In recent years, there has been a huge surge in the publication of feminist children’s books. These titles have been hitting the shelves in waves with novels, such as the girl-power-filled Children of Blood and Bone, and non-fiction titles about empowered real women, like Women in Science, making huge hits in the book charts.
However, one of the most iconic rebel girls was brought to life on the page three decades ago. Matilda by Roald Dahl, which currently celebrating its thirty-year anniversary, has an eponymous heroine who outwits her parents and stands up to the terrifying antagonist Trunchbull. Matilda not only refuses to believe her parent’s doctrine that little girls should be seen and not heard, but also lives an independent life. However, Matilda is not the only confident and capable female in the book, with Miss Honey showing what it takes fight her childhood demons and how to be a good single (adoptive) parent.
Dahl who grew up in a house full of women was clear advocate of female power and this is clear in his written work. Tales of the Unexpected breaks down the gender stereotypes of the 60s and The Witches explores the perception that women must be beautiful to be successful.
The thirtieth celebrations have included a new series of drawings by Quentin Blake, the book’s original illustrator, of what Matilda might be doing now that she is in her thirties, including depictions of Matilda travelling the world, working as an astrophysics professor, or heading up the British Library.
A thirtieth anniversary statue of Matilda has been erected outside the Roald Dahl museum in Buckinghamshire of the female protagonist facing a modern-day nemesis, Donald Trump. The new rival for Matilda was chosen by poll with 42% picking Trump, 21% selecting Theresa May, and 16% opting for Piers Morgan. Bernie Hall, from The Roald Dahl Story Company, commented that ‘Matilda demonstrates that it’s possible for anyone, no matter how small and powerless they feel, to defeat the Trunchbulls in their own lives – a message that feels more relevant today than it did 30 years ago.’
Students applying to study the HSPS tripos might like to explore the ‘taboo’ of female protest in politics in preparation for their interviews. Applicants for English could dive deeper into feminist heroines in literature.