Best and Worst Literary Mothers

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While it may be overly simplistic to dub literary mothers as bad or good, there are some fictional mums who maybe, just maybe, could measure up to your own and some that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. 

Emma BovaryMadame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Does anyone really recall what Emma’s daughter is called? Even as a fan, I have to admit that it took me a while. This just emphasises that in all of Flaubert’s lovely, long descriptions of wonderful gowns and scrumptious food, Berthe is almost a footnote, just like she is a footnote in her mother’s life. Of course, Emma is sympathetic for living in a time with such constraints for women, but you can’t help but feel sorry when little Berthe is orphaned and left to work in a mill. 

Charlotte HazeLolita, Vladmir Nabokov

To be fair, Charlotte didn’t know that she loved a paedophile as Humbert was pretty good at hiding it. But Parenting 101 definitely doesn’t suggest ignoring a stranger’s obsession with your daughter and then leaving her with him when you get hit by a car and die. Charlotte definitely gives a new meaning to ‘He’s just not that into you’.

Charlotte definitely gives a new meaning to ‘He’s just not that into you’

Úrsula IguaránOne Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I don’t know if this was Marquez’s intention, but Úrsula always struck me as one tough cookie. Outliving her three children and seeing the generations pass, she is one of the most resourceful and level-headed characters that demonstrates a profound generosity in welcoming so many into her home like Rebeca. She’s not always perfect, but rationality, insane productivity and entrepreneurial flair makes this matriarch a very likeable character throughout the novel. I reckon Alan Sugar would say “you’re hired” to Úrsula.

Mrs BennetPride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

Some may immediately consider the pushy and ambitious Mrs Bennet as a bad mother. In comparison to Elizabeth Bennet’s much adored father, her infuriating obsession with marriage can alienate the modern reader, especially when it backfires and breaks up the true love between Mr Bingely and Jane. However, I would argue that Mrs Bennet is a more complicated figure than she seems, with a realistic view of how society would have treated her unwed daughters. Her methods may have been misguided but her reasoning was somewhat sound.

Mrs Bennet’s methods may have been misguided but her reasoning was somewhat sound

Molly WeasleyHarry Potter, J.K Rowling

Perhaps this is an uninspired choice but the lady in question is anything but. Harry’s outside perspective lets us see how the Weasley matriarch fits the model of a great mum. Warm and giving, she finally gave the orphaned Harry Potter a home, but don’t be fooled into thinking that Molly isn’t a woman to be reckoned with. Her battle with Bellatrix Lestrange at the Battle of Hogwarts gave us the now famous line “Not my daughter, you bitch” and shows how fiercely a mother will fight to protect her loved ones. 


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