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Susanna Moodie.
Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart, 1989.
340pp., paper, $6.95.
ISBN 0-7710-9976-2. New Canadian Library. CIP.

Subject Headings:
Ontario-Description and travel-1764-1850.
Ontario-Social life and customs.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up

Reviewed by Joanne Peters.

Volume 17 Number 6
1989 November

Life in the Clearings is both companion-piece and sequel to Roughing It in the Bush (McClelland & Stewart), Susanna Moodie's personal exploration of life as a pioneer in Upper Canada. The latter is, by her own admission, a melancholy narrative "... prompted by the hope of deterring well-educated people, about to settle in this colony, from entering upon a life for which they were totally unfitted by their previous pursuits and habits." Nevertheless, Moodie does not deny that there are "Real benefits to be derived from a judicious choice of settlement in this great and rising country," benefits which middle- and upper-class immigrants were more likely to realize if they settled in the rapidly growing towns and cities of Upper Canada.

Having longed for an opportunity to visit Niagara Falls, Moodie's wishes are finally granted when, after a period of serious illness, she and her husband take a boat trip from their home in Belleville, along the shores of Lake Ontario to Niagara. This trip forms the structural premise for the work, which is less a travelogue than a collection of anecdote, observation, commentary, and criticism of the life of Upper Canadian urban society in 1853. A woman of thirty when she immigrated to Canada, Moodie is often enthusiastic about the new folkways observed in Canadian culture, even as she longs for the accustomed gentility of middle-class Victorian England. Indeed, Moodie frequently contradicts herself, praising in one account that which she huffily dismisses in the following chapter.

Still, as a social history, Moodie's work offers much insight into the life of the times, and as a work of literature, Life in the Clearings goes far beyond being a mid-Victorian period piece. Those unaccustomed to being addressed as "dear patient reader" might find that Moodie's style takes some getting used to, but there is a genuine voice which politely demands attention. Furthermore, Carol Shield's afterword provides a most helpful sense of the work's historical and literary context. Senior high students of Canadian literature and history often find works written during the nineteenth century to be difficult or inaccessible reading. Life in the Clearings is a most pleasant exception.

Joanne Peters, Sisler High School, Winnipeg, MB.
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