Love Strong as Death
Lucy Peel’s Canadian Journal, 1833-1836
A transcription of Lucy Peel’s wonderfully readable journal was recently discovered in her descendent’s house in Norwich, England. Sent in regular installments to her transatlantic relatives, the journal presents an intimate narrative of Lucy’s Canadian sojourn with her husband, Edmund Peel, an officer on leave from the British navy. Her daily entries begin with their departure as a young, newlywed couple from the shores of England in 1833 and end with their decision to return to the comforts of home after three and a half years of hard work as pioneer settlers.
Lucy Peel’s evocative diary focuses on the semi-public world of family and community in Lower Canada’s Eastern Townships, and fulfils the same role as Susanna Moodie’s writings had for the Upper Canadian frontier. Though their perspective was from a small, privileged sector of society, these genteel women writers were sharp observers of their social and natural surroundings, and they provide valuable insights into the ideology and behaviour of the social class that dominated the Canadian colonies during the pre-Rebellion era.
Women’s voices are rarely heard in the official records that comprise much of the historical archives. Lucy Peel’s intensely romantic journal reveals how crucially important domesticity was to the local British officials. Lucy Peel’s diary, like those of such counterparts as Catherine Parr Traill, also suggests that genteel women were better prepared for their role in the New World than Canadian historians have generally assumed.
``Love Strong as Death is the unabridged, annotated collection of Lucy Peel's journals home. And this little volume is a real treasure. For the first time we have an extensive and often quite detailed account of everyday life of British settlers on the Lower Canadian frontier, interspersed with commentary about the social and cultural mores of the community. What is more extraordinary is that Love Strong as Death recovers a voice `rarely heard in the official records' and offers a glimpse into one woman's world of emigration and settlement. ... Historians of nineteenth-century colonial life, women's and social historians, and the general reader are fortunate that Little was able to persuade the Peel family to publish these recently discovered journals. And Jack Little is to be congratulated for bringing them to our attention. ''- Jane Errington, The Canadian Historical Review, 83:4, 2002
``The domestic details are fascinating. ... Eminently readable. ''- Montreal Review of Books, Spring/Summer 2002
``Increasingly women's voices are becoming part of the historical record of social and family relaitons. Lucy Peel's Canadian Journal, depicting life in the Eastern Townships of Quebec in the early 1830s, is a unique and valuable addition to this literature. ... [The journal] presents a rich and engaging commentary upon a privileged but hardworking and remarkably competent colonial couple and their associates. One is reminded of another Canadian colonial commentator, Susanna Moodie, but without the disillusionment which corroded the latter's earlier enthusiasm. ... Peel's style is engaging [and she] offers real insight into the bonds which shaped family and community among early nineteenth-century immigrants. Little and Wilfrid Laurier University Press are to complimented for their decision to bring this rich source of colonial life and women's history to a wider audience. ''- Marguerite Van Die, International History Review, XXI: 2, September 2002
``Peel's journal, which was recently discovered in a descendant's house in Norwich, is a welcome addition to the published letters and diaries of her Upper Canadian counterparts, not least because it helps to broaden geographically our understanding of the pioneer experience in the 1830s. ''- Lori Williamson, British Journal of Canadian Studies, Vol. 16, No. 3, 2003
``Unlike Moodie and Traill, Lucy Peel was not a professional writer, and her intended audience was only her family. Nonetheless, her account of life in the strange new world is vivid and ultimately affecting to a contemporary reader, and will provide historians with many insights into domestic and social life, particularly for upperclass women, in pre-Confederation Canada. ..fascinating reading and will no doubt aid historical research into the period. ''- Moira Farr, University Affairs, December 2001
``Little's meticulous editing makes Love Strong as Death an important addition to our knowledge of the writing of early settlers and to the history of women's writing in Canada. ... Peel's ironic retelling of anecdotes sometimes makes her writing lively, and, with Little's contextualization, stories about events like the death of her first child are memorable and historically significant, making this publication worthwhile. ''- Julie Rak, Canadian Literature, 178, Autumn 2003