#97 George Woodcock
January 28th, 2016
LOCATION: 6429 McCleery Street, Vancouver
Self-described as “a British Columbian by choice, a Canadian by birth,” the Winnipeg-born, England-educated anarchist George Woodcock was B.C.’s most prodigious man of letters. Here he lived as “a man of free intelligence” from 1959 to 1995 with his wife Ingeborg, raising funds for two charities they founded–Tibetan Refugee Aid Society and Canada India Village Aid–while writing and editing approximately 150 books. Here, as well, Woodcock edited Canadian Literature, the first publication entirely devoted to Canadian books. A friend and biographer of George Orwell, and a friend to the Dalai Lama, Woodcock became the first author to receive Freedom of the City from Vancouver City Council. After their deaths, the Woodcocks’ little house was demolished in order to generate their bequest of almost $2.3 million to the Writers Trust of Canada to support writers in distress.
The George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for British Columbia is fittingly named for the anarchist philosopher whose unrivalled productivity was achieved in concert with consistent ideals and humanitarian actions ever since he and Ingeborg Woodcock arrived from London, England, and built a rough cabin at Sooke in 1949.
The Woodcocks remained close friends with the Dalai Lama since they first visited him in Dharamsala, India, in 1961. As the generators of two, still-functioning, non-profit organizations, TRAS [Trans Himalayan Aid Society] and CIVA [Canada India Village Age], the Woodcocks quietly and constructively influenced millions of lives, but never had children of their own and avoided the public spotlight.
During his lifetime, Woodcock was variously described as “quite possibly the most civilized man in Canada”, “by far Canada’s most prolific writer”, “Canada’s Tolstoy”, “a regional, national and international treasure” and “a kind of John Stuart Mill of dedication to intellectual excellence and the cause of human liberty.” Woodcock’s oft-reprinted Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962) demystifies anarchism and views it as constructive philosophy; a biography of his dear but difficult friend George Orwell, The Crystal Spirit (1966), will also long remain in print.
Of the approximately 150 books written or edited by George Woodcock, the most vital for B.C. was his collaboration with Ivan Avakumovic for The Doukhobors (1968). Its sobriety and perceptivity obviated the sensationalism of Simma Holt’s cynically packaged Terror in the Name of God (1964), the cover of which featured a large, naked woman outside a burning building and excluded its interior subtitle The Story of the Sons of Freedom Doukhobors. This omission enhanced the misconception that all Doukhobors were unruly nudists and troublemakers. The agrarian, pacifist sect was so relieved to finally have their story told with some depth of understanding that Woodcock was offered a permanent place of residence in the Kootenays if he wished to live among them. He declined.
Born in Winnipeg in 1912, George Woodcock once wrote, “I began even as a boy to realize how wide the world can be for a man of free intelligence.” True to his word, he operated as a man of free intelligence, living underground during World War II in London and later fracturing relations with the University of British Columbia, where he had been the founding editor of Canadian Literature, in order to assert his independence. Woodcock commonly published several new books per year, on a wide variety of subjects, until his death in 1995. He once described himself once as a British Columbian first, and a Canadian second.
George Woodcock’s books pertaining to British Columbia are Ravens and Prophets (1952), The Doukhobors (1968), Victoria (1971), Amor De Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer (1975), Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest (1977), A Picture History of British Columbia (1980), British Columbia: A Celebration (1983), The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir (1986) and British Columbia: A History of the Province (1990).
An e-book of George Woodcock’s editorials for Canadian Literature has been published via UBC, with Alan Twigg’s introduction, “In Praise of an Omnivorous Intelligence. Compiled and edited by Glenn Deer and Matthew Gruman, George Woodcock: Collected Editorials from Canadian Literature also includes Glenn Deer’s “Alive to Unfashionable Possibilities: Reading Woodcock’s Collected Editorials,” written specifically for this edition. http://canlit.ca/woodcock/ebook
A Man of Free Intelligence: An Introduction to the World of George Woodcock by Alan Twigg
The following summary serves as a concise introduction to George Woodcock’s wide-ranging career as a public intellectual. Further down the page you can find an interview/conversation that occurred between Alan Twigg and George Woodcock, founding editor of Canadian Literature, in 1994, based on talks for the making of the documentary film George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street. FOR A COMPLETE BIBLIOGRAPHY LISTING MORE THAN 150 TITLES, SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM OF THIS ENTRY.
“I began even as a boy to realize how wide the world can be for a man of free intelligence.” – G.W.
George Woodcock’s father Arthur Woodcock was a music-oriented second son and would-be writer who rebelled against his conservative, Shropshire coal merchant father to pursue the arts. Rejecting an offer of partnership in the family coal business, he left for Canada in 1907, via Liverpool and New York, and took a train from Montreal to Manitoba. In Winnipeg he met the vaudevillian Charlie Chaplin and took various jobs, eventually becoming a bookkeeper/accountant for the Canadian Northern railway. Obliged to send for his betrothed, Margaret Gertrude Lewis, a dour milliner’s apprentice, he married her in May of 1911 but the union was never happy. When their only child was born on May 8, 1912, in Winnipeg’s Grace Hospital, she disallowed her husband’s inclination to call the boy George Meredith Woodcock, in honour of one of his favourite novelists, and so for the rest of his life George Woodcock would enjoy carrying an invisible middle name, one that connected him to the spirit of his adventurous father, and distanced him from his undemonstrative mother. “I suppose I am a man who psychic arrangement is Jungian rather than Freudian,” he once wrote. “I loved my father and always disliked my mother.”
One Manitoba winter on Portage Avenue was one too many for Margaret Woodcock who took their only child back to England in the spring of 1913, but it would be sufficient for George Woodcock to one day leave England—as his father had done—to claim his Canadian birthright. After Arthur Woodcock acquiesced to his father’s offer of a junior partnership and dutifully reunited with his family in England, he led a mostly dreary and sickly existence. Prior to his death of Bright’s disease at age 44 in 1926, he instilled in his sympathetic son a shared dream of going further west in Canada. “An extrovert who turned inward with misfortune is how I see him,” George Woodcock wrote. The son not only revered the father; George Woodcock was inspired to succeed in Canada to recompense his father’s failures and dashed ambitions.
Small wonder George Woodcock could write so knowingly about Thomas Hardy’s Wessex for his introduction to a Penguin edition of Return of the Native. Woodcock fully comprehended the hereditary weight of sorrow, of disappointment, of class consciousness, of stilted emotions, jilted love and stunted ambitions. The plight of Arthur Woodcock was Hardyesque, both noble and pathetic.
George Woodcock was raised in various Shropshire and Thames Valley towns within a literate, impoverished family. At school he was particularly averse to sports. The Depression prevented him from continuing his formal schooling as he would have liked. George Woodcock ended his formal schooling in 1928. His coal merchant grandfather offered to pay his tuition for Cambridge on the one condition that he would become an Anglican clergyman. Like his father before him, Woodcock rejected his grandfather’s coercive assistance. Instead he became mired for eleven unhappy years in a futureless job for Great Western Railway as a clerk at Paddington Station, a prisoner of timetables, like his father before him.
If there was a turning point in George Woodcock’s life, other than returning to Canada, it was reading William Morris’ socialist writings on the train to and from work. With access to books and anarchist circles afforded to him by a German exile named Charles Lahr, proprietor of Blue Moon Bookshop, Woodcock became a devotee of the British philosopher, Herbert Read, and joined a circle of friendships with young `progressives’ such as George Orwell (Eric Blair), V.S. Pritchett, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Malcolm Muggeridge. He also fraternized and drank with Dylan Thomas and established some lifelong friendships with the likes of Alex Comfort and Julian Symons. All the while he participated in the political ferment of the 1930s by contributing to various literary and anarchist periodicals.
When his mother died in 1940, he inherited 1,398 pounds. That same year he published his first collection of verse, The White Island, and filed for exemption from military service as a conscientious objector and agreed to perform alternative civilian service with the War Agricultural Committee. Deeply influenced by the fate of idealists during the Spanish Civil War, Woodcock was initially assigned to farm labouring in Essex, but his acquiescence to alternate service was soon dissipated. Instead Woodcock used a trust fund established for him by his grandfather to try his hand at making his living as a fulltime writer in London, mainly by establishing and editing NOW (1940-1947), an eclectic mix of anarchist, pacifist and anti-Soviet socialist commentaries. He was also co-editor of War Commentary.
As he endured a precarious and frugal ‘underground’ existence, Woodcock became increasingly infatuated by a beautiful Italian anarchist in London, Marie Louise Berneri, who was married. She was the daughter of a recently martyred Italian anarchist named Camillo Berneri. Marie Louise, her husband and two others were charged with causing disaffection among the troops by denouncing the war effort in print. The offending handbill for which they were arrested was allegedly typed on George Woodcock’s typewriter. His lifelong sympathies for outlaws such the Métis military leader Gabriel Dumont, Gandhi, the Dalai Lama and Gitksan fugitive Simon Gun-an-Noot partially arose from these war-time experiences as a dissident.
After the war George Woodcock married Ingeborg Linzer Roskelly, a like-minded German-born member of the Berneri circle, and obtained a Canadian passport. In 1949, he and ‘Inge’ left behind his uncomfortable niche in the London literary scene in order to emulate Doukhobor pacifists who had sought freedom in Canada. The Doukhobors had been encouraged and subsidized by Tolstoy near the turn of the century. “I realized that the Doukhobours were something more than nudist shovellers of snow when I began to read Tolstoy and Kropotkin,” he later wrote, “who regarded them as admirable peasant radicals and Nature’s anarchists.” More specifically, the Woodcocks were directly influenced to start anew on the West Coast of Canada by a young Canadian anarchist in London, Doug Worthington, and as a boy George Woodcock had been impressed by depictions of Western Canada that he’d found a Frederick Niven novel called The Lost Cabin Mine. Coming to Canada also entailed a revival of his father’s doomed idealism.
As the Woodcocks arrived in Halifax, he had a premonition that something terrible was happening to Marie Louise Berneri. As they rode the CPR train to Victoria, she died at age 31 of a heart attack. Although he was trained only as an intellectual, George Woodcock gamely tried his hand at homesteading near Sooke on Vancouver Island, clearing some land for a market garden and building a small home with Inge. The nearest Doukhobour settlement was at Hilliers, near Parksville. Not suited for subsistence farming, George Woodcock tried to eke out a living by shovelling manure and contributing to CBC and some periodicals. With the crucial assistance of Earle Birney, Woodcock came to Vancouver to lecture at UBC, where he would later teach both English and French literature. He had never attended university in England and liked to refer to himself in late years as an `autodidact’, someone who is self-taught, giving rise to his affinity and correspondence with poet Al Purdy. One night in 1951 Woodcock was at a party when someone passed along the news that George Orwell (Eric Blair) had died. It was a shock. It was as if a bridge had been removed behind them.
In 1952, Woodcock published the first of his many books pertaining to British Columbia, a travelogue called Ravens and Prophets: An Account of Journeys in British Columbia, Alberta and Southern Alaska. He would publish The Doukhobors (with Ivan Avakumovic, 1968), Victoria (with Ingeborg Woodcock, 1971), Amor De Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer (1975), Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest (1977), A Picture History of British Columbia (1980), British Columbia: A Celebration (1983), The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir (1986) and British Columbia: A History of the Province (1990).
In 1955 Woodcock was barred from continuing a teaching job at the University of Washington in Seattle when he was denied an immigration visa due to his connections to a 1944 anarchist pamphlet, Anarchy of Chaos. As an alien who had advocated “opposition to all organized government,” Woodcock was banned from United States entry by the McCarran Act in the wake of McCarthyism. His vigorous lobbying efforts to overturn the decision were to no avail. He was rescued from his predicament with a teaching post from the Extension Department of UBC in January, 1956. That year he increased his affiliations with CBC and befriended the essayist, conservationist and lay magistrate Roderick Haig-Brown of Campbell River. He later wrote, “For Rod strikes me as one of the wisest men I have known, and sometimes, when I have committed some gross verbal irresponsibility, I see his ghost rising to admonish me with a quiet, smiling remark between puffs on the pipe that was rarely away from his mouth.”
In 1959, Woodcock accepted the part-time position of founding editor of Canadian Literature, the first periodical to be entirely devoted to Canadian writing. He did not instigate the publication that he edited until 1977, as is sometimes assumed. Canadian Literature was created largely under the auspices of Roy Daniells, head of the UBC English department. Woodcock’s role would lead to a deep schism with the university many years later when he went to sell his personal papers. UBC took the position that all papers pertaining to Woodcock’s tenure at Canadian Literature were not saleable because they had been derived from his UBC employment. Woodcock had resigned his Associate Professor status in 1963 to concentrate on writing, but the university had retained his services as an independent editor for the publication. Greatly disappointed, Woodcock sold most of his literary papers to Queen’s University in Ontario. Only after his death were some of his books and personal effects, including his typewriter, donated to UBC Special Collections. George Woodcock edited 73 issues of Canadian Literature. W.H. New edited 72 issues after him.
At age 60, Woodcock described himself in the preface to his collection of essays, The Rejection of Politics, “I began as an internationalist anarchist. I have ended, without shedding any of my libertarian principles, as a Canadian patriot, deeply concerned with securing and preserving the independence of my country (which cannot of course be divided from the individual freedom of its inhabitants), and within that country the integrity—physical and aesthetic—of my mountain-shadowed and sea-bitten patria chica on the Pacific Coast.”
Although something of a workhouse-hermit in his later years, Woodcock developed an extensive range of contacts among writers and other artists, particularly visual artists in Vancouver such as Jack Shadbolt, Toni Onley, Gordon Smith, Joe Plaskett, Jack Wise, Pat O’Hara and Roz Marshall. In particular, the Woodcocks were close friends with Jack and Doris Shadbolt. Neither couple had children so they often spent Christmases together. The Shadbolts had provided the Woodcocks with a roof over their heads in Burnaby in the early 1950s.
The Woodcocks also enjoyed an abiding friendship with the Dalai Lama after they had taken it upon themselves to visit the Tibetan leader in Dharamsala shortly after he had fled Tibet in 1959. This liaison arose from a chance and fortuitous meeting with the Dalai Lama’s niece in India. Upon seeing the wretched conditions faced by the fleeing Tibetans in northern India, the Woodcocks created the Tibetan Refugees Aid Society [TRAS], a mainly volunteer-administered, Vancouver-based agency that has continued to provide support for Tibetans outside of Tibet for more than a half-century. Consequently, when Ingeborg Woodcock was ill in the 1990s, the Dalai Lama assigned his personal physician to administer to her needs. The Woodcocks and the Dalai Lama met privately when he visited Vancouver in 1993, and the Dalai Lama was making arrangements to see Ingeborg Woodcock a second time in 2004, prior to her death in December of 2003.
