June 14, 2016

Susanna Moodie: Roughing It in the Bush

by Patrick Crowe and Carol Shields
Illustrated by Selena Goulding
Introduction by Margaret Atwood
Adapted by Willow Dawson
Second Story Press
152 pp.
Ages 13-18
April 2016

As Margaret Atwood so expressively writes in her introduction to this graphic novel of pioneer Susanna Moodie’s story,
This graphic version does justice to the many facets of her tale. It will introduce a new generation of readers to a figure who remains both iconic and – despite the attention lavished upon her over the past forty-five years – mysterious. (pg. x)
As the youngest of six Strickland sisters, Susanna, born 1803, had a auspicious heritage as part of a family renowed for their literary achievements though the lack of a dowry compelled her to pursue her ambitions voraciously, much to her sisters’ dismay.  While campaigning against slavery, Susanna makes the acquaintance of Captain Moodie and becomes the first of her siblings to marry.  In 1832, she and her husband and their first child, along with one servant, Hannah, set out for the new world, Canada.
Marrying for love, not money, carried the ominous sentence of emigration, but I had devised a plan.  This exile would be made less terrible, knowing that all four of us would make a new home together across the sea, in Canada – the new landmark for the rich in hope and poor in purse. (pg. 10)
From their stay of quarantine at Grosse Isle, Quebec, Susanna begins to see the natural beauty of the country, though she is chagrined at the “shameless antics of newly arrived Europeans” (pg. 17), giving her first of honest impressions. And though the promise of a new home is tarnished by the hardships they must endure and to which they bear witness, like racial and religious prejudice, and Yankee squatters, Susanna is still charmed by much in the new land, from the lakes and forests she puts to paint in her art, to the new friendships she makes.  Still , when her sister Catherine  arrives with her new husband, Thomas Parr Traill, she admits that “I think that we’ve made a grievous error in coming to this country.” (pg. 41)

But Susanna is all the more exasperated when, after several more years of hard labour and hunger, she learns that her sister has written a book called The Backwoods of Canada: Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer, making “this wretched wilderness into a fool’s paradise.” (pg. 69) Still, it isn’t until the war breaks out in 1837 and her husband John must join the militia that Susanna again takes ink to paper to earn much needed funds.  And all her experiences, simple joys and horrific discoveries, life-threatening illnesses and heart-breaking tragedies, became the writing that is her iconic Roughing It in the Bush, published in 1852, after the Moodies had left the bush for a posting in Belleville.

As authors Patrick Crowe, Carol Shields, Margaret Atwood and Willow  Dawson can attest, Susanna Moodie’s writing has both been lauded and lambasted, for its raw honesty about the hardships of pioneers to settle in the new world. By sharing the details of her life, both before the book's publication and afterward, with realistic graphics by Selena Goulding that tell more of the story than the words might allow for a youthful audience, Susanna Moodie: Roughing It in the Bush is a brilliant story of fortitude and resolution that exposes the scars and charms of a life lived and a country born.
Page 64 from Susanna Moodie: Roughing It in the Bush 
by Patrick Crowe and Carol Shields, 
Adapted by Willow Dawson, 
Illustrated by Selena Goulding

1 comment:

  1. So pleased to see this in a graphic novel for young people.