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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 2 - Postgraduate Students 37


Chapter 2 Postgraduate Students Research at Queen’s Helen and Maude did not proceed to respective PhDs. Although the PhD had long functioned as a means of research training in Germany and in the United States, it did not arrive in the United Kingdom until 1920, Oxford’s DPhil anticipating the trend in 1917.1 Students in most universities could submit an MA thesis, which was Helen’s next step. Maude’s – as it had been Powicke’s and Smith’s – was to enroll at Oxford for a second undergraduate degree, her Queen’s BA exempting her from the first year.2 Helen began her MA at Queen’s in the autumn of 1911, supported by the Faculty of Arts studentship, writing a thesis on ‘John Milton the Epicurist’ in nine months.3 This investigates the tension between the poet’s earlier hedonism and later Puritanism.4 Her method, as in ‘Arcady’, is inter- textual but more focused: she overlays her argument onto Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurean, so that quotations from Milton, Pater and other texts interact with each other. The texture of literary referencing creates a critical and historical context for Milton, making its case by juxtaposition and inference as much as by analysis. Helen’s thesis could nevertheless have 1 Renate Simpson, How the PhD Came to Britain (Guildford, Surrey, 1983), 159. Queen’s was among the first UK universities (after Oxford) to establish the PhD (154). 2 Simpson, How the PhD Came to Britain, 75. 3 Cal. 1912/13, 669. 4 See surviving portions of ‘John Milton the Epicurist’, WP, box 5....

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