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Helen Waddell and Maude Clarke

Irishwomen, Friends and Scholars

Jennifer FitzGerald

As women’s university participation expanded rapidly in the first decade of the twentieth century, two close friends at Queen’s University Belfast nursed scholarly ambitions. Helen Waddell, budding feminist literary critic, and Maude Clarke, future Irish historian, were to become famous medievalists. Waddell’s progress was stymied by her stepmother’s insistence on family duty and by academic misogyny; Clarke’s father, in contrast, helped to clear her way. This joint biography intertwines the story of their friendship with their modern education, their shifting research interests and the obstacles and opportunities that faced them as women seeking academic careers. It traces Waddell’s evolution into an independent scholar, creative writer and translator of medieval Latin, and Clarke’s career as an influential Oxford don, training a generation of high-achieving women academics. The book also reproduces the surviving chapters of Helen Waddell’s Woman in the Drama before Shakespeare (1912-1919), an example of early feminist literary criticism, and Maude Clarke’s searching, self-reflective ‘Historiographical Notes’ (c.1930).

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Chapter 1 - Queen’s Undergraduates 9

Extract

Chapter 1 Queen’s Undergraduates College Friends ‘I went to college, and was suddenly and amazingly happy.’1 Helen Waddell’s experience at Queen’s University Belfast in the first decade of the twentieth century parallels that of many university students: freedom from super- vision, socializing with peers, intellectual stimulus – and the headiness of possible romance. Sitting and laughing in the ‘little fenced in paradise’, the garden Queen’s had dedicated to the use of women students, feeling ‘very wicked and very gay’, Helen suddenly realized that her companion was going to fall in love with her. ‘It is a sensation at any time – but when one is just nineteen …’2 There were other triumphs; in a letter to her sister she described the Professor of English Literature returning essays in class: Well, he read out the 17 in alphabetical order – my miserable self coming last. The only First Class at all was Ella Fisher – A minus, – ‘a good essay – gracefully written’ says [Professor] Gregory [Smith] approvingly. Internal curses from me – being like the Turk too fond to rule alone – Then a weary waste of B, B minus, B minus minus minus. Then, ‘Miss Waddell.’ Pause. ‘An exceptional piece of work … an original treat- ment … in fact, one of the best essays I have ever read … and I have judged it worthy of the highest mark to be given – A plus.’ Somebody said afterwards that if she had been in my shoes she would have had hysterics. As it was, I sat and looked as...

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