Ingeborg Woodcock, who maintained a Buddhist perspective, was an enormous directional influence on her husband, mainly as a severe-minded compass. Whereas George Woodcock, like every writer, could be fuelled by vanity and ego, she cautioned him to respond to higher purposes. To this end, George Woodcock chose not to vote, believing the world should be managed by non-profit organizations. Together they supervised a writing contest for charity that resulted in the anthology, The Dry Wells of India (1989). Woodcock credited her as being a terrific organizer. Together the Woodcocks pioneered at least two significant and ongoing philanthropic organizations, Canada India Village Aid (CIVA) and the Woodcock Trust, a fund they created in 1989, in conjunction with the Writers Development Trust, in order to supply emergency support to Canadian writers in need. From 1989 to 2003 the ongoing fund paid out $346,000 to 94 authors. The Woodcocks were involved in countless ‘garage sale’ events through the decades to sell excess belongings, particularly books. In 1981, the Woodcocks and a few like-minded individuals and friends also started CIVA to chiefly help build wells in India. All funds raised, including more than $200,000 in royalties from a travel collection edited by Keath Fraser called Bad Trips, are matched by the Canadian government. With as little hierarchical structure as possible, and no paid staff, CIVA continues to effectively and earnestly provide grassroots aid, largely coordinated by Woodcock co-executor Sarah McAlpine, who formerly took classes from Woodcock at UBC. “The Woodcocks are very compassionate towards little people without a voice,” McAlpine told Douglas Todd of the Vancouver Sun.
The major beneficiary of the Woodcocks’ charity is the Toronto-based Writers Development Trust, now simply called The Writers Trust. It administers a little-publicized fund to provide emergency grants to writers in financial distress. By 1998 the Fund had reportedly allocated more than $135,000 to 43 writers in ‘straightened circumstances’, a condition Woodcock understood only too well, both in England and during his brief homesteading stint in Sooke. The Fund reportedly stood to benefit upon the sale of the Woodcock’s property in the fashionable district of Kerrisdale after Ingeborg Woodcock moved into a senior’s care facility. For more than 40 years the Woodcocks had lived in an old Craftsman-style cottage at 6429 McCleery Street, formerly called Cherry Street. Woodcock was particularly fond of an ancient cherry tree in their backyard, likening it to Malcolm Lowry’s relationship with his beloved pier in Deep Cove. The Woodcocks once made arrangements to meet the Lowrys, their cross-town literary counterparts, in a downtown lounge but the authors mostly ignored each other, leaving their wives to manage forced conversation. After Lowry died, Woodcock was not averse to editing a reprint of Malcolm Lowry: The Man and his Work (1971).
To honour George Woodcock in conjunction with his 82nd birthday and the 10th annual B.C. Book Prizes, hosted by Pierre Berton, B.C. BookWorld instigated and coordinated a series of events in 1994. The city conferred ‘Freedom of the City’ to George Woodcock on April, 12, 1994. “Thank goodness for Vancouver,” wrote Mark Abley in the Montreal Gazette, “which has recognized — and none too soon — that it’s home to a regional, national and international treasure.” Greetings were sent by the likes of Julian Symons, Ursula Le Guin, Jan Morris, Timothy Findley, Mel Hurtig, Svend Robinson, the spokesperson for the Doukhobors in Canada and a representative of the Dalai Lama. The B.C. Minister of Culture, Bill Barlee, addressed the B.C. Legislature on May 6th and invited all MLAs to join in recognizing George Woodcock’s achievements. A two-day symposium was held at Simon Fraser University, May 6-7, to examine George Woodcock’s career. The Bau-Xi Art Gallery hosted an exhibit of original art honouring George Woodcock.
More than 1300 people attended a celebratory gathering at the Vancouver Law Courts, on May 7th that included an unprecedented display of 152 different titles bearing George Woodcock’s name, making it one of the largest exhibitions of books by one living author. The Mayor of Vancouver attended and proclaimed George Woodcock Day. In a speech read on his behalf by Margaret Atwood, Woodcock recognized how the climate for literature had changed since his coastal arrival. “When I reached Vancouver at the beginning of the 1950s, one could count on one’s fingers the serious writers here: Earle Birney, Dorothy Livesay, Ethel Wilson, Roderick Haig-Brown, Hubert Evans and a few younger people. There was virtually no publishing going on locally, and the one literary magazine was Alan Crawley’s historic Contemporary Verse. Now, as tonight’s gathering gives witness, there are hundreds and hundreds of writers working west of the Great Divide, there are scores of local publishing houses, large and small, and there are dozens of literary magazines, some of them of national and international importance…I think the conjunction of the literary arts and the concept and practice of freedom is an essential one; in fact, I believe it is the key to my own work, which has always moved between the poles of imagination and liberty.”
CBC Radio’s Peter Gzowski devoted one half-hour of Morningside to the Woodcock celebration on May 11, 1994. Lilia D’Acres and the West Coast Book Prize Society established a fund for donations to help establish a George Woodcock Centre for Arts and Intellectual Freedom in Vancouver. More than $20,000 was raised for the fund by BC BookWorld. When a heritage building couldn’t be obtained for a Woodcock Centre, all monies raised were donated to the University of British Columbia to establish a permanent George Woodcock exhibit and the George Woodcock Canadian Literature and Intellectual Freedom Endowment Fund. In 1992 Macleans magazine recognized George Woodcock as one the country’s ten most significant citizens.
Woodcock remained indefatigable, attempting to realize his long-held ambition to complete a new translation of Swann’s Way, the first volume of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, and also working on a novel. After George Woodcock died at home on January 28, 1995, Ingeborg Woodcock undertook retyping the manuscript of the Proust translation, possibly completing some of it on her own, but it was never published. Woodcock wrote and edited more than 140 books. The exact number has been difficult to determine. Biographer Don Stewart listed “145 freestanding books and pamphlets.” Antiquarian bookseller Don Stewart of Vancouver has compiled the most comprehensive list of Woodcock’s overall work after purchasing Woodcock’s valuable collection of anarchist publications from the estate.
Since the publication of his first collection of poetry, The White Island (1940), George Woodcock remained an unheralded but earnest poet. In the mid-1970s he wrote, “Clearly my eagerness to publish poetry again sprang from a desire to show that the poet who was my first literary persona had not died but was merely sleeping.” His works included The Centre Cannot Hold (London: Routledge, 1943), Selected Poems (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1967), Notes on Visitations: Poems, 1936-1975 (Toronto, Anansi, 1975), Anima, or, Swann Grown Old: a Cycle of Poems (Coatsworth, Ont.: Black Moss P, 1977), The Kestrel, and Other Poems of Past and Present (Sunderland: Ceolfrith P, 1978), The Mountain Rad: Poems (Fredericton, N.B.: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1980), Collected Poems (Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis P, 1983), Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana & Other Poems (Kingston, Ont.: Quarry P, 1991) and The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street: and Other Poems (Kingston, Ont.: Quarry P, 1994).
George Woodcock took it as a matter of professional pride that he could write a book on almost any subject that required his services. His omnivorous intelligence led to an invitation from Mel Hurtig in 1974 to edit Hurtig’s then-proposed Canadian Encyclopedia, an invitation that Woodcock relunctantly declined. His first important book was a biography of William Goldwin (1946), followed by the first book-length study of England’s first professional female novelist, The Incomparable Aphra: A Life of Mrs. Aphra Behn (1948). History, travel, biography, literary criticism, politics and poetry were his main subject areas. He was ideologically and temperamentally in favour of writing for small and obscure publications. He once wrote, “The really independent writer, by the very exercise of his function, represents a revolutionary force.” It has proved impossible to trace and compile all the freelance articles he published. He was known to use the pseudonym Anthony Appenzell. For several years he contributed an As I Please column to the Georgia Straight and later served as the poetry columnist for BC BookWorld. George Woodcock once cited his Welsh ancestry and his Taurian astrological status as reasons for being able to operate outside the mainstream for so long, aside from his anarchist principles.
His oft-reprinted Anarchism (1962) remains a standard history of libertarian movements, readable and important for the way Woodcock demystifies anarchism and views it as constructive. Co-authored with fellow UBC professor Ivan Avakumovic, his fair-minded The Doukhobors (1968) is the definitive study of the Doukhobors in Canada. The agrarian sect was so relieved to finally have their story told with some depth of understanding that Woodcock was offered a permanent place of residence in the Kootenays if he wished to live among them. His studies of the 18th century `revolutionist’ William Godwin, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley, Mahatma Gandhi, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Aphra Behn, Peter Kropotkin and the Trappist Thomas Merton (who Woodcock never met) are less well-known than his biography of his dear but difficult friend, George Orwell, The Crystal Spirit, that earned him a Governor-General’s Award in 1967. Woodcock liked to say he rejected honours bestowed by governments but he was willing to accept juried awards and grants determined by his peers. In fact, he accepted three Canada Council travel grants (1961, 1963, 1965), a Canada Council Killam Fellowship (1970-71, a Canadian Government Overseas Fellowship (1957-58) and Canada Council Senior Arts Award. He also won a Molson Prize in 1973 and a Canadian Authors Association Award in 1989. He twice won the UBC Medal for Popular Biography (1971, 1975). He enthusiastically accepted Free Man status from the City of Vancouver, linking the roots of the word civitas to the development of freedom.
Preferring not to be known too well, the sometimes prickly George Woodcock published three works of autobiography. The first was Letter to the Past: An Autobiography (1982), mainly about his life in England. It was followed by Beyond the Mountains: An Autobiography (1987) and Walking Through the Valley (1994). George Fetherling, writing under the name Douglas Fetherling, produced the only book-length biography of Woodcock to date, The Gentle Anarchist (Douglas & McIntyre 1998; Subway Books 2003). A CBC-aired half-hour television documentary, George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street, was made in 1994 by director/producer Tom Shandel, one of Canada’s foremost documentary filmmakers, and interviewer/producer Alan Twigg.
Possibly the most generous and inspiring description of George Woodcock was offered by his oldest friend, Julian Symons, in 1994. “I know of nobody who has been of more generous help to others, or has pursued good ends in life more unswervingly.”
The proceeds from the sale of the Woodcocks’ home on McCleery Street in Vancouver went toward establishing a $2 million endowment that provides aid to working writers struggling to complete projects during times of unforeseen financial hardship. The Woodcock Fund was established in 1989. The Writers’ Trust of Canada, formerly known as the Writers Development Trust, received $1 million from the Woodcock estate in 2005, followed by $876,000 in 2006, and a final installment of $683 in 2009. These bequests, overseen by estate executor Sarah McAlpine, constitute one of the largest private donations to the literary arts in Canada, if not the largest. Between its activation in 2005 and 2009, the Woodcock Fund dispersed approximately $100,000 per year, providing a total of $642,000 to 147 writers who applied. To be eligible, the writer must be working on a book that, without the grant, would be imperiled or abandoned, and the writer must have already published a minimum of two works, as well as face a financial crisis that exceeds the ongoing, chronic problem of making a living. The fund chiefly serves writers of fiction, poetry, plays and creative non-fiction.
In 2007, British Columbia’s lifetime achievement award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia was renamed the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award. Each year a new recipient of the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award receives a cash prize and a marble plaque honouring the winner is added to the Writers’ Walk — or Woodcock Walk — outside the main entrance of the Vancouver Public Library on Georgia Street. Visit www.georgewoodcock.com for details.
SELECTED PUBLICATIONS: Compiled by UBC Special Collections
Amor de Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer
Toronto: Oxford University Press (Canadian Branch), 1975.
Canadian Lives series.
Gabriel Dumont: The Métis Chief and his Lost World
Hurtig, 1975. Reissued by Broadview Press, 2004. Edited by J.R. Miller.
The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin
By George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic.
New York: Schocken Books, 1971.
First published in 1950.
Aphra Behn: The English Sappho
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989.
Previously published under the title The Incomparable Aphra. London: T.V. Boardman, 1948.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987.
William Godwin: A Biographical Study
Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989.
The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell
Boston: Little, Brown, 1966.
Dawn and the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley
New York: Viking Press, 1972.
The Meeting of Time and Space: Regionalism in Canadian Literature
Edmonton: NeWest Institute for Western Canadian Studies, 1981.
Northern Spring: The Flowering of Canadian Literature in English
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987.
The World of Canadian Writing: Critiques and Recollections
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1980.
Canada and the Canadians
With photos by Ingeborg Woodcock.
Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1973.
2nd edition, revised and updated.
Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northest
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977.
The Hudson’s Bay Company
New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1970.
100 Great Canadians
Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1980.
A Social History of Canada
Markham, Ont.: Penguin Books, 1989.
British Columbia: A History of the Province
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1990.
By George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic.
London: Faber & Faber, 1968.
Into Tibet: The Early British Explorers.
New York: Barnes & Noble, 1971.
Who Killed the British Empire?: An Inquest
London: Cape, 1974.
The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir
George Woodcock and Tim Fitzharris.
Don Mills, Ont.: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Marvellous Century: Archaic Man and the Awakening of Reason (Black Rose, 2008).
Ravens and Prophets
Victoria, B.C.: Sono Nis Press, 1993.
First published in London: A. Wingate, 1952.
Faces of India: A Travel Narrative
London: Faber and Faber, 1964.
Victoria (photo essay)
Victoria: Morriss Printing, 1971.
With Ingeborg Woodcock
South Sea Journey
Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1976.
Caves in the Desert: Travels in China
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1988.
Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements
Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1962.
Anarchism and Anarchists: Essays
Kingston, Ont. : Quarry Press, 1992.
Anarchy or Chaos
Willimantic, CT : Lysander Spooner, 1992.
First published London: Freedom Press, 1944.
Powers of Observation
Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1989.
Rejection of Politics and Other Essays on Canada, Canadians, Anarchism and the World
Toronto: New Press, 1972.
Vancouver: University of British Columbia.
Edited by George Woodcock from 1959-1977.
London: Freedom Press, 1943.
1st series: 1940-1941.
2nd series: 1943-1947.
George Woodcock: Collected Editorials from Canadian Literature (2012), introduction by Alan Twigg, edited by Glenn Deer and Matthew Gruman. http://canlit.ca/woodcock/ebook
Poetry & Plays
Anima, or, Swann Grown Old: A Cycle of Poems
Coatsworth, Ont.: Black Moss Press, 1977.
The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street: And Other Poems
Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1994.
Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana & Other Poems
Kingston, Ont.: Quarry Press, 1991.
Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1977.
The Island of Demons.
Six Dry Cakes for the Hunted.
The Purdy-Woodcock Letters: Selected Correspondence, 1964-1954
Edited by George Galt.
Al Purdy and George Woodcock.
Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.
Taking It To The Letter
Dunvegan, Ont.: Quadrant Editions, 1981.
About George Woodcock
The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock
Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1998.
By Peter Hughes.
Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1974.
New Canadian library: Canadian writers series no. 13.
