Five British works of fiction that pass the Bechdel Test

Emily Bray does a British Bechdel investigation.

In a time when girl power is more important than ever and the sisters really need to stick together *cough* *cough* Mr Wein-scum. We thought it would be nice to take a pause and highlight some works of fiction that give girls a go. Sadly the majority of films and books feature male protagonists, with one dimensional females featuring as mere accessories. However,  the below list has been complied of British works of fiction that pass the Bechdel Test - in order to offer you a sprinkle of inspiration. Now, for those of you who don’t know what the Bechdel test is, let me enlighten you …The Bechdel Test is a very simple test that names the following three criteria:

  1. The work has to have at least two women in it - both of whom are named.

  2. The women have to talk to each other.

  3. The women have to talk to each other about something other than a man.

The Bechdel Test is named after the American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, after it first appeared in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985.Sadly my search for British Bechdel passing works was quite a struggle, with our American cousins providing a lot more material (due mainly to the Hunger Games & Divergent trilogies). Regardless, here come some suggestions for your spoonful of lady goodness:

A Little Princess By Frances Hodgson Burnett  (Book, 1905)

I was surprised how many children’s books cropped up when researching this piece - but A Little Princess passes the Bechdel test with flying colours. Sara Crewe is reluctantly stuck in Miss Minchin’s Boarding School For Girls - giving this book the edge when it comes to Bechdel ratings - purely because it is a female dominated environment. However Sara herself is a kind and empathetic heroine - going out of her way to help other girls whilst coping with the loss of her father. Sara crosses class and race barriers, using fairy tales to deal with her personal demons and as a resolution to the struggles of others. Even in the most adverse circumstances - she remains headstrong and true to herself.

Bridget Jones’ Baby by Helen Fielding (Film, 2016)

This most recent rambling of our beloved Bridget makes an appearance on our list - despite it’s man-mad and increasingly silly protagonist. Yes all of her films and books revolve around her moaning about weight and men, but this one - believe it or not does pass the Bechdel test. It’s all down to Emma Thompson really (all hail Queen Emma) who shows up as an acerbic doctor. In the interactions of Bridget and said doctor - none of the conversations are about who may or may not be the father of Bridget’s unborn baby, but rather about pregnancy and procedures. Imagine that! A lady doctor giving cogent medical advice. Yes these snippets are only a small percentage of a film otherwise concerned with Bridget’s chiselled suitors - but it’s enough to pass.

The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe (Book,1950)

This is a Bechdel biggie - hold onto your hats! C.S Lewis provides us with heroines Lucy and Susan Pevensie, as well as the terrifying and omnipotent Queen Jadis. The Pevensie sisters are courageous and canny in equal measure, boldly taking on and defeating the forces of evil that they face. Lewis ensures that his females are well-rounded and in sharp focus - they have much bigger fish to fry that just boys. Published in 1950, it is surprisingly ahead of its time.

The Girl on The Train By Paula Hawkins - (Book, 2015)

Nice to have a bit of a noir on the list. The Girl on The Train makes a potentially surprising entry - as its whiny lead Rachel is quite frankly a boozed up mess. However despite the dark backdrop of murder and intrigue, there are some sensitive moments between the women in this novel. Notably between Rachel and her bossy roommate Cathy, who is touchingly concerned about her friends dipso-maniacal tendencies. It’s a thrill-ride, with moments of women having each other’s backs (rather than stabbing them) which is refreshing.

Matilda by Roald Dahl (Book, 1988)

Matilda is the redeeming female presence in this otherwise fem-negative book. She is bright, sparky and fiercely determined. She has long conversations with her teacher Miss Honey and some seriously bold confrontations with The Trunchbull. Her young mind is occupied with too many other things to bother about boys. But Dahl has a unique knack for denigrating some women, whilst lifting others. For although Matilda is a heroine of note, the book also has vapid Mrs Wormwood who explains that she chose ‘looks over books.’ There is also the timid Miss Honey who was too pathetic to ask the Trunchbull for a pay rise and therefore lives in self-inflicted poverty and the Trunchbull herself who is so masculine - she isn’t really a woman at all. However despite his best efforts, Roald Dahl’s Matilda makes our list because she is inquisitive and bold  - a role model worth having. She is also aimed at children which makes her narrative all the more important.

At this point, it would be pertinent, dear (lady) reader for you to take a moment to consider whether or not you and your day to day existence passes the Bechdel test …? And if you are a writer or a filmmaker - please make sure your next work does more than just give the gals a cursory nod.