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From Ballet Shoes to Polyjuice Potion : performing girl heroes from 1936-2007

Morris, Rebecca Elisabeth


Rebecca Elisabeth Morris



This thesis examines girl protagonists who demonstrate heroism through various types of performance beginning with Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes (1936) and concluding with J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997-2007).
According to Seth Lerer, ‘Girls always seem to be put up on stages’ in children’s fiction (Lerer: 2008: 229). Performance offers opportunities for different types of heroism, from becoming celebrity heroes to saving lives. My focal texts feature three levels of performance; engaging in performance-related talents including acting, dance, sport, writing and magic; acting to lead double lives or conceal secrets; and pressure to perform to appear conventionally feminine. I argue that the novels feature contradictory messages regarding performance: on some occasions girls are empowered by performing or using their creativity, but performance can also become problematic if girls become too immersed in their roles or are compelled to perform against their will.
My thesis consists of five main chapters. The first examines how girls become celebrity heroes when they discover they have artistic talents in three of Noel Streatfeild’s novels: Ballet Shoes (1936), Party Frock (1946) and White Boots (1951). My second chapter focuses on Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (1964) and Judy Blume’s Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself (1977) and considers how girls become heroes in their imagination by assigning themselves roles as spies. The discussion then turns to two novels where girls are required to perform different identities both at school and at home in Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes (1969) and Michelle Magorian’s Back Home (1984). Chapter Four concerns the most complicated forms of performance-related heroism in my thesis, and analyses how girls create stories and adopt different roles to make sense of chaotic events in Jane Gardam’s A Long Way from Verona (1971) and Diana Wynne Jones’s Fire and Hemlock (1984). The final chapter examines how girls perform magic to save the world in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, with my discussion focusing on how Hermione Granger takes on the roles of director, actress and activist.
I address several research questions throughout my analysis of the focal texts which are summarised in the conclusion. How performance enables a girl to have agency, and what heroic acts she manages to accomplish through performance are crucial to my discussion. Situations where performance is necessary are a key area of focus in the thesis and I analyse what happens to girls who refuse to perform or perform too much. I consider the extent to which the focal authors endorse performance, and whether the authors encourage girls to pursue ambitions or if they imply that they should perform only when it is necessary for survival or benefiting others. I address how the texts engage with the idea of ‘girl heroes’ and determine whether the term is simply an alternative description of young heroines or if it carries greater significance because the term ‘girl’ stresses that she is an unusual or even an inappropriate type of hero who is playing a temporary role.


Morris, R. E. (2022). From Ballet Shoes to Polyjuice Potion : performing girl heroes from 1936-2007. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Jun 30, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jun 30, 2023
Keywords English
Public URL
Award Date Sep 1, 2022


Thesis (1.7 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2022 Rebecca Elisabeth Morris. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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