Traill, Catharine Parr
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Authored by: Anica Bakalic-RadicBorn Catharine Parr Strickland, “Katie”, as she was familiarly known, had two brothers and five sisters. (Another sister died as an infant.) Four of her sisters were also writers, including Agnes Strickland, the editor of The Canadian Crusoes, and Susanna Moodie, author of Roughing It in the Bush. Catharine was the first of the sisters to be published.
Unusual for the era, their father believed in educating the Strickland sisters in subjects not traditionally taught to girls, including geography, natural science, history, mathematics, languages. This educational background is apparent in Catharine’s writing, in her attention to natural facts and scientific observation. For example, much of her writing includes detailed descriptions of flora and fauna and displays her interest in and study of botany.
Catharine enjoyed rural life in England amid family until shortly after marriage. In 1832 she married Thomas Trail, a widower, and friend of her sister Susanna’s husband, J. W. D. Moodie. The couple left England to accept one of the Canadian government’s free land grant offers, to retired officers who were willing to immigrate to the New World. They moved to Upper Canada’s backwoods, settling near her brother Samuel. Later her sister Susanna would also emigrate and live nearby. Catharine spent 11 years near Rice Lake, the setting of The Canadian Crusoes. Its landscape played an important role in the novel, she describes it with great attention to detail.
Like other middle-class English settlers of the time, Catharine and her husband often struggled with pioneer life in bush country and were not prepared for the physical labour of farm life. Despite the positive tone of her writing, she experienced many hardships, including sickness, poverty, and the deaths of two of her nine children in infancy. In 1857 when their house burned down, they lost everything and were left homeless. Her husband never recovered from this tragic event and he died in 1859.
Catharine used the personal experiences of her pioneering years in her writing but she remained optimistic and focused on adaptability and resourcefulness. Many of her books dealt with the problems of the Canadian female settler and offered practical advice for pioneer life. Her fiction portrayed heroines who had characteristics that were necessary for survival. As Clara Thomas describes,
“Her most popular book for children was called, fittingly, Canadian Crusoes (1853). There was much of Crusoe in Catharine Traill : her mind was rational, empiric, and scientific in its bent and her writing talents were best employed when she recorded her observing and experiencing of her new environment.“ (Thomas 11-12)
References:Ballstadt, Carl P. A. Catharine Parr Traill and Her Works. ECW Press, 1984.
Eaton, Sara. Lady of the Backwoods: A Biography of Catherine Parr Traill. McClelland and Stewart, 1969.
Gray, Charlotte. Sisters in the Wilderness: The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill. Viking, 1999.
Peterman, Michael A. "Catharine Parr Traill (9 January 1802-26 August 1899)." Canadian Writers Before 1890, edited by William H. New, vol. 99, Gale, 1990, pp. 330-335. Dictionary of Literary Biography,vol. 99, Dictionary of Literary Biography Main Series, go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?p=DLBC&sw=w&u=yorku_main&v=2.1&id=KXKKRN300005117&it=r&asid=c577d7a4da1d07709e64361c74c48ad2. Accessed 26 July 2017.
Thomas, Clara. Introduction. The Backwoods of Canada: Selections, by Catharine Parr Traill, McClelland & Stewart, 1966, pp. 7-12.