Florence Deeks

Florence Amelia Deeks (1864–1959) was a Canadian teacher and writer. She is known for accusing British author H. G. Wells of having plagiarized her work when he wrote The Outline of History. The case was eventually taken to the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council, the highest court in the British Empire, which rejected her claim.

Florence Amelia Deeks
Annie and Florence Deeks circa 1880 Toronto Public Library
Florence (right) with her sister Annie c. 1880
Born4 September 1864
Died17 June 1959 (aged 94)
Toronto, Ontario.
OccupationTeacher, writer
Known forLegal battle with H. G. Wells

Early years

Florence Amelia Deeks was born in 1864 and grew up in Morrisburg, Ontario, in a religious family. Her mother, Melinda, was a strong believer in education.[1] Her brother George found a new way to lay railway tracks, the basis for a fortune. He provided important financial support to his family, including Florence during the legal trials that lay ahead. By her own account she spent most of her twenties travelling in Europe and America, studying literature and art.[2] When Florence was thirty she was admitted to Victoria College in the University of Toronto. She studied there for several years, then became a teacher at the Presbyterian Ladies College.[1]

Deeks probably joined the Women's Art Association of Canada in the mid-1890s, although the first record is from 1903. In 1912 she prepared a "historical sketch" of the early years of the association.[3] She was active in other women's groups. She was the recording secretary for the Toronto women's Liberal Club.[1]

Web of the World's Romance

Deeks decided to write a history of the world that showed the contributions that women had made.[1] Her aim was to demonstrate the importance of women such as Lucrezia de' Medici, Elizabeth I of England and Margarethe, mother of Martin Luther. She spent four years researching and writing, with the support of her mother, sisters and brother. The manuscript of The Web of the World's Romance was complete by February 1918.[4] Deeks submitted it to Macmillan Company in Canada, asking if they would object to her using extracts from A Short History of the English People, a book for which they held the copyright.[5] Deeks entrusted the manuscript to Macmillan in August 1918, and it was returned to her in April 1919.[6] The manuscript was well-thumbed and dog-eared. Macmillan had rejected it.[7]

Legal struggles

Deeks later came across H. G. Wells' The Outline of History (published 1919-1920), and was struck by the similarities to her work, but she had no proof that Wells had seen her manuscript.[8][9] Over the next few years she consulted with experts and analyzed the similarities.[4] The Rev. William Andrew Irwin, then an associate professor of Old Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Toronto agreed to help her. He was interested in applying the same methods of textual analysis and comparison he used in his studies of ancient literature. He considered that there was convincing proof of plagiarism.[10]

Deeks launched her suit in 1928.[11] Deeks claimed breach of copyright, but in substance she was claiming breach of confidence in the use of her manuscript without consent.[6] She sued Wells and Macmillan for damages of CDN$500,000 in the Supreme Court of Ontario. The trial judge, Mr Justice Raney, found that Irwin's results were "fantastic hypotheses ... solemn nonsense ... comparisons without significance."[10][12] Her case was dismissed. She then appealed to the Appellate Division of the Ontario Supreme Court, appearing on her own behalf without a lawyer. The Appellate Division unanimously dismissed the appeal.[10][13]

Deeks finally appealed to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, the final court of appeal in the British Empire.[10] She could no longer afford a lawyer, so argued her own case in front of the Judicial Committee on 1 October 1932.[14] A month later, on 3 November 1932, the Judicial Committee dismissed her appeal. Lord Atkin gave the decision for the Committee. He stated that evidence presented on the basis of literary criticism is not admissible in a court of law, and upheld the decisions of the lower courts.[14][15]


Although the wording of the two books is rarely identical, in some cases the same mistakes appear in both books.[16] However, it was sworn on oath at the trial that the manuscript remained in Toronto in the safekeeping of Macmillan, and that Wells did not even know it existed, let alone had seen it.[10] The court found no proof of copying, and decided the similarities were due to the fact that the books had similar nature and both writers had access to the same sources.[17]

