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Friday, 11 January 2008

Helen Waddell

Helen Waddell was born in 1889, the youngest of 10 children, of an Ulster Presbyterian minister, a pioneer missionary in Manchuria and Japan. She was an extremely intelligent and diligent child, attaining high academic standards at school, followed by equally high achievement at Queens University, Belfast, and Somerville College, Oxford. She chose writing as her career, showing a particular interest and talent for translating works written in the early centuries AD from the original Latin into English, with a unique scholarly sensitivity which guaranteed her immediate success. She became one of the best-selling authors of the 1920s and 1930s, with her novel 'Peter Abelard' eventually being re-printed over 30 times and being translated into 9 European languages. Among other books which brought her fame, were 'The Wandering Scholars', 'Mediaeval Latin Lyrics', 'The Desert Fathers', and 'Beasts and Saints'. Helen Waddell lived an extremely full and busy life both writing and lecturing. She remained unmarried but had a very wide circle of friends and acquaintances, particularly in the world of art and literature. She died in 1965 after a long illness. For those interested in her life I can recommend the following autobiography:- 'The Mark of the Maker - a Portrait of Helen Waddell' by Monica Blackett, published by Constable. I have been fortunate and able to obtain 2nd hand copies of 'The Desert Fathers' and'Beasts and Saints', both of which I thoroughly enjoyed and can fully recommend. 'The Desert Fathers' as the title implies, is a fascinating account based on contemporary sources, of incidents in the lives of many of the holy men who retired to the desert in order to live closer to God. 'Beasts and Saints' is particularly enjoyable as it contains numerous wood-cuts by Robert Gibbings, a superb artist. The following very short story, provides just a little taste of what to expect in 'Beasts and Saints'. THE UNSOCIABLE LION.-------- 'There was a certain old man, a solitary,who lived near the river Jordan: and going into a cave because of the heat, he found there a lion: and the lion began to gnash his teeth and roar. To whom the old man said, "What is annoying thee? There is enough room here to hold both me and thee. And if thou likest it not arise and go hence." But the lion, not taking it well, left and went outside." This little story is accompanied by a brilliant wood-cut of a rather bemused and puzzled lion walking away from the cave. Deo Gratias.

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