A Political Art: Essays and Images in Honour of George Woodcock
Edited by William H. New.
Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1978.
Review of the author’s work by BC Studies:
Beyond the Blue Mountains: An Autobiography
British Columbia: A History of the Province
British Columbia: A Celebration
Canada and the Canadians
A Picture History of British Columbia
Ashes scattered of remarkable Canadian couple George and Inge Woodcock
Press Release Aug. 13, 2004
Woodcock Charitable Tradition Continues
The mingled ashes of two remarkable Canadian figures in philanthropy and the arts and letters, George and Inge Woodcock, were scattered today in a private ceremony held on Anarchist Mountain near Osoyoos, B.C. George Woodcock died in 1995, and Ingeborg Woodcock in December 2003.
A small group of their closest friends honoured the memory of this remarkable couple—one English, one Austrian— who moved to Canada to live out their shared philosophy of moral anarchism, based on voluntary cooperation of free individuals toward a common good.
Author of more than 100 books and monographs, George Woodcock was a central literary figure on the Canadian literary scene. Inge Woodcock was an intensely private individual who forbade her husband to mention her in his autobiographical writings, and worked behind the scenes as a notably effective fundraiser for such causes as the Tibetan Refugee Aid Society (TRAS, www.tras.ca) and Canada India Village Aid (CIVA, www.civaid.org). Both societies were founded by the Woodcocks, and are still active in Vancouver.
The Woodcocks left the bulk of their estate to the Writers’ Trust of Canada, in a special fund for established Canadian writers in need, and their private art collection to Canada India Village Aid.
CIVA will hold a gala fundraiser, “Acts of Village Kindness,” on Sunday September 12th in the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, on the campus of the University of British Columbia where George Woodcock taught for many years. Canadian writers, editors, photographers, musicians, and clowns will honour the Woodcock tradition—raising money to assist the poor of rural India through the generosity of the Canadian arts community. Details may be found at www.civaid.org/gala.htm.
A MAN OF FREE INTELLIGENCE: Interview
Q: You and your wife Ingeborg co-founded the Tibetan Refugee Society in the early Sixties after meeting the Dali Lama in Dharamsala. Then you had a private audience with the Dali Lama when he came to Vancouver. Can you tell me about your relationship with him?
WOODCOCK: I find it very hard to analyze. We’re very warm and close to each other. He regards [us] in a very friendly way because we were one of the first people that sought him out and saw what his problems were and started to work on them. He fled in 1959 and we went in ‘61. We had a long talk in Dharamsala and we promised to come back and do something. And we did it. I heard a lot of people promised to do things and never did, but we did. And I think he’s treasured that.
Q: So what you did was to establish a relief agency, which sent money directly to the people who needed it?
WOODCOCK: Yes. A non-governmental agency. We are only patrons in that now. We’ve withdrawn and we are involved in another society we founded that deals with people in India, mainly tribes people, people whose ways of lives are being destroyed by modern development, by deforestation, by this kind of thing. And so it’s a different group of people [Canada India Village Aid Society]. We deal directly, agency to agency. We have managed to create a small working anarchist affiliation group. No vote is ever taken. We arrive at every decision by consensus argued through and it’s become an extraordinary kind of thing.
Q: The Red Cross is definitely not involved. You have purposefully tried to set up an anarchist framework?
WOODCOCK: Yes, an anarchist framework it is essentially.
Q: So anarchism can be a practical model.
WOODCOCK: Yes, it’s an example. Here we do move on consensus. We don’t move on ordinary democratic majority decisions. We don’t have any of that.
Q: Your partner in all of these remarkable undertakings is your wife, Ingeborg, who I know likes to shy away from the public limelight as far as possible…
WOODCOCK: Indeed she does.
Q: So forgive me, Ingeborg, but I’d like you to speak very briefly how she has been important as a partner in your career and in your undertakings.
WOODCOCK: Well, she’s been a wonderful partner for me in my career. She cares for me in sickness and all that kind of thing. She gives me ideas which I sometimes badly need and. on the other hand, with the organizations, she is a superb organizer. I am the ideologue of the group and she is the organizer. Not so much lately, but in the beginning she was.
Q: And you met one another in England in the 1940s?
Q: When I read through your two volumes of autobiography thus far and I read through your books of poetry it strikes me that there is a great deal more revealed in your emotions in your poetry, would you say that is true?
WOODCOCK: Yes, I would. But then you see people only read what they want to read. Because I am not primarily recognized as a poet, they don’t read my poems. They read my other stuff. They’d learn a lot more stuff if they read my poems.
Q: Well, along those lines I conclude that one of the most influential people in your life as an artist was the anarchist Marie Louise Berneri. You were also a friend of her husband, who was a publisher. Could you tell me a little bit about who she was?
WOODCOCK: Mary Louise Berneri was the daughter of a very famous Italian anarchist, a professor who had to flee from Italy for his beliefs and who was slaughtered by the communists in Spain. She was an admirable person, very beautiful and intellectually extraordinarily bright. In a sense she was the chief personal influence bringing me towards anarchism.
Q: During the war, her husband was charged with sedition.
WOODCOCK: She was, too.
Q: But there was some English law that says a husband and wife can not be tried for the same crime…is that correct?
WOODCOCK: Yes, and so she was let off, which annoyed her thoroughly. Nevertheless she and I carried on the whole operation of the anarchist press until the others came out.
Q: Right, and for a time you had to go underground in England, but that was not the type of underground that people usually associate with the term. You were relatively free to function. Is that correct?
WOODCOCK: Yes, that’s correct.
Q: Surely that experience would influence your life-long anarchism, being essentially an outlaw.
WOODCOCK: Yes, actually it did. Of course I do have the outsider mentality. That’s why I welcome the development these days of the underground economy and that sort of thing. This is the kind of world I like.
Q: What does it mean when you refer to yourself as an anarchist in the 1990s?
WOODCOCK: It means, I suppose, a person for whom freedom is the most important thing—intellectual freedom and, as far as possible, physical freedom. You can be bound by physical things, as I am by certain sicknesses, but nevertheless you can within yourself still be free to recognize all initiatives really come from yourself if you don’t depend upon structures of government or structures of any kind. Structures are fine as long as they are controlled by the people who actually work within the structures, but they’re dicey even there.
Q: But how does that philosophy affect your life on a day-to day-level? in terms of the decisions you make and your behavior?
WOODCOCK: It doesn’t really mean a great deal of difference to a life. You live as you wish to do and if a job is oppressing, you leave it. I’ve done it on several occasions. I broke with the university. It’s a derogatory thing to say it’s a form of evasion, but you evade those unpleasant choices, you evade those situations in which you are insubordinate, you evade the situations that will offend your dignity.
Q: Can you count some specific examples as to how you would respond to something differently than many other people might? Besides rejecting the Order of Canada?
WOODCOCK: My split with the university was over the fact that I had become involved with helping Tibetans in India. I went on a year’s leave to India and did quite a lot. I let a year pass and then I asked for a year’s unpaid leave. For some reason the new president had decided that unpaid leave could only be granted through the decision of a council that consisted almost entirely of scientists and of course they couldn’t understand my reasons for wanting to go so. They said no, no unpaid. So I immediately resigned. When you act dramatically in that way it often has a consequence that is very negative. I was editing Canadian Literature. I didn’t want to let Canadian Literature go so they reached a nice compromise by which I received half a professor’s salary. I was allowed to wander where I could. Here is a case in which you search for your independence and allow something creative to come out of that.
Q: Your affinity with the Doukhobors has a long background. They may not see themselves strictly as anarchists, but there must be some affinity between your beliefs and theirs.
WOODCOCK: Yes, my relationship with the Doukhobors is a very friendly one. Of course when I first started to work on the Doukhobors they were suspicious as they are of all outsiders because they have had a bad press, and that sort of thing, but once I got to know them I found that they were great friends. We had lived among them for short periods with great friendship, great understanding. It’s very hard to place them politically because their leaders are quite prominent but the whole theory behind the Doukhobor movement is that the leaders are the inspired spokesmen of the community and everything is decided at a meeting which is partly a hymn singing religious meeting and partly a meeting to decide the practical affairs of the community. And so they do have this kind of basic anarchy and when the leader makes an announcement it’s always said he is expressing the will of the meeting so they live in a curious kind of half world between anarchism and theocracy. I found it quite fascinating of course.
Q: After you wrote your book The Doukhobors with Ivan Avakumovic, I understand they offered a house to you.
WOODCOCK: They offered to build a house for me in Grand Forks where I could live for the rest of my life for nothing. They call me the Canadian Tolstoy. I didn’t want to Tolstoy living among his admirers. I would probably have no privacy at all. So I decided against it.
Q: In the same way that you had to break with the University of British Columbia because they felt they owned you, the Doukhobors might feel they owned you as well.
WOODCOCK: Right. Yes.
Q: You don’t fully accept the role of national government and yet you are willing to become the first writer to be accorded Freedom of the City. What is the difference between your attitudes to civic government and your attitudes to national government?
WOODCOCK: Well, I think there are all kinds of traditions involved here; first of all the Order of Canada is really a replica of something. We don’t allow people to be knights, to be knighted by the Queen of England, but we do allow them to become members of the Order of Canada. It even has the same phraseology as the English orders of knighthood, companions and this sort of thing. What I’m going to be given I gather is not the key to the city, which in many cities is the case. It’s the freedom medal, and for me freedom has always been associated traditionally with the city. If you think of the Greek city-states where they developed all the ideas of democracy, if you think of the medieval cities where the serf could flee from his lord’s estate, once he got through the gates he was a free man. This is an important tradition, the link between the idea of the city and the idea of freedom. That’s why I’ve accepted it.
Q: It’s also in synch with your whole career as a freelancer.
Q: You have sold your pen to many places but never to one place for very long.
WOODCOCK: Quite. And never to a political party.
Q: You have always been willing to write for a wide spectrum of publications. I don’t know of any writer who has been in some ways so indiscriminate, in terms of your openness to write for prestigious publications or very small publications. Is that something conscious on your part?
WOODCOCK: It is really. I don’t believe in kicking away ladders. By that, I mean the ladders by which I ascended as a young writer. Small magazines which didn’t pay anything, and that sort of thing. Now I am a writer who can command fairly good payment from magazines with large circulations, I very often refuse to write for them and still write sometimes for the little magazines for nothing.
Q: People around the world think you are remarkable for having written 120 or 150 or God knows how many books. Let’s briefly deal with that. This is a question that pops into many people’s minds. What accounts for that remarkable output? Are you programmed to keep the wolf from the door after so many years of being a freelancer? Are you simply a very hard worker? Or have you succeeded in cloning yourself in your basement?
WOODCOCK: I suppose a very hard worker. That’s really it. I think any writer could do the same as I did, except that if everyone did it would be too much competition.
Q: What strikes me as more remarkable is that you’ve been able to sustain an outsider perspective for so many decades. You have not been taken in by the mainstream. That is actually more remarkable than writing 120 books. What accounts for that endurance and that stubbornness to remain outside for so long?
WOODCOCK: Partly I suppose my Welsh ancestry, partly the fact that I am a Taurian. All sorts of things come together.
Q: I don’t think the astrological Taurian one is an acceptable answer, you are going to have to dig deeper.
WOODCOCK: I think one of the basic things in my life is the death of my father who died young. He was a man of enormous talent, particularly musical talents, but he never had the chance to develop them. I think that after he died I was impelled by the idea of completing that life in my life.
Q: Does it matter to you that your father named you after George Meredith?
WOODCOCK: Well, that shows the kind of atmosphere in the family, the way the family influences on me were going.
Q: You’ve written that creativity often comes out of early wounds, what were your early wounds? beyond the death of your father?
WOODCOCK: My early wounds were the English school system among other things. It wasn’t merely the discipline, it was the ways in which the boys got what was called the school spirit. In most English schools it is a brutal kind of pro-sporty spirit that militates against the intellectual who is looked on as a weakling. I was unpopular at school just because I was an intellectual. I always answered all the questions off the top of my head but they nevertheless resented me because of that.
Q: You’ve also written that school has given you the negative gift of time. What did you mean by that?
WOODCOCK: The negative gift of time, did I say that?
WOODCOCK: I suppose it gave me time to hesitate and time to decide who I
Q: Your relations with your father were obviously respectful but your relationship with your mother was more fractious. What type of woman was she?
WOODCOCK: She was a woman, when I look back, of great high principles and that was her trouble. She carried those into all kinds of literal interpretations, so that you are forced to be a liar by her and her demands.
Q: Well it sounds like you must have [nonetheless] inherited, somewhat, her principled nature.
WOODCOCK: Yes, I’d agree, I agree.
Q: And do you feel that you have a paid a price, perhaps even on an emotional level, for having these philosophical standards and these principles?
WOODCOCK: I don’t know whether you’d call it a price. I would say at the end of my life that I’ve probably paid a price but that I’ve been paid back.
Q: In ‘The Outlaw Exonerated’, your poem about Simon Gunanoot, the Gitskan native outlaw, you write ‘and wisdom is sadness before it is joy’. That sounds to me what you just referred to. In order to write ‘and wisdom is sadness before it is joy’ one can only, I think, write that line from deep personal experience.
WOODCOCK: I do, yes.
Q: So you are at the joy stage now.
WOODCOCK: I am at the joy stage now, but…
Q: How long did the sadness stage last?
WOODCOCK: I don’t know. That’s in the command of others, shall we say.
Q: Most of your contemporaries flowered early. Many of them are largely forgotten whereas you have a different type of creativity which seems to be growing in power, literally decade by decade. Do you recognize that your creativity is actually quite abnormal?
WOODCOCK: I suppose I’m lead to do so by the fact of what happened to my contemporaries—people whom I’ve admired people, who I thought were ten times better than me when I was in my Twenties and early Thirties. I may have been right. They may have been that much better but gradually the tortoise, or the bull if you’re going to use the Taurean symbol, marches forward slowly. I think what I am writing now is better than what they were writing when I admired them.
Q: There aren’t many people such as yourself who write increasingly as they get older.
WOODCOCK: Very few.
Q: Most people produce one or two good works, usually maybe in the middle of their life. We’re into the 1990s and you are still steadily producing often three or four books a year.
WOODCOCK: Some are reprints…
Q: Some are reprints, this is true. But it’s still unusual way to approach the end of one’s writing career, to be more prolific than ever.
WOODCOCK: Well, it’s a happy way really because one doesn’t experience so much of the boredom and frustration as the person who gradually creates less and less must do. I look at some of the older writers and I think, my God, what must their lives be waiting for the spark.
Q: Obviously George Orwell was and continues to be a major influence. What do you mean when you refer to him as your dear but difficult friend?
