We’ve been exploring positive literary families, covering Fathers and Sons and Fathers and Daughters, and today, I wanted to start looking at the Mothering side of the equation. We’ve all read lots and lots of bad mothers, step-mothers, and dead mothers; most fairy tales have at least of these as the villain or story device that makes the plot go round.
But there are some classics with good mothers who actually care, whether they are flesh-and-blood mothers or foster mothers who take on a mother’s heart. So here’s five novels that make the cut, in my opinion, featuring motherly beings who try their best to care for their daughters instead of ruining their lives.
Little Women: Marmee is one of the best mothers in literature, I think, managing to care for not only her four girls but to also provide a mothering influence on John Brooke and Theodore Laurence. She is willing to give advice and love without controlling those around her, and though she says she’s struggled with her temper, you hardly ever see that failing in the novel. She is a busy, ideal mother that always seems to have time for a cosy chat or a heart-to-heart conversation, and she makes their world run smoothly. Without her, the girls would’ve been far less grounded and far more emotional and self-centered, to judge by how things go when she’s not present.
Anne of Green Gables: Marilla starts out as being one of Anne’s critics, but she quickly becomes one of the orphan’s greatest allies. She isn’t a warm mother, like Marmee, but she is a caring one in a firm, supporting, and somewhat scolding way, and I think she truly comes to fill the mothering role in Anne’s life–as much as Anne lets anyone take that position, of course.
Northanger Abbey: Mrs. Morland is probably the best flesh-and-blood mother in Jane Austen. She is astute and observant, and she facilitates the wishes of her daughter (and her daughter’s “particular friend) without the least qualm or fluttering, busybody complication (one could only wish Mrs. Bennett would take lessons). She has a large family but seems to care for them all to the best of her abilities, and though her part in the book is short, she greatly deserves mention of being a formulative influence on her delightful daughter’s character and, if not the architect, at least a considerable conspirer for her happiness, doing everything she can to not get in the way of a desirable match.
Persuasion: Lady Russell is one of the foster mothers who tries to do everything she can for the daughters of her dear friend, and while her involvement creates great unhappiness and alienates the romantic couple, she does try to ensure their happiness. She loves Anne dearly and she genuinely felt that marrying Captain Wentworth would’ve been a mistake ten years before the novel begins. She holds no grudges, though, and she becomes a good friend to the couple after their reconciliation, to where we’re told she means to love Anne’s husband as she ought, winning him over to the point where “he was not obliged to say that he believed her to have been right in originally dividing them, he was ready to say almost everything else in her favour.” If only all mothers who had been wrong could become on such good terms with their sons-in-law! 🙂
Emma: Now, Emma fits in the “no mother” camp along with Anne Elliot, but like Anne, she has gained a surrogate mother, in her case in the shape of Mrs. Weston (originally Miss Taylor). And Mrs. Weston is the very picture of a benevolent, kind, gentle mother who can see no faults in her children. She argues with Mr. Knightley on this point, since he can see many faults in Emma, and she is misguided in her attempts to promote Emma’s happiness through various acquaintances, but almost everyone falls under Emma’s spell and works to further what Emma wants rather than what Emma needs. She is not an astute mother, or a very wise one, but she is as loving as one could possibly desire. (A cross between her and Lady Russell would produce an almost ideal mother, who could want what the child wants while still seeing dangers and problems…a bit like Mrs. Morland, for that matter.)
So there you have it! Five shades of good mothers, all with their strengths and weaknesses. What are some of your favorite mother and daughter combinations?
Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren
Photo by hotblack, Creative Commons
One thought on “Fictional Families: Mothers and Daughters”
I really loved Marmee in Little Women too – and I loved the way Eve LaPlante unearthed and wrote of Louisa’s mother Abigail, there were so many admirable aspects to her beyond what’s depicted through Marmee.