Mckillop, A. B(rian) 1946-

views updated

McKILLOP, A. B(rian) 1946-


Born May 14, 1946, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada; son of George James (a construction worker and public school custodian) and Jeannie Grant Ritchie (a homemaker) McKillop; married Pauline Eliza Taylor; children: Hamish Alexander Education: University of Manitoba, B.A., 1968, M.A., 1970; Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Ph.D., 1977.


Office—Carleton University, Department of History, 414 Patterson Hall, Ottawa, Ontario K1R 6M8, Canada. E-mail—[email protected].


Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, professor of history and chancellor's professor.


Toronto Book Award, University of British Columbia President's Medal for Biography, Arthur Ellis Award of the Crime Writers of Canada, all 2001, all for The Spinster and the Prophet; elected fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, 2001.


(Editor) A Critical Spirit: The Thought of William Dawson LeSueur, McClelland & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1977.

A Disciplined Intelligence: Critical Inquiry and Canadian Thought in the Victorian Era, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1979.

(Editor) William Dawson LeSueur, William Lyon Mackenzie: A Reinterpretation, Macmillan of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1979.

(Editor) Contexts of Canada's Past: Selected Essays of W. L. Morton, Macmillan of Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1980.

Contours of Canadian Thought, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1987.

(Editor, with Paul Romney) S. F. Wise: God's Peculiar People: Essays on Political Culture in Nineteenth-Century Canada, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

Matters of Mind: The University in Ontario, 1791-1951, University of Toronto Press (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1994.

The Spinster and the Prophet: Florence Deeks, H. G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past, MacFarlane Walter & Ross (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.


Television adaptation of The Spinster and the Prophet, forthcoming.


Biography of Canadian journalist and historian Pierre Berton and a study of Canadian intellectual life since 1930.


A prominent Canadian historian, A. B. McKillop has authored and edited a number of well-received studies of Canada's intellectual and spiritual development, particularly in the Victorian era. More recently, he became intrigued by the strange case of Florence Deeks, a Canadian woman who claimed that H. G. Wells plagiarized her unpublished manuscript in his famous Outline of History, a claim that has long been dismissed by historians. McKillop found much compelling evidence for Deeks's position, and his The Spinster and the Prophet: Florence Deeks, H. G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past is forcing a reexamination of this literary mystery.

One of McKillop's primary themes throughout his career has been the development of moral consensus among educated Canadians. In A Disciplined Intelligence: Critical Inquiry and Canadian Thought in the Victorian Era, he set forth his belief that a Protestant orthodoxy coalesced around certain ideals held by the English Canadian elite. These ideas were derived from the Common Sense ideals of the Scottish enlightenment, the natural theology of William Paley (known for his contention that nature's complexity proved the existence of a divine "designer"), and the experimental science of Francis Bacon. For these intellectual leaders, often academics, the moral faculty was at least as important as the intellectual, and the ultimate purpose of science was to reveal the wonder of God. For McKillop, "the Victorian orthodoxy established a universe within which morality—both individual and social—could be read directly from the 'nature of things,'" explained Journal of Canadian Studies contributor Chad Reimer. McKillop also explored ways in which Darwinian evolution and the ideas of the Social Gospel challenged or reinforced this intellectual consensus.

In Contours of Canadian Thought, a collection of previously published essays, McKillop highlighted more recent trends in Canadian intellectual history, particularly in the face of challenges from social or cultural historians. "The central contribution of this volume lies in its assertion of a definite course of action to overcome the dilemma of the intellectual historian troubled by the social historian's denial of the role of ideas as causal factors," according to Queen's Quarterly reviewer Michael Gauvreau. McKillop argued for putting ideas within their social context, while maintaining the inherent value of these ideas themselves. "These are good, often brilliant, essays by a thoughtful historian," declared American Historical Review contributor Doug Owram, although he believed that "a strong conclusion, drawing together some of the threads contained in the papers and giving the author's current thoughts … would have done much to advance the field and to give the collection a sense of completeness."