WOODCOCK: I thought I called him my dear, dour George in one of my poems. Orwell was the sort of man who was full of grievances. He was very loyal. Once he got to know you, he was extremely loyal. He hated passionately and irrationally. I remember people who were really quite decent people who tagged along a bit with his bandwagon and our world was full of contempt and fury against them. I used to tolerate them because I thought they were benighted souls, and might somehow show the light, but Orwell didn’t. He just hated them with a bitter fury.
Q: And didn’t you first come into contact with him through a disagreement?
WOODCOCK: Absolutely, yes. I got into a disagreement with him over something he’d said in the Partisan Review. I pointed out that after all he was a former police officer in Burma. He himself had been a pacifist one year before and this kind of thing. And so I wrote this down and Orwell wrote a furious reply. Then somehow or other, through an Indian writer named Mulk Raj Anand, he invited me to take part on his Indian program at the BBC. So I did and we were very formal. And then I was getting on a bus up at Hampstead one day. I was at Hampstead getting on top of a double decker bus on the top deck and I saw a familiar crest of hair. It was Orwell. He’d seen me come across the street. He turned and patted the seat beside him so I went up. He said, “Woodcock, Woodcock, we may have differences on paper but that doesn’t mean anything derogatory to our relationship as human beings.” And with that our friendship started. It was the most extraordinary kind of thing. Same thing happened with Stephen Spender.
Q: When you left England for various reasons, you weren’t able to say good-bye to him…
WOODCOCK: He was in a sanitarium by then.
Q: So is George Orwell still with you today as an influence?
WOODCOCK: I think he is. I remember Herbert Read saying to me once… now, of course, he, too, is dead… but Herbert said, “Whenever I reach a decision these days I feel Orwell’s ghost admonishing me over my shoulder.” This was the effect he had on people. You thought about him and even after he was dead you began to judge your actions by his standards. Orwell was very eccentric.
Q: Do you ever have Orwell’s ghost over your shoulder and he tells you something and you tell him to go away?
WOODCOCK: Well, he never peered over my shoulder as he did over Read’s but nevertheless I’ve thought about him.
Q: I’d like to bring up some other people that you’ve had closer relationships with. First of all the Shadbolts, Jack and Doris.
WOODCOCK: Well, the Shadbolts really were very important. We wouldn’t be in Vancouver if it hadn’t been for the Shadbolts. We’d been living on Vancouver Island and getting pretty miserable, on a village on Vancouver Island that I needn’t name [Sooke] and we came over and Jack said to me, “Well, there’s a cabin in the bush outside, behind our house, maybe we can get you into that.” He tried and yes, the owners would let us go in. At that time all Capitol Hill [in Burnaby] was practically forest. There were no houses. And it was wonderful living out there out in the forest, looking out over the harbour. That’s where we started off in Vancouver. Living together up on this hill we became very close friends.
Q: And since then you have had more friends who were painters than writers, is that true?
WOODCOCK: I really do, yes. I don’t have all that many friends who are writers. I know their problems, but I don’t know the problems of painters. I like to move among painters, mathematicians, psychologists, people who can tell me something.
Q: Another fellow came along and helped put some money in your pocket was Earle Birney.
WOODCOCK: Earle Birney, yes. Earle that was an odd sort of relationship, stormy at the time, very stormy. Earle was a very bad-tempered man and a vain man, but nevertheless…
Q: He touched a lot of peoples’ lives.
WOODCOCK: Well, he did and I think more than any other writer [in British Columbia]. Earle was the first writer in Canada that I knew. Earle actually came and visited me on Vancouver Island, when we were living in a trailer while we were building a house in 1949, the summer of 1949, so he was the first Canadian writer that I knew. He found out I was living there so he came over and later on he was partly instrumental in getting me an appointment to UBC. But there’s a side story to that because he had tried before, he had tried in 1953, and they all said, “No, no, he’s got no degree.” Then in ‘54, the University of Washington offered me a post without a degree and so I went to the University of Washington and worked there for a year. Then they offered me a permanent post and I couldn’t take it because of U.S. immigration which decided that I was, according to the details of the law, an anarchist and therefore inadmissible. So we fought that and failed. Then, surprisingly UBC came back and offered me a job. So I came onto to UBC without a degree, on my own conditions.
Q: And Earle Birney got you to UBC where you met Roy Daniels…
WOODCOCK: Yes, it was it was Earle really. Earle and Roy had a very stormy relationship. Sometimes they’d work together, and they did in getting me into the university. One of the conditions, an implicit condition so that it was never written down, was that I would have a magazine to edit. Roy Daniels made sure of that, that I did have Canadian Literature to edit. So it was the two of them, between them that brought me to the place.
Q: And hence the birth of Canadian Literature which you edited for 18 years. You got to know by mail most of the major Canadian writers. We obviously can’t talk about all of them but I’d like to mention a couple who have been important to you, not just as writers but as friends… Margaret Laurence.
WOODCOCK: Margaret Laurence, yes. Our friendship is [was] an odd kind of epistolary kind of friendship. The few years she was in Vancouver we didn’t know each other very well because I was away quite a lot of the time. I was away in Europe and so I really didn’t get to know her much in Vancouver. Then she left for England and we began to write these long letters to each other. These continued and then at the end, of course, when she moved to Lakefield, there would be the late night phone calls, 2 a.m. Lakefield time. She would go on for hours at a time. I was always anxious about the phone bill but she never rang collect. I don’t know what her bills were like.
Q: She’s a remarkably moving person for anyone who had anything to do with her. Do you think we fully understand who she was, has it been publicly recognized who she was?
WOODCOCK: She was an extraordinarily vulnerable person, much more than her publisher guessed and sometimes you’d get that in these conversations. Someone would have died, it didn’t matter, you didn’t even know the person but Margaret would be emoting about it, genuinely moved, moved, moved to the bottom of her heart about this, and she was a person with extraordinary strong feelings which I think may have had something to do with her final withdrawal from writing.
Q: Another person with whom you’ve corresponded extensively and developed a friendship is Al Purdy. Both of you are autodidacts. Self-taught men.
WOODCOCK: Well, a lot of people find it a little strange, we should be close friends, a rowdy poet and a cautious critic, as some people see me, and so that they think this is all that there can be, an incompatibility. But in fact that isn’t true because we have a great deal in common. A poverty-stricken childhood with a domineering mother, a period of scrounging around for any kind of job we could get, no university education but enormous erudition just by reading, reading, reading. Al is one of the most erudite people I know.
Q: Perhaps self-teaching takes you longer to find yourself but when you do get there, you’re stronger for having taught the lessons yourself.
WOODCOCK: I think you are. I think if you look at the great self-taught men of literature, Joseph Conrad for instance… He ran around all the university-educated men of his time.
WOODCOCK: [Thomas] Hardy, yes, Arnold Bennet. A whole lot of them.
Q: Can you tell me what the relationship with Margaret Atwood is and why you continue to be close friends?
WOODCOCK: Well, it’s a relationship of people who really emerged at the same time. When I started to publish Canadian Literature, Peggy was starting to publish her own poetry and novels. I was one of the first people to recognize, what was it called? the first novel?
Q: The Edible Woman.
WOODCOCK: Yes. I was one of the first people to recognize The Edible Woman with a good review in The [Toronto] Star. She’s never quite forgotten that. Also, I used to call on Peggy as a critic. She’s a damn good critic, so she did quite a lot of work for Canadian Literature. This was in the past of course, but we still continue a kind of sporadic relationship, writing to each other every now and again. Everything I ask Peggy to do, such as report on a cause of mine, she regularly does without complaint. So there is a friendship there, an odd one, but a friendship.
Q: You’ve written books about Gabriel Dumont and Simon Gunanoot… Simon Gunanoot was on the run for 12 years. Now the city of Vancouver is officially acknowledging your importance as an outsider. It strikes me this is an interesting stage in your life, as if society is saying we recognize the importance of where you have been all this time. Do you see it that way?
WOODCOCK: To an extent I do, because they’re making the outsider into an insider, aren’t they? Taking him into the city in the most intimate way they can.
Q: So you are accepting this quite consciously.
WOODCOCK: Yes, consciously. Because I believe in that connection between
freedom and the city.
Q: Right. The third and final volume of your autobiography is forthcoming. What’s the title and what are we going to find in it?
WOODCOCK: The title is Walking Through the Valley, meaning walking near to death, the valley of the shadow. It’s a summing up in a sense. It’s an account of the things I’ve done in the last 15 years, but it’s also a reflection on life as a whole. I say a lot about the process of autobiography and what I think writing a biography does to you, and how it does change your perspective. You realize your life in fact, as you conceive it, is a great fiction. Writing an autobiography is in a way elucidating the fiction.
Q: You also have a new book of poetry coming out, The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street. Could explain the title?
WOODCOCK: The title refers to the cherry tree in my garden. Once the street where I live [McCleery Street] was called Cherry Street.
Q: What lies ahead, what are you working on?
WOODCOCK: I’m working on a novel. I wrote three novels in the past and destroyed them because I thought they were no good. That turned me into quite a good literary critic, because I knew what faults to look for. Then I decided to write a novel quite recently which was based on a film script. Like all writers I got involved in a peripheral way in the film industry and found that they do pay quite well for things they never use. I decided to take one these plots and turn it into a novel. I’ve been using all kinds of experimental techniques on it so I don’t know what it’s going to come out [as] in the end.
Q: It seems to be the last type of book that you haven’t published.
WOODCOCK: It is, yes. I’ve published plays. I’ve published everything else.
Q: And you’re also translating some Proust.
WOODCOCK: Yes. A lot of writers like Nabokov complain about the translations. It was translated during the 1920s and it followed the English idiom of translations. It was very sentimental, Elizabethan sentimental. The very title of course, Remembrances of Things Past, has nothing to do with the real title, which is Search for Lost Time. So I decided it was time to do a new one.
LARGEST CASH GIFT TO WRITERS IN CANADIAN HISTORY: Press Release (2006)
WRITERS’ TRUST RECEIVES CLOSE TO $2 MILLION FROM GEORGE AND INGEBORG WOODCOCK ESTATE
Vancouver – May 19, 2006 – The Writers’ Trust of Canada announced today it has received an extraordinary $1.87 million gift from the estate of George and Ingeborg Woodcock. These funds will enable the Writers’ Trust’s Woodcock Fund to provide more than $100,000 annually to Canadian writers facing financial crises. Most of the monies available to Canadian writers are in the form of literary prizes; the Woodcock Fund is unique in that it offers help to struggling and established authors alike.
Ronald Wright, Chair of the Writers’ Trust Woodcock Committee, explained: “The Woodcock Fund is one of the many enduring legacies funded by the Woodcock’s generous, passionate, and unflagging engagement with the world. I was also lucky enough to know Inge and George personally over the past twenty years, ever since I was a young writer with a first book. Many authors received the Woodcocks’ encouragement and friendship, which are rare gifts, and especially so from our heroes.”
The Woodcock fund was established in 1989 through the generosity of George and Ingeborg Woodcock, who sought to alleviate the devastating impact of financial instability endured by most writers. It is the only program of its kind in Canada. Since its inception, the Woodcock Fund has made an extraordinary difference in the lives of Canadian writers, distributing more than $420,000 in financial support to more than 110 writers.
“Writers are one of Canada’s greatest exports,” said Don Oravec, Executive Director of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, “yet many endure near poverty. This increased support of the Woodcock Fund will encourage and preserve our literary heritage by rescuing those works that might otherwise be abandoned.”
Canada’s writers, on average, earn less than $9,000 annually from their writing, according to A Study of Author Income, commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canada Council for the Arts in December 2003.
The Woodcock Fund recipients are guaranteed anonymity; however, some choose to offer their gratitude publicly:
The generous and timely patronage of the Woodcock Fund alleviated a huge emotional burden,” said Pearl Luke, author of the recently published novel Madame Zee. “The emergency grant meant that I moved through a time of hardship and real despair, and it restored a sense of hopefulness about my career. I am forever grateful.”
The Writers’ Trust hopes this announcement will alert Canadian writers to the existence and nature of the help offered through the Woodcock Fund.
A reception celebrating the $1.87 million bequest will be held on Wednesday, May 24 in Vancouver where the Woodcocks lived for most of their lives.
ABOUT GEORGE AND INGEBORG WOODCOCK
Editor, poet, critic, travel writer, historian, philosopher, essayist, biographer, autobiographer, political activist, university lecturer, librettist, humanitarian, gardener…George Woodcock was a literary champion, founder of the journal Canadian Literature in 1959, which provided a much-needed resource for the exploration and celebration of the works of Canadian literary authors.
While rooted in Canada and British Columbia, British-born George and his Austrian-born wife Inge kept a keen eye on political events in the rest of the world. After the Chinese takeover of Tibet, they took up the plight of displaced Tibetans and travelled to India to study Buddhism. There, they established a close friendship with the Dalai Lama who never forgot George and Inge’s lifelong commitment to Tibetans both in Canada and in India through the Tibetan Refugee Aid Society, which they founded. Once the Tibetan refugees were largely settled, George and Inge turned their attention to their passion for India and founded the Canada India Village Aid Society which works to foster self-help schemes in rural Indian communities.
Worldwide, George Woodcock is best known for his books on the philosophy of anarchism and its history, and for his well-received biography of his friend George Orwell, The Crystal Spirit, for which he received the Governor General’s Award in 1966. He taught at the University of British Columbia from 1955 into the 1970s, and was awarded an honourary DLitt by UBC in 1977 (he received five honorary degrees from other universities). He refused many awards, including the prestigious Order of Canada, choosing to accept only those given by his colleagues and peers.
In 1994, Vancouver’s mayor awarded George Woodcock the Freedom of the City and declared May 7 as George Woodcock Day. Although George accepted the honour, ill health prevented him from attending the festivities, which included the largest gathering of authors in Western Canada (Margaret Atwood read out his speech), a gallery showing of new art created in his honour, and a two-day symposium celebrating his lifetime work at Simon Fraser University’s downtown campus. Less than a year later, George Woodcock died at his home, at age 82, on January 28, 1995. Inge survived him until 2003.
The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a national charitable organization providing a level of support to writers unmatched by any other non-governmental organization or foundation. Through its various programs and awards, it celebrates the talents and achievements of our country’s novelists, poets, biographers, and non-fiction writers. The Writers’ Trust is committed to exploring and introducing to future generations the traditions that will enrich our common literary heritage and strengthen Canada’s cultural foundations. For more information, please visit www.writerstrust.com.
Complete Bibliography (1994)
from Anarchy Archives & Woodcock Symposium
The Works of George Woodcock
To accompany an exhibit of his works at the George Woodcock Symposium,
Simon Fraser University at Harbour Centre, May 6 and 7, 1994
This chronological checklist of George Woodcock’s work includes books, pamphlets, broadsides, and periodicals written, edited, or compiled by him. His own work is followed by translations, symposia, anthologies, and books and series George Woodcock has edited with introductions.
