THE SPINSTER AND THE PROPHET by A.B. McKillop
Kirkus Star

THE SPINSTER AND THE PROPHET

H.G. Wells, Florence Deeks, and the Case of the Plagiarized Text

KIRKUS REVIEW

The unsavory details of a plagiarism case brought against H.G. Wells in the 1920s by a Toronto woman, arguing that, although several courts dismissed the suit, history should not.

Canadian historian McKillop first learned of Florence Deeks’s suit against Wells in a stray footnote, grew curious, began to explore, found Deeks’s papers at the Toronto Reference Library, and began the scholarly adventure of a lifetime. In 1914, Deeks began writing a world history that more fairly treated the contributions of women. For four years, she worked daily at the Toronto Public Library; at night she wrote her text, The Web of the World’s Romance. In July 1918, she delivered her typescript to Macmillan of Canada, who rejected and returned it in April 1919. Disappointed, she did not even open the package for many months. When she did, she was surprised to see its well-used condition; someone had read it very carefully. In the meantime, H.G. Wells, England’s popular novelist, had begun developing The Outline of History, a two-volume opus he somehow completed in less than a year. His publisher? Macmillan New York. The book was a bestseller; after Deeks spotted a glowing review, she immediately read it. She was horrified to discover pervasive similarities to her own manuscript in both structure and diction—Wells even repeated a number of her factual errors. She filed suit in Canada, lost; filed an appeal, lost; went to England for a hearing of the Privy Council, lost; appealed to George V, lost. McKillop artfully intercuts the stories of Deeks and Wells (his prolific writing and serial sexual encounters contend for attention here) and presents compelling evidence that Wells must have consulted her book as he quickly fashioned his own. But the old-boy legal and publishing establishments were not about to condemn one of their own. Case dismissed.

A splendidly written story of injustice and male chauvinism, guaranteed to bring the blood to a full-rolling boil. (16 pages b&w photographs)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2002
ISBN: 1-56858-236-6
Page count: 496pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2002




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