George Woodcock

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The Independent Online
George Woodcock was the principal authority on Canadian literature and a leading authority on anarchism, though he always thought of himself primarily as a poet.

He divided his life between two worlds. Although he was born in Canada, in 1912, his Anglo-Welsh parents soon brought him back to Britain, where he spent his first 37 years. He went to Borlase School in Marlow, but was unable to go on to university because of family poverty. For 11 years he worked as a railway clerk, wrote for little magazines and joined the London literary Bohemia; and became involved in left-wing politics, moving from socialism to pacifism and also to anarchism.

During the Second World War he was a conscientious objector and worked on the land, and produced his own little magazine Now from 1940 to 1947. For seven years he worked with the Freedom Press, the anarchist publishing organisation, and in 1945 he founded the Freedom Defence Committee on behalf of dissenters who were too unpopular for anyone else.

In 1949 he returned with his German wife to Canada, where he spent the last 45 years of his life. They had a hard struggle at first, but he earned a precarious living as a busy writer and broadcaster. For a time he taught at the University of Washington (until he was excluded from the United States because of his anarchism) and then at the University of British Columbia. He became the leading advocate of Canadian literature, and was the founding editor of the prestigious quarterly Canadian Literature, from 1959 to 1977. He and his wife spent much time travelling, and they were involved in Indian and Tibetan relief work. They also established a fund for impoverished writers in Canada.

Over more then 60 years he produced an enormous amount of journalism and well over a hundred books. The latter included biographical studies of H.W. Bates, Aphra Behn, Gabriel Dumont, Gandhi, Godwin, Aldous Huxley, Kropotkin, Malcolm Lowry, Orwell, Proudhon, Herbert Read and Oscar Wilde; works of criticism and travel, history and politics (including standard studies of anarchism and of Canada); collections of essays and poems; and three volumes of memoirs.

Woodcock was an elegant as well as a prolific writer (rather impatient of what he saw as the pedantry of academic scholarship), a courteous controversialist, a loyal comrade and a valued colleague. He and his wife had no children but a large family of friends all over the world. He received many honours and awards, but refused those offered by governments, preferring the respect of his peers.

Nicolas Walter

George Woodcock, writer and editor: born Winnipeg 8 May 1912; Editor, Now 1940-47, Canadian Literature 1959-77; married 1949 Ingeborg Roskelly; died Vancouver 28 January 1995.