… are hard to find. No really, they are. I tried hard – really hard – to find examples, and managed no more than a small handful. You try coming up with a list and see how far you get.
I did a similar search to find good fathers and, whilst we’re not exactly awash with them, there seem to be way fewer offerings in the bad father category, and a surprising number in the good category were actually in the rubbish-but-trying group.
Yet you can find plentiful tales of over-bearing mothers, over-protective mothers, unfit mothers (drink or drug dependant), abusive mothers, neglectful mothers, distant or unloving mothers, or simply mothers who – even though they’ve done the best they could have struggled with the hand dealt to them – resulting in their children suffering in some way or other. Frankly, it’s a bloody minefield.
And why is that? Are there really that many children who’ve been marked – in a bad way – by their mothers? From the screeds of book lists containing bad mothers, one does begin to wonder. Could it be that good mothers are simply dull? Or maybe it’s an easy option? After all, every story needs conflict. And conflict between parents and children is a natural part of growing up. Perhaps parents can only be good when the source of conflict is to be found elsewhere …
So, here is my personal list of good mothers and fathers in literature:
- Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird”
- Molly and Arthur Weasley in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series
- Marmee (and later Meg, Jo & Amy) in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women”, “Good Wives”, “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys”
- The Father in Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”
- Mr Emersen in E M Forster’s “A Room with a View”
- William Danny in Roald Dahl’s “Danny Champion of the World”
- Jean-Joachim Goriot in Honore de Balzac’s “Pere Goriot” (or “King Lear” in Shakespeare’s play of the same name)
© Debra Carey 2017
Do you have any personal favourites I’ve missed?
We parents need some good press …
How about Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan in Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series? She becomes a wise, funny, likeable and kind mother not only to her son Miles, but takes his clone brother, Mark, in her stride, and Miles knows he has to save Mark when they first meet, because his mother will ask him,”What have you done with your little brother?” She actually went out of her way to save Miles when people were trying to persuade her to abort what was going to be a badly crippled child, then saved him again when he was in his uterine replicator in the middle of a war. People in this universe know they can talk to her when they can’t talk to anyone else. For that matter, her own mother is pretty good! And so is Miles’ father, Aral.
Often, good mothers in fiction are dead, alas! But not always. If you think about them, you’ll find them. I do agree about the Weasleys.
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To be honest Sue, I truly *need* there to be more examples. I mean, as much as we need good role-models in real life, fictional ones can play their part, and this is a gap that needs filling! Thanks for the recommendation. I recently came across Lois McMaster Bujold as an author via @breakerofthings, but she hasn’t reached the top of my pile yet. I’ll speed up her ascent for a depiction of good motherhood though!
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Sue’s beaten me to it – I was going to suggest Cordelia (and Aral), and you could probably put several other characters from the vorkosiverse on the list as well, including Miles’ wife Ekaterina.
Nanny Ogg is a good mother and grandmother.
I’ll have to think of some more!
(I disagree about the Father in the Road – definitely in the ‘rubbish but trying category’!).
True, I’d forgotten Ekaterin. A very good mother indeed! Nanny Ogg adores the children in her family, though she has not had to do housework since her daughters were old enough to do it for her. I wouldn’t want her for a mother-in-law, though! 😉
Ah David, you caught me out with The Road. I never started it and only read the blurb. Yes, I’m ashamed. Everyone seems to insist he’s a good father and I suspected he was in that category, but couldn’t say for sure.
Again, both David & Sue are showing me up. Nanny Ogg is another hole in my reading. Her arrangement over housework sounds like the best of reasons for my not marrying! In only have a son-in-law and his standards of housekeeping are WAY higher than mine …
I grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books- while not really fiction, I always loved journeying along with their family, and envy Caroline Ingalls’ patience! Most of my reading has been “kidi-lit” in recent years, so most of my examples come from there too: The parents in Louis Saccar’s “Holes,” weren’t quite together, but were trying. Mrs. Frisby in “Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH”- if mice count? 🙂
Also I’d nominate Allyson Chou Harrington in David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. Despite being somewhat vertically challenged (compared especially to her husband and daughter) she is one of the galaxy’s leading geneticists, is feisty and creates havoc amongst the staid and conservative members of her daughter’s adopted home planet of Grayson and yet the passage where she greets her daughter returning from what everyone knew was her death is one of the most moving passages you could ever read.
Sorry Debs, your TBR pile just got 15 books higher! 🙂
Oh absolutely, mice count!
Hmmm … never thought of the “Little House” books, nor came across them in anyone else’s lists. I did consider Matthew & Marilla from “Anne of Green Gables”, but they weren’t *actually* parents, even if they did perform the role.
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Aaarrrggghhh! Alan, that’s just mean 😉 How will I ever catch up?
I’m finding it somewhat interesting that a good source of positive parenting is in the sci-fi/fantasy world.
The only consolation I can offer is that it is possible to skim through pages and pages of Weber’s novels where he is describing the precise technical details of armaments, ship capabilities, vectors and relative velocities, if you are not interested in That Sort Of Thing. You don’t miss much of the plot and IM(H)O he is much better when dealing with the relationships of the various characters – and good on minor characters too.