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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 6 - Achievement 155

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Chapter 6 Achievement The Last Rites of Friendship I knew that your heart was full when you left here and of course I did not mind. The strange thing about worry and illness like mine is that though the worst part is the worry [?] they cause to those one loves, it would be intolerable if it were not so. … I am afraid that I underestimated the shock that the news would be [to Lucy], as to you and others. I had a feeling all term, almost all year, that every one must half-know that I would not go on unless I got really well quite soon, and I counted too much on that half-formulated knowledge to reduce the shock of my decision to resign. As you know, I am not at all a secretive person and it was dif ficult for me to avoid frank statements once I had made up my mind, so I decided that I had better discuss things with no one at all. I know that you will help Lucy all you can. … Dear Enid, your visit was such a help to me. I was thinking so much about Oxford and all my friends that it made all the dif ference to have you there.1 Maude returned to her father’s rectory – and a steady stream of women friends began crossing the Irish Sea. Enid Starkie was the first, followed by Lucy Sutherland and May McKisack. From July to November 1935, eight Oxford friends – plus Helen Waddell...

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