Nature and Gendered Narratives
This illustration comes from Catherine Parr (née Strickland) Traill's The Backwoods of Canada, a book that elucidated the domestic economy awaiting British émigrés to Upper Canada published in 1836. The book remains one of the most tactile literary productions of the period in its detailed and unromanticized account of female life on the frontier. Elizabeth H. Thompson comments in The Pioneer Woman: A Canadian Character Type, that female pioneer voices like Traill's insisted "that the tasks performed by Canadian pioneer women are not incompatible with gentility, and are, in fact, appropriate duties for a lady on a frontier" (Thompson, 31). The social message expressed by books such as Traill's broadcast to an English audience the dignity associated with frontier life, not just for the 'hunting-and-trapping man', but for the English housewife as well. Politically, the book advocated for emigration not only to Canada, but for the taming of the Canadian wilderness.
If pictures can be said to convey a thousand words, this illustration of 'Newley cleard Land' is no exception to the rule. The blazing sun beckons dominion over the landscape and a bright future, brightening the realm of men (and women): the swath of cleared land with occasional fencing and housing. This picture is not merely realistic, but positively Romantic.
Similar to her sister, Catherine, Susanna (née Strickland) Moodie published works of Canadian settler life with an emphasis on realism. She is more concealed than Traill in her connection between pioneer life and gentility, but Gerson argues that, "Moodie was actually a fulsome participant in a flourishing trans-Atlantic print culture... asserting her power as a narrator" (Gerson, 62). In this way, women on the frontier were incredibly important links in the chain of British Canadian imperilism.
Also like her sister, Moodie conveyed political messages on the importance of taming the wilderness in the book's illustrations. This particular illustration comes from the 1871 edition of the book, displaying Moodie's understanding of change in frontier life from her emigration (1832) to the book's publishing. This diptych is composed of a chaotic and nigh frightening image on the left of early settler life, with imposing trees and awkward hastily-built constructions. On the right, the 'bush' is cleared in favor of stately houses, agriculture, and even flashes of preserved nature. Moreover, Moodie maintains her dignitarian Victorian work ethic, as even the woman in the foreground with a stately outfit is working the land.
The disappearance of the bush goes unlamented in these distinctly gendered narratives of imperial development.