The Spinster and the Prophet

The Spinster and the Prophet: H.G. Wells, Florence Deeks, and the Case of the Plagiarized Text – Kindle edition

This is the dramatic tale of Florence Amelia Deeks (1864 – 1959), who sued H.G. Wells for plagiarism.

Florence Deeks brother was George Samuel Deeks, husband of Helen Ethel Campbell.  (Helen Ethel was the younger sister of Maude Campbell / Granny Stone.)


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.

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The Guardian

In The Spinster and the Prophet , Canadian historian A B McKillop combines these two themes. The phenomenon of the woman as an unacknowledged literary handmaid and the ethical issue of plagiarism join forces in a poignant and shocking story that aired publicly between 1930 and 1933. During this time, the Canadian Florence Deeks took on first H G Wells and his publishers, Macmillan, then the British privy council and the law lords. She finally attempted to petition King George V. In all these she failed. Legal and other costs came to around half a million dollars, paid by her brother and an unknown benefactor.