Susanna Moodie

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Susanna Moodie

Susanna Moodie (1803-1885), a Canadian poet, novelist, and essayist, is chiefly remembered for her classic account of the lives of early settlers in what is now the province of Ontario: "Roughing It in the Bush."

Susanna Strickland was born in Bungay, Suffolk, England. She married J. W. D. Moodie, an English army officer, and in 1832 they emigrated to Upper Canada (now Ontario) and settled first on a farm near Cobourg. In 1834 they moved to a backwoods area in Douro Township and cleared a farm from the wilderness. Capt. Moodie took part in suppressing the abortive Rebellion of 1837, led by William Lyon Mackenzie, and was shortly thereafter appointed sheriff of Hastings County. From that time on, the family lived in Belleville, where Mrs. Moodie did most of her writing. She died in Toronto.

Mrs. Moodie, several of whose sisters were also writers, had begun to write in England. Between 1839 and 1851 she contributed many poems, serial novels, short stories, and prose sketches to the chief Canadian literary magazine of the period, the Literary Garland. In 1847 she helped to establish in Belleville the Victoria Magazine and was its editor and leading contributor during the year and a half that it survived.

Mrs. Moodie's masterpiece, Roughing It in the Bush, appeared in 1852, and its slightly less successful sequel, Life in the Clearings versus the Bush, a year later. Since most of the sketches in the former book had been written much earlier and published as sketches in the Literary Garland, there is a marked difference in the author's attitudes in the two books. In Roughing It she is rather snobbish in her attitude toward less highly educated immigrants and settlers; in Life in the Clearings she has adapted herself more fully to the pioneer environment and become more appreciative of the virtues of her neighbors and acquaintances.

In both books Mrs. Moodie's best qualities are her accurate observations of the people and processes of pioneer life, her dry humor, her gift for striking portraiture of eccentric characters, and her sturdy common sense. She can make even the most commonplace event memorable by the honesty and shrewd wit with which she describes it.

Mrs. Moodie's poems and romantic novels—the latter include Mark Hurdlestone (1853), Flora Lyndsay (1853), Matrimonial Speculations (1854), and Geoffrey Moncton (1856)—are much more conventional in their form and content and are typical expressions of Victorian sentimentality, didacticism, and romantic idealization. Her reputation rests firmly on the two books of autobiographical sketches, which together give us the most convincing picture we have of how life in pioneer Ontario struck a sensitive and intelligent woman.

Further Reading

There is no book on Susanna Moodie. The best essays on her are in G. H. Needler, Otonabee Pioneers (1953), and Carl F. Klinck's "Introduction" to the new Canadian Library edition of Roughing It in the Bush (1962). See also Desmond Pacey, Creative Writing in Canada: A Short History of English-Canadian Literature (1952; rev. ed. 1961), and Carl F. Klinck and others, eds., Literary History of Canada: Canadian Literature in English (1965).

Additional Sources

Moodie, Susanna, Roughing it in the bush, or, Life in Canada, Boston: Beacon Press, 1987. □