LITERARY LOCATION: 9770 268th Street, Whonnock, Fraser Valley. DIRECTIONS: The north-south street is 268th Street and going off to the west is 98th Avenue.

Here both the Newcomer in George Godwin's novel The Eternal Forest Under Western Skies and Godwin himself looked at Mount Baker and dreamed living off the land in the first of two Fraser Valley residences that Godwin had in B.C. The address marks the entrance to the location of his homesite from 268th Street via a right-of-way that leads towards the actual (unmarked) site of the long-gone cabin. According to local historian Fred Braches, it would have stood behind the current house that is on the site.

QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

"Just what had he expected from this change from the Old World to the New? And just what had he got?" -- 'The Eternal Forest'

George Godwin's The Eternal Forest under Western Skies (1929) is the great novel of the Fraser Valley. Through the thoughts and experiences of a central character called the Newcomer, The Eternal Forest (its 1994 re-published title) vividly portrays homesteading, the prevailing racism of the times, the terrain of Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, the clash of socialist hopes versus capitalism's reality, and the emergence of Vancouver as a city. It remains a penetrating exploration of idealism as well as a revealing work of social analysis. The novel focuses on a couple who buys and clears property at Ferguson's Landing, a fictionalized version of Whonnock, approximately 25 miles upstream from New Westminster, but their poverty and WWI lead them to renounce pioneering in favour of a return to England.

George Godwin was born in London in 1889. His father died when he was four. He was partially educated in Germany where he learned German and admired the works of Wagner, Schumann and Goethe. Godwin formed an antipathy to the snobbery and pettiness of the English class system, making him curious about life in other places. His brother Dick had gone to Samoa to oversee a copra plantation and his brother Donald had settled in Coquitlam, B.C.

After his mother died in 1911, Godwin went to British Columbia, sent for his fiancée, the daughter of a Belfast physician, and they bought and cleared land at Whonnock. They soon spent most of their money, added a son to their family, and discovered they were unable to compete economically with Japanese, Chinese and American farmers during the recession of 1913.

According to Fraser Valley historian Fred Braches, writing in 2014, Goodwin and his wife Dorothy Purdon, married in 1912, first settled on acreage off of today's 268th Street. According to Braches, Goodwin was not cut to be a "bushranger,"; and Dorothy hated the place. "A year or so later," Braches writes, "after the birth of their first child, the couple moved to a more urban home on Spilsbury Street, close to the railway station and other amenities, before returning for good to England in 1915."

Unimpressed by what the education system of B.C. could offer, and stirred by the outbreak of war, they admitted defeat and returned to England. Godwin was unable to join the English army due to his poor eyesight, so he memorized the eye chart and joined the Canadian infantry. With the help of his brother, Dick, he gained a commission from the Minister of Militia and joined Tobin's Tigers, the 29th Battalion from Vancouver. They fought in France where Godwin was unable to muster antipathy towards the Germans. He was also critical of the coercive use of religion in war.

Godwin was wounded by a gas attack and, like the protagonist in The Eternal Forest, contracted tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanitarium near the Arrow Lakes. Returning to England, Godwin passed the rest of the war in Dorset teaching tank warfare. In the 1920s, he was called to the bar as a lawyer but opted for a career as a writer. He proceeded to publish an array of more than 20 books on a variety of subjects, including a 320-page biography of Captain George Vancouver.

He never returned to Canada.

Following a work called Columbia, or The Future of Canada (1928) and The Eternal Forest, Godwin provided a sequel to his first novel, changing the name of his autobiographical protagonist from the Newcomer to Stephen Craig, and making him a B.C. fruit grower. This memoir novel, Why Stay We Here? (1930), describes Godwin's military experiences in 1916-1917.

George Godwin died at age 85 in 1974. Under an imprint called Godwin Books, Godwin's Victoria-based grand-nephew, Robert Thomson, has set himself the task of reviving George Godwin's literary reputation. Thomson republished an expanded version of The Eternal Forest in 1994, and has since made other Godwin texts available via the internet.

FULL ENTRY:

George's Godwin's The Eternal Forest is the great novel of the Fraser Valley. It is penetrating as a personal exploration of idealism, revealing as a work of social analysis and sophisticated in its impressions and execution. It ranks with Morley Roberts' The Prey of the Strongest (1906), M.A. Grainger's Woodsmen of the West (1908), Bertrand Sinclair's Poor Man's Rock (1920), Hubert Evans' The New Front Line (1927) and Frederick Niven's Wild Honey (1927) for consideration as the quintessential early novel of British Columbia.

