Helen Waddell’s Writings from Japan


David Burleigh

‘In these days of rediscovering women writers it is high time we paid more attention to Helen Waddell, one of the last romantics….David Burleigh, who has taught in Japan for many years, has done us a great service by collecting her undeservedly forgotten Japanese writings for the first time and showing us in a deft and knowledgeable Introduction just how important the Japanese experience was in the formation of a writer of great imaginative intelligence.’

Professor Norman Vance, University of Sussex and author of Irish Literature: A Social History

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‘The richest thing in my life has been Japan’ wrote the Irish scholar Helen Waddell (1889–1965) when she was in her twenties. At the time she was still living in Belfast, and had not yet embarked on the medieval Latin scholarship which later made her famous. As a child of missionary parents, Waddell had not only been born in Japan, but had spent the important years of her childhood there. It was on this experience that she drew in her first attempts at writing in the 1910s.  Waddell’s writings on Japan comprise autobiographical short stories, a play that was performed at the Belfast Opera House in 1915, and some allusive literary essays which anticipate the style of her mature writing on medieval subjects. These ostensibly miscellaneous pieces are, the detailed introduction argues, all connected by a single theme – the author’s preoccupation with her favourite brother Billy, who died while they were being written. Besides offering new insights into the interpretation of Waddell’s work as a whole, the present volume also attempts to reconstruct a ‘book’ that Helen Waddell herself once hoped to assemble, according to her letters.