This list is based on The Record of George Woodcock (issued for his eightieth birthday) and Ivan Avakumovic’s bibliography in A Political Art: Essays and Images in Honour of George Woodcock, edited by W.H. New, 1978, with additions to bring it up to date.
BOOKS, PAMPHLETS, AND BROADSIDES BY GEORGE WOODCOCK
1. Solstice. London: C. Lahr, 1937. Folded card.
2. Six Poems. London: Blue Moon Press for E. Lahr, 1938. Single sheet of grey stiff paper folded into four.
3. Ballad of an Orphan Hand. London: C. Lahr, 1939. Folded card.
4. The White Island. London: Fortune Press, 1940.
5. The Centre Cannot Hold. London: Routledge, 1943.
6. New Life to the Land. London: Freedom Press, 1942.
7. Railways and Society. London: Freedom Press, 1943.
8. Anarchy or Chaos. London: Freedom Press, 1944. Wilimantic, Connecticut: Ziesing, 1992, with a new introduction by author.
9. Homes or Hovels: The Housing Problem & its Solution. London: Freedom Press, 1944.
10. Anarchism and Morality. London: Freedom Press, 1945.
11. What is Anarchism? London: Freedom Press, 1945.
12. William Godwin: A Biographical Study. London: Porcupine Press, 1948. Norwood, Pennsylvania: Norwood Editions, 1976. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989, with a new introduction by the author.
13. The Basis of Communal Living . London: Freedom Press, 1947.
14. Imagine the South. Pasadena: Untide Press, 1947.
14a. A Hundred years of Revolution, 1848 and after. [a collection of essays and documents]. London: Porcupine Press 1948.
15. The Incomparable Aphra. London: T.V. Boardman, 1948. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989, as Aphra Behn, The English Sappho, with a new introduction by the author.
16. The Writer and Politics. London: Porcupine Press, 1948. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1990, as Writers and Politics, with a new introduction by the author.
17. (With Ivan Avakumovic.) The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin. London: T.V. Boardman, 1950. New York: Schocken Books, 1971. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1990, as From Prince to Rebel, with a new introduction by George Woodcock.
18. The Paradox of Oscar Wilde. London: T.V. Boardman, 1950. New York: Macmillan, 1950. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989, as Oscar Wilde: The Double Image, with new introduction by the author.
19. British Poetry Today. Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1950.
20. Ravens and Prophets: An Account of Journeys in British Columbia, Alberta and Southern Alaska. London: Allan Wingate, 1952.
21. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, A Biography. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1956. New York: Schocken Books, 1972, as Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, His Life and Works. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1987, with a new introduction and bibliographical supplement by the author.
22. To the City of the Dead: An Account of Travels in Mexico. London: Faber and Faber, 1957.
23. Incas and Other Men: Travels in the Andes. London: Faber and Faber, 1959.
24. Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1962. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1963. Harmondsworth: Pelican edition with author’s postscript, 1975. Harmondsworth: Pelican edition with a new introduction and bibliography by the author.
25. Faces of India, A Travel Narrative. London: Faber and Faber, 1964.
26. Asia, Gods and Cities: Aden to Tokyo. London: Faber and Faber, 1966.
27. Civil Disobedience. Toronto: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 1966.
28. The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966. London: Jonathan Cape, 1967. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970. London: Fourth Estate, 1984, with a new introduction by the author. New York: Schocken Books, 1984, with a new introduction by the author.
29. The Greeks in India. London: Faber and Faber, 1966.
30. Kerala, A Portrait of the Malabar Coast. London: Faber and Faber, 1967.
31. Selected Poems of George Woodcock. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1967.
32. (With Ivan Avakumovic.) The Doukhobors. London: Faber and Faber, 1968. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1968. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1977, with a new introduction by the authors.
33. The British in the Far East. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1969. New York: Atheneum, 1969.
34. Henry Walter Bates, Naturalist of the Amazons. London: Faber and Faber, 1969.
35. Hugh MacLennan. Toronto: Copp Clark, 1969.
36. Canada and the Canadians. London: Faber and Faber, 1970. London: Faber and Faber, 1973, revised. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1970. Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1973, revised.
37. The Hudson’s Bay Company. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1970.
38. Mordecai Richler. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1971.
39. Odysseus Ever Returning: Essays on Canadian Writers and Writing. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1970.
40. Into Tibet: The Early British Explorers. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.
41. Mohandas Gandhi. New York: Vintage, 1971. London: Fontana/Collins, 1972, as Gandhi.
42. Victoria. Photo-Essay by Ingeborg & George Woodcock. Victoria: Morriss Printing, 1971.
43. Dawn and the Darkest Hour, A Study of Aldous Huxley. London: Faber and Faber, 1972. New York: Viking Press, 1972.
44. Herbert Read: The Stream and the Source. London: Faber and Faber, 1972.
45. The Rejection of Politics and other essays on Canada, Canadians, anarchism and the world. Toronto: new press, 1972.
46. Who Killed the British Empire? An Inquest. London: Jonathan Cape, 1974. New York: Quadrangle, 1974. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1974.
47. Amor De Cosmos, Journalist and Reformer. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1975.
48. Gabriel Dumont: The Metis Chief and his Lost World. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1975.
49. Notes on Visitations: Poems 1936-75. Toronto: Anansi, 1975.
50. South Sea Journey. London: Faber and Faber, 1976. Don Mills: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1978.
51. Gabriel Dumont and the Northwest Rebellion. Toronto: Playwrights Co-op, 1976.
52. Canadian Poets 1960-1973, A Checklist. Ottawa: Golden Dog Press, 1976.
53. Anima, or, Swann Grown Old. A Cycle of Poems by George Woodcock. Windsor, Ontario: Black Moss Press, 1977.
54. Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1977.
55. Two Plays: The Island of Demons [and] Six Dry Cakes for the Hunted. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1977.
56. Faces from History: Canadian Portraits and Profiles. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1978.
57. Gabriel Dumont. Toronto: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1978.
58. The Kestrel and Other Poems of Past and Present. Sunderland, Durham: Coelfrith Press, 1978.
59. Thomas Merton, Monk and Poet: A Critical Study. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1978. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1978.
60. The Canadians. Don Mills: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1979. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979. London: Athlone Press, 1979. St Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1979.
61. A George Woodcock Reader, edited by Douglas Fetherling. Ottawa: Deneau & Greenberg, 1990.
62. The Mountain Road. Fredericton: Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1980.
63. 100 Great Canadians. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1980.
64. A Picture History of British Columbia. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1980.
65. The World of Canadian Writing: Critiques and Recollections. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1980. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1980.
66. Confederation Betrayed! Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1981.
67. Ivan Eyre. Don Mills: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1981. Also published in a boxed limited edition of 150 copies signed and numbered by the artist, with an Eyre print and a signed poem by George Woodcock laid in.
68. The Meeting of Time and Space: Regionalism in Canadian Literature. Edmonton: NeWest Institute for Western Canadian Studies, 1981.
69. Taking it to the Letter. Dunvegan, Ontario: Quadrant Editions, 1981.
70. The Benefactor. Lantzville, B.C.: Oolichan Books, 1982.
71. Letters from Sooke: A Correspondence between Sir Herbert Read and George Woodcock. Victoria: Victoria Book Arts Club, 1982. An edition of 81 copies, printed on handmade Italian paper and bound in one-quarter calf.
72. Letter to the Past, An Autobiography. Don Mills: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1982.
73. Northern Spring. Washington: Canadian Embassy, 1982.
74. Collected Poems. Victoria: Sono Nis Press, 1983.
75. Orwell’s Message: 1984 and the Present. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1984.
76. Patrick Lane and His Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1984.
77. Strange Bedfellows: The State and the Arts in Canada. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1985.
78. (With Toni Onley.) The Walls of India. Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1985.
79. (With Tim Fitzharris.) The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1986.
80. Beyond the Blue Mountains, An Autobiography. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1987.
81. Leo Tolstoi: Ein gewaltfreier Anarchist. Germany: Edition flugschriften, 1987.
82. Northern Spring: The Flowering of Canadian Literature. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1987.
83. Caves in the Desert: Travels in China. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1988.
84. Charles Heavysege and His Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.
85. Matt Cohen and His Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.
86. The People We Help and Why. Vancouver: Canada India Village Aid, 1988.
87. The Purdy-Woodcock Letters: Selected Correspondence 1964-1984, edited by George Galt. Toronto: ECW Press, 1988.
88. A Social History of Canada. Markham: Penguin Books, 1988.
89. Traditionen der Freiheit: Essays zureversonuntide libertaren Transformation der Gesellschaft. Mulheim, Germany: Trafik, 1988.
90. The Century that Made Us: Canada 1814-1914. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1989.
91. Introducing Hugh MacLennan’s Barometer Rising, A Reader’s Guide. Toronto: ECW Press, 1989.
92. Introducing Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, A Reader’s Guide. Toronto: ECW Press, 1989.
93. The Marvellous Century: Archaic Man and the Awakening of Reason. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1989.
94. Powers of Observation. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1989.
95. British Columbia, A History of the Province. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1990.
96. Introducing Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing, A Reader’s Guide. Toronto: ECW Press, 1990.
97. Introducing Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, A Reader’s Guide. Toronto: ECW Press, 1990.
98. Introducing Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House, A Reader’s Guide. Toronto: ECW Press, 1990.
99. Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana & other Poems. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1991.
100. Anarchism and Anarchists. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1992.
101. George Woodcock’s Introduction to Canadian Fiction. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.
102. George Woodcock’s Introduction to Canadian Poetry. Toronto: ECW Press, 1992.
103. The Monk and His Message: Undermining the Myth of History. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1992.
104. Power to Us All. Constitution or Social Contract? Madeira Park: Harbour, 1992.
105. Introducing Morley Callaghan’s “More Joy in Heaven”. Toronto: ECW Press, 1993.
106. (Edited by Jim Christy.) Letter from the Khyber Pass and Other Travelling Writing. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1993.
107. The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street and Other Poems. Kingston: Quarry Press, 1994.
108. Walking Through the Valley. Toronto: ECW Press, 1994.
109. Anny, by Marc Bernard, translated by George Woodcock and Marie Louise Berneri under nom-de-plume M.L. George. London: T.V. Boardman, 1948.
110. Phaedra, by Jean Racine. Victoria: Contemporary Literature in Translation, 1978.
111. The Metis in the Canadian West, by Marcel Giraud. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1986. Two volumes.
112. Words of a Rebel, by Peter Kropotkin, with introduction by the translator. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1992.
113. A Hundred Years of Revolution–1848 and after. London: Porcupine Press, 1948.
114. The Sixties: Canadian Writers and Writing of the Decade. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Publications Centre, 1969.
115. Malcolm Lowry: The Man and His Work. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1971.
116. Wyndham Lewis in Canada. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Publications Centre, 1971.
117. Colony and Confederation: Early Canadian Poets and Their Background. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1974.
118. A Place to Stand On: Essays by and about Margaret Laurence. Edmonton: NeWest Publishers, 1983.
119. A Choice of Critics: Selections from Canadian Literature. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1966.
120. Variations on a Human Theme. Toronto: Ryerson Press, 1966.
121. Poets and Critics: Essays from Canadian Literature 1966-1974. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1974.
122. The Canadian Novel in the Twentieth Century: Essays from Canadian Literature. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1975.
123. The Anarchist Reader. London: Fontana, 1977.
124. British Columbia: A Celebration. Edmonton: Hurtig, 1986.
125. Dry Wells of India: An Anthology against Thirst. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1989.
126. The Great Canadian Anecdote Contest. Madeira Park: Harbour Publishing, 1991.
127. NOW. London: published by George Woodcock and later Freedom Press, 1940-41, 1943-47. Nendeln, Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1968. Irregular.
128. Canadian Literature . Vancouver: University of British Columbia, 1959-77. Quarterly.
EDITIONS WITH INTRODUCTIONS AND OFTEN NOTES
129. Revolutionary Government, by Peter Kropotkin. London: Freedom Press, 1943.
130. Selections from Political Justice, by William Godwin. London: Freedom Press, 1943.
131. The State–its Historic Role, by Peter Kropotkin. London: Freedom Press, 1943.
132. The Wage System, by Peter Kropotkin. London: Freedom Press, 1944.
133. The Soul of Man Under Socialism, by Oscar Wilde. London: Porcupine Press, 1948.
134. The Slavery of our Times, by Leo Tolstoy. London: Porcupine Press, 1948. London: John Lawrence, 1972.
135. The Letters of Charles Lamb. London: Grey Walls Press, 1950.
136. A Defence of Poetry & a Letter to Lord Ellenborough, by Percy Bysshe Shelley. London: Porcupine Press, 1948.
137. Rural Rides, by William Cobbett. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967.
138. The Egoist, by George Meredith. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1968.
139. A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1970.
140. What Is Property?, by P.J. Proudhon. New York: Dover Publications, 1970.
141. Typee, by Herman Melville. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1972.
142. The Return of the Native, by Thomas Hardy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1978.
143. The Geography of Freedom, by Marie Fleming. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1988.
144. Fanny Hill, by John Cleland. Markham: Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 1989.
145. Onley’s Arctic: Diaries and Paintings of the High Arctic by Toni Onley. Vancouver, Douglas & McIntyre, 1989.
146. The Eternal Forest, by George Godwin. Vancouver: Godwin Books, 1994.
SERIES EDITED AND/OR INTRODUCED
147. The Great Travellers Series. London: Faber and Faber, 1969-75. Ten volumes.
148. Canadian Writers and Their Works. Toronto: ECW Press, 1983-92. Twenty volumes.
149. Collected Works of Peter Kropotkin. Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1989-95. Eleven volumes.
150. Nationalism and Local Control: Responses to George Woodcock, edited by Viv Nelles and Abraham Rotstein. Toronto: new press, 1973.
151. George Woodcock, by Peter Hughes. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1974.
152. A Political Art: Essays and Images in Honour of George Woodcock, edited by W.H. New. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 1978.
153. The Record of George Woodcock. Victoria, 1992.
RADIO AND TELEVISION PLAYS AND ADAPTATIONS
Radio plays and adaptations by George Woodcock for CBC Radio include:
The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Venice Preserved, The Beaux Stratagem, Riders on the Sea, The Playboy of the Western World, Maskerman, The Luck of the Just (with Inge Woodcock), The Electric Tree (with Inge Woodcock), The Carrier Pigeon (with Inge Woodcock), Empire of Shadows, The Brideships, We, Mozart’s Moon, and The Lion and the Tiger Cub
CBC Radio “Ideas” programs include: Civil Disobedience
CBC Radio documentaries: several, including Death Stalked the Trees
CBC Television documentaries on the South Seas and the Doukhabours.
