“Dahl’s racism is undeniable and indelible,” the statement reads, “but what we hope can also endure is the potential of Dahl’s creative legacy to do some good.”
In interviews from the 1980s and just before his death, the Matilda author disparaged Jewish people and self-identified as antisemitic. The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company, which manages rights to the author’s work, previously apologized for these comments in 2020. Now, the Buckinghamshire-based museum—a charity founded in 2001 by Dahl’s widow, Felicity, to celebrate the author’s life and legacy—has followed suit.
“We do not repeat Dahl’s antisemitic statements publicly, but we do keep a record of what he wrote and said in the museum’s collection, so it is not forgotten,” says the statement.
In addition to posting the apology online, the museum has printed an extended version of the statement on a panel at its entrance, reports James Richings for the Bucks Free Press. Describing Dahl as a “contradictory person” who could be “very unkind and worse,” the statement ends with a condemnation of “all racism, including antisemitism, directed at any group or individual.”
Before issuing the statement, the museum consulted with the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Antisemitism Policy Trust and other leading British Jewish organizations. The charity also worked with these groups to develop educational resources on antisemitism.
In a statement quoted by Sky News, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl calls the apology an “important starting point with regard to providing the full story about a man whose works are enjoyed by millions.” To date, Dahl’s books have sold 300 million copies and been translated into more than 60 languages.
The author of Charlie and Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach and almost 50 other titles has faced increased scrutiny in recent years. In 2018, the Royal Mint scrapped plans to feature Dahl on a commemorative coin due to concerns over his antisemitic views. According to papers obtained by the Guardian’s Simon Murphy, the mint felt Dahl was “not regarded as an author of the highest reputation.”
Earlier this year, Dahl ended up at the center of a debate within the literary world. Publishing company Puffin released revised versions of the author’s work in an effort to make his language less offensive, a Telegraph investigation found. “Language related to weight, mental health, violence, gender and race has been cut and rewritten,” the newspaper reported.
Roald Dahl was no angel but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl estate should be ashamed. https://t.co/sdjMfBr7WW— Salman Rushdie (@SalmanRushdie) February 18, 2023
Puffin and Inclusive Minds, which a spokesperson described to the Telegraph as a “collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature,” stood behind the rewrites. But some high-profile critics—including Prime Minister Rishi Sunak; novelist Salman Rushdie; and Tim Minchin, creator of Matilda the Musical—voiced concerns that the move set a worrying precedent about censorship. In the end, Puffin released the rewritten versions alongside “classic” editions without the edits.
In 2021, Forbes listed Dahl as the highest-paid dead celebrity, calculating his estate’s earnings for that year at $513 million. As for the museum, it reportedly welcomes an average of 10,000 schoolchildren each year.
The Jewish advocacy groups that worked with the museum on its statement say they look forward to its continued popularity—now with a more complete, honest acknowledgement of Dahl’s legacy.
As Danny Stone, chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, tells the Washington Post’s Adela Suliman, “People will rightly continue to enjoy Dahl’s works and visit the Dahl museum, but in researching the author, it is important that they are able to establish the facts about who he was and what his views were.”