Why Stay We
Reviews and Essays
George Godwin (1889-1974) wrote most
of his twenty-one books from 1928 to
1957. All except two, The Eternal
Forest and Why Stay We Here?, are
out of print. This is unfortunate
because Godwin does much to
celebrate and constructively
criticize Canada. The Eternal Forest
is an analysis of Canada through the
microcosm of a B.C. village; Why
Stay We Here? (the sequel to The
Eternal Forest), is Infantry
Lieutenant Godwin's outspoken
critique of World War I; Columbia,
or The Future of Canada, is Godwin's
vision of Canada's future from the
perspective of 1928; Vancouver, A
Life: 1757-1798, is one of the first
integral biographies of Captain
George Vancouver. Japan's New Order
(1942) explains some of the
complexities of the traditional
Godwin's writing reveals expertise
in an unusually wide range of
disciplines (history, religion,
economics, sociology, medicine,
criminology, law, agriculture,
literature) which accounts for the
multifaceted nature of his books.
Note: for an in-depth article on
George Godwin and his books see Alan
Twigg's huge site: ABCBookWorld.
This site contains over 5000 B.C.
George Godwin has been practically
unknown in Canada for the past
seventy years, yet he spent at least
four years in Canada, seriously
considered making it his permanent
home, served with the Canadian
Infantry in France, and wrote four
books in which Canada plays a key
Godwin was born into a large
middle-class family (four brothers,
three sisters) in London, and
attended Glenrock (Surrey) then St.
Lawrence College (Kent). He was
listless at school so his family
sent him off to Dresden, chaperoned
by an older sister, in an effort to
settle him down. Two years later he
returned to England, worked in a
bank for a few years, then set out
for Canada. Within a year he had
sent for his fiancee (Dorothy, née
Purdon, from Belfast) and married
For reasons unknown the Godwins
detrained at Whonnock (part of
today's Maple Ridge), purchased
land, and built a house. However,
they failed to make a decent living
at small farming and Godwin soon
found himself reduced to casual
labor. We know now from local
historians that Godwin's economic
ruin was typical for Whonnock in
that time frame. Godwin laid much of
the blame for his ruin at the feet
of government mismanagement and
crooked elements in big business
e.g. oil, lumber and real estate. He
also resented the mendacious
promises of the Department of
Immigration (the “Last Best West,”
etc.) which had given him (and many
others) false expectations about
live in Canada.
At the same time, there was much he
loved about Canada: the
neighborliness, the relative lack of
class snobbery, the power and beauty
of the nearby forest. Godwin's
experience in Canada also helped him
to sort out the perplexing muddle of
his own life and his views on
society. As he writes in The Eternal
“When we came (to Canada) we were
little, weren't we? I mean our
outlook on life was petty and
overlaid by the things that don't
really count at all. I don't think
that in England I ever thought
straight, really, though sometimes I
tried to. Life was overlaid with so
many small things that the great
issues were all in shadow. But out
here one can see great principles at
work. Life sticks out. You know what
is real and vital.”
So speaks “The Newcomer” (Godwin
himself), the protagonist of the
novel, to his wife about their four
years of slogging in Whonnock
(called “Ferguson's Landing” in the
novel). Godwin was ambivalent about
Canada and whether to remain; he was
also ambivalent about the War.
Nevertheless, the Godwins returned
to England in 1916, and Spring,
1917, found Godwin in the trenches
at Vimy. He bonded with his platoon
and tried to soldier well, but the
things he observed convinced him
that the war was badly run and
tragically wasteful. Besides, he
knew the so-called “Boches” first
hand and could not hate them. For
Godwin the only good things that
seemed to come of the war were
camaraderie and close friendships.
All this he recorded in a second
novel, Why Stay We Here? (1930).
Gassed and invalided out with
tuberculosis, he was sent to
recuperate for a year at Balfour
Sanatarium, on the Arrow Lakes. Then
he returned to England, this time
This writer knows little of Godwin
from this point on, except that he
was called to the bar in the early
1920's and practiced law on and off
throughout his life. His attachment
to the Middle Temple must have been
strong because he wrote a book on
it, The Middle Temple: the Society
and Fellowship (1954). If one can
judge from Godwin's considerable
(and varied) output of books,
writing and journalism were his
major interest. Godwin also raised a
large family (four boys, one girl).
George Godwin died in 1974 and is
buried at Leatherhead, Surrey.
Again, apart from Godwin's private
journal, (much of which has been
attached to our 1994 edition of The
Eternal Forest), not that much is
known about him. Unanswered
questions abound. When did Godwin's
books go out of print? Why so many
different publishers? How well
travelled was Godwin? Did he have
noteworthy connections with other
British intellectuals? At the
present stage of research one is
reduced to conjectures for the most
part, e.g. Godwin did publish
Columbia, or the Future of Canada
(1928) in the “Today and Tomorrow”
series (an intriguing collection of
books which engaged the minds of
some very famous people: Bertrand
Russell wrote The Future of Science;
R. Trevelyan wrote Is There a Future
for Poetry?; Liddell Hart wrote The
Future of War, etc.) and this could
be an indication that in Britain
Godwin was considered an important
expert on Canada.
Detailed research on Godwin and his
life has only just started. It will
interesting to see what is
unearthed. Here are some of his
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 Disciple (a play in
three acts). London: Acorn
Press, 1936. 88 p.
The Eternal Forest Under
Western Skies. New York:
The Eternal Forest
Vancouver: Godwin Books,
1994. With notes, illustrations,
introduction by George Woodcock and
25 pages of extracts from Godwin's
The Great Mystics.
London: Watts, 1945. 106 p.
The Great Revivalists.
London: Watts, 1951. 220 p.
Japan's New Order.
London: Watts, 1942. 32 p.
The Mystery of Anna Berger.
London: Watts, 1948. 226 p.
Peter Kurten. A Study in
Sadism. London: Acorn
Press, 1938. 58 p. Reissued by
Heinemann in 1945.
Priest or Physician?
A Study of Faith-healing. London:
Trial of Peter Griffiths,
The (The Blackburn Baby Murder).
London: Hodge, 1950. 219 p.
Vancouver, A Life:
1757-98. London: P. Alan, 1930. 308
p. With maps, etc.
Why Stay We Here?.
London: P. Alan, 1930. 320 p.
Why Stay We Here?
Victoria: Godwin Books, 2002. With
notes and illustrations.
With the exception of The Eternal
Forest Godwin's books have become
rare and hard to get. Of the ten I
have read I think the best are his
two novels: The Eternal Forest and
its sequel, Why Stay We Here?. Both
are essentially Canadian. Two others
will interest Canadiana enthusiasts:
Columbia, or the Future of Canada,
and Vancouver, A Life: 1757-98.h