The Eternal Forest was written by George Godwin who homesteaded in Whonnock in the Fraser Valley with his wife Dorothy from approximately 1912 to 1915. Through experiences and thoughts of a central character called the Newcomer, it vividly portrays pioneer life, the prevailing racism of the times, the terrain of present-day Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, the clash of socialist hopes versus capitalism and the emergence of Vancouver as a city. The couple buys and clears property at 'Ferguson's Landing', a fictionalized version of Whonnock, located approximately 25 miles upstream from New Westminster, but their poverty and World War One lead them to renounce pioneering in favour of a return to England. Joining the fray would at least provide a source of income. Godwin followed this work with a trenchant and philosophical response to World War One, newly republished as Why Stay We Here? (Godwin Books, 2002). It has been cited as the finest Canadian World War One novel. [See review]

George Godwin (b. 1889) was one of eight children born to a successful wholesale meat marketer in London. His father died when he was four. Around the age of eight he was sent to boarding school, first in Sussex, then at Saint Lawrence College in Kent. Lonely and homesick, he became an avid reader and was stubbornly prepared to be caned on a weekly basis in order to defy school officials. After Godwin was seemingly expelled around age 15, he and his much sister Maud were sent to school in Dredsen, German, where she was studying singing. There he learned German and became an admirer of the works of Wagner, Schumann and Goethe. As a young man around 1907, Godwin worked briefly in a German bank in London but disliked the snobbery and pettiness of the English class system. His brother Dick had gone to Samoa to oversee a copra plantation and his brother Donald had settled in Coquitlam, B.C.

In 1911, Godwin's mother died. He left for British Columbia, sent for his fiancée, the daughter of a Belfast physician, Dorothy Purdon, and they bought and cleared land at Whonnock. They soon had spent their 500 pounds sterling, added a son (Eric) to their family and discovered they were unable to compete economically with Japanese, Chinese and American farmers during the recession of 1913. Unimpressed by what the education system of British Columbia could offer, and stirred by the outbreak of war, they admitted defeat and returned to England in the summer of 1916 after Godwin has spent several years as a recluse.

Rejected by the army at first due to his poor eyesight, Godwin memorized the eye chart and joined the Canadian infantry. With the help of his brother Dick, he gained a commission from the Minister of Militia and joined 'Tobin's Tigers', the 29th Battalion from Vancouver. They fought in France where Godwin was unable to muster antipathy towards the Germans. He was also critical of the coercive use of religion in war. He later wrote, "what were these marching men as, if not as Christ, Archetype of all suffering, sacrifice?... A battalion of Christs bearing the sins of the world along a northern road in France." Godwin was wounded by a gas attack. Like the character in The Eternal Forest, he contracted tuberculosis and spent a year in a sanitarium near the Arrow Lakes.

Returning to England, Godwin passed the rest of World War I in Dorset teaching tank warfare. In the 1920s he was called to the bar as a lawyer but opted for a career as a writer. Like an earlier English 'newcomer' Morley Roberts, who briefly visited New Westminster in the late 19th century, Godwin proceeded to publish a remarkable array of books on a variety of subjects. He never returned to Canada.

Following a work called Columbia or The Future of Canada (1928) and his novel The Eternal Forest (1929), Godwin provided a sequel, changing the name of his autobiograhical protagonist from the Newcomer to Stephen Craig, making him a British Columbia fruit grower. The resultant memoir/novel describes Godwin's military experiences in 1916-1917. The peculiar title is drawn from lines by Christopher Marlowe: "The Grecian soldiers, tired with ten years' war, Began to cry: 'Let us unto our ships; Troy is invincible; why stay we here?'" The original and now alternate title is Odyssey of a Canadian Officer in France in World War I. Unfortunately this novel was published in London and New York at the outset of the Depression only after a slew of similar works, most famously All Quiet on the Western Front, had sated the market. A reviewer for the Times Literary Supplement noted, "If this book had appeared a year or so ago, it might have made some stir." A reviewer for The New Statesman said much the same thing--World War One had been done to death.

The father of five children, (Eric, Monica, Bill, Tony and Geoff), George Godwin proceeded with a literary life on a variety of other fronts until 1957. He died at age 85 in 1974 and was buried at the Leatherhead churchyard in Surrey, southwest of London.

In the quixotic Godwin tradition, Donald Godwin's Vancouver-based grandson Robert Thomson set himself the task of reviving Godwin's literary reputation in 1993 when he first read The Eternal Forest, having met George Godwin and his wife in 1970. (That year George Godwin's youngest son Geoff drowned attempting to make his second successful crossing of the Atlantic in a small boat, prompting his elderly father to write Geoff, A Family Memoir.) Under an imprint called Godwin Books, Thomson republished an expanded version of The Eternal Forest in 1994, including archival photos. In his efforts "to build a bridgehead through my guerrilla marketing", Thomson had asked George Woodcock to read the manuscript and comment. Woodcock contributed an appreciative foreword, having endured his own homesteading attempt at Sooke on Vancouver Island after World War II. "I can vouch in a special and rather intimate way for the authenticity of the central plot line of The Eternal Forest," Woodcock wrote. "Even the thoughts of the Newcomer, so often strange and inflated and even slightly hallucinatory, are those of a man exhausting himself in solitude under the beautiful indifferent eye of Nature."

