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Sister and I from Victoria to London

By Emily Carr

Review By Laura Ishiguro

November 4, 2013

BC Studies no. 175 Autumn 2012  | p. 141-42

In 1910, the writer and artist Emily Carr travelled with her sister Alice from Victoria, British Columbia, to London, England. Crossing Canada by train, then the Atlantic Ocean by steamer, the women encountered porcupines, antique shop swindles, and seasickness on their six-week journey to Europe. Sister and I narrates their adventures and misadventures through a full-colour, high-resolution scanned reproduction of Carr’s journal of the trip. The left-hand pages contain colourful descriptions and stories, while the right-hand pages feature caricatured drawings of the women on their travels.

The book also includes a foreword by Kathryn Bridge, as well as a useful glossary of misspelled and rare words. Bridge does an excellent job of situating the journal within the context of Carr’s life. Although primarily a positive exploration of her life and work, the foreword also briefly acknowledges the “ethnocentric prejudice” (14) that characterised Carr’s journal and letters at times. Especially in relation to this complex issue, it would have been valuable to have more critical analysis of the journal and its wider historical context in the foreword. Nonetheless, Bridge offers a lively and careful introduction to the journal, and opens the door for fruitful future analysis of this and other matters.

Overall, Sister and I is a delight for academic and non-academic readers. There is charm and immediacy in the scanned journal, complete with misspellings and worn pages that underline the materiality and visuality of Carr’s writing. The combination of text and image also highlights her gift for incisive and witty observation in both the mundane and the unusual. For scholars interested in trans-border histories of British Columbia, the journal offers an example of the kind of personal links forged between the province and Canada, the Atlantic world, and Britain in the early twentieth century. Sister and I also includes material to consider for scholars concerned with a range of topics including siblinghood and travel writing. It raises intriguing questions, too, about the idea of a “funny book,” as Carr called it, and the ways in which historical humour can shape our experiences as readers and researchers.

Although it has much for scholars, then, Sister and I will appeal to a much wider audience, including adults and children. In this sense, it is perhaps best described as a short, engaging, amusing, and informative read for anyone interested in Emily Carr, early-twentieth-century Canada, or trans-Atlantic travel narratives. I read Sister and I on a flight between British Columbia and England, so it particularly resonated with me as I reflected on the changes and continuities in travellers’ experiences of place, distance, and companionship. I was only disappointed when the journal ended abruptly with the sisters’ arrival in London – what felt like only the beginning of their adventures. But of course the archive has its limitations as well as its joys, and Carr’s “funny book” offers both in colourful and thought-provoking form.

Sister and I: from Victoria to London
Emily Carr, with a foreword by Kathryn Bridge
Victoria: Royal British Columbia Museum, 2011 – 112pp, $24.95