by A.B. McKillop, Professor of History, Carleton University. Published with Macfarlane, Walter & Ross, 2000.
One of Canada’s pre-eminent historians, A.B. McKillop has restored to life a unique tale of heroism and intrigue, obsession and betrayal. The novelist and social prophet H.G. Wells had a way with words, and usually had his way with women. That is, until the philandering author encountered the feisty Toronto spinster, Florence Deeks. In a half-million-dollar legal action launched in 1925, she claimed that in an act of “literary piracy” Wells had somehow come to use her unpublished history of the world in the writing of his best-selling book, The Outline of History. Thus began one of the most extraordinary cases in Anglo-American legal history. The Spinster and the Prophet is a rivetting literary detective story, and as Professor A.B. McKillop unravels this legal mystery he reveals that the verdict of the courts may not be that of history. The cast of characters he invokes is as intriguing as it is wide, in Canada, the United States, and England – eminent lawyers and judges, renowned publishers and editors, prominent professors, members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and ordinary office secretaries. Above all, the story involved the very different lives of Mr. Wells, his wife and his mistresses, and of Miss Florence Deeks, her family, and her search for justice.In carrying out this work, A.B. McKillop places legal history in the finest tradition of historical narrative. By adopting the method of telling in tandem the intertwined stories of Florence Deeks and H.G.Wells he develops those stories in the context of several exciting themes which illustrate how the values and prejudices of the day moved forcefully and decisively into the courtrooms of Canada and the British Empire. Most important, perhaps, is what Deeks v. Wells reveals of the respective places in contemporary society of men and women. In doing so Professor McKillop gives Florence Deeks a voice which was denied to her by the patriarchal society of her day. In this sense, many readers may conclude that, however belatedly, a measure of justice finally has been done for the courageous Toronto spinster Florence Deeks.