McKillop next focused on intellectual developments in a particular Canadian province, in Matters of Mind: The University in Ontario, 1791-1951, "a splendid, pioneering synthesis of Ontario university history," according to American Historical Review contributor Michiel Horn. Like other provinces, Ontario found itself neglected by the central government, particularly when it came to higher education. In telling the story of Ontario's development of full-fledged universities, he touched on many themes that pervade Canadian intellectual and social history, including secularization, federalism, the status of Canada within the British Empire, and the impact of British scientific developments, particularly Darwin's revolutionary ideas. At the same time, he examined the nitty-gritty details that confronted university officials, such as relations with town governments, changes in the curriculum, and the search for funding. Dalhousie Review contributor Charles M. Johnston commended the results: "I only wish that I had the talent and patience to write the book that McKillop has … McKillop was obliged to juggle a great assortment of themes and subjects. To his great credit he has done so without dropping any of them or otherwise disrupting his presentation."

In his many researches into Canadian intellectual history, McKillop came across the strange story of Florence Deeks, a Toronto spinster whose unsuccessful plagiarism suit against H. G. Wells had earned little more than a footnote in the historical record. At first the case seemed laughable: an unknown amateur claiming that literary giant H. G. Wells had plagiarized her unpublished manuscript to produce his seminal Outline of History. Gradually, McKillop became more intrigued by the claims of the feisty woman who refused to give up, appealing her case to a higher court, then to the English Privy Council, and ultimately to King George V himself, all without success. McKillop decided to reexamine the record. Summing up the resulting book, Herizons contributor Andrea Addario wrote, "McKillop has undertaken a forensic combing of the Deeks vs. Wells case and has written a masterful work of history that reads with the ease of a great whodunit." What McKillop discovered surprised him. After holding onto her manuscript for six months, Macmillan (Wells's publisher) finally returned it to her considerably more dog-eared and obviously well read. Then, when Wells's two-volume history appeared, little more than a year after he had first contracted to produce the work, an astonishing achievement, it contained phrases and passages that had certainly appeared in Deeks's work. Even some mistakes were duplicated, such as the odd formulation "Hatasu" for the Egyptian Pharaoh Hatshepsut. To add insult to injury, Wells's primary revisions concerned the place of women. Deeks had set out to prove the vital importance of women in history, and the peace and prosperity that often flowed from female rule; Wells either dismissed or denigrated women throughout his book. That same attitude toward women pervaded the treatment of Florence Deeks, who was generally dismissed as a bitter spinster, who could not possibly have produced a worthwhile history and was seeking attention to compensate for her lack of a husband and children. As a Kirkus Reviews contributor put it, it is a "splendidly written story of injustice and male chauvinism, guaranteed to bring the blood to a full-rolling boil."



Gauvreau, Michael, The Evangelical Century, McGill-Queen's University Press (Montreal, Quebec, Canada), 1991.


American Historical Review, October, 1988, Doug Owram, review of Contours of Canadian Thought, p. 1143; April, 1996, Michiel Horn, review of Matters of Mind: The University in Ontario, 1791-1951, p. 593.

Dalhousie Review, spring, 1995, Charles M. Johnston, review of Matters of Mind, p. 110.

Herizons, summer, 2001, Andrea Addario, review of The Spinster and the Prophet: Florence Deeks, H. G. Wells, and the Mystery of the Purloined Past, p. 38.

Journal of Canadian Studies, spring, 1990, Chad Reimer, review of A Disciplined Intelligence: Critical Inquiry and Canadian Thought in the Victorian Era, p. 196.

Kirkus Reviews August 1, 2002, review of The Spinster and the Prophet, p. 1101.

Queen's Quarterly, winter, 1988, Michael Gauvreau, review of Contours of Canadian Thought, pp. 907-908.

About this article

Mckillop, A. B(rian) 1946-

Updated About content Print Article