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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 4 - Ambition 91


Chapter 4 Ambition ‘Phantom Self ’ Did you ever in your life choose: and find the road that you turned your back on crossing your own road at intervals of years, so that every now and then you came face to face with a phantom self that might have been you? Only a glorified you … [Maude] is going to be History Tutor at Somerville. We have had a drunken day on the head of it; this is the reaction … It’s not your bad dreams that do for you: it’s your good ones, when you wake. It’s not the job; it’s the place. It’s the look on [Maude]’s face when she says, ‘It was worth [three] years of this, to be going back.’ I didn’t know when I refused Oxford ages ago that it was going to hurt like this.1 In February 1919, Maude applied to Somerville College, Oxford for the post of History Tutor and for the five-year Lady Carlisle Research Fellowship, one of the best research scholarships available for women. She was of fered her choice of both, but recommended to take the job, reminded that she would have every seventh year of f as a sabbatical for research.2 Helen had half thought her own ambition dead, but Maude’s news filled her with envy. It was very hard to write a letter of reference for Rubie Warner, Okey Belfour’s substitute during the war, who was also applying for a tutorship at Somerville. The pill was even bitterer because...

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