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December 20 , 2007

The Spinster and the Prophet

H.G. Wells, Florence Deeks, and the Case of the Plagiarized Text


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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