217. The Backwoods of Canada by Catharine Parr Traill

The Backwoods of Canada: Selections by Catharine Parr Traill. Introduction by Clara Thomas. General Editor Malcolm Ross (Canada) - (USA)
New Canadian Library #51

Pages: 128
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 13, 2010
First Published: 1836 (this edition 1966)(this printing with introduction 1971)
Publisher: McClelland & Stewart
Genre: letters, Canadian history
Rating: 2/5

First sentence:

I received your last kind letter, my dearest mother, only a few hours before we set sail from Greenock.

Acquired: Bought it somewhere, most likely a book sale.

Reason for Reading: Reading letters, journals and diaries is one of my most favourite types of genres whether they be non-fiction, as here, or fictional.

McClelland & Stewart's New Canadian Library series is a staple of Canadian Literature publishing. The series started in the 1960s and continues to this day re-printing the classics of Canadian authors of the past. This version I read of The Backwoods of Canada is New Canadian Library's original edition in which they have put in small print along with the editor and such the word "Selections". No other mention, even in the Introduction is made of how this "selected" version of Traill's original 1836 publication came to be, to what extent is missing, or following what criteria. This edition has half the pages that the current editions have but that is not necessarily a fair indicator as the type is excruciatingly tiny in this edition that it would easily use a significant number more pages were it enlarged to a normal reading size. So my review is of what I read in this edition alone and may well not reflect the currently offered McClelland & Stewart editions.

The introduction lets the reader know of Catharine's great love for flora and her most successful books Canadian Wild Flowers (1868) and Studies in Plant Life in Canada (1885), ruminating on this by telling us in her letters she spends two paragraphs on her illness with cholera and 16 pages describing local flora around her home, both of which are present in this edition. This bit of information is important to the reading of this book as it forewarns one of what Mrs. Traill is passionate about and what she is not. I found Catharine to be a very straightforward person, not given to exuberance or elation, nay nearly any emotion, in her letter writing. In fact the opening sentence of the book where she writes to her "dearest mother" is a very rare occurrence of emotion in her letter writing. She gave the facts as they happened, telling stories of her journey to their plot of land in the Peterborough area of Upper Canada (now Ontario), her daily life, experiences with the local Indians and such but I found it all a very matter of fact parting of mostly rather dull information. Not until after she has a child does she start to show some emotion in her tales when they include the babe. Yet not even then does she ever mention anyone by name except her brother Samuel who was established on the neighbouring plot of land, though in the manner of the times he is referred to as S______. We do not learn the baby's name until almost the end of the book, we never learn the nurse's name, nor does she once refer to her husband by name, simply speaking of him as "my husband" throughout the entire book. All throughout the telling of pioneer life, which I found only somewhat interesting through the boring narrative, Mrs. Traill goes on and on about plants and trees and flowers and grasses and so on. It got to the point that I skimmed and skipped all the detailed treatises of Canadian flora, complete with Latin nomenclature, and how it compared to that "back home". The book did not live up to what I was expecting and I am much more eager to read her sister, Susanah Moodie's book now as I have read snippets from it here and there and know she has a more entertaining voice.


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