Breaking the Trail

Susannah Moodie: Pioneer Author

By Margaret Goldik

A review of Susannah Moodie: Pioneer Author by Anne Cimon

Published on June 11, 2007

Susannah Moodie: Pioneer Author
Anne Cimon

XYZ Publishing
$17.95
paper
156pp
978-1-894852-19-7

One of the Quest series’ strengths lies in its writers, and this new volume is no exception. Anne Cimon is a Montreal journalist and poet, whose interest in 19th century literature inspired a series of poems in her book about Henry David Thoreau, No Country for Women.

Cimon’s poet’s sensitivity stands her in good stead in re-telling the life of Susannah Moodie, author of Roughing it in the Bush. Moodie’s life has been covered extensively, from the poems of Margaret Atwood to the recent biography by Charlotte Gray, Sisters in the Wilderness. Cimon focuses on Moodie’s life as an author, which had its genesis in the genteel poverty of the Strickland family. When Moodie’s father died and left his family badly off, there were very few options open to well-bred young ladies. Writing, for the talented, was one. Several of the Strickland daughters wrote, Agnes most successfully. Agnes stayed in England and documented the lives of the aristocracy, and made enough to send monetary support to the two sisters, Catharine Parr Traill and Moodie, who emigrated to Upper Canada with their husbands, following in the footsteps of their brother Samuel.

Traill embraced her new country and wrote extensively about the flora and fauna. Moodie, disillusioned with her pioneer life, wanted to provide an antidote to the emigration agents’ depiction of Upper Canada as an earthly paradise, and so wrote Roughing it in the Bush to tell her story, which was one of privation, struggle, sharp-dealing “Yankees” and forest fires which twice took her home. Moodie also wrote for The Garland magazine, published by Montreal’s John Lovell. She made enemies with Roughing it, and constantly struggled to make money by her writing.

Cimon details the rather sad facts of Moodie’s life, from the constant poverty, to family quarrels, to the loss of two of her sons. As time went on Moodie learned to love the landscape of her adopted country, and to take solace in the companionship of her beloved sister Catharine. Her legacy, Roughing it in the Bush, remains a monument to pioneer women and the struggles they had to face. mRb

Margaret Goldik is a former editor of the Montreal Review of Books.

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