Helen Waddell, a past pupil of Victoria College, was an Irish literary superstar in the 1930s. Her 1933 novel Peter Abelard was a bestseller; and she was feted by the literati, politicians, and even royalty. She was a pioneer of the type of historical fiction that is so popular and respected today.
The early 20th century was a period during which women were not expected to seek an education, or even worse – a career as an academic.
After leaving Victoria College, Helen was among the first group of women to defy the cultural expectations of the time and attend Queen’s University Belfast where she obtained an honours degree and a Masters.
Helen continued to break the mould by studying for a doctorate at Oxford University’s Somerville College – founded to give women, at that time excluded from membership of the University, the chance to benefit from an Oxford education.
After further study in Paris, Helen returned to England and began working for a publishing company.
She became an acclaimed scholar, translator, and novelist (admired by among others: Virginia Woolf, WB Yeats, Siegfried Sassoon and George Bernard Shaw), but throughout her life faced adversity – bereavement, discrimination, complicated relationships and illness.
Directed by Mike Connolly and produced by Deirdre Murphy, Groundbreakers – Helen Waddell: Living The Past is an Erica Starling Production for BBC Northern Ireland, with support from the Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund.
The documentary will be broadcast on Sunday 2nd December at 10.10pm on BBC 2.