George Godwin | The Canadian Encyclopedia


George Godwin

George Godwin, writer, satirist, lawyer (b at London, UK, 1 July 1889, died at Hastings, UK, 1974). Godwin spent seven years in Canada, first as a fruit grower, then as an officer in the Canadian army.

Godwin, George Stanley

George Godwin, writer, satirist, lawyer (b at London, UK, 1 July 1889, died at Hastings, UK, 1974). Godwin spent seven years in Canada, first as a fruit grower, then as an officer in the Canadian army. He wrote three books about Canada: The Eternal Forest, Why Stay We Here? and Columbia, or The Future of Canada. Although these works first appeared in the late 1920s they record life in an earlier time, 1910-1919. They were out of print from 1931 to 1994 but have been recently reprinted. Godwin's writing is terse but highly nuanced and armed with a remarkable vocabulary. The author has a perceptive eye and a satirical yet idealistic perspective, and writes with original imagery.

Godwin was born in London into a prosperous family. He attended St. Lawrence College in Kent, then studied in Dresden, Germany. In 1908 he returned to England and started law studies by correspondence. In 1911 he moved to Whonnock, British Columbia, where he married, built a house in the forest, and tried to make a living. The Eternal Forest describes these years. Godwin was appalled at the local anti-German sentiment and isolated himself from August 1914 until 1916, when poverty drove him back to England. There he enlisted in the Canadian army. He spent two years in France, and was invalided out in 1918. These experiences inform Why Stay We Here? After spending 1919 at a sanatorium in Balfour, BC, Godwin returned to England, where he spent the rest of his life. He completed his legal studies and practiced law, raised five children, and wrote twenty books, including a biography of Captain George VANCOUVER.

Columbia, or The Future of Canada (1928) is short but cutting. In it Godwin forecasts that Canada will lose her best people to the US and that those remaining in Canada will lose their Britishness, becoming "mere American clones." He criticizes rapacious corporations, such as the CANADIAN PACIFIC RAILWAY, and a system which ignores the average citizen and rewards speculators and brokers.

The Eternal Forest (1929) and its sequel, Why Stay We Here? (1930) are Godwin's autobiographical novels. The Eternal Forest describes Godwin's mixed feelings about British Columbia. He is enchanted by the forest, which he finds a soothing place to sort out his inner life. Godwin's sensitivity to the spirituality of the forest can be seen as decades ahead of his time. He finds the people of British Columbia a fascinating multicultural mix, without snobbery and often willing to share. With a character named Dunn, who becomes Godwin's friend, he discusses Canada at length, identifying dishonest political and business practices and expressing alarm at the increasing JAPANESE presence in Canada, as did many at the time.

Why Stay We Here? picks up the thread from The Eternal Forest. It traces the Godwins' return to England in 1916 during WORLD WAR I, and records George's experiences after joining the CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE. Godwin describes the shock of the trenches and his feeling of entrapment in a gigantic machine. He questions Allied battle tactics, anti-German propaganda, the censorship of letters and the way some officers abused their men. Probing beneath appearances, Godwin observes the psychological effects of war: the many forms of fear, post-traumatic stress disorder, and various kinds of alienation. Yet Godwin also sees positive aspects of the war: mental discipline, close friendships, adventure, and even the pension plan.

Godwin's autobiographical novels offer a unique view of life in British Columbia and later of Canada's experiences in the trenches of France. A poet of nature, a satirist, and an agent for change, George Godwin probed the ideas of his time.

Further Reading