CARL BALLSTADT, Elizabeth Hopkins, and Michael Peterman's Letters of Love and Duty: The Correspondence of Susanna and John Moodie (University of Toronto Press, 360 pages, $35 cloth) will disappoint those expecting revelatory insights into the Moodie household. In fact only 19 of the 138 letters in this book are by Susanna; of these, nine are exchanges with her husband John ": rare to her daughter Katie and her sister Catharine Parr Traill after John's death, and four are business letters. Only 20 of John's 121 letters are to his wife.
John, alas, was not an interesting writer. His reports of the Mackenzie rebellion and his harried life as a civil servant in Belleville, Ontario, wilt be important primary materials for historians. But John had no gift for storytelling, and he neither learned from his own mistakes nor took advice from Susanna. His business letters and the six letters to Katie and her husband show him to be, if not entirely feckless, at least a substantial contributor to his family's misfortunes.
Letters of Love and Duty is the second in what promises to be a three-part series that includes Susanna Moodie: Letters of a Lifetime (1985) and a forthcoming edition of letters by Catharine Parr Traill. I hope that, in their third book, the editors will revert to the policies that governed the first. The lengthy introductions in Letters of Love and Duty are poorly organized and dull, and in places they merely summarize the letters and annotations. The notes too often contain whatever information was collected regardless of its relevance - a disproportionately long note on hydrotherapy, for instance, doesn't tell how the theory relates to Susanna's "shower baths" or John's "bile."
Letters of Love and Duty is a valuable small project that got out of hand.