The case may have been lost in part due to bias against Deeks as a woman.[16] Deeks' lack of influential connections may also have been a factor.[18] A 2001 book by A. B. McKillop, a Canadian historian, explores the case in detail. Although the author clearly believes that Wells plagiarized Deeks' work, he presents no definitive proof.[19] Three years after McKillop's book appeared, Denis Magnusson, Professor Emeritus and former Dean of Law at Queen's University, Kingston, wrote an article responding to McKillop's thesis. Magnusson concluded that while Deeks may have received some discriminatory treatment from lawyers in the case, she was treated fairly by the courts. He concludes she had a weak case, and the courts would give a similar result if the case came forward at the present time.[20]


Deeks died in 1959, aged about 95.[1]



  1. ^ a b c d e Forster 2004, p. 73.
  2. ^ Thomas 2001, p. 140.
  3. ^ Mckillop 2011, p. 58.
  4. ^ a b Forster 2004, p. 74.
  5. ^ Florence A. Deeks v H.G. Wells... Supreme Court, p. 8.
  6. ^ a b Richardson 2012, p. 117.
  7. ^ The Spinster and the Prophet, Economist.
  8. ^ Clarke 1978, p. 90.
  9. ^ Magnusson 2004, p. 709.
  10. ^ a b c d e Clarke 1978, p. 91.
  11. ^ Greenspan & Rose 2001, p. 239.
  12. ^ Deeks v. Wells 1930.
  13. ^ Deeks v. Wells 1931.
  14. ^ a b Riss 1996.
  15. ^ Deeks v. Wells 1932.
  16. ^ a b Bailey 2009.
  17. ^ Florence A. Deeks v H.G. Wells... Supreme Court, p. 9.
  18. ^ Backhouse & Backhouse 2005, p. 179.
  19. ^ The case of the invisible woman, Telegraph.
  20. ^ Magnusson 2004, p. 680.


  • Backhouse, Constance; Backhouse, Nancy L. (2005-01-31). The Heiress vs the Establishment: Mrs. Campbell's Campaign for Legal Justice. UBC Press. ISBN 978-0-7748-5073-5. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Bailey, Jonathan (31 March 2009). "Famous Plagiarists: Could it Happen Today?". Plagiarism Today. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Clarke, Arthur C. (March 1978). "Professor Irwin and the Deeks Affair". Science Fiction Studies. SF-TH Inc. 5 (1). JSTOR 4239167.
  • Deeks v. Wells 1930 CarswellOnt, 167 [1930] 4 D.L.R. 513, Ont. S.C.
  • Deeks v. Wells 1931 CarswellOnt 247 [1931] 4 D.L.R. 533, Ont. S.C. App.Div.
  • Deeks v. Wells [1932] UKPC 66, Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, retrieved 2014-07-12
  • "Florence A. Deeks v H.G. Wells and others (1932)". The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (PDF). Supreme Court of the UK. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Forster, Merna (2004). 100 Canadian Heroines: Famous and Forgotten Faces. Dundurn. ISBN 978-1-55002-514-9. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Greenspan, Ezra; Rose, Jonathan (2001-09-13). Book History. Penn State Press. ISBN 0-271-02151-9. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Magnusson, Denis N. (Spring 2004). "Hell Hath No Fury: Copyright Lawyers' Lessons from Deeks v. Wells". Queen's Law Journal. 29.
  • Mckillop, Brian (2011-11-30). The Spinster and the Prophet: Florence Deeks, H.G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past. Random House LLC. ISBN 978-1-55199-621-9. Retrieved 2014-07-05.
  • Richardson, Ivor (2012). "D Deeks v Wells". The Privy Council as the Final Court for the British Empire (PDF). Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Riss, Richard M. (1996). "The Bible and the Rules of Legal Evidence". Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • "The case of the invisible woman". The Telegraph. 17 February 2001. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • "The Spinster and the Prophet". The Economist. 1 February 2001. Retrieved 2014-07-12.
  • Thomas, Clara (2001). "Book Review: The Spinster and the Prophet". Canadian Woman Studies. 21 (2). ISSN 0713-3235. Retrieved 2014-07-12.

