First, Miss Honey goes around to the upper-level teachers to borrow textbooks on geometry, literature, and French. Then she calls Matilda over and says that rather than sit and be bored, she should study from the textbooks during each lesson. Matilda very politely thanks Miss Honey for the books and the help. Miss Honey knows Mr. Wormwood is wrong about his daughter—and she’s shocked that Matilda doesn’t seem aware of how brilliant she is. When class reconvenes, Matilda happily studies the geometry textbook.
Just as Miss Phelps did, Miss Honey is showing Matilda that she’s someone Matilda can trust and who will help Matilda receive the education she wants and deserves. And Matilda soaks up the attention and help—this is the first time, aside from her afternoons at the library, where her intelligence has been framed as a good thing. It’s another indicator that, per the novel, parents are supposed to overestimate their children when Miss Honey is so shocked by the Wormwoods’ behavior.
As she teaches the other students, Miss Honey decides that she must speak with Matilda’s parents. Mr. Wormwood has such a successful business that he must be intelligent, and it’s unusual for parents to underestimate their children. It shouldn’t be hard to convince the Wormwoods that Matilda is brilliant. Perhaps she can even get them to agree to let her give Matilda private lessons. She decides to call on the Wormwoods later in the evening, after Matilda is in bed.
Miss Honey shares the narrator’s belief that parents consistently overestimate their children—and encountering the opposite is just beyond understanding. She also shows how dedicated she is to helping bright students reach their full potential, particularly since Miss Honey seems so shy and reserved normally. This boldness in visiting the Wormwoods reads as somewhat out of character for her.
So after nine that evening, Miss Honey walks to Matilda’s house and rings the doorbell. She can hear the TV inside. A small, “ratty” man—Mr. Wormwood—answers the door, and when Miss Honey introduces herself as Matilda’s teacher, says he’s not surprised she’s already in trouble. He says it’s Miss Honey’s responsibility to deal with her. Miss Honey insists she has good news about Matilda and asks to come in, but Mr. Wormwood says it’s an inconvenient time—they’re in the middle of their favorite TV show. Angrily, Miss Honey suggests the Wormwoods shouldn’t be parents if they think TV is more important than Matilda’s future. He angrily lets her in.
Describing Mr. Wormwood as “ratty” cuts into Mr. Wormwood’s insistence that he’s extremely handsome—at least to the narrator, he isn’t. He shows how little he thinks of his daughter when he instantly decides Matilda must be in trouble. For Miss Honey, it’s disturbing to encounter parents who so obviously dislike and don’t care about their child. Miss Honey realizes that Matilda’s future is at stake here. If she can’t get an education, Matilda won’t have as many opportunities for success as an adult.
Mr. Wormwood leads Miss Honey to the living room, where Mrs. Wormwood continues to stare at the TV. When Mr. Wormwood turns down the volume, Mrs. Wormwood shrieks—they’re just getting to the good part. Miss Honey introduces herself and sits down. She notes that Matilda came to school today able to read. She asks if Mr. or Mrs. Wormwood taught Matilda to read; perhaps, as they insist, Matilda is lying about who taught her to read. Mr. Wormwood notes that he reads Autocar and Motor every week, but his family doesn’t believe “sitting on your fanny and reading story-books” is a good use of time.
The novel frames television as morally inferior to books. So having the television play such a huge role in this passage (it’s clearly what both the Wormwoods are interested in) makes it clear that per the logic of the novel, the Wormwoods are morally inferior to those (like Matilda and Miss Honey) who do read books. To Mr. Wormwood, reading must serve a purpose; he seems to see his car magazines as essential to doing his job. Matilda, though, gets pleasure from reading—and this, he suggests, is a waste of time.
Miss Honey says that, regardless, Matilda is brilliant, and her parents should know this. Mrs. Wormwood gripes that Matilda is always reading, but Miss Honey asks if they’re really not curious about a five-year-old who can read Dickens and Hemingway. Mrs. Wormwood says that girls should concentrate on their appearances so they can marry, not get an education. They should do what she did—she choose looks, while Miss Honey obviously chose books. Miss Honey is shocked, especially when Mrs. Wormwood says that she’s better off than Miss Honey is.
Finally, Mrs. Wormwood articulates why she dislikes Matilda and reading so much: it’s not appropriate for girls to be educated, she believes. She insists that she’s a more successful woman because she’s beautiful and married, while Miss Honey is an unsuccessful woman because she’s (presumably) unmarried and has to work. So Mrs. Wormwood and Miss Honey have very different ideas of what constitutes success for women. And given how the novel frames Mrs. Wormwood as morally inferior, it implies readers should believe Miss Honey is doing things right.
Trying to hold her temper, Miss Honey says that Matilda also seems to be a math genius. Mr. Wormwood doesn’t see the point when calculators exist, and Mrs. Wormwood insists it doesn’t do a girl any good to be “brainy.” Gesturing to the TV screen, where a busty woman is embracing a male actor, she points out that the woman didn’t get the man by multiplying. The TV couple is going to get married, and the woman will have maids. Miss Honey makes one more attempt to convince the Wormwoods that Matilda needs private tutoring and could attend university in a few years. At this, Mr. Wormwood shouts that all people learn at university are “bad habits.” Miss Honey points out that doctors and lawyers are all university graduates, but she can see she’s not going to get anywhere. She leaves.
Mrs. Wormwood using the actress on television as an example is humorous because what she’s seeing on the show is scripted. It’s fiction, not real. Further, it’s worth noting that in portraying this fiction, the actress is working for money, just like Miss Honey is. The actress may have gotten this particular job because of her beauty, but Mrs. Wormwood’s logic still falls flat—women, no matter how beautiful, can work for their own paychecks. Miss Honey, of course, implies that a university education rather than beauty is the best way forward. But she still makes the connection between education and being able to earn money as a professional.