Susanna Moodie | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Susanna Moodie

 Susanna Moodie, nee Strickland, author, settler (b at Bungay, Eng 6 Dec 1803; d at Toronto 8 Apr 1885). Susanna was the youngest in a literary family of whom Catharine Parr TRAILL and Samuel Strickland are best known in Canada.
Roughing It in the Bush
The original title page (courtesy Bruce Peel Special Collections/University of Alberta).

Moodie, Susanna

Susanna Moodie, nee Strickland, author, settler (b at Bungay, Eng 6 Dec 1803; d at Toronto 8 Apr 1885). Susanna was the youngest in a literary family of whom Catharine Parr Traill and Samuel Strickland are best known in Canada. Her struggles as a settler, progressive ideas, attachment to the "best" of contemporary British values, suspicion of "yankee" influence in Canada, and her increasingly highly regarded book, Roughing it in the Bush, have made her a legendary figure in Canada.

From comfortable beginnings Susanna and her sisters became precociously engaged in writing, partly for economic reasons, after their father's death in 1818. They produced work for children, for gift books and for ladies' periodicals. Susanna wrote sketches of Suffolk life for La Belle Assemblée 1827-28, prefiguring the style and method of her later, best-known book. She moved to London in 1831, where she continued an association begun earlier with the Anti-Slavery Society, meeting her future husband, John Wedderburn Dunbar Moodie, at the home of the society's secretary. For the society she wrote 2 antislavery tracts, The History of Mary Prince, a West Indian Slave (1831) and Negro Slavery Described by a Negro (1831), establishing her humanitarianism and sensitivity to the range of character and moral outlook among "respectable" people. Enthusiasm: and Other Poems (1831) also reveals a writer engaged in serious ideas.

After her marriage in 1831, she and her husband emigrated with their first child (of 6) in July 1832 largely for financial reasons - Dunbar Moodie being a half-pay officer and Mrs Moodie being without wealth. Arriving in the Cobourg area of Upper Canada, they attempted to farm in 2 different locations over the next 7 years. Unsuccessful, they removed to Belleville in 1840 after Dunbar Moodie was appointed sheriff of Victoria District. Emigration and the pioneering years, however, provided Mrs Moodie with material for the Literary Garland (Montréal) - material later incorporated in Roughing It and drawn upon for her novel Flora Lyndsay.

In Belleville, Mrs Moodie wrote and published a good deal, much of her output romantic fiction set outside Canada. During 1847-48 she and her husband edited and wrote for the Victoria Magazine, intending to supply good literature for the mechanic class - skilled and semiskilled workers. She published Roughing It in the Bush in 1852, Life in the Clearings in 1853 and Flora Lyndsay in 1854 - all 3 concerned with Canada. It is often (incorrectly) remarked that she wrote documentary realism for the British market and romantic adventure for the Canadian market. In fact, she published both in both countries and in the US, but England provided her with more opportunity to publish than Canada did.

Roughing It in the Bush is her best-known and best work. It combines her steadfast moral vision, her fascination with differences in character, a willingness to reveal personal weakness and inexperience, considerable psychological insight and a generous measure of wit and playfulness. Together with its sequel, Life in the Clearings, it has formed the basis of her reputation.

Mrs Moodie lived in or near Belleville until the death of her husband in 1869, from which time she lived chiefly in Toronto until her own death.

Read More // Susanna Moodie