The Eternal Forest was favourably reviewed in B.C. BookWorld by Tom Shandel in 1995. It has since sold more than 2,500 copies. Thomson located and read the sequel to The Eternal Forest--entitled Why Stay We Here?--in 1999. "If anything, I found it better than The Eternal Forest so I knew I had to republish it, too," he wrote.

Robert Thomson has also made a third book by Godwin available via his internet site. It's Godwin's "Columbia or The Future of Canada." It remains to be seen whether Thomson has the wherewithal to republish more obscure, out-of-print titles by Godwin. Godwin's 320-page biography of Captain George Vancouver evidently contains ample excerpts from Captain Vancouver's writings as it examines Vancouver's influence in Hawaii (the Sandwich Islands), his remarkable skill as a mapmaker and his relationship with the Spanish captain Quadra.

MORE ABOUT GEORGE GODWIN -- from Fred Braches

George S. Godwin was born in London, England, the youngest boy of a large family. He was three years old when his father died. After he was educated at boarding schools and later failing his studies at college, he spent a couple of years in Germany.

After returning to England, Godwin reportedly worked briefly for a German bank in England. In the spring of 1909 he was admitted to membership of the Middle Temple and started studying law. His mother died in 1910.

In September 1911 Godwin, then age 22, left for British Columbia, Canada where one of his brothers managed a real-estate agency. George Godwin was employed as "real estate broker"; with the agency, but that ended with the arrival of his future wife, Dorothy Alicia Purdon, from Ireland. They married in the spring of 1912 and moved to acreage in Whonnock BC.

Godwin's dreams of living off the land did not materialize. George Godwin first novel, The Eternal Forest (1929) was inspired by his years in Whonnock.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Godwin wanted to join the Canadian armed forces, but was rejected for active service because of poor eyesight. He returned with his wife and son to England in 1915, where he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force after all and embarked for France in September 1916 with the 29th Vancouver Battalion.

In the summer of 1917, after suffering a "severe cold"; in France the previous winter, Godwin was hospitalized in England. He did not return to France but was assigned to a different Canadian unit in Britain. In December 1918, diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, he was shipped to Canada and placed in the Balfour Military Sanatorium in the West Kootenay, BC, for recovery. Godwin returned to England and his family in the summer of 1920.

Godwin's second novel, Why Stay We Here? (1932), closely follows Godwin's own war years. This book starts and ends at the same community described in The Eternal Forest, but the characters from that novel that go to war in Why Stay We Here?, don't share overseas experiences with the protagonist.

Although Godwin was called to the bar in the fall of 1917 (in absentia), he did not pursue a career in law. During his stay in British Columbia he had freelanced for Vancouver, BC, newspapers and upon his return to England writing became his profession. He made a good income mostly as freelance for newspapers, magazines and publicity people. That allowed the family some luxury and his five children the education they desired.

Aside from freelancing, his main source of income, Godwin wrote a good number of fiction and non-fiction books and a play. His efforts in publishing, started in the mid 1930s under the style The Acorn Press, ended because of the paper shortage of the war years.

Godwin tried to enlist with the army, was rejected, but found employment writing for the War Office.

After the Second World War Godwin resumed his work as a writer and freelancer. He became the editor of the literary quarterly The Adelphi for a year.

Godwin and his wife spent their final years in Sussex on property they bought in 1956 and named it "Oaklands."; It included seven acres of woodland as well as an established orchard. His last book was published in 1957. He continued writing and had plans for another book, but that did not materialize.

--

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY (compiled by Robert Thomson, rthomson@islandnet.com)

Cain or The Future of Crime. London: Paul Kegan, 1928. 108 p.
Columbia or The Future of Canada. London: Paul Kegan, 1928. 95 p.
The Eternal Forest Under Western Skies. New York: Appleton, 1929.
Why Stay We Here?. London: P. Alan, 1930. 320 p.
Vancouver, A Life: 1757-98. London: Philip Alan, 1930. 308 p. With maps, etc.
Empty Victory. (A futuristic novel). London: John Long, 1932. 288 p.
Discovery (The Story of the Finding of the World). London: Heath Cranton, 1933. 96 p.
The Disciple (a play in three acts). London: Acorn Press, 1936. 88 p.
Peter Kurten. A Study in Sadism. London: Acorn Press, 1938. 58 p. Reissued by Heinemann in 1945.
Queen Mary College (East London College): An Adventure in Education. London: Acorn, 1939. 209 p.
The Land our Larder. London: Acorn, 1939.
Our Woods in War. London: Acorn. 1940.
Priest or Physician? A Study of Faith-healing. London: Watts, 1941.
Japan's New Order. London: Watts, 1942. 32 p.
The Great Mystics. London: Watts, 1945. 106 p.
Marconi (1939-45), A War Record. London: Chatto and Windus, 1946. 125 p.
The Mystery of Anna Berger. London: Watts, 1948. 226 p.
The Trial of Peter Griffiths, (The Blackburn Baby Murder). London: Hodge, 1950. 219 p.
The Great Revivalists. London: Watts, 1951. 220 p.
The Middle Temple: the Society and Fellowship. London: Staples Press. 1954. 174 p.
Crime and Social Action. London: Watts. 1956.
Criminal Man. New York: Braziller, 1957.