External links

A. B. McKillop

A. B. (Brian) McKillop (born 1946) is Distinguished Research Professor and former Chancellor's Professor and Chair of the history department (2005–2009) of Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

McKillop was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and educated at the University of Manitoba (BA 1968, MA 1970) and Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario (PhD 1977). He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2001.

A specialist in intellectual and cultural history, his books include:

A Critical Spirit: The Thought of William Dawson LeSueur (1977)

A Disciplined Intelligence: Critical Inquiry and Canadian Thought in the Victorian Era (1979)

Contexts of Canada's Past: Selected Essays of W.L. Morton (1980)

Contours of Canadian Thought (1987)

Matters of Mind: The University in Ontario, 1791-1951 (1994)

The Spinster and the Prophet; Florence Deeks, H.G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past (2000).

Pierre Berton: A Biography (2008)The Spinster and the Prophet describes the court proceedings that resulted from accusations of plagiarism brought by Florence Deeks against H. G. Wells for his book The Outline of History. It won the Toronto Book Awards, the University of British Columbia's President's Medal for Biography, and the Crime Writers of Canada Arthur Ellis Award for "Best True Crime".

"The Spinster and the Prophet" marked a change in McKillop's writings for publication. His previous books had been written as academic monographs, but this was his first attempt at writing in a popular narrative style, and he refers to its composition in an essay on Canadian historiography that he later wrote for a volume published by the University of Toronto in celebration of the Canadian historian Carl Berger. From his initial position of emotional detachment from his subject, he came to empathise strongly with Florence Deeks, and only later did he recognise that the death of his mother from lung cancer while he drafted the book had been an important factor in this. As McKillop puts it, "I wrote my book, I now understand, less as a practised historian or as a neophyte biographer, than as a grieving son..."In the fall of 2008 McKillop released Pierre Berton: A Biography, a comprehensive examination of the life of the late historian and media celebrity, Pierre Berton. The book won the Donald Grant Creighton Award of the Ontario Historical Society for best biography or memoir. It appeared as a trade paperback in September 2010.


Deeks is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Barbara Ann Deeks (born 1937), birth name of British actress Barbara Windsor

Don Deeks (1923–1995), American footballer

Florence Deeks (1864–1959), Canadian teacher and author

John Deeks (born 1951), Australian television presenter

Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize

The Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize was a Canadian literary award, presented by the Writers' Trust of Canada to a work judged as the year's best work of biography, autobiography or personal memoir by a Canadian writer.Created in 1998, the award was named in honour of Nathan A. Taylor, one of the country's leading entertainment impresarios, and actor John Drainie. Writer and actor Claire Drainie Taylor, the award's benefactor, was married to Drainie from 1942 until his death in 1966, and was subsequently married to Taylor until his death in 2004.The first award was presented in November 1999. For the remainder of the award's existence, however, the award was presented in the spring of the year following the year in which the eligible works were published. The final award was presented in March 2006 to honor works published in 2005.The award was discontinued after 2006, in favour of an expanded prize package for the Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Edwin C. Guillet

Edwin C. Guillet (September 29, 1898 - 26 June 1975) was a Canadian historian, author and educator. He wrote or edited about 150 books, many about the history of Ontario.

George Platt Brett Sr.

George Platt Brett Sr. (8 December 1858 – 18 September 1936) was a British-born chairman and publisher of the American division of Macmillan Publishing. He was best known for serving as publisher, friend, and mentor of American author Jack London. Under Brett's leadership, Macmillan became one of the largest publishers in America. Sales grew from $50,000 in 1890 and grew to $8.5 million in 1931. In 1931, Macmillan annuals produced between 600 and 700 titles.

