George Woodcock

George Woodcock (; May 8, 1912 – January 28, 1995) was a Canadian writer of political biography and history, an anarchist thinker, a philosopher, an essayist and literary critic. He was also a poet and published several volumes of travel writing.[1] In 1959 he was the founding editor of the journal Canadian Literature which was the first academic journal specifically dedicated to Canadian writing.[2] He is most commonly known outside Canada for his book (1962).

Woodcock was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, but moved with his parents to England at an early age, attending Sir William Borlase's Grammar School in Marlow and Morley College. Though his family was quite poor, Woodcock's grandfather offered to pay his tuition if he went to Cambridge University which he turned down due to the condition that he undertake seminary training for the Anglican clergy.[3] Instead, he took a job as a clerk at the Great Western Railway and it was there that he first became interested in anarchism. He was to remain an anarchist for the rest of his life, writing several books on the subject, including Anarchism, the anthology The Anarchist Reader (1977), and biographies of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, William Godwin, Oscar Wilde and Peter Kropotkin. It was during these years that he met several prominent literary figures, including T. S. Eliot and Aldous Huxley, and forging a particularly close relationship with the art theorist Herbert Read.[4] Woodcock's first published work was The White Island, a collection of poetry, which was issued by Fortune Press in 1940.[5]

Woodcock spent World War II working as a conscientious objector on a farm in Essex, and in 1949, moved to British Columbia.

At Camp Angel in Oregon, a camp for conscientious objectors, he was a founder of the Untide Press, which sought to bring poetry to the public in an inexpensive but attractive format. Following the war, he returned to Canada, eventually settling in Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1955, he took a post in the English department of the University of British Columbia, where he stayed until the 1970s. Around this time he started to write more prolifically, producing several travel books and collections of poetry, as well as the works on anarchism for which he is best known.

Towards the end of his life, Woodcock became increasingly interested in what he saw as the plight of Tibetans. He travelled to India, studied Buddhism, became friends with the Dalai Lama and established the Tibetan Refugee Aid Society. With Inge, his wife, Woodcock established Canada India Village Aid, which sponsors self-help projects in rural India. Both organizations exemplify Woodcock's ideal of voluntary cooperation between peoples across national boundaries.

George and Inge also established a program to support professional Canadian writers. The Woodcock Fund, which began in 1989, provides financial assistance to writers in mid-book-project who face an unforeseen financial need that threatens the completion of their book. The Fund is available to writers of fiction, creative non-fiction, plays, and poetry. The Woodcocks helped create an endowment for the program in excess of two million dollars. The Woodcock Fund program is administered by the Writers' Trust of Canada and by March 2012 had distributed $887,273 to 180 Canadian writers.[6]

George Woodcock died at his home in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, on January 28, 1995.[7]

Woodcock first came to know George Orwell after they had a public disagreement in the pages of the Partisan Review. In his "London Letter" published in the March–April 1942 issue of the review, Orwell had written that in the context of a war against fascism, pacifism was "objectively pro-fascist".[8] As the founder and editor of Now, an "anti-war paper" which Orwell had mentioned in his article as an example of publications that published contributions by both pacifists and fascists, Woodcock took exception to this.[8]:257 Woodcock stated that "the review had abandoned its position as an independent forum", and was now "the cultural review of the British Anarchist movement".[8] Despite this difference, the two became good friends and kept up a correspondence until Orwell's death, and Now would publish Orwell's article "How the Poor Die" in its November 6, 1946 issue.[9]

Woodcock and Orwell would both also be active members of the Freedom Defence Committee.

Woodcock later wrote The Crystal Spirit (1966), a critical study of Orwell and his work which won a Governor General's Award.[10] The title is taken from the last line of the poem written by Orwell in memory of the Italian militiaman he met in Barcelona in December 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, a meeting Orwell describes in the opening lines to Homage to Catalonia (1938).[11]

Woodcock was honoured with several awards, including a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Canada in 1968, the UBC Medal for Popular Biography in 1973 and 1976, and the Molson Prize in 1973. In 1970, he received an honorary doctorate from Sir George Williams University, which later became Concordia University.[12] However, he only accepted awards given by his peers, refusing several awards given by the Canadian state, including the Order of Canada. The one exception was the award of the Freedom of the City of Vancouver, which he accepted in 1994.[13]

He is the subject of a biography, The Gentle Anarchist: A Life of George Woodcock (1998) by George Fetherling, and a documentary George Woodcock: Anarchist of Cherry Street by Tom Shandel and Alan Twigg.