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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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Conclusion 183


Conclusion Although Helen and Maude’s lists of publications boast relatively few titles, each was an exceptional twentieth-century medievalist, achieving distinction within her discipline. Maude’s research, scrupulously exact and speculatively original, was absorbed into the mainstream of fourteenth- century historiography. Helen’s writings meld thorough, detailed learning with art, transforming both. The story of their achievement plays out against the background of opportunities and obstacles facing academically minded young women in the United Kingdom and Ireland at the beginning of the twentieth century. Among those who made a dif ference to their success were several men in positions of inf luence, including Gregory Smith. Smith blocked Helen’s academic career at Queen’s but believed in her abilities and provided her with publishing contacts, initiating the relationship with Constable and Co. which lasted her whole career.1 The active backing of George Saintsbury, Britain’s most famous man of letters, was vital in securing Helen’s eventual success. He of fered her press introductions, wrote her a testimonial for general use, read and commented on the manuscript and proofs of The Wandering Scholars (as did Smith), provided a reader’s report for Constable’s and reviewed it in the Observer.2 F. M. Powicke went out of his way to promote Maude’s chances of obtaining the History Tutorship at Somerville in 1919, writing three separate letters of recom- mendation.3 Maude’s father’s support was crucial for her; Mrs Waddell’s 1 HW to MM [1913], WP, box 11; HW to GPT, 5 Sept. 1916; 29 Oct. 1916; 5 Sept. 1916, WP, box...

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