Helen Waddell

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Helen Jane Waddell (31 May 1889 – 5 March 1965) was an Irish poet, translator and playwright.[1] She was a recipient of the Benson Medal.


She was born in Tokyo, the tenth and youngest child of Hugh Waddell, a Presbyterian minister and missionary who was lecturing in the Imperial University. She spent the first eleven years of her life in Japan before her family returned to Belfast. Her mother died shortly afterwards, and her father remarried. Hugh Waddell himself died and left his younger children in the care of their stepmother. Following the marriage of her elder sister Meg, Helen was left at home to care for Mrs Waddell, whose health was deteriorating.

Waddell was educated at Victoria College for Girls and Queen's University Belfast, where she studied under Professor Gregory Smith, graduating in 1911. She followed her BA with first class honours in English with a master's degree, and in 1919 enrolled in Somerville College, Oxford, to study for her doctorate. A travelling scholarship from Lady Margaret Hall in 1923 allowed her to conduct research in Paris. It was at this time that she met her life-long friend, Maude Clarke.[2]

She is best known for bringing to light the history of the medieval goliards in her 1927 book The Wandering Scholars, and translating their Latin poetry in the companion volume Medieval Latin Lyrics. A second anthology, More Latin Lyrics, was compiled in the 1940s but not published until after her death. Her other works range widely in subject matter. For example, she also wrote plays.[3] Her first play was The Spoiled Buddha, which was performed at the Opera House, Belfast, by the Ulster Literary Society. Her The Abbe Prevost was staged in 1935. Her historical novel Peter Abelard was published in 1933. It was critically well received and became a bestseller.[4]

She also wrote many articles for the Evening Standard, the Manchester Guardian and The Nation, and did lecturing and broadcasting.

Waddell was the assistant editor of The Nineteenth Century magazine. Among her circle of friends in London, where she was vice-president of the Irish Literary Society, were W. B. Yeats, Virginia Woolf, Rose Macaulay, Max Beerbohm and George William Russell. Her personal and professional friendship with Siegfried Sassoon apparently made the latter's wife suspicious.[5] Although she never married, she had close relationships with several older men, including her publisher, Otto Kyllmann of Constable.[6]

Waddell received honorary degrees from Columbia, Belfast, Durham and St. Andrews and won the Benson Medal of the Royal Society of Literature.[7]

A serious debilitating neurological disease put an end to her writing career in 1950. She died in London in 1965 and was buried in Magherally churchyard, County Down, Northern Ireland. A prize-winning biography of her by the Benedictine nun Dame Felicitas Corrigan was published in 1986.

Representative works[edit]


  • Peter Abelard (1933)


  • The Spoiled Buddha (performed 1915; London: T. Fisher Unwin 1919)
  • The Abbé Prévost (London: Constable 1933).


  • Lyrics from the Chinese (1913)
  • The Wandering Scholars (1927)
  • Medieval Latin Lyrics (1929)
  • Beasts and Saints (1934)
  • The Desert Fathers (1936)
  • For Better Factory Laws (1937) Pamphlet
  • Poetry in the Dark Ages (1947) "The eighth W.P.Ker Memorial Lecture delivered in the University of Glasgow, 28th October, 1947" (lecture published by Jackson, Son & Company, Publishers to the University, 1948)
  • Stories from Holy Writ (1949)
  • More Latin Lyrics: From Virgil to Milton (posthumous, edited by Dame Felicitas Corrigan, 1976)
  • Between Two Eternities (1993) (posthumous, edited by Dame Felicitas Corrigan.)


  1. ^ Corrigan, Felicitas (1986). Helen Waddell: a biography. London: Gollancz. ISBN 0-575-03674-5.
  2. ^ "Helen Waddell". FMRSI. 27 September 2010. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  3. ^ Roy Rosenstein, "Helen Waddell at Columbia: Maker of Medievalists", in: Cahier Calin: Makers of the Middle Ages. Essays in Honor of William Calin, ed. Richard Utz and Elizabeth Emery (Kalamazoo, MI: Studies in Medievalism, 2011), pp. 14-17.
  4. ^ Jennifer Fitzgerald, "'Truth's Martyr or Love's Martyr': Helen Waddell's Peter Abelard" in the Colby Quarterly, vol. 36, 2 June 2000, pp. 176-7.
  5. ^ Max Egremont, Siegfried Sassoon: a Biography, Picador, 2005, p. 445
  6. ^ Hugh Oram (17 June 2014). "An Irishman's Diary on medievalist and writer Helen Waddell". Irish Times. Retrieved 31 May 2019.
  7. ^ Helen Waddell biography Archived 3 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine in the Dictionary of Ulster Biography

Further reading[edit]

  • Blackett, Monica (1973). The Mark of the Maker: A Portrait of Helen Waddell. Constable.

External links[edit]