Flora Lyndsay (1854) is an unusual book. Presented as a novel, it’s a fictionalized version of Susanna Moodie’s own emigration from England to Canada. Moodie is best known for her Roughing it in the Bush (1852), a memoir of living in the backwoods after reaching Canada. Long ignored in comparison, Flora Lyndsay is a kind of prequel to Roughing it in the Bush.
The “novel” begins with Flora and her husband’s preparations for leaving England. After saying goodbye to friends and loved ones, and finding an adequate ship during their stop-over in Scotland, the pair embark for Canada. The story does not centre on major events so much as vignettes about the people Flora meets on their journey. Several chapters in England have Flora visit her friend Wilhelmina Carr, an eccentric, imposing, independent woman who Flora finds compelling. We also meet the wife of a wealthy plantation owner whose position on slavery Flora criticizes – Moodie herself was a staunch abolitionist. The best portions of the novel recount meetings with various friends and fellow passengers.
The fourth of Moodie’s series of memoirs chronologically, Life in the Clearings (1853), is set in my hometown of Belleville, where Susanna and John Moodie settled after their time in the backwoods. As far as I remember, I never had the chance to read anything by Susanna Moodie in school. That’s a shame, given that one of Canada’s best early writers put pen to ink to describe Belleville. If that book is at least as good as Flora Lyndsay, it should contain a portrait of 19th-century life. Anywhere else the book would be taught in grade-school.
Flora Lydnsay is available in another excellent critical addition from uOttawa Press.