The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr


496 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-00-200062-8
DDC 759.11





Reviewed by Patricia Morley

Patricia Morley is professor emerita of English and Canadian Studies at
Concordia University and an avid outdoor recreationist. She is the
author of several books, including The Mountain Is Moving: Japanese
Women’s Lives, Kurlek and Margaret Laurence: T


This very personal portrait of one of Canada’s most engaging artists
covers, of necessity, a broad canvas. It offers fresh and intriguing
insights into West Coast painter Emily Carr through the biographer’s
willingness, as Susan Crean puts it, “to introduce the present in a
journalistic voice; that is, to include my travels in search of Carr as
part of the narrative and my own discoveries about the past as part of
the background of the book.”

Each of Crean’s chapters thus begins in Carr’s time and concludes
in the present, combining discrete sections of historical fiction and
journalism with a middle section of analysis and history. Crean calls
her method a “deconstruction” of Carr’s legacy. And very effective
it is. As a woman artist in the years that linked the late 19th century
with the early 1940s, Carr was a trailblazer. Crean makes highly
effective use of what she calls “informed speculation” into areas
such as Carr’s friendship with other women artists (including Frances
Hodgkins, Sophie Frank, and Georgia O’Keeffe), as well as with Marius
Barbeau, the ethnographer who “discovered” Carr for the art world.

Most important, Crean involves herself. She draws her own experience
and her own ancestors into her exploration of her subject “[a]cross
the usual boundaries of time, discipline and genre.” Why not? Of
course the biographer’s seeing eye affects what is seen, understood,
and considered to be significant. Crean is rather hard on the colonial
history of her own ancestors in South Africa and in Canada’s Northwest
Territories, a legacy that gives her a special interest in Carr’s
relations with Canada’s Aboriginal community.

The Laughing One takes a fresh look at this important woman artist.
Crean’s portrait makes a significant contribution to our understanding
of Emily Carr.


Crean, Susan., “The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 21, 2024,