The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

September 4, 2016

September 4, 1864

Florence Amelia Deeks, (September 4, 1864 to 1959) is the subject of a recent scholarly venture. The Spinster and the Prophet; Florence Deeks, H.G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past (2000) investigates a controversy about plagiarism in a legal case tried and forgotten by all but the principals. Brian McKillop , a professor of history at Carleton University, recounts how Deeks, a Canadian teacher and writer became convinced that the best selling Outline of History (1920) was copied in some places from her own manuscript previously rejected for publication.

In a book review at the publication of this prizewinning book by the Canadian scholar we read:

The prolific novelist and social prophet H.G. Wells had a way with words, and usually he had his way with women. That is, until he encountered the feisty Toronto spinster Florence Deeks. In 1925 Miss Deeks launched a $500,000 lawsuit against Wells, claiming that in an act of "literary piracy," Wells had somehow come to use her manuscript history of the world in the writing of his international bestseller The Outline of History , a work still in print today. Thus began one of the most sensational and extraordinary cases in Anglo-Canadian publishing and legal history.

In this riveting literary whodunit, A.B. McKillop unfolds the parallel stories of two Edwardian figures and the ambition to capture the sweep of history that possessed them both: H.G. Wells was the celebrated writer of autobiographical fiction and futuristic fantasy who, at the end of the Great War, preached the need for a global world order. Florence Deeks was a modest teacher and amateur student of history who intended to correct traditional scholarship's neglect by writing an account of civilization that stressed the contributions of women. Her manuscript was submitted to the venerable Macmillan Company in Canada but was rejected and never published. Wells's opus, completed in an astonishingly short period, was released by the same firm in North America the year following. 

As the mystery deepens and new evidence is revealed, it seems that the verdict of the courts in Deeks vs Wells [against Deeks] may not be that of history. The cast of characters is as intriguing as it is wide in Canada, the United States, and England: renowned publishers and editors, eminent lawyers and judges, leading journalists and all-seeing office secretaries. Not all, it turns out, merited their reputations.

Above all, the tale embraces the lives of the philandering Mr. Wells, his wife, and his mistresses, and the scarcely noted Miss Florence Deeks, her family, her life's work, and her search for justice.

McKillop notes facts like that the pristine manuscript Deeks submitted to Macmillan was returned to Deeks soiled, torn, with pages turned down. The evidence Deeks presented was based on a series of parallels including that both books had in some cases, the

same unusual features,
same order of details,
same original language,
same original mistakes,
and a list of subjects omitted or inadequately treated in both texts.

From the text of The Spinster and the Prophet, we learn Deek's position:

It was as if ...Wells had written his own few accounts of women as a direct rebuttal of her claim [that women were a "constructive force" in history] Thus when Florence stated that women domesticated fire and "constructed ingenious stoves to cook the food and as vessels were needed for cooking she moulded the earth into shapes and dried and burnt them so pottery was produced, Wells had said: "They do not seem to have cooked thier food...they had no cooking implements..they had no pottery." In her view women "kept and tamed the animals brought back from the forest by the hunters, the goat for its milk, the cat to kill the mice in the granaries"; Wells had written, "It is improbable that they had yet learned the use of animals milk as food....they had little to do with any sort of domestic sheep or cattle...There were no mice or rats had yet adapted themselves to human dwellings."

Here's the thing in my mind. And I have not studied both texts against each other. But McKillop says that both Deeks and Wells began their histories with the sun and the start of the solar system. I read in some distant decade that this deep time perspective was original with Wells. Previous accounts of world history began with an ancient civilization, probably Mesopotamian. If in fact Deeks started her history with the sun, then Wells's fresh and original perspective may not have been so fresh and original.

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