The article on “Anarchism” in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
The above mentioned exhibit — chiefly coordinated by Don Stewart of Macleod’s Books in Vancouver, was made possible with the active assistance of:
George Brandak of Special Collections, UBC Library
Jack David of ECW Press
Doug and Janet Fetherling
Patricia La Nauze
George Woodcock on receiving the Freedom of the City Speech (April 12, 1994)
“My wife and I have now lived here for more than 40 years. Vancouver has become the foundation of our lives. We have travelled far and often, but through it all Vancouver has remained the magic and magnetic centre of our world. We love the city and its setting, the mountains and the sea and the trees and flowers, we have found our place in its special way of life, and in Vancouver I have done most of my life’s work of writing.
“That surely is debt enough for me to declare. But now, with the Freedom of the City and the Freedom Medal, I am being incorporated into the community in a special and intimate way, and I am grateful.
“But beyond my own personal satisfaction, I see a special, broader, implicit meaning in my having been the first writer to be named a Freeman of the City of Vancouver. I see it as a tribute also to our flourishing literary community, in the same was as granting Freedom to Jack Shadbolt a few years before was a recognition of the visual arts as well as of Jack himself.
“When I first came to Vancouver in the early 1950s it was a lonely place with few fellow writers, with no publishers, and with one slender poetry magazine, Alan Crawley’s Contemporary Verse. Now Vancouver is the centre of a province inhabited by hundreds of professional writers, with scores of publishing houses large and small, and many literary magazines, some of them with national and even international reputations. It poses a growing rivalry to the older literary centres of Eastern Canada. This is a matter for rejoicing, and I am glad, ladies and gentlemen, that you have recognized it through honouring me.
“I have still something on my mind. Freedom! It is a word worth repeating, for what I have been given is by definition a Freedom medal, and the great role of cities in the development of our ideals and practice of freedom has not always been recognized, or fully understood. The very words, civil rights, civil behaviour, and civilization itself, derive from one Latin root, civitas—which the scholars call kivitas—meaning the city. Even before the Romans, two-and-a half-millennia ago, our concepts of democratic life were being sketched out and tested in the free cities of ancient Greece.
“But the honour you have given be belong to a later period and shows how consistently, over the ages, cities have cared for freedom. In the Middle Ages the merchants and artisans of Europe created their own free cities on the seacoasts and river banks of the feudal world. People who lived outside the cities were mostly vassals and serfs of Lords or Kings. People in the cities carried on their trade and their industries, and practiced their arts in free co-operation and defended themselves through their guilds and fraternities. And when a serf fleeing from a tyrannical landlord found his way through the city gate and was accepted, he became a free man in name and practice.
“I see this association of the city and mental and physical freedom as an important, valuable tradition, not to be lost.
“I see myself as the symbolic descendant of that fleeing serf, and that is why I feel such pleasure at becoming a Freeman of my own city of Vancouver.”
THE WOODCOCK FUND by Alan Twigg (2009)
As of June, 2009, the proceeds from the sale of the Woodcocks’ home on McCleery Street in Vancouver have been donated to generate a $2.3 million endowment that provides financial aid to writers during times of unforeseen financial hardship.
The Woodcock Endowment Fund for Writers in Financial Distress was established by the Woodcocks in 1989. “Part of the reason they set up this fund,” suggests Tony Phillips, “was the Shadbolts were setting up the Shadbolt Centre and their own trust fund. In essence, I think George and Inge probably said, ‘Well, Jack and Doris are doing this, so we should really be thinking about what we’re going to do. They’re supporting artists. So we’ll support writers.’ They were idealists. Their idea was simple: If somebody has fallen on hard times you just give them a helping hand and everything will straighten out.”
The Writers’ Trust of Canada, formerly known as the Writers Development Trust, subsequently received $1 million from the Woodcock estate in 2005, followed by $876,000 in 2006, and a final installment of $683 in 2009. “Writers are one of Canada’s greatest exports,” said Don Oravec, Executive Director of the Writers’ Trust of Canada, in 2006, “yet many endure near poverty. This increased support of the Woodcock Fund will encourage and preserve our literary heritage by rescuing those works that might otherwise be abandoned.” These bequests, overseen by estate executor Sarah McAlpine, constitute one of the largest private donations to the literary arts in Canada, if not the largest.
Between 1989 (when it was activated) and 2009, the Woodcock Fund dispersed a total of $647,404 to 1489 writers who applied. “An endowment was built up from ’89 to ’05,” says James Davies, senior program manager, “while at the same time the Fund dispersed between twenty and forty thousand dollars each year.” To be eligible for assistance, the writer must be working on a book that, without the grant, would be imperiled or abandoned, and the writer must have already published a minimum of two works, as well as face a financial crisis that exceeds the ongoing, chronic problem of making a living. The fund chiefly serves writers of fiction, poetry, plays and creative non-fiction.
“The Woodcock Fund is one of the many enduring legacies funded by the Woodcocks’ generous, passionate and unflagging engagement with the world,” says Ronald Wright, who knew the Woodcocks for twenty years prior to serving as Chair of the Writers’ Trust Woodcock Committee. “Many authors received the Woodcocks’ encouragement and friendship, which are rare gifts, and especially so from our heroes.”
In his remarks to celebrate the inauguration of the Woodcock Endowment Fund for Writers in Financial Distress on May 24, 2006, family friend and author Keath Fraser noted that George Woodcock “grew up in poverty and endured the costs of this, in one way or another, for more than half a lifetime. It’s no wonder in remembering the value of a shilling he refused to forget that the worth of a dollar increased when it was shared.”
Fraser quoted from a letter written by George Woodcock to Sir Herbert Read that describes his impoverishment in Sooke and the importance of charity: “A few weeks later we were again out of paper money and down to nickels and pennies. This time we went over to the Englands to try and borrow a couple of dollars. They too were broke again…. Having told us this, Jean went without another word to her cupboard, took out her meager stores, and divided them, tin by tin and packet by packet. Then she took the children’s money box, silently opened it, counted out the contents, wrote an IOU, and then divided the cash so that she and Inge had about $4 each. It was the most shining act of mutual aid I have ever experienced.”
George and Ingeborg Woodcock learned the importance of charity the hard way, and they would always remember, as Keath Fraser made clear at the closing of his remarks: “George never forgot ‘the culture shock that often comes from the first encounter with deep poverty.’ He was referring to his first trip to the less developed world, Mexico, in the summer of 1954. But his allusion might just as well apply to the culture shock of returning to Canada in 1949, where he encountered the deep poverty of having to buy his time as a writer by digging septic tanks and shoveling turkey shit.
“The Woodcock Fund is characteristic of George and Inge because it reflects their capacity and moral desire to remember others … never to forget, as George put it, ‘the less fortunate.’ Having done their best for impoverished Tibetan refugees and tribal Indian villagers, their own tribe of writers is what they chose to remember in their will.
“In setting up this legacy, they were really remembering their anarchist roots. No red tape or state intervention, thank you, just mutual aid among writers. No hierarchy among applicants, but rather an evaluation by peers. And no publicity about the grants given; instead, anonymity guaranteed.”
George and Ingeborg Woodcock undoubtedly looked favourably on the Toronto-based Writers’ Trust, registered as a non-profit organization in 1976, because it was conceived by writers Margaret Atwood, Graeme Gibson, Pierre Berton, David Young and Margaret Laurence. He was especially fond of Margaret Laurence, with whom he had corresponded, and Margaret Atwood, who he had taught at UBC in 1964-65 while writing the first draft of her novel, The Edible Woman. Atwood felt indebted to Woodcock for writing a highly favourable review of her work in the Toronto Star near the outset of her career.
Honorary Doctor of Letters (UBC) Citation
THE TITLE AND DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF LETTERS (honoris causa) CONFERRED AT CONGREGATION, JUNE 1, 1977, GEORGE WOODCOCK
Mr. Chancellor, in appointing George Woodcock to its Faculty in 1956 the University of British Columbia, wise in its judgement, welcomed an established man of letters. A Manitoban by birth, George Woodcock received his schooling in England, where he began his literary career. He edited two periodicals and founded a third, NOW, a literary magazine that he edited from 1940 to 1947. He returned to Canada in 1949 and in 1956 joined the Department of English of the University of British Columbia. Three years later he collaborated in the founding of Canadian Literature, the quarterly that he has edited ever since. The journal rapidly gained reputation and today is recognised as the country’s leading publication devoted to the fostering of literature, especially Canadian literature. Through the years he has himself been a prolific writer. One can scarcely name an area of human interest of a field of literature that has escaped the perceptive notice of his pen, in poetry as well as in prose. His prodigious activity and the quality of all his work have won him many awards: grants for travel and research, fellowships, the Governor General’s Award for the best Canadian work of non-fiction (1966), the Centennial Medal (1967), honorary degrees. His own merited fame, at home and abroad, has brought fame to the University. Because we take pride in that fame, Mr. Chancellor, I present for the degree Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, George Woodcock.
Canadian Literature is born: Essay (1959)
George Woodcock’s first of many editorials in the venerable periodical for which he was the founding editor, Canadian Literature, appeared in Canadian Literature #1 (Summer 1959, pages 3-4).
A new magazine always appears in a double guise. It is in one sense the arriving guest, anxious to exert whatever attractions it may possess on its potential host—the particular public to which it has chosen to appeal. But at the same time it sets out to become a host itself, offering its hospitality to writers and their ideas, and ready to welcome to the salon of its pages the most brilliant and the most erudite of guests.
During the past months we have spent much time and energy pressing the claims of Canadian Literature as a potential guest of the literary public of our country. We have pointed out that it will be the first review devoted only to the study of Canadian writers and writing. It will—we have added—throw a concentrated light on a field that has never been illuminated systematically by any previous periodical; and we have emphasized the kind of services it will provide for writers, scholars, librarians and—by no means least—the curious reader.
By the very fact of appearing, a magazine renders obsolete such prophecies and projections. It exists, and must become its own justification. But its very existence may have been rendered possible only by the faith of people and institutions who have been willing to become—in one way or another—its hosts. This is the case with Canadian Literature. We have been enabled to start publication partly by the support of the Koerner Foundation, which has provided a grant towards initial expenses, and partly by the confidence of the hundreds of individuals who have sent their subscriptions before our first issue even went to press.
Proust’s Madame Verdurin thought that the ideal hospitality was that which restricted itself to the exclusiveness of the “little clan.” Canadian Literature wishes to establish no clan, little or large. It will not adopt a narrowly academic approach, nor will it try to restrict its pages to any school of criticism or any class of writers. It is published by a university, but many of its present and future contributors live and work outside academic circles, and long may they continue to do so, for the independent men and women of letters are the solid core of any mature literature. Good writing, writing that says something fresh and valuable on literature in Canada is what we seek, no matter where it originates. It can be in English or in French, and it need not necessarily be by Canadians, since we intend to publish the views of writers from south of the border or east of the Atlantic, who can observe what is being produced here from an external and detached viewpoint.
As for the subject matter of Canadian Literature, the contents of the present number will at least suggest its scope. We welcome the reflections of writers on their own craft with as much interest as the analyses of the critics. Our field is that of Canadian writers and their work and setting, without further limitations, and anything that touches on this subject—the biographical as well as the purely critical essay, the discussion of general literary problems as well as that of individual authors—can expect our friendly consideration.
Centenary of Woodcock: Press Release (2012)
Growing Gift to Fellow Writers From George Woodcock Approaches $900,000
May 8, 2012 – Toronto – Born exactly 100 years ago today, George Woodcock would achieve international renown as a writer of political biography, history, travel, criticism, and poetry and a champion of Canadian literature. He also, with his wife Ingeborg, founded and funded a one-of-a-kind program (The Woodcock Fund) that provides aid to professional Canadian writers confronting the kind of unforeseen financial emergencies that threaten the completion of a book-in-progress. To date the program has delivered $893,273 to 181 writers. The Writers’ Trust of Canada administers the program.
“I’ve known writers who have run into difficult financial times,” said Timothy Taylor, novelist, journalist, and member of the Writers’ Trust board of directors. “In such cases, if a writer has nowhere else to turn, this program can be a godsend. If they qualify, a writer receives both a financial bridge and a psychological boost to keep them going.”
The Woodcock Fund is targeted to, in the words of its founder, “the working writer, who is no longer at the beginning [of their career], who has proved their worth, but who runs into a hard period when they need a few thousand to tide them over and allow them to continue the project they are working on.”
“This romantic notion people have of the writing life is fiction,” said Don Oravec, executive director, the Writers’ Trust of Canada. “Writers are self-employed, without benefits, a pension, and rarely eligible for EI. When hardship hits, such as a medical illness or the evaporation of a contract that provides supplementary income, writing is put aside. This program provides writers breathing space to come up with a new plan and finish their work.”
About the Woodcock Fund
Funding is available to Canadian writers and permanent residents working in the fields of fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, playwriting, and children’s literature. The size and length of grants awarded varied in accordance with the individual circumstances of each case. Applications to the program are processed quickly and the identity of recipients remains anonymous. Decisions are made by a seven-member committee composed of writers from across the country. Typically the fund annually provides a total of $90,000 to approximately a dozen writers.
About George Woodcock
One of Canada’s foremost man of letters, George Woodcock was the author and editor of over 120 books. He was a social historian, cultural commentator, literary critic, poet, translator, biographer, travel writer, and social activist (he founded, with his wife, the Trans-Himalayan Aid Society and Canada India Village Aid). Born in Winnipeg, he grew up in Shropshire, England, and began his writing career in London. In 1949, he married the artist Ingeborg Linzer, and that same year returned to Canada eventually settling in Vancouver. A friend and colleague in England of such famous modern writers as George Orwell and Mulk Raj Anand, he became friends in Canada with literary figures such as Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, and Al Purdy. Woodcock lectured in English at the University of British Columbia, founded the critical quarterly Canadian Literature, and helped establish the high international profile now enjoyed by Canadian writers.
About the Writers’ Trust of Canada
The Writers’ Trust of Canada is a charitable organization that seeks to advance, nurture, and celebrate Canadian writers and writing through a portfolio of programs, including literary awards, financial grants, scholarships, and a writers’ retreat. Writers’ Trust programming is designed to champion excellence in Canadian writing, to improve the status of writers, and to create connections between writers and readers. Canada’s writers receive more financial support from the Writers’ Trust than from any other non-governmental organization or foundation in the country.
George Woodcock, Canadian Critic (and the Origins of Canadian Literature)
by W.H. New
“…and I began to learn about Canadian literature as I went along.” – George Woodcock
George Woodcock, the person—as distinct from George Woodcock, the author, the imposing name on so many book jackets—I first met under unprepossessing circumstances over thirty years ago. I had just finished my Master’s thesis on the work of Frederick Niven, the Chilean-born Scots-Canadian novelist who used to live in Nelson, B.C., and who in the early years of this century wrote romances of emigration, adolescent rebellion, and high adventure. Uttering to myself those apposite lines from Earle Birney’s “Candidate’s prayer before master’s oral”—”protect my line from Things Unread/ & pump me down what Coleridge said/ guard me from blackout in the Gulf/ & the abysmal Beowulf/ …/ Minerva speed! All now is night./ The sharks encircle—/ Send me LIGHT!” (Collected Poems I, 139)—I mounted the steps in the UBC Library to a small room on the eighth floor, there to meet with my oral examination committee: among them, Donald Stephens, Roy Daniells, William Hall, and George Woodcock.
