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

Overview

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...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

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 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
Did author plagiarize the rejected manuscript of a Toronto feminist in his (1920)? McKillop (Carleton U., Canada) stresses the sexism that figured prominently in Wells's life and this literary piracy case. Includes photos of the adversaries and draft pages of the text in question. First published in Canada by McFarlane Walter & Ross, this critically-acclaimed probe is timely given recent allegations against well-known historians. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
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 ashe 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)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781568582368
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2002
  • Pages: 496
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.56 (d)

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2003

    An important fascinating book

    This book combines scholarship with a look at how women were disgracefully treated by men in the publishing business and men in the court system in Canada and the UK in the 1920's and 1930's. It is very well written. The excerpts of the trial testimony reveal how the powerless were treated by the powerfull.

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