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HUMANITIES 169 Susanna Moodie. Voyages: Short Narratives of Susanna Moodie. Edited by John Thurston Canadian Short Story Library, Series 2. University of Ottawa Press. 256 By now, the details of Susanna Moodie's life are well known and she has become an icon of early Canadian literature. Justifiably, Roughing It in the Bush continues to impress with its frank and unsentimental account of life for the Moodies as immigrants in Canada. However, the same, sadly, cannot be said for Voyages, in which Moodie draws heavily and unsuccessfully on Gothic and sentimental conventions. Theresounding message of these short stories is that good will always triumph over evil if the good are good enough and persevere in their adherence to duty and responsibility. No allowance is made for the vagaries of human nature. For Susanna Moodie, the world is a well-ordered place wherein each individual has a specific role to perform and where God watches and judges all. The titles of these stories, such as 'The Vanquished Lion,' 'The Well in the Wilderness,' and 'Trifles from the Burthen of a Life,' indicate their overwhelmingly didactic tone. Throughout, characterization and plot are less important than Moodie's expression of pious sentiments and her arch romanticizing of the difficulties, physical or moral, of her protagonists . Moodie's story 'The Vanquished Lion' is typical of the stories in this collection. Here, all of the elements common to Moodie's view of the world are present. A young family, the Fenwicks, must emigrate from England because the father has lost his fortune. From the opening lines, the mother's lament to her young son, Lewis, is over the beautiful house and gardens lost because of ill-fortune. As the mother attempts to be courageous, she says, 'it is weak and sinful in shortsighted mortals like us to murmur at his will. To submit with cheerfulness to the dispensations of Providence is to overcome the world and to disarm sorrow of its sting.' The rhetoric Moodie uses in this passage pervades not just this story but all of the stories in this collection. There is never the slightest hint of irony. At the final parting from the family home, the father is described as 'pensively leaning against the bow-window,' while the mother sits in 'a dejected attitude.' Finally, in the last scene before the family's departure, there are 'hurried and passionate adieus - arms [are) enfolded - and eyes, which had long ceased to hold acquaintance with tears, (run] over - and hearts [are) united in the close embrace which precedes an everlasting separation.' The reader is immersed in the bathos of this departure, inundated with a brimming sentimentality, and never once feels the slightest sympathy or kinship with any of the protagonists. Amazingly, the opening pages of 'The Vanquished Lion' are only a prelude to the self-serving didacticism and hollowness that follow. Naturally, Lewis emerges as a stalwart little soldier who can overcome 170 LETTERS IN CANADA 1991 any moral difficulty with ease. His test involves the question of slavery. For a time, the Fenwicks stay with Lewis's uncle, a slave-owner who lives in Cape Town. At first, Lewis is repelled and '[feels] the prejudices of colour operating very forcibly upon his mind against the natives of the country.' When his mother explains to him that slavery is wrong, Lewis changes his outlook, but it is only when a slave rescues him from a poisonous snake that Lewis says 'I did not love you once - but I love you now.' But Lewis is not done yet. He says a few words to his uncle, that this slave be freed, that 'it is impossible for any man to be happy whilst he remains a slave,' and his uncle not only frees this slave but, incredibly, renounces his personal history, his beliefs, and his ideas about slavery, and immediately frees all of the slaves on his plantation. Of course, Moodie's views about the injustice of slavery are laudable. However, the crudeness and self-righteousness of her solution to the problem in the scene between nephew and uncle are towering. There still is one more surprise for the reader in this story. It is Lewis...


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pp. 169-170
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