“You chose books. I chose looks.”
These are the words Matilda Wormwood’s mother thrust at the delightful Miss Honey, with the implication that this choice was the correct one, that intellectualism in women is to be reviled, or even to be openly mocked.
While Roald Dahl perhaps didn’t intend for his precocious heroine to be seen as something of a feminist icon, we can see plenty of examples within her where she demonstrates feminist ideology clearly. Most noticeably in the eschewing of the values her mother (a metaphor for patriarchal, consumerist SOCIETY? ….okay maybe not.) had tried to lay down for her. That keeping her hair impeccably bleached and her figure trim was the path to a wealthy husband, the pinnacle of success for any woman. That Matilda can happily run contrary to the norm and cultivate her mind independently with books, and history, and science, and maths and the odd show of telekinesis just not only proves her precocity, but her value of substance over style.
Maybe most importantly is that she is not alone in the novel as a strong female character – she’s not the token independently-minded girl in a world of barbie dolls. Mrs Trunchbull, Miss Honey and little Lavender are all fully formed characters with their own interests, passions and personalities. Admittedly Trunchbull’s love of the chokey and force-feeding poor Bruce Bogtrotter chocolate cake are perhaps not to be praised, but she proves Dahl’s tenacity in showing women as different, varied and individual. This is an accomplishment itself in a world where the Bechdel Test even exists.
Matilda is, as Miss Honey describes her, ‘a phenomenon’ . Her intellect and honesty may be reviled by her family, but to the audience they are applauded. She is always in control, and never doubts her choice not to follow in her mother’s stilletoed footsteps in favour of an easier life. In a world where little girls are surrounded by Barbies and Bratz, Matilda offers something better.