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Roughing it in the Bush by Susanna Moodie

Roughing it in the Bush

by Susanna Moodie

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This is one of those classic Canadian books that most Canadians have heard of but I wonder how many have read. I've had this copy in my possession for over 7 years but it was the impetus of Canada's sesquicentennial and the CBC list of 100 True Stories that Make You Proud to Be Canadian that pushed me to pick this as my first read of 2017.

Susanna Moodie and her husband J. W. Dunbar Moodie (JWDM) emigrated from Britain in 1832 to Canada. JWDM had been a captain in the British army and then farmed in South Africa. He received half-pay as a retired captain but when he returned to England and married Susanna Strickland he realized that would not be enough to support a family in England. He had intended to return to South Africa after his marriage but Susanna was afraid of the wild beasts there. So they chose to go to Canada where JWDM would receive a grant of 400 acres of land as a British officer. Susanna's brother and her sister were living on land north of Peterborough and that was where JWDM received his grant. They spent seven years living in the bush in total. JWDM's experience farming in South Africa did not do him much good in Canada and Susanna was totally unused to pioneer life. Although Susanna continually bemoans their lack of funds they did have sufficient to always hire a maid for the house and they often also had a farm hand. But it is no doubt that they really did "rough it" during their sojourn in the bush. JWDM was called up to put down William Lyon Mackenzie's rebellion of 1837 and he stayed on with the miliitia for some time after. The salary he received enable him and Susanna to pay down debts accumulated but when his time with the militia came to an end they would again have a hard time. Fortunately (thanks to Susanna writing to the governor) JWDM was offered the job as a sheriff located in the thriving community of Belleville. That was the saving of the family which had then grown to include 5 children.

The style of writing is so old-fashioned. Each chapter is prefaced and concluded with a verse or a complete poem composed by the author or JWDM or, in one instance, Susanna's brother. Although, at the time of writing, the poetry was probably perfectly common it now seems quaint and overdrawn. Then there is the habit of only using the first initial for people's names and even towns. I can understand that the names might belong to people still alive when the book was first written and so, to avoid law suits, they needed to be obscured. However, I can't really understand why the town of Cobourg was shown as C_______ especially when Peterborough was shown in full and the Moodies journeyed north from C______ to Peterborough. Anyone with a map could figure out that the town on Lake Ontario that the Moodies started from could figure out it was Cobourg. Once you get your head around the old-fashioned style it does add some verisimilitude to the story and thus it is a "True Story that Makes You Proud to be Canadian". ( )
  gypsysmom | Jan 6, 2017 |
A bit of rough sloughing. Didn't read the poetry. ( )
  KarenAJeff | Dec 9, 2013 |
In 1832, Moodie along with her husband and baby sailed to Canada to farm. Instead of taking over an establish farm, Moodie's husband was encouraged by land speculators to purchase uncleared land near present day Peterbourgh, Ontario. The result was 6 years of hardship & privation. Moodie is a wonderful writer who makes this an easy and fascinating read. If you have ever wondered how the early pioneers survived the severe Canadian winters, you will find much information here. I was cold just reading her descriptions of walking 20 miles to a neighbour to deliver food or a two day sleigh ride to town. Moodie was also a published poet thus she intersperses her poetry in the text to complement the chapter's content. Her husband was a poet and writer as well and some of his work is included in this volume. ( )
1 vote lamour | Jan 12, 2011 |
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I sketch from Nature, and the picture's true;

Whate'er the subject, whether grave or gay,

Painful experience is a distant land

Made it mine own.
I sketch from Nature, and the picture's true;/
Whate'er the subject, whether grave or gay,/
Painful experience in a distant land/
Made it my own.
to Agnes Strickland, Author of "The Lives of the Queens of England" this simple tribute of affection is dedicated by her sister. Susanna Moodie
To Agnes Strickland, Author of "Lives of the Queens of England," This Simple Tribute of Affection is dedicated by her sister Susanna Moodie.
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The dreadful cholera was depopulating Quebec and Montreal, when our ship cast anchor off Grosse Isle, on the 30th of August, 1832, and we were boarded a few minutes after by the health-officers.
The dreadful cholera was depopulating Quebec...
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From the back cover of the Virago/Beacon Travelers edition:  

Susanna Moodie and her husband left Britain for Canada in 1832.  By 1839 they had established a farm and home and put behind them the fall starts and hardships of he early years. But Susanna Moodie was not to revel in the triumph of ingenuity over adversity.  She was a woman of refinement with a taste for things literary, who was obliged to conceal her "blue stockings" in deference to the "less discerning" neighbors.  She was not, in short, the heartiest of pioneers and applied herself instead to "cultivating every branch of domestic usefulness" and to writing an account of Canadian life for the use of future immigrants.
With a keen eye for the dramatic and the peculiar, she brilliantly brought to life situations and personalities as she saw them:  Tom Wilson, who kept a pet bear, sported a false nose and withstood life in Canada for a mere four moths; Brian, the alcoholic hunter, who slit his throat but survived and called his dogs Music and Chance; the hazards of fire and wild animals; neighbors with incessant borrowing habits and a penchant for gossip.  "Roughing it" may not have appealed to Susanna but she wrote about it with verve and humour.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0771099754, Mass Market Paperback)

When Roughing It in the Bush was published in 1852, it created an international sensation, not only for Susanna Moodie’s “glowing narrative of personal incident,” but also for her firm determination to puncture the illusions European land-agents were circulating about life in Canada. This frank and fascinating chronicle details her harsh – and humorous – experiences in homesteading with her family in the woods of Upper Canada.

Part documentary, part psychological parable, Roughing It in the Bush is, above all, an honest account of how one woman coped not only in a new world, but, more importantly, with herself.

The New Canadian Library edition is an unabridged reprint of the complete original text.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

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