The Forest Lover

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The Forest Lover is a novel about a real person, a popular boundary, and a dissolving genre. Emily Carr, 1871-1945, was a Canadian painter and writer who rejected her middle-class Vancouver society to spend much of her time studying and painting the landscape and indigenous peoples of the west coast of British Columbia. Her nature paintings are known for the sweep and curve of their movement, the chthonic power implicit in their coherence. Within a framework of fact, author Susan Vreeland has invented an interior and exterior life for this remarkable woman, including friends, opponents, obstacles and achievements. This account begins with Carr’s arrival as a young woman on the west coast of Vancouver Island where she must overcome local resistance to her unconventionality and prove herself as a painter. The narrative contains few dramatic adventures, but focuses instead on the friendships Carr made, using Carr’s diaries and other writings for some and inventing others. Carr struggles with poverty and social isolation, befriends a local tradeswoman with a horrifyingly sad history, and has an affair with a fur-trapper. Ultimately her craft and vision become known, and she emerges as a major artist.

Vreeland’s novels are popular for the richness of their historical backgrounds and the psychological depths of her main characters. The Forest Lover presents a complex portrait of an irresistible rebel—a woman who consistently rejects appearance for reality. The acuity and integrity of her insight are reflected in her actions as well as her art. Vreeland started her construction of her protagonist with the art of the real Emily Carr, some of which is reproduced in the novel, and arrived at this satisfying portrayal.