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Literature / The Full Matilda

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The Full Matilda is a 2004 novel by David Haynes.

The Housewrights have a family legacy of service, their father, Jacob, having served as the venerable black majordomo to a rich and powerful U.S. senator in Washington, D.C. But each successive generation scoffs at the service legacy, gravitating toward the catering business but anxious to drop the subservience of the serving class. Matilda Housewright, the strong-minded and willful daughter of Jacob, provides the focus for this novel which takes place from The Roaring '20s to The Turn of the Millennium. After Jacob dies, Matilda's brother, Martin, embarks on a catering business and cuts out Matilda, leaving her on the sidelines. But her impervious nature and impeccable taste keep her at the center of the family as Martin's sons are sent to get the full-Matilda treatment. Alternating between the accounts of Matilda and her brother and the third-person perspectives of Martin's sons and grandson, this vibrant family portrait tracks the rise of the Housewrights to a multimillion-dollar food distribution company. Along the way, it traces changes in sensibilities as each generation puts its own stamp on the meaning and manner of service.



  • Alternative Character Interpretation: Possibly an in-universe example. The men in her life don't understand why she is so attached to the house her father left her, especially when the neighborhood starts going bad, and that Victorian/Edwardian era lifestyle but they don't know that she had sex with the senator when she was 16 to get her father that house, and she is probably trying to live the lifestyle she never got to live as a servant.
  • Ambiguously Brown: Martin's grandson Jacob.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Matilda talks like this, and her sections of the novel are partially like this. Justified Trope in that her father spoke like this and taught her to differentiate herself from the lower class African-Americans.
  • Arc Words: "Housewright Maxim #__"
  • Born in the Wrong Century: Played with, though it's really more a case of "Born into the wrong race during the wrong century". Even though when Matilda was young people lived the rich high-class lifestyle she so embraces, by the time she was a teenager (around the Great Depression) that life was dying out. However, until her death in 2003 she still lives like an old Victorian woman.
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  • But Not Too Black: This is discussed when Matilda says that many of the darker skinned blacks in the city didn't prosper as much as her lighter skinned family did.
  • Civil Rights Movement: Martin's son David is killed at a Black Panther Party riot.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Matilda, of the non-comedic variety.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Matilda's family being African-American servants to a white senator in and of itself can be considered this. This is even discussed when Matilda talks about how later on many people quit having live in servants and started hiring day maids and limo services (as opposed to having a driver and a live-in maid). The Reveal in the book is that Matilda at the age of 16 slept with the senator (who had been showing an...interest in her since she was 13) to secure her father a house of his own, and nobody else knew but her and the senator. That scenario could probably happen now, but eventually it would come out and the senator would probably be arrested, whereas back then nobody would care because she was just a poor black girl. It would be more plausible now if she were older, but it still would cause controversy.
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  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: The younger Jacob.
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Matilda says this verbatim.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: The Housewrights.
  • The Generation Gap: This is first shown between Matilda and Martin's son David (a baby boomer) when he takes her to a Black Panther Party meeting. She doesn't understand the "bushes" on everyone's head (aka afros) and still calls black people "coloreds"
  • Generational Saga
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Matilda to get her father's house.
  • Iron Lady: Matilda
  • Legacy of Service: The Housewrights, who go from being domestics and cooks to being caterers to owning a food distribution service.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: Defied Trope. Matilda says this phrase verbatim and says she refused to do it when she was having sex with the senator, even though the trope is probably mostly played straight.
  • Maiden Aunt: Matilda fits this trope to a T, in fact the book almost deconstructs this trope.
  • Please, I Will Do Anything! / Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Matilda does this so that the senator will not move back to the South, crushing her father's dreams of owning a nice house. She ends up sleeping with the senator.
  • The Roaring '20s: and The Great Depression, and World War Two, The '60s, The '70s, The '80s, The '90s, and The Turn of the Millennium. In fact the only decades of the 20th century not discussed were the ones before Matilda was born.
  • Second-Person Narration: Matilda's section. It is not revealed who "you" is.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Between Martin and Matilda, and after David dies between Rodrick and David.
  • Spot of Tea: A dramatic version at the end of the book, in which the specific Houswright way to make tea is described and after which Matilda is implied to be close to death.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: What Matilda did to keep the house. Essie Mae Washington-Williams was born to 22-year-old South Carolina governor and later senator Strom Thurmond and his 16 year old black servant, Carrie Butler. She did not reveal who her father was until his death in 2003.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Martin when he starts his own catering business.