REISSUES

The Eternal Forest Vancouver: Godwin Books, 1994. With notes, archival photos, footnotes, introduction by George Woodcock and 25 pages of extracts from Godwin's personal journal. See www.godwinbooks.com

Why Stay We Here? Victoria: Godwin Books, 2002. With notes, footnotes and archival photos. See www.godwinbooks.com

Columbia or the Future of Canada (from 1928). See www.godwinbooks.com

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Fred Braches's Whonnock Notes, No. 21 - Spring 2015 includes the following bibliography of George Godwin's publications,

BOOKS:

Fiction
The Eternal Forest. London: Philip Alan, 1929, 318 p.
The Eternal Forest, under western skies. New York: Appleton, 1929. Reissued by Godwin Books,
R.S. Thomson Ed., 1994.
Why Stay We Here? London: Philip. Alan and New York: Appleton, 1930. 332 p. Reissued by
Godwin Books, R.S. Thomson Ed., 2003.
Empty Victory: A futuristic novel. London: John Long, 1932. 288 p.
The Lake of Memory. (Serialized in The Adelphi, 1950)

Biography
Vancouver, A Life: 1757-1798. London: Philip Alan and New York Appleton, 1930. 308 p.

Play
The Disciple: a play in three acts. London: Acorn Press, 1936. 88 p.

Non-fiction
Cain; or, the future of crime. London: Paul Kegan, 1928; New York: Dutton, 108 p.
Columbia; or, the future of Canada. London: Paul Kegan, New York: Dutton, 1928. 95 p.
Discovery: The Story of the Finding of the World. London: Heath, Cranton, 1933. 96 p.
Peter Kürten: A Study in Sadism. The Acorn Press, 1938. 58 p.
Queen Mary College, An Adventure in Education. London: Queen Mary College and Acorn Press,
1939. 209 p.
The Land our Larder: the story of the Surfleet experiment and its significance in war. London: Acorn
Press, 1939, 2nd Edition 1940. 127 p.
Our Woods in War: a survey of their vital rôle in defence. London: Acorn Press. 1940. 116 p.
Priest or Physician? A study of faith-healing. London: Watts, Thinkers Forum No. 10, 1941. 44 p.
Japan's New Order. London: Watts, Thinkers Forum No. 23. 1942. 32 p.
A Century of Trading, The story of the Firm of White, Child & Beney. Ed. George Godwin, London:
White, Child
Marconi (1939-45), A War Record. London: Chatto and Windus, 1946. 125 p. Also a French
version: Marconi, 1939-1945, sa contribution à l'effort de guerre, Londres: Chatto and
Windus, 1947.
The Great Mystics. London: Watts, Thinkers Library No. 106, 1945. 106 p. Folcroft Library
Edition, 1974. Norwood Editions, 1976, etc.
Hansons of Eastcheap: The Study of the House Samuel Hanson and Son Ltd., London, private
printing for S. Hanson & Son, 1947.
The Mystery of Anna Berger. London: Watts, Thinkers Library No. 130, 1948. 226 p.
The Trial of Peter Griffith: The Blackburn Baby Murder. Griffith, Peter, George Godwin Ed.
London: Hodge, 1950. 219 p.
The Great Revivalists. London: Watts, Thinkers Library, No. 140, 1951. 220 p. ; Boston:
Beacon Press. 1950.
The Middle Temple: the Society and Fellowship. London: Staples Press. 1954. 174 p.
Crime and Social Action. London: Watts, 1956. 277 p.
Criminal Man. New York: Braziller, 1957. 277 p.
Geoff, self-printed, 1967. in memory of his son Geoffrey Stephen Godwin who died at sea.

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ALSO

Braches, Fred. Ferguson's Landing: George Godwin's Whonnock. (2000)

Jackson, Stewart. Writings of George Godwin: A Twentieth Century Romantic (Trafford Publishing | January 26 2011)

Braches, Fred. Whonnock Notes #21 (Spring 2015)

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Review of the author's work by BC Studies:
The Eternal Forest

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2015] "Classic" "Fiction" "War" "1900-1950"