“A Melancholy Narrative”: A Homesick Author in Upper Canada
Image 5.1 – Backwoods Farm ca. 1869
Library and Archives Canada,
accession number 1980-149 NPC
An Author in Exile
Susanna believed that she could be a famous author, but isolation in Upper Canada limited her: “Ah, well! It never came to pass…. I shall sink to an unknown and unhonoured grave, and be forgotten in the land of my exile” (Moodie, 1863, 252).
Her first novel, Roughing it in the Bush, described the hardships of life in the backwoods for English readers. The introduction warned, “emigration is a matter of necessity, not of choice; and this is more especially true of the emigration of persons of respectable connections” (Moodie, 1989, 11). Susanna’s second novel, Life in the Clearings versus the Bush, recounted lessons she learned: “my motive in giving such a melancholy narrative to the British public was prompted by the hope of deterring well-educated people … from entering upon a life for which they were totally unfitted” (Moodie, 2010, 1). Susanna did not idealize her experiences; she described Upper Canada as a prison.
Image 5.2 – Wildflowers, by Susanna Moodie
© Traill Estate
Source: Traill Family Collection/C-094434,
National Archives of Canada Nlc-1432
Despite her isolation, Susanna took pride in supporting her family with her literary and artistic talents. She painted and sold flowers and birds on fungi, which “enabled me to buy shoes for the children” (Moodie, 1989, 420). Dr. Bartlett of the New York Albion published Susanna’s first Canadian poems, “The Sleigh Bells: A Canadian Song” and “Song: The Strains We Hear in Foreign Lands” (Ballstadt, 1985, 74). Her poems did not earn money, but helped her adjust to her new country.
An Emigrant’s Perspective
Susanna considered herself an English emigrant rather than Canadian immigrant. Her diary exhorted Englishmen to “carry with him to the colony the manners, habits, and principles of the mother country” (Moodie, 1832). Later in life, Susanna’s perspective changed, calling Canada the “country of my adoption” (Moodie, 2010, 5). Publishing in Canada, the United States, and Great Britain connected Susanna to the literary community.
“Emigration is a matter of necessity, not of choice; and this is more especially true of the emigration of persons of respectable connections” (Moodie, 1989, 11).
How does art provide an outlet for Susanna to explore and express the emotions she is going through as a consequence of movement?