I didn’t know then that I would later become their colleague, and George’s assistant with the magazine Canadian Literature, which had only just recently begun publishing. Nor did I know what George would later still write about his sense of what constituted Canadian writing before he actually returned to Canada in the 1940s: Mazo de la Roche, Grey Owl, Leacock, and Paul Potts—he said, “[Charles G.D.] Roberts was for me the writer about animals I had read as a child, and my father had brought back Ralph Connor’s novels and Frederick Niven’s early books when the family returned to Canada from England in 1913. (My first ideas of British Columbia were shaped by Niven’s Lost Cabin Mine.)” (World 11) As The Lost Cabin Mine is a sort of Deadwood Dick western, the kind of book that my classmate George Bowering would later satirize in Caprice, this knowledge might not in any event have helped me with my Master’s exam, but it would at least have provided a context for the examiners.
As it was, when it came to George’s turn to ask me a question, he ignored Niven entirely and said: “Can you think of any Canadian Utopias?” Birney’s Minerva abandoned me in an instant. I thrashed around for awhile, thinking about Acadia, making the best of things, and the land that God gave Cain, and finally said “No.” Woodcock replied, “Neither can I.” It was the beginning of our friendship.
It was also the beginning of an interesting conversation—one that has gone on for thirty years, in a way—about the relations between literature and politics: or perhaps (given George’s “rejection of politics,” as the title of one of his books has it) the relations between literature and history. It became clear that George’s question had been immediately motivated by his interest in James De Mille’s A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, a novel he later wrote about as “well-written and boldly speculative” (World 24) and placed in the company of Butler, Verne, and Bulwer Lytton. But the question about utopia implied still more. For the desire to make the world a better place in which to live—what is this except a utopian impulse?—has touched George’s thought, one suspects, all his life. The conscientious pacifism, the engagement with Read and aesthetics and with Orwell and economic activism, the fascination with Tolstoy, Merton, the Doukhobours, and Gabriel Dumont, the enquiry into alternative cultures, the Sooke experiment that brought him and Inge to Canada in 1949, the insistent intellectual-anarchist refusal of centralized political bureaucracies: these have marked his life and constituted the subjects of his more than 150 books. It would be nothing short of amazing if these subjects did not also surface in his comments on Canadian writing. And, of course, they do, perhaps most obviously in The Meeting of Time and Space, a 1981 rejection of Pierre Elliott Trudeau that turns into a celebration both of regionalism in Canadian writing and of an idea of Canada as a kind of Switzerland, a “confederation of regions” (38).
The comments on De Mille, with their concern for good writing and their allusions to Butler and Verne, reveal something else as well, however. They show the degree to which George Woodcock has been a man of his time—one who was influenced by his European upbringing and by his concern for aesthetic quality (he has not been afraid to make judgments, and his willingness to hold strong opinions has meant that his critical writings characteristically present reasoned cases, all of them open to counter-discussion); these comments at the same time indicate how George’s writings on Canadian literature serve as a kind of intellectual diary, the notes of a man engaging as an immigrant with his “native culture,” in search all the time of his own region of words.
Founding and editing the journal Canadian Literature was a significant part of this process. And it’s important to emphasize, I think, that during the eighteen years George edited the journal, it was very much a one-man show. Donald Stephens had become Associate Editor early on, of course—and served as Acting Editor when George was away—and Don made many important suggestions about directions the journal might take. Almost a decade later, I joined these discussions, as Assistant Editor. But George made all the final decisions.
He edited the journal for the University of B.C., but really edited it out of his own house on McCleery Street. Once a quarter, when it came time to prepare the paste-up, Don and I took turns helping, at George and Inge’s dining-room table—academics armed with scissors and Scotch tape, ankle-deep almost in trimmed galley pages, and smudged with printer’s ink, exchanging enthusiasms for the latest insights the journal would be printing. “Who’s Anthony Appenzell?” I once asked, naively, about one critic I thought wrote well. “A Vancouver writer,” George blithely replied, and it was some months later before I realized it was a pseudonym George himself occasionally adopted. There was a kind of community established during these afternoons, and for me it proved to be an editorial apprenticeship as well. George would talk about writing, talk about government policy and its impact on the publishing industry, talk about ideas and writers and style, wittily and with passionate commitment. After he retired in 1977 and the journal moved onto the university campus, these “paste-up sessions” no longer happened, but fortunately the exchanges of ideas continued, as did the conviviality and the sense of community.
In its first eighteen years, of course, the journal moved from its days as a fledgling publication to become the pre-eminent journal in the field; it acquired an active role in Canadian literary history, helping to confirm what a few people had long known but that public institutions were less willing or ready to recognize, that Canadian writing was substantial and varied, worth stocking, worth writing about, and worth reading. In the years that I’ve been editing Canadian Literature—often coaxing it in different directions from those that George had set, and often pursuing directions that I had not anticipated, making room for the critical approaches and opinions of yet another generation—I’ve tried to be sensitive to this history, and to the journal’s role in public education. For it seems to me that moving intelligently into the culture’s future is a process that asks a critic always to be aware of the cultural past.
When I was gathering information on the early history of the journal, for this talk, I turned to the pages of the UBC Alumni Chronicle to see how those who had set the journal up thought it was doing. When the journal was first announced, back then, many people even doubted that Canadian Literature would survive its first issue, let alone its first year: “IS there a Canadian literature” was regarded as a comic question. A 1959 editorial did confidently declare: “The journal will print studies of established and lesser-known writers, essays on new writers and current literary movements, articles by poets, novelists and dramatists on their own arts, and discussions of Canadian writing by English, French and American critics.” And yet, in retrospect, isn’t it curious to see how Canadians of the 1950s attached our cultural independence so firmly to European and American approval? The fact that the journal’s first issue got noticed in New York papers was itself cause for subsequent comment in the UBC Alumni Chronicle; it was perceived as a sign of success.
Two successful years later, George Woodcock reflected that the “infant mortality among literary magazines is high indeed, but those which survive the first critical months usually do so because the standards they establish attract both readers and writers.” While this declaration of survival asserted the presence of both a market and a function (as Woodcock remarked after ten years had gone by, the journal was not just “getting away with survival” but actually establishing “a place in the world”), it gives one pause now to read the recurrent metaphor of birth and infancy in these early commentaries. (After five years of publication, another reviewer called the journal a “planned child” whose “gestation period was elephantine,” adding “I cannot recall now where the original seed came from.”) Comments such as these reveal a good deal about the social norms of the time, and about the attitudes towards language that for a while at any rate would show up in critical commentary.
To mark the tenth year of publication, the journal published a special issue on the literature of the 1960s, an issue that also appeared separately as one of George’s more than twenty books specifically about Canadian writing, under the title The Sixties: Canadian Writers and Writing of the Decade. Surveys of the decade’s writing joined with separate essays and poems by writers who had now become famous names: Margaret Laurence (whose “Ten Years’ Sentences,” on Africa and Manawaka, is now everywhere cited in Laurence studies), P.K. Page (writing about images), Mordecai Richler (writing about social uncertainty), Hugh MacLennan (summing up his career), Dorothy Livesay, Norman Levine, James Reaney, Al Purdy, Miriam Waddington, Dorothy Livesay, A.J.M. Smith.
Interviewed after seventeen years of editing the journal, Woodcock clarified how it was that he could attract so many famous writers to his pages. The plain fact is that he asked them, and they agreed. Which says three things about the journal and Canadian criticism: (1) the journal helped confirm the intellectual viability of the field of study, (2) editing the journal had brought George into contact with other creative people in the country, and they worked together to affirm the necessity of cultural expression, and (3) the journal’s reputation had been established in part because of George’s integrity. The journal got going with the support of the university and the Koerner Foundation, he recalls, and somewhat laconically adds “and I began to learn about Canadian literature as I went along.” “’I had to badger people to write for us in the early days,’ he says, ’the point being that we were asking for criticism from people who’d never written anything of that sort in their lives.’” Ethel Wilson for one, in remarkable essays that called for a rethinking of how words behaved and what they could do. But other factors were also at work during these decades, which meant that the journal could now draw on a huge number of “over-the-transom” submissions; it no longer had to depend on special commissions. For by the mid-1960s, the sheer number of Canadian publications was increasing. This development was taking place at the same time as 1940s children were coming of age. Separate Canadian Literature courses were also being established in universities, and advances in publication technology were permitting small (and often anti-Establishment) presses to flourish outside the main centres of Canadian commerce. Not to be underestimated either was the powerful emotional sweep of the new nationalism.
All of these factors created opportunities—and sometimes problems as well. One problem rapidly became how—or whether—to review everything. Issue no. 1 had reviewed 22 books, one of which was a reprint of Susanna Moodie’s Life in the Clearings, and the journal at the time found it could reflect current publications in quite leisurely fashion; Issue no. 73, the last one George edited, reviewed a much more selective group of 29, including works by Jack Hodgins, Jane Rule, Michael Ondaatje, and Robertson Davies—it was no longer attempting to be all-inclusive, though it was still conscious of its effort to be, in George’s words, “an on-going literary history of Canada.” For contrast’s sake, Issue no. 140, from Spring 1994, reviewed 121 books, had to be even more selective, and the journal no longer thinks of itself as a deliberate or representative history; it’s more of a record of a range of some of the critical attitudes of the present time (but of course that’s perhaps all that history ever can be). The editorial desire to find out about—and represent—what was good in Canadian writing, however, meant that the early decades of the journal’s publication are marked by their documentary impulse. Later criticism would take different directions, but in a time when so little was widely known about the country’s literature, critics had first of all to share information. They perhaps thought of it as documentary objectivity. But what they wrote was a subjective history, one that was shaped in large part by a shared belief in the power of language and a shared aspiration for a liberal society.
Part of this history involves George’s personal relationships with Canadian authors, relationships that are reflected in the contributions to the journal but also recorded in his voluminous correspondence—with Margaret Laurence, Al Purdy, Hugh MacLennan, Margaret Atwood, Phyllis Grosskurth, Doug Fetherling, and many others—and tangibly expressed in the encouragement that the intellectual anarchist offered the young and the unestablished. That said, George also had his preferences. He admired MacLennan’s narrative sweep but not what he considered to be MacLennan’s puritanical coyness; he found Callaghan’s moral niceties laboured, a judgment that divided the two writers for many years; he has never warmed to Davies’ mythologizing or what he saw as Hodgins’s extravagances; but he praised Laurence’s social compass, Atwood’s incisive wit, John Glassco’s decadent satires, Pat Lowther’s integrity. Even when he didn’t wholeheartedly endorse a writer’s work, he undertook to examine why, and from these reflections emerged some of his most enduring essays: “A Nation’s Odyssey,” “Lost Eurydice,” “Diana’s Priest in the Bush Garden,” “McLuhan’s Utopia.”
George’s books on Canadian literature testify to his enquiring mind; they stand also as a model of the way he has educated others to appreciate where their culture derives some of its values from. These studies are essentially essays in book form—books of his own essays, books of criticism edited primarily from contributions to Canadian Literature, books edited on assignment, books written out of a passionate intellectual commitment to the ideas of creativity and freedom. The books connect with all his other books into a large canvas of libertarian thought, but the essay has provided him with the medium of choice as far as Canadian criticism is concerned; it is the medium of enquiry, the medium of the trial idea, the medium of sharing the thoughts that follow from reflective learning. These are his titles:
• A Choice of Critics, 1966
• The Sixties, 1969
• Hugh MacLennan, 1969
• Mordecai Richler, 1970
• Odysseus Ever Returning, 1970
• Malcolm Lowry: The Man and His Work, 1971
• Wyndham Lewis in Canada, 1971
• The Rejection of Politics, 1972
• Colony and Confederation, 1974
• Poets and Critics, 1974
• The Canadian Novel in the Twentieth Century, 1975
• The World of Canadian Writing, 1980
• Taking It to the Letter, 1981
• The Meeting of Time and Space, 1981
• A Place to Stand On, 1983
• Strange Bedfellows: The State and the Arts in Canada, 1985
• Northern Spring, 1987
• Introducing Margaret Laurence’s The Stone Angel, 1989
• Introducing Margaret Atwood’s Surfacing;
…Mordecai Richler’s The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz;
…Sinclair Ross’s As For Me and My House, [all 1990]
• George Woodcock’s Introduction to Canadian Poetry… and Canadian Fiction, [both 1993]
It’s an impressive list. And I’m still leaving out any reference to the substantial essays formulated as forewords and afterwords, the occasional and uncollected sketches and reviews, and even the two essays he’s contributed to Canadian Literature in 1994: one of them a memoir of his encounter with Cambodia, as poet and travel writer, and the other a study of his Latin American travel books and what they have to say about literature, social policy, and Native participation in New World cultures.
His recent writings show him often in a reflective mood, thoughts travelling back over ideas and encounters, but making of them something fresh and clear. His 1992 essay “On Purdy’s Galapagos,” for example (in Inside the Poem), engages not only with Purdy’s travel poetry, but also with his own travels in the South Pacific and with his intellectual travels through the history of ideas. Purdy’s Galapagos takes Woodcock to Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle, but also to W.H. Hudson and Jorge Luis Borges, to Lucretius and Kenneth Rexroth, to George Orwell and Edward Aveling, Genesis and Albert Camus. A lifetime’s worth of learning goes into the reading of the next book and the next, till the reader to whom Woodcock speaks comes away illuminated—able to engage more fully with his subject (in this instance Purdy’s poetry) and also invigorated by the connections among ideas. George Woodcock’s criticism is always asking readers to make such connections, asking the present to shape the future by connecting critically and constructively—and contextually—with the past. Hence to see the Purdy essay also mentioning the poetry of a younger generation still—specifically, the work of Christopher Dewdney—is to see Woodcock continuing to tune in to the voices of the new, and continuing to respond to those writers who are eager to say their minds.
In some ways this is the same spirit of enquiry that took Woodcock into Canadian writing in the first place, in search of Utopia perhaps, but settling for the freedom to speak. It’s also a gift that he’s offered the rest of us: a commitment to the creativity of culture in Canada, a commitment of time and intelligence, that has helped make it possible for those who have come along after also to enjoy cultural freedoms. We have easier access to Canadian writing now than people did in 1959; we find it easier to locate Canadian books in bookstores and think it axiomatic that they will be studied and discussed in schools; and if there truly is anyone still around who wonders if the words “Canadian literature” declare an oxymoron, such a person would now be widely and wisely dismissed as absurd. It will be clear from what I have already said that I think George Woodcock is an extraordinary person in a particularly influential generation. He is a person who has helped clarify some of our more fundamental cultural possibilities and helped make us think seriously about what we are capable of in this place, in our time. Canada, he has argued, may not be Utopia—but nor is it Cain’s barren ground, and it is important to remember that these are not the only two options we have. Canada is, by contrast, a place for human settlement, glorious and flawed; and its writers, like its people—as a community—are worthy of respect.
