Friday, March 4, 2011

Susanna Strickland Moodie
--Unexpectedly a Regency Lady

Susanna Strickland was born in Bungay, Suffolk, in 1803. Her childhood and all her formative years were spent in the environment of the Regency of George, Prince of Wales. She published children's stories in the early 1820's after the Regency had ended and George IV sat on the throne of England. In the late 1820's, she began submitting poetry to the women's magazines and annuals of the day. The Edinburgh Literary Journal of 1830 called her "a very great creature, who writes, we observe, in all the Annuals". Tongue-in-cheek?

I encountered Susanna in La Belle Assemblee 1828 with a pretty poem titled "There's Joy When the Rosy Morning":
There's joy when the rosy morning floods
The purple East with light;
When the zephyr sweeps from a thousand buds
The pearly tears of night:
There's joy when the lark exulting springs
To pour his matin lay;
From the blossomed thorn when the blackbird sings,
And the merry month is May.
Something about her name nagged at me; it sounded familiar. After worrying at the problem for days, I finally had it--Susanna Strickland MOODIE. As a Canadian I knew of Susanna Strickland Moodie, and her sister Catherine Parr Strickland Traill. Their writings on pioneer life in Canada in the 1830's and 1840's are among our national treasures. I had read both Susanna's Roughing It in the Bush and Catherine's The Backwoods of Canada when I was in my teens. Susanna's book I recall for its miserable, angry tone; Catherine's was more accepting but, perhaps because of that, a little less interesting.

So was the Susanna Strickland of 1820's England one and the same with Susanna Moodie of 1830's Canada? It took only a little research and a couple of mouse clicks to confirm it.

The Strickland sisters whose writings I read were two of five sisters, four of whom were writers. Agnes Strickland became renowned for her historical biographies of England's royalty.

Catherine wrote a very popular children's book, Little Downy, in 1822 and became well-known for her children's writing before marrying and emigrating.

Both she and Susanna were friends and correspondents of famed British author Mary Russell Mitford (about whom I have not blogged, but have several times mentioned in my blogs). With Agnes' help they became well-connected in the literary world of 19th century London.

There's joy abroad when the wintry snow
Melts as it ne'er had been;
When cowslips bud, and violets blow,
And leaves are fresh and green:
There's joy in the swallow's airy flight;
In the cuckoo's blithesome cry;
When the floating clouds reflect the light
Of evening's glowing sky.
In her later years, Susanna wrote novels as well as her 'emigrants' guide' to pre-Confederation Canada. Catherine continued her non-fiction work after The Backwoods of Canada, with books on Canadian wild flowers and Canadian housekeeping!

Like any Regency lady, Susanna was an accomplished amateur artist, producing pictures later in life of Canadian flowers. I will need to do more research to discover if her art was used in Catherine's nature books.

I was surprised to discover two Canadian legends had their origins in Regency England. But then that's the joy of research...

'Til next time,


Sisters in Two Worlds: A Visual Biography of Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill by Michael Peterman and Charlotte Gray

Roughing it in the Bush by Susanna Moodie (numerous editions)

The Journals of Susanna Moodie edited by Margaret Atwood and Charles Pachter

The Backwoods of Canada: Being Letters from the Wife of an Emigrant Officer by Catherine Parr Traill (numerous editions)

Pearls and Pebbles; Or, Notes of an Old Naturalist by Catherine Parr Strickland Traill

Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest by Agnes Strickland and Elizabeth Strickland


Louisa Cornell said...

What a lovely discovery! I spent three years of my childhood in Suffolk. Forty years later my brothers and I still talk about the walks we took across the countryside and all of the wonderful plants and animals we discovered along the way.

A family of female writers! I would imagine there were no secrets in that family!

Anne Gallagher said...

What a wonderful post. I will have to look up Agnes as I need some biographical information.

Isn't it funny how two different people can be the same? What a treasury you have here.

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

Louisa and Anne, I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I was fascinated by the discovery! And I realized I forgot to reference some books, so I'm going back to add that now...