Cover image for The spinster & the prophet : H.G. Wells, Florence Deeks, and the case of the plagiarized text
The spinster & the prophet : H.G. Wells, Florence Deeks, and the case of the plagiarized text
McKillop, A. B.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Four Walls Eight Windows, [2002?]

Physical Description:
xvi, 477 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D21 .M248 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In 1920, H. G. Wells published his best-selling The Outline of History. Several years earlier, Florence Deeks had sent a similar work to Wells's North American publisher. Deeks's The Web was a history of the world with an emphasis on the role that women played. Her book was rejected. Upon publication of Wells's massive opus (1,324 pages), which he completed in 18 months, Deeks discovered similarities between the two texts. The books had matching structures, scope, and even contained identical factual errors. From accounts of their contrasting lives (Wells was a philanderer and social progressive, and Deeks was a feminist who never married), personal memoirs, and courtroom transcripts -- where Deeks fought her case of plagiarism -- McKillop weaves the story like a legal thriller. Over 25 photographs add to this forgotten chapter in literary history.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

When, in 1920, Florence Deeks finally received her rejected manuscript a feminist history of the world from Macmillan after eight months, she couldn't understand why it appeared in such bad condition, the pages worn, torn and dog-eared. Later that year, when she read H.G. Wells's new book, The Outline of History, published by Macmillan, she felt a chill. There were so many similarities to her own work: shared themes, organization, word choice, even the same mistakes. Florence made a dramatic decision she would sue Wells and his publisher for plagiarism. Years later, after a series of failed appeals, this reserved, dignified Toronto woman tried to bring her case to the king of England. It is a compelling story, part mystery, part legal thriller, always sympathetic to the intrepid Deeks, a woman trying to get a fair hearing in a man's world. McKillop's narrative directly challenges earlier accounts of Deeks v. Wells, which were all too eager to paint the plaintiff as a frustrated, obsessed spinster. The result is a wonderfully complex portrait of the two protagonists: Deeks, a shy, earnest, lionhearted woman; Wells, a bold, sexually promiscuous literary giant. The author handles the dual story line brilliantly, weaving together two opposing characters into one altogether gripping tale of literary theft. Photos. (Oct. 1) Forecast: Short-listed for several Canadian prizes and warmly received in Britain, this should be widely reviewed here and will appeal to readers of literary history and of women's history and, more broadly, to the kind of readers who flocked to The Professor and the Madman. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

This book was published and glowingly reviewed in England and Canada a year or more since. It is a curious story about plagiarism and how difficult it is to prove. Florence Deeks was a Toronto literary lady of knowledge, skill, and, as it turned out, determination. She wrote a history of the world from a feminist perspective aptly entitled, The Web. She took it to Macmillans Toronto in July 1918. They wanted time. After eight months, the manuscript came back dog-eared, having been at Macmillans London, who refused publication. Early in 1920, Macmillans London published H.G. Wells' The Outline of History, a massive work of 1300 pages written, it seemed, in 18 months. It was hugely successful. As McKillop (Carleton Univ.) reveals, almost certainly much of it was stolen from the Deeks manuscript. Deeks charged plagiarism, and, badly advised by lawyers, lost a fortune pursuing it through to what was in 1930 the final appeals court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London. Her appeal was rejected. The book is fascinating detective work, imaginatively written. Perhaps the best last word is from H.G. Wells himself in 1905: "Fools make researches and wise men exploit them." ^BSumming Up: Recommended. All collections. P. B. Waite emeritus, Dalhousie University