We would honour George’s gift to us most faithfully by continuing to insist on people’s right to speak freely about history, society, individuality, and words.
[This essay is provided with the permission of George Woodcock’s long-time collaborator and friend W.H. New and Canadian Literature. A free eBook version of George Woodcock’s editorials from the journal Canadian Literature is available at http://canlit.ca/woodcock/editorials]
About George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award
In 1994, in the aftermath of civic events held to recognize the literary career of George Woodcock, B.C. BookWorld began working in partnership with the City of Vancouver (Mayor of Vancouver’s office), the Vancouver Public Library and a non-profit society (Pacific BookWorld News Society, founded in 1988) to jointly sponsor and present an annual prize to a senior British Columbia author whose enduring contribution to the literary arts spans several decades. Initially the corporate sponsor for this undertaking was BC Gas, later renamed Terasen. This sponsor would not agree to have the award named in honour of George Woodcock, as was first envisioned. But, in 2007, the Terasen Lifetime Achievement Award was renamed the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, as originally intended. Each year another commemorative plaque is installed in the Writers’ Walk–or Woodcock Walk–at the Vancouver Public Library on Georgia Street in Vancouver. The Mayor of Vancouver, or his representative, attends a presentation ceremony and issues a proclamation in honour of the recipient, who received a cash award. Winners are announced with press releases and full-page notices in B.C. BookWorld. The recipients of the annual the annual award have been:
Eric Nicol (1995)
Jane Rule (1996)
Barry Broadfoot (1997)
Christie Harris (1998)
Phyllis Webb (1999)
Paul St. Pierre (2000)
Robert Harlow (2001)
Peter Trower (2002)
Audrey Thomas (2003).
P.K. Page (2004)
Alice Munro (2005)
Jack Hodgins (2006)
bill bissett (2007)
Joy Kogawa (2008)
W.P. Kinsella (2009)
Anne Cameron (2010)
Chuck Davis (2010)
David Suzuki (2011)
Daphne Marlatt 2012)
William New (2013)
Information on all these writers can be found elsewhere on this website. Simply search for their names at the opening menu.
Winners are nominated by letters from the general public. To nominate a candidate for the award, send a brief letter or postcard to George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award c/o BC BookWorld, 3516 West 13th Avenue Vancouver B.C. V6R 2S3. A selection committee consists of the board of directors of Pacific BookWorld News Society. There is no discrimination with regards to genres of writing other than all recipients must be authors of books.
For more extensive information about the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award, visit www.bcbookawards.ca
George Woodcock: Collected editorials from Canadian Literature
Publicity Materials (2013)
Compiled and edited by Canadian Literature’s Glenn Deer (Associate editor, poetry) and Matthew Gruman (Marketing and Communications), this collection contains all the editorials George Woodcock wrote during his tenure as editor and “Balancing the Yin and the Yang,” written as a guest editorial in 1992. Also included are Alan Twigg’s “In Praise of an Omnivorous Intelligence” and Glenn Deer’s “Alive to Unfashionable Possibilities: Reading Woodcock’s Collected Editorials”—two tributes written specifically for this edition.
George Woodcock: Collected editorials from Canadian Literature is available in the EPUB format (list of supported devices), and will soon be available for the Amazon Kindle.
Table of Contents
1.“In Praise of an Omnivorous Intelligence” by Alan Twigg
2.“Alive to Unfashionable Possibilities: Reading Woodcock’s Collected Editorials” by Glenn Deer
3.“First Issue of Canadian Literature.” Canadian Literature #1, Summer 1959
4.“Aeropagitica re-written.” Canadian Literature #2, Autumn 1959
5.“A Time of Projects.” Canadian Literature #3, Winter 1960
6.“On the Cultivation of Laurels.” Canadian Literature #4, Spring 1960
7.“Summer Thought.” Canadian Literature #5, Summer 1960
8.“Honours and Awards.” Canadian Literature #6, Autumn 1960
9.“A Record Writ in Air.” Canadian Literature #7, Winter 1961
10.“Under Seymour Mountain.” Canadian Literature #8, Spring 1961
11.“Shoots from an Old Tree.” Canadian Literature #9, Summer 1961
12.“The Muse of Politics.” Canadian Literature #10, Autumn 1961
13.“Remote Reflections.” Canadian Literature #11, Winter 1962
14.“Reflections in the Chartroom.” Canadian Literature #12, Spring 1962
15.“Celebrations of Harvest.” Canadian Literature #13, Summer 1962
16.“Cautious Inevitability.” Canadian Literature #14, Autumn 1962
17.“Smith’s Hundred.” Canadian Literature #15, Winter 1963
18.“Salt and Savour.” Canadian Literature #16, Spring 1963
19.“A Spectre is Haunting Canada.” Canadian Literature #17, Summer 1963
20.“A Commonwealth of Literatures.” Canadian Literature #18, Autumn 1963
21.“Titanic, but Not Olympian.” Canadian Literature #19, Winter 1964
22.“Problems of Equilibrium.” Canadian Literature #20, Spring 1964
23.“On the Divide.” Canadian Literature #21, Summer 1964
24.“Uncommercial Voices.” Canadian Literature #22, Autumn 1964
25.“Surveyors and Natural Historians.” Canadian Literature #23, Winter 1965
26.“Canadian Biography.” Canadian Literature #24, Spring 1965
27.“Trans-Pacific Greetings: Meanjin’s 100th Issue.” Canadian Literature #25, Summer 1965
28.“Biographical First Fruits.” Canadian Literature #28, Spring 1966
29.“Paperbacks and Respectable Pickpockets.” Canadian Literature #29, Summer 1966
30.“George Kuthan.” Canadian Literature #30, Autumn 1966
31.“Canadian Literature and the Centennial.” Canadian Literature #31, Winter 1967
32.“To Other Editors.” Canadian Literature #32, Spring 1967
33.“Preface to a Symposium.” Canadian Literature #33, Summer 1967
34.“Expanding Vistas.” Canadian Literature #34, Autumn 1967
35.“About Biographies.” Canadian Literature #36, Spring 1968
36.“Awards and Initiatives.” Canadian Literature #37, Summer 1968
37.“World in Microcosm.” Canadian Literature #38, Autumn 1968
38.“Momaco Revisited.” Canadian Literature #35, Winter 1968
39.“Centrifugal Publishing.” Canadian Literature #39, Winter 1969
40.“Sparrows and Eagles.” Canadian Literature #40, Spring 1969
41.“Getting away with Survival.” Canadian Literature #41, Summer 1969
42.“An Absence of Utopias.” Canadian Literature #42, Autumn 1969
43.“Arts in the Politician’s Eye.” Canadian Literature #43, Winter 1970
44.“The Absorption of Echoes.” Canadian Literature #44, Spring 1970
45.“Permutations of Politics.” Canadian Literature #45, Summer 1970
46.“The Frontiers of Literature.” Canadian Literature #46, Autumn 1970
47.“New Directions in Publishing.” Canadian Literature #47, Winter 1971
48.“New Trends in Publishing (2).” Canadian Literature #48, Spring 1971
49.“Criticism and Other Arts.” Canadian Literature #49, Summer 1971
50.“Swarming of Poets.” Canadian Literature #50, Autumn 1971
51.“The Craft of History.” Canadian Literature #51, Winter 1972
52.“Give The Corporation a Compass!.” Canadian Literature #52, Spring 1972
53.“Or Every Bellows Burst…” Canadian Literature #53, Summer 1972
54.“Limits of Taste and Tolerance.” Canadian Literature #54, Autumn 1972
55.“Horizon of Survival.” Canadian Literature #55, Winter 1973
56.“Periodical Precariousness.” Canadian Literature #56, Spring 1973
57.“Publishing Present.” Canadian Literature #57, Summer 1973
58.“New-Old Critics.” Canadian Literature #58, Autumn 1973
59.“Trapping the Bird of Love.” Canadian Literature #59, Winter 1974
60.“How a Land Grows Old.” Canadian Literature #60, Spring 1974
61.“When Did it All Begin?.” Canadian Literature #61, Summer 1974
62.“Premonitions of Mrs. Porter.” Canadian Literature #62, Autumn 1974
63.“Changing Patrons.” Canadian Literature #63, Winter 1975
64.“Tasting the Castalian Waters.” Canadian Literature #64, Spring 1975
65.“Victories and Farewells.” Canadian Literature #65, Summer 1975
66.“Valedictions.” Canadian Literature #66, Autumn 1975
67.“Manners of Criticism.” Canadian Literature #67, Winter 1976
68.“Maritime Cadences.” Canadian Literature #68-69, Spring/Summer 1976
69.“Historians and Biographers.” Canadian Literature #70, Autumn 1976
70.“Pride of Place and Past.” Canadian Literature #71, Winter 1976
71.“Playing Favorites.” Canadian Literature #72, Spring 1977
72.“Massey’s Harvest.” Canadian Literature #73, Summer 1977
73.“Balancing the Yin and the Yang.” Canadian Literature #133, Summer 1992
Canadian Literature wishes to establish no clan, little or large. It will not adopt a narrowly academic approach, nor will it try to restrict its pages to any school of criticism or any class of writers. It is published by a university, but many of its present and future contributors live and work outside academic circles, and long may they continue to do so, for the independent men and women of letters are the solid core of any mature literature. Good writing, writing that says something fresh and valuable on literature in Canada is what we seek, no matter where it originates. It can be in English or in French, and it need not necessarily be by Canadians, since we intend to publish the views of writers from south of the border or east of the Atlantic, who can observe what is being produced here from an external and detached viewpoint. —George Woodcock, “First Issue of Canadian Literature” (1959).
[The following is the foreword to an e-book version of George Woodcock’s collected editorials for Canadian Literature.]
George the Great by Alan Twigg
For decades it was far easier for people to suggest George Woodcock wrote too much rather than to read everything he wrote.
Pierre Berton acknowledged as much when he came to Vancouver to participate in festivities to honour George in 1994.
Not a lot has changed since George’s death. He remains a titanic asterisk in the realm of Canadian literature. Sure he was born in Winnipeg, sure he co-founded Canadian Literature, sure he lived most of his life in Canada, but wasn’t he really, at heart, a transplanted Brit?
Sure he wrote and edited 150 books, sure he co-founded two ongoing charities that have benefited millions of people, sure he wrote the world’s fundamental text on the philosophy of anarchism but, hey, can anyone seriously suggest someone from Vancouver could possibly be more accomplished than Northrop Frye or Marshall Mcluhan or Harold Innes or George Grant?
So it is I wish to begin this collection with a trumpet blast of didacticism to vanquish any and all negativity: George Woodcock was great. He remains great. And his greatness is unparalleled.
I hope the appearance of this posthumous volume can mark the onset of an endless period whereby we can enjoy and celebrate the artfulness and hard-won integrity of Canada’s most remarkable man of letters.
Envy, they say, is one of the seven deadly sins. There has been no shortage of sinners when it comes to considering George.
First and foremost, there was that prodigious output. The joke was that George had succeeded in cloning himself and there must be several George Woodcocks clacking away on Underwood typewriters in the little house on McCleery Street, the house with the cherry tree in the backyard.
No, he just worked harder than everyone else.
When bookseller and anarchist Don Stewart assembled a public display of George’s approximately 150-plus titles at the Robson Square law courts in 1994, in keeping with civic festivities to mark George Woodcock Day, it was akin to visiting Hay-On-Wie in Wales and seeing all those bookstores. THIS was the biggest array possible.
In accordance with George’s 82nd birthday, the tenth annual B.C. Book Prizes gala summoned likely the largest gathering of Canadian writers in history, more than 600, but it went almost unreported in the national press. Toronto is Moscow; Vancouver is Vladivostock.
Our George was a committed Vladivostockian. He operated from the edge. He never courted the centre of power. Therefore the depth of his contributions—not just the breadth—has never been adequately gauged and championed outside of British Columbia by more than a few dozen people such as his biographer George Fetherling, former pupil Margaret Atwood and long-time cohort Bill New.
Others have envied George Woodcock’s stalwart independence, his omnivorous intelligence, his close connection to Orwell, his consistent idealism (adherence to anarchism, foreign aid initiatives) and his unparalleled ability to function so well in so many genres (except fiction).
And, let’s face it, there was also something intimidating about his egoistic claim that he was capable of writing a book on any subject. It sounds like something Samuel Johnson might have said; not something seriously suggested in the 20th century.
I envy that mellifluous style. Reading George’s editorial contributions to Canadian Literature, I am struck by some of his sentences so obviously forged prior to the incursion of the computer. I respect his range. And I admire his valour.
I also appreciate his skill as a polemicist, invariably arguing on behalf of the underdog, the minority. Whenever I see someone on the street, outside a building, banished to the cold, smoking, I always think fondly of George defending the rights of persecuted smokers.
Most of all, I am inspired by his elegant egalitarianism, evident from his opening statement: “Canadian Literature wishes to establish no clan, little or large. It will not adapt a narrowly academic approach, nor will it restrict its pages to any school of criticism or any class of writers.”
His words could aptly serve as my credo for B.C. BookWorld. In 1987, George instinctively understood the concept of a non-elitist, educational newspaper about books by or about British Columbians—he considered himself a British Columbian first and a Canadian second—and so he happily consented to serve as a founding board member and poetry columnist.
This was before emails. If George wrote, you knew in one second that the envelope had to be from him. How I loved to receive those distinctively typed letters and reviews, even though we lived only five-minutes-drive apart. George wrote his poetry columns hastily but reliably; I rejigged every one of them; he never objected or mentioned it. He was not a fastidious ‘artiste.’ It was all about making progress.
Not long before he died, I made a little documentary about George for CBC. There is a still photo of us that I like. I’m escorting him on my sidewalk after interviewing him. He is a bit fragile. I am holding him up. This image is poignant to me because I am fully aware that George Woodcock held us up first. He uplifted us. He helped convince us that Canadian literature could exist.
This volume uplifts George Woodcock. Now it’s our turn to pay him back, with respect, and with attention to the many fine things he had to say.
[George Woodcock bequeathed Alan Twigg his signed first edition of Animal Farm; Ingeborg Woodcock bequeathed him her Toyota Tercel, which he is still driving. He has written a book that contains some intimate recollections of the couple, Tibetans In Exile: The Dalai Lama & The Woodcocks (Ronsdale Press 2009), as well as fifteen other books.]