George Woodcock

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George Woodcock
Born May 8, 1912
Winnipeg, Canada
Died January 28, 1995
Vancouver, Canada
Language English
Nationality Canadian
Genre Political biography, critical essays
Subject Anarchism
Relatives Arthur Woodcock (father)
Margaret Gertrude Lewis (mother)

George Woodcock (/ˈwʊdˌkɑːk/; May 8, 1912 – January 28, 1995) was a Canadian writer of political biography and history, an anarchist thinker, 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 of Canada for his book Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (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. Woodcock's first published work was The White Island, a collection of poetry, which was issued by Fortune Press in 1940.[4]

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.[5]

George Woodcock died at his home in Vancouver, Canada, on January 28, 1995.[6]


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".[7] 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 pacificts and fascists, Woodcock took exception to this.[7] Woodcock stated that "the review had abandoned its position as an independent forum", and was now "the cultural review of the British Anarchist movement".[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] 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).[10]


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. 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.[11]

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.

Selected bibliography

  • Anarchy or Chaos – 1944
  • The Incomparable Aphra – 1948
  • Ravens and Prophets – 1952
  • Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements – 1962
  • Faces of India: A Travel Narrative – 1964
  • The Crystal Spirit: A Study of George Orwell – 1966
  • The Greeks in India – 1966
  • The Doukhobors – 1968 (with Ivan Avakumovic)
  • The Hudson's Bay Company – 1970
  • The Anarchist Prince: A Biographical Study of Peter Kropotkin – 1971 (with Ivan Avakumovic)
  • Into Tibet: The Early British Explorers – 1971
  • Victoria – 1971
  • GandhiFontana Modern Masters, 1972
  • Dawn and the Darkest Hour: A Study of Aldous Huxley – 1972
  • Rejection of Politics and Other Essays on Canada, Canadians, Anarchism and the World – 1972
  • Canada and the Canadians – 1973
  • Who Killed the British Empire?: An Inquest – 1974
  • Amor de Cosmos: Journalist and Reformer – 1975
  • Gabriel Dumont: The Métis Chief and his Lost World – 1975
  • South Sea Journey – 1976
  • Peoples of the Coast: The Indians of the Pacific Northwest – 1977
  • The Anarchist Reader – 1977 (editor)
  • Anima, or, Swann Grown Old: A Cycle of Poems – 1977
  • Two Plays – 1977
  • Thomas Merton Monk And Poet – A Critical Study – 1978
  • The World of Canadian Writing: Critiques and Recollections – 1980
  • 100 Great Canadians – 1980
  • Confederation Betrayed! – 1981
  • The Meeting of Time and Space: Regionalism in Canadian Literature – 1981
  • Taking it to the Letter – 1981
  • Orwell's Message: 1984 & the Present – 1984
  • Strange Bedfellows: The State and the Arts in Canada – 1985
  • The University of British Columbia: A Souvenir – 1986 (with Tim Fitzharris)
  • Northern Spring: The Flowering of Canadian Literature in English – 1987
  • Pierre-Joseph Proudhon: A Biography – 1987
  • Caves in the Desert: Travels in China – 1988
  • The Purdy-Woodcock Letters: Selected Correspondence, 1964–1984 – 1988
  • William Godwin: A Biographical Study – 1989
  • A Social History of Canada – 1989
  • Powers of Observation – 1989
  • The Century that Made Us: Canada 1814–1914 – 1989
  • British Columbia: A History of the Province – 1990
  • Tolstoy at Yasnaya Polyana & Other Poems – 1991
  • Anarchism and Anarchists: Essays – 1992
  • The Cherry Tree on Cherry Street: And Other Poems – 1994
  • Marvellous Century: Archaic Man and the Awakening of Reason – 2005

See also


  1. John Robert Colombo (January 1, 1984). Canadian Literary Landmarks. Dundurn. pp. 280–. ISBN 978-0-88882-073-0. Retrieved September 12, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Gabriella Reznowski (February 7, 2011). Literary Research and Canadian Literature: Strategies and Sources. Scarecrow Press. pp. 89–. ISBN 978-0-8108-7769-6. Retrieved September 12, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Canadian Literature, "About George Woodcock" Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  4. Yemi Ogunyemi (July 15, 2005). The Writers and Politics. iUniverse. pp. 12–. ISBN 978-1-4620-9131-7. Retrieved September 12, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The Woodcock Fund Writers' Trust of Canada. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  6. George Woodcock Notice – New York Times. Published February 1, 1995. Retrieved September 11, 2013.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Orwell, Sonia and Angus, Ian (eds.) The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume 2: My Country Right or Left, pp. 210–212 (London, Penguin) Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "My_Country_Right_or_Left" defined multiple times with different content
  8. Gordon Bowker (March 14, 2013). George Orwell. Little, Brown Book Group. pp. 477–. ISBN 978-1-4055-2805-4. Retrieved September 11, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Hiebert, Matt. "In Canada and Abroad: The Diverse Publishing Career of George Woodcock". Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  10. "The Crystal Spirit" George Orwell Novels. Retrieved August 19, 2013.
  11. Freedom of the City honorees City of Vancouver Official Site. Retrieved September 12, 2013.

External links