*Originally published 2015/09/20
I am openly a fan of Canadian books – authors, poetry, plays, fiction and nonfiction – and try to support this quiet but powerful “genre”. My first loves have been Robert Munsch and L.M. Montgomery, of course. My next foray into Canadian fiction was short stories written by Alice Monroe. After reading her prose I find it very hard to read other short stories now as I compare them all to her standard. As I grew with my reading I began to try Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findlay, Carol Shield, Michael Ondaatje, David Adams Richards, Elizabeth Hay, Lynn Coady – just to name a few. I only started to fall more in love with the writing of Canadian authors. They have this voice that is quite distinct and different from other fiction. Canadiana is known for dark bleak beautiful lyrical novels. Recent I discovered Lauren B. Davis and a few years back, Margaret Laurence. Both are not known for cheery books, but what I take away from their writing is the “happy and joy” I get from those books. I will be elaborating more on this topic as I review more Canadian books…but on to my actual review…
SISTERS IN THE WILDERNESS: THE LIVES OF SUSANNA MOODIE AND CATHARINE PARR TRAILL Written by Charlotte Gray
2000, 400 Pages (Penguin Canada)
Genres: canadian, history, biography, writers
If you have attended a Canadian school you would have heard of Susanna Moodie, even if you don’t remember now. You may not know much about Moodie but Roughing it in the Bush is probably a title you have at least heard of. I remember both book and author mentioned in a few of my History and English courses. It is supposed to be a Canadian classic so of course it is now on my tbr list. Other than what I have gleaned from the title I don’t know when or where in Canada this book takes place. Then, recently on my library’s “new” book list I saw that Charlotte Gray (also Canadian) had written a biography of Moodie and her sister, Catharine Parr Traill, so I figured this might be the best place to start. Roughing it in the Bush is a memoir, but how much of the author we get in the book can sometimes be iffy so I wanted to know a little something before delving in.
This book, Sisters in the Wilderness:The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, was way better than I had thought it would be when I picked it up. I figured I would skim through the book, and just get the gist of the two women’s life and then could read their memoirs. After the first chapter I was totally flying through the book. Gray’s writing, in my opinion, reads like a novel. She is able to take facts and put them in a more entertaining format. My other books were put to the side as I devoured all I could from this historical biography. I didn’t realize that Susanna Moodie was actually born and raised in Britain or that her family was so literary (4 out of her 5 sisters have written books, as well as one brother). Catharine Parr, older than Susanna was her confidant and at times her only relative in Canada.
While Catharine Parr was the peacemaker of the family, Susanna was more of the prickly one. Catharine Parr was looking for stability while Susanna wanted love if she was giving up her literary life full-time. These two women would marry and move to Upper Canada – separately. Each would have their own experiences that differed so much from their British Country home. Childbirth was their first sort of major culture shock that affected them personally as women. They would go on to write memoirs of their life in “the bush” and how living in Canada differed from Britain. These sort of portrayals were important as many British folks were looking at opportunities somewhere out in one of the Colonies. Agnes Strickland, “spinster”and older sister of the pair was also a writer but wrote more about the elite and Monarchs that she hobnobbed with. Susanna had dedicated her book to Agnes, who was appalled to have her name associated with this “inappropriate” book. Agnes felt that Susanna described things that should never be talked about in front of company. Agnes would go so far as getting her brother Sam, who also lived in Canada, to write his own memoirs that contradicted the “roughness” of Susanna’s book. Susanna would only write more books in her own style.
I loved how Gray gave each sister their own personality and you got to know them versus just facts about them. The story from when they were young to their death was perfectly paced. She gave you enough information that was needed at each point of their lives. This made the book flow and not lag with too much detail or descriptions. I highly recommend this book to those that love history, biographies, women’s studies, Canadian life, or those that love a good story like I do.