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Life in the Clearings

Life in the Clearings by Susanna Moodie
By: (1803-1885)

If you've read Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, the historical fiction novel that describes a gruesome double murder in Canada in 1843, you would be interested to know the sources that were used by Atwood during her research. Life in the Clearings by Susanna Moodie was one such reference book in which the author, Susanna Moodie recounts her meeting with the infamous murderess Grace Marks, a young house help who was convicted to life imprisonment for her role in the slaying of her employers.

Susanna Moodie was an Englishwoman born in Suffolk. Her two sisters were also writers. She wrote and published her first book of children's stories before she was twenty. Later, Moodie transcribed the narrative of a former Caribbean slave, Mary Price, as part of her involvement in the Anti-Slavery Society. She married a former military man who had served in the Napoleonic Wars and migrated to Canada in 1832. She continued to write about her life in the newly formed colonies there and today, these books are invaluable pieces of history that document a pioneering way of life. The customs, climate, wildlife and landscape as well as the social happenings of Upper Canada are brilliantly recorded in a series of journals, letters and biographical sketches that Moodie wrote to keep herself occupied and also to supplement the family income.

Born into a relatively wealthy upper middle class English family, Moodie herself found life in the colony dull and hard and she did not find life in the “bush” as she called it, particularly enjoyable. When she and her family moved to a small town, Belleville, in Southeastern Ontario, this was much more to her liking. She called Belleville the “clearings.”

Life in the Clearings Versus the Bush to give the book's complete title is a sequel to an earlier volume that she titled Roughing it in The Bush which dealt with her struggle to maintain life on a remote Canadian farm. Roughing it in the Bush was an immediate success and became a ready reckoner for potential emigrants from Britain who were thinking of migrating to Canada. She meant it to be a frank and unromantic view of the tough life that new emigrants born in comfortable surroundings like herself would have to face in the new country.

Life in the Clearings also served as inspiration for Margaret Atwood's 1970 collection of poems entitled The Journals of Susanna Moodie. In 2003 Moodie was honored by the government of Canada with a commemorative postage stamp.

Life in the Clearings is indeed a remarkable document of a way of life that is now long gone.

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