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Writing and Publications
Susanna and Catharine began writing while they were still in their teens. According to "A Slight Sketch of the Early Life of Mrs. Moodie," it was after Susanna's return home from a stay in London at the age of "about 16" that she produced Spartacus (1822), her first book, and another historical tale, "Jugurtha." Catharine, however, was the first of the Strickland sisters to have books published. Disobedience; or, Mind what Mama Says and Reformation; or The Cousins were both published in London in 1819. In autobiographical recollections Catharine mentions a first book appearing in 1818, but one has not been confirmed.
From their early starts each of the sisters maintained a steady output through their years in England. Catharine had more than a dozen books to her credit by the time she emigrated in 1832 and Susanna almost as many. Because authorship of these books was frequently indicated by citing earlier books published rather than by name, there are many incorrect attributions in the Strickland canon. Happy Because Good is an example. It and another book called Little Downey (1822) are attributed to Susanna, but both books were actually written by Catharine.
Catharine's Books for Children
Like most of Catharine's books, Happy Because Good weaves natural history with lessons in proper human conduct. In "The Tame Pheasant" information on the bird is linked to a story contrasting a bad and selfish boy with a good and generous one. Usually such contrast is also class-related in Strickland books. The advantaged child is selfish and inattentive to parents and elders, while the disadvantaged or peasant child is caring and generous. Such is the case in "The Blind Brother and the Kind Sister." A situation arises in which the haughty child needs and is given the assistance of the lowly child; the story is resolved when the former learns his lesson and the latter is rewarded.
Sketches from Nature; or, Hints to Juvenile Naturalists is an even better representation of Catharine's early writing and indicates the path her career later took. An autobiographical book, in it she renders her investigations of nature in a clear, descriptive style and backs up her observations with reference to secondary sources. Catharine's books for children can be seen as preparing her to give literary attention to a new landscape.
Susanna's Creative Focus
In addition to writing books for children, Susanna devoted much of her creative energy to poems and sketches. Her pieces appeared in the popular annual gift books and in various journals. The principal vehicle for Susanna's work was a periodical called La Belle Assemblee, edited by her friend Thomas Harral. There, she found a home for many of her poems, several of her historical tales and for a series of "Sketches from the Country." These sketches of eccentric characters, describing local lore and customs, eventually proved to be models for her representation of some of her new world experience.
Before she left Britain, Susanna was involved in three other important projects. She assisted two former West Indian slaves in telling their stories for the Anti-Slavery Society. The History of Mary Prince... and Negro Slavery Described By a Negro: Being the Narrative of Ashton Warner... were both published in 1831. In the same year, her poems were published in two separate volumes. Patriotic Songs, a collaboration with her sister Agnes, includes "Britannia's Wreath" and two other poems by Susanna. Enthusiasm and Other Poems, a volume of 214 pages, was published in London and sold by subscription.
Clearly, Susanna and Catharine came to Upper Canada well-qualified and eager to write about new experiences. Indeed, Susanna claims in her novel Flora Lyndsay (1854) that she was busy writing during the voyage. At the time, there were few outlets for the publication of literary matter in Canada. Therefore, they sent items to American publishers with Canadian circulation, and Susanna had work published in the Canadian Literary Magazine (1833). Such works were occasionally picked up and republished in Canadian newspapers. When Catharine's manuscript for The Backwoods of Canada was ready in 1835, the lack of a Canadian publisher as well as its intended emigrant market determined that it should go to Britain. A French edition of The Backwoods of Canada, Les forêts intérieures du Canada, was published in Paris in 1843. Several of her later sketches of life in Douro Township appeared in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, while two of Susanna's early Canadian poems were published in the Lady's Magazine.
New Opportunities for Susanna
In response to rebellion in Upper and Lower Canada Susanna wrote several patriotic poems. These and others written earlier in England were published in the Palladium of British America starting in December, 1837 (see John's letters to Susanna, December 25, 1838, January 24, 1839 and April 24, 1839). Another significant opportunity soon followed with the advent of Lovell's Literary Garland (Montreal) in December 1838. Susanna vividly describes her excitement at being asked to write for this magazine in "The Outbreak" chapter of Roughing It in the Bush. (See also Susanna's letters to John, February 14, 1839 and June 1, 1839). She was to be one of the Garland's major contributors, sending poems, stories and "Canadian Sketches" over the thirteen years of its existence. Susanna and her husband also published some of their own work as editors of the Victoria Magazine (Belleville, 184748). After the demise of the Garland and with the success of Roughing It in the Bush (1852), followed by Life in the Clearings (1853), Susanna sent most of her work to Richard Bentley, her British publisher. The first Canadian edition of Roughing It in the Bush appeared in 1871, and Susanna was involved in its preparation.
Catharine found a home in the Garland and the Victoria for some of her writings too, but her first Canadian publishing opportunity came in the 1850s. She found new outlets in Toronto. "Forest Gleanings," thirteen sketches about life in the bush and the clearings, appeared in the Anglo-American Magazine during 185253. The Maple Leaf published some of her stories for young readers; her most important contribution was serialized as "The Governor's Daughter: or, Rambles in the Canadian Forest" (1853). In 1856 it was published in England as a book, Lady Mary and Her Nurse: or, A Peep into the Canadian Forest. Catharine's next Toronto publication, the Female Emigrant's Guide, was issued in four installments by the publisher, Maclear, in 1854 and 1855. It was brought together in a single volume by the Old Countryman Office as The Canadian Settler's Guide (1855) and subsequently published in numerous Canadian and British editions.
For years Catharine sought a venue for her literary sketches of plant life. Her quest was partially fulfilled in a collaboration with her artistic niece, Agnes FitzGibbon, on Canadian Wild Flowers (Montreal, 1868). Eventually she was able to publish a much larger selection of her work by subscription in Studies of Plant Life in Canada (Ottawa, 1885). Her work, Pearls and Pebbles: Notes of an Old Naturalist (Toronto, 1894), also deals with her fascination with nature. In the last decade of the century a supportive relationship with Edward Caswell of the Methodist Book and Publishing House resulted in the publication of two more books and a new edition of Studies of Plant Life in Canada. It was not until 1929 that a Canadian edition of The Backwoods of Canada was published.