The Spinster and the Prophet


478 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 1-55199-047-4
DDC 823'.912




Reviewed by Trevor S. Raymond

Trevor S. Raymond is a teacher and librarian with the Peel Board of Education and editor of Canadian Holmes.


H.G. Wells is remembered not for his long didactic novels, but for
shorter fantastic tales such as The Time Machine. Yet nothing he wrote
is more bizarre than the tale that Carleton University Professor A.B.
McKillop tells in this important book. Part social history, part history
of early Canadian feminism, the book is also a biographical study of an
internationally famous British writer and an unknown, unpublished
Toronto spinster whose years of research and writing Wells almost
certainly plagiarized in The Outline of History, the work that made him
a wealthy man. Before McKillop’s story becomes a courtroom drama, it
takes us from Wells’s philandering to a rousing suffragette meeting at
Massey Hall in Toronto and the sordid intrigues in publishers’
offices. Its cast of characters includes Margaret Sanger, Rebecca West,
and Frank Underhill, as well as the woman who stood by Wells as his wife
and literary helpmate while he carried on affairs with an remarkable
range of women in various countries. McKillop draws interesting
parallels between the lives of Catherine Wells and Florence Deeks of

From research in many archives and libraries, McKillop builds a
readable and suspenseful account of a 13-year battle waged by Deeks
against Wells and his publisher, a case that went all the way to the
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, by which time, as the
author says, the story of Miss Deeks had become a mixture of tragedy and
farce. History, shaped on “skewed evidence and vested interests,”
has hitherto been as unkind to this Toronto woman as were the opponents
she faced and the circumstances of her time, when women were admitted to
neither The Arts and Letters Club nor the voting booth, and were
certainly not expected to engage in historical scholarship. McKillop
makes a gripping and persuasive case that Deeks was ill-served by the
justice system in which she professed so much faith, and he has helped
restore her to a place of some distinction in both literary and Canadian


McKillop, A.B., “The Spinster and the Prophet,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed October 1, 2023,