Monday, June 23, 2008

The Spinster and the Prophet - Book Review

The Spinster and the Prophet
By A.B. McKillop
McClelland & Stewart 2002

The question is - Who wrote the book An Outline of History? Was it H.G. Wells or was it Florence Deeks?

Florence Deeks was a spinster living in Toronto during and after the First World War. she never married and worked as a teacher, a journalist and as a historian for various employers. She was born in 1864 in Morrisburg, Ontario.

Florence Deeks spent much of the war years in the reading room of the Toronto Central Library on College street, where she researched and wrote her feminist history of the world.

Florence claims she wrote the history, only she called it The Web. She also says she sent the manuscript to McMillan Publishers in Toronto in 1919. Where, she says it sat on someone's desk for a year. She also claims that it was probably sent to London, England briefly where Wells saw it, copied it and then published his own book in 1920. He called it An Outline of History.

In 1925 Florence Deeks sued H.G. Wells for stealing her manuscript. The Literary world was stunned.

This book is the story of that trial. This book is over 450 pages long, and somewhat slow in places, but otherwise very very interesting.

McKillop shows all the details of the man who was H.G. Wells. The man who was married but continued to have numerous love affairs. And assumed that it was his right to be a philanderer. He was also a very selfish, and arrogant fellow. (My opinion only. No wonder I don't like his books.)

But getting back to the trial. Going on court transcripts and MacMillan papers still available in various Toronto and London institutions, McKillop has written a detailed record of the court trial and the subsequent appeals. This includes details of how Florence was questioned, and why she was questioned in a particular way.
Florence lost the case, but appealed. She then lost the appeal and re-appealed to the Supreme Court in London. She travelled to london, and lost that appeal as well. The judges simply ignored evidence of copying, and said that since there was no proof the Deeks manuscript ever went to England, she had no case. Wells was determined to have her pay costs or be declared bankrupt. Florence did not stop there. No - she appealed to the Privy Council and then when she lost that appeal, she appealed to the King.

When she finally lost faith in the British justice system, Florence finally went back to Canada in 1933. Nothing more is known of her, other than she died in June 1959.

During this entire series of events, Florence was dealing with men, and it is my belief that she was denied justice just because she was a woman, and therefore was not "capable" of doing anything more than raising babies and keeping house. This was the 1920s and 1930s. That is what women were expected to do. I am so glad that I was not born in the 1920's.

I have a copy of the Well's Outline of History. Published by doubleday in NYC in 1949. This edition was heavily revised and edited to add the WW2 information. Wells died in 1946. The first four chapters of the 1949 edition are listed as follows.
-How it came to be written,
-The method of writing the Outline,
-Of certain Omission and Additions, and
-Of Two other Outlines that have arisen out of the Outline of History to Complete General Exposition of the Contemporary World.

Of course there is no mention of the Web or of Florence Deeks. But it is curious that these chapters have to be included. WHY would anyone need to state an excuse for having written this book? Probably because of the trial that took place some 17 years earlier in Canada.

I read this for the Canadian Challenge.

1 comment:

Carrie K said...

I had never heard this before. Fabulous! I must get this book. I've got An Outline of History but so far it's still a book I intend to read. This might bump up the interest level a bit.