1941 and 1951 editions of
Klee Wyck are included in this 2003 edition.

At one point Dilworth notes that what attracted Carr to Walt
Whitman’s poems was his “deep feeling for nature and his vigorous
style,” and that her own simple but enduring prose reflects the
rhythms of the Bible, especially the Psalms. The tales in Klee Wyck
embody Carr’s love of nature and both the simplicities and the
complexities of human lives and cultures.


Carr, Emily., “Klee Wyck,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 18, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/31977.