H. G. Wells

Herbert George Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was an English writer. He was prolific in many genres, writing dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, satire, biography, and autobiography, and even including two books on recreational war games. He is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called a "father of science fiction", along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.During his own lifetime, however, he was most prominent as a forward-looking, even prophetic social critic who devoted his literary talents to the development of a progressive vision on a global scale. A futurist, he wrote a number of utopian works and foresaw the advent of aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television and something resembling the World Wide Web. His science fiction imagined time travel, alien invasion, invisibility, and biological engineering. Brian Aldiss referred to Wells as the "Shakespeare of science fiction". His most notable science fiction works include The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) and the military science fiction The War in the Air (1907). Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times.Wells's earliest specialised training was in biology, and his thinking on ethical matters took place in a specifically and fundamentally Darwinian context. He was also from an early date an outspoken socialist, often (but not always, as at the beginning of the First World War) sympathising with pacifist views. His later works became increasingly political and didactic, and he wrote little science fiction, while he sometimes indicated on official documents that his profession was that of journalist. Novels such as Kipps and The History of Mr Polly, which describe lower-middle-class life, led to the suggestion that he was a worthy successor to Charles Dickens, but Wells described a range of social strata and even attempted, in Tono-Bungay (1909), a diagnosis of English society as a whole. A diabetic, Wells co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association (known today as Diabetes UK) in 1934.

List of Judicial Committee of the Privy Council cases originating in Canada, 1930–39

This page lists all cases of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council originating in Canada, and decided in the years 1930 to 1939.

RBC Taylor Prize

The RBC Taylor Prize, formerly known as the Charles Taylor Prize, is a Canadian literary award, presented by the Charles Taylor Foundation to the best Canadian work of literary non-fiction. It is named for Charles P. B. Taylor, a noted Canadian historian and writer.

The prize was inaugurated in 2000, and was presented biennially until 2004. At the 2004 awards ceremony, it was announced that the Charles Taylor Prize would become an annual award.

The award has a monetary value of $30,000.

The award adopted its present name in December 2013, when RBC Wealth Management was announced as the new corporate sponsor. In addition, under RBC's sponsorship the award added a second $10,000 award for an emerging Canadian literary non-fiction writer between the ages of 18 and 35, to be chosen by the winner of the main award. This award was presented for the first time at the 2014 ceremony.In 2018 the new RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Mentorship Program was unveiled. This is a professional development program designed to support the next generation of Canadian writers and is part of the RBC Taylor Prize Emerging Writers Award, a distinction that is given annually to a Canadian author whose work embodies the pursuit of excellence in literary non-fiction.

The mentorship program is being made available to five Canadian non-fiction writers, who are selected in partnership with a national network of university and college writing programs. These students have been paired with the 2018 RBC Taylor Prize shortlisted authors, who will help support their career development and growth.

The Outline of History

The Outline of History, subtitled either "The Whole Story of Man" or "Being a Plain History of Life and Mankind", is a work by H. G. Wells that first appeared in an illustrated version of 24 fortnightly instalments beginning on 22 November 1919 and was published as a single volume in 1920. It sold more than two million copies, was translated into many languages, and had a considerable impact on the teaching of history in institutions of higher education. Wells modelled the

Outline on the Encyclopédie of Denis Diderot.

Toronto Book Awards

The Toronto Book Awards are Canadian literary awards, presented annually by the City of Toronto to the author of the year's best fiction or non-fiction book or books "that are evocative of Toronto".Each author shortlisted for the award receives $1,000, and the winner or winners receive the balance of $15,000.

The award has frequently gone to multiple winners. 1987 was the first time in the history of the award that only a single winner was named.

Women's Art Association of Canada

The Women's Art Association of Canada (WAAC) is an organization founded in 1887 to promote and support women artists and craftswomen in Canada, including artists in the visual media, performance artists and writers. At one time it had almost 1,000 members. Although smaller today, it still plays an active role in fundraising and providing scholarships for young artists.

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