The Eternal Forest
by George S. Godwin
First published in 1929 as The Eternal Forest under Western Skies. In the early
1930s this book fell into obscurity and remained virtually unknown until 1994
when it was re-printed with an introduction by George Woodcock, a
preface and historical notes by Godwin’s great-nephew, Robert S. Thomson,
and archival photos.
Available only in cloth.
320 pp., with photos, notes, etc. (see above)
Price: $30 U.S. plus $10 postage. Total of $40.
George Godwin (1889-1974) and his wife immigrated to Whonnock (40 miles up the Fraser River from Vancouver) in 1911. They were unsuccessful in making a living and returned to England in 1916 where Godwin signed up to fight in France as a second-lieutenant in the Canadian Infantry. His war experiences are described in a second book, Why stay we here? (1930). In The Eternal Forest Godwin writes about his struggle to make a living and describes in detail his fellow villagers in Whonnock. During this time he forms a close friendship with a fellow Englishman, “Old Man Dunn” and the two of them discuss in depth their impressions of Whonnock, British Columbia and Canada (See the comments by Prof. Brian Elliott in the section below, “What the critics say”.) Like Alexis de Toqueville, Godwin often appears prophetic because of the accuracy of his observations.
As well as being an accurate portrait of B. C. in its adolescence, this novel has many depths: sociological, psychological and philosophical. George Woodcock thought highly of it and wrote a brilliant preface to the 1994 edition.
This edition is illustrated with archival photos (ca. 1912), and modern (1994) counterpart photos of the same scenes. This unusual feature enables the reader to appreciate how much Vancouver and Maple Ridge have changed during those 82 years. It also contains twenty pages of extracts from Godwin’s personal journal.
“As soon as I read George Godwin’s long-neglected novel, The Eternal Forest, I had an extraordinary sense of deja vu. I had “been there before,” even if the times and places were different… What interests us most in this novel are the portraits of human beings struggling and sometimes by sheer willfulness succeeding against both the villainies of corrupt men and the ever-returning, ever encroaching power of the bush.” (George Woodcock, Preface to The Eternal Forest)
“The Eternal Forest can best be described as ‘The Great Fraser Valley Novel.’ It realistically depicts the erosion of rural, community-based life in the Valley by Vancouver-based capitalism. (…) Rich in empathy and insights.”
(Vancouver and Its Writers, by Alan Twigg)
“Should force British Columbians to adjust their thinking about the past.” (BC Historical News)
The following extract is taken from a review by Professor Brian Elliott (Dept. of Sociology and Anthropology, U. of British Columbia) which appeared in BC Studies (summer, 1996).
This new edition of a book which was published originally by Appletons of New York in 1929, provides a rare glimpse into life in the Lower Fraser Valley immediately prior to the First World War. It is, in fact, much more than a reissued novel. Robert Thomson, an academic-turned-publisher, and the nephew of George Godwin, has added greatly to the value of the original text by providing extracts from the author’s journal, recent and period photographs, and a series of notes. Passages from Godwin’s journal enable us to understand more fully the significance of particular sections of the text–connecting the voices of his characters to his own political views, or the emotions of the central figure in the novel to the intimate details of his own personal life. Taken together, the journal extracts and the notes offer the reader an unusual degree of assurance that The Eternal Forest can be appreciated not simply for its aesthetic qualities but also as a source of historical understanding.
Godwin and his wife, Dorothy, exchanged the comfort of their middle-class milieu in England for the romance of the pioneer life. In 1912 they arrived in the Fraser Valley and sank their 500 pounds sterling into a house and a few acres of bush in Whonnock (Ferguson’s Landing in the novel). The Eternal Forest describes the society they encountered. There are the resourceful Olsens–farmers, fishers, miners, and carpenters–who have all the skills to endure and prosper in the wilderness, and the patient, humble Swede, Johansson, who sweats and suffers but who eventually owns a fine farm and the first Ford in the district. Old Man Dunn, the self-educated Yorkshireman, is the local sage whose socialist and cooperative views help shape the collective critique of Vancouver realtors, provincial politicians, and all kinds of promoters and boosters whose schemes bring ruin to the gullible or desperate. There is the voluptuous Mrs. Armstrong, who takes in loggers and “serve[s] her boarders’ fare out with the sauce of sex” (60), and whose house resounds with disorderly delights throughout the winter months. The Church of England vicar, Mr. Corley, disapproves of Mrs. Armstrong, but then he despises most of the citizens of Ferguson’s Landing, for few accord him any respect and fewer still attend his services. He longs for the certainty, hierarchy, and decorum that he left. There is Blanchard, the storekeeper dispensing provisions and gossip and mail, playing postmaster, thanks to Bob England, an old-timer and political broker who has secured Blanchard’s appointment through his connections in the provincial capital. Such little acts of patronage tie hamlets like the Landing to the webs of influence being woven in the cities. And on the margins of this society are others, identified as Red Men, Orientals, Japs, and Hindus, viewed by the settlers with condescension, but also with fear. (…)
Godwin writes with (…) an appreciation of the enduring spiritual value of woods and wilderness. (…) gives a very good sociological understanding of (early BC).