Friday, May 7, 2010

For Mothers Day: Great and Memorable Moms in Literature

So Sunday is Mothers Day and I hope you are all doing something special for the moms in your lives. Unfortunately, my own mom lives 1,600 kilometres away on PEI, which has once again made me feel sad and guilty for not being around for her. But I have already assured her that I will be there with her in spirit and I will also be following up on the card I sent with a phone call.

I had plans of doing a great big long post on "Great and Memorable Moms in Literature", but after perusing my shelves for some time I was a bit surprised to realize that I don't actually have a ton of books containing something suitable for this topic. Isn't that a bit depressing? There are of course moms in literature who are memorable for all the wrong reasons - think the crazy mom in Stephen King's Carrie or the self-absorbed mom-poet in Augusten Burroughs' memoir Running with Scissors. But what about simply strong, noble moms doing strong, noble-mom things?

Thankfully, Canadian Literature was able to provide me with at least a few examples. One of my favourite moms in literature is Reta Winters from Carol Shields' exquisite novel Unless. Here's a story of a woman who sees her happy and carefully balanced middle-class life upended when one of her daughters decides to live on a Toronto street corner with a handwritten sign around her neck that reads "GOODNESS", and of how Reta meets that challenge with poise and strength. Margaret Laurence was able to create at least two memorable moms in her work: Morag Gunn, from The Diviners, who struggles to balance the writing life with the obligations of parenthood, and Hagar Shipley from The Stone Angel, who is, well, Hagar Shipley. I also love the caustic, no-nonsense mom that Wayne Johnston creates for his fictionalized Joey Smallwood in The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. And of course we cannot forget Alice Munro, who has created countless amazing moms doing countless amazing mom things, both large and small, in many of her short stories.

But I feel like I'm missing a whole slew of other great moms in literature. Surely there are more, and outside of Canadian Literature? So I'll throw it out to you: who are your favourite moms in literature? What moms from books really stick out for you? Leave a comment below.



  1. The mother in _Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit_ is a dingbat. She makes a wonderful antagonist for the narrator/protagonist.
    The mother in Margaret Atwood's _Cat's Eye_ is the most heartbreaking. She is just so powerless to help her daughter avoid the bullying by her best friends. Then there's Jimmy's absent mother in _Oryx and Crake_, another well-meaning but powerless protector.
    Jane Austen is also full of absent and ineffective mothers.
    My favourite mothers are non-fiction: Anne Lamott in _Operating Instructions_ and Rachel Cusk in _A Life's Work_. These memoirs of early motherhood are beautifully written and wonderfully complex, no rose-coloured glasses.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Nathalie. I've read a number of Atwood's books but have missed Cat's Eye and O&C. And of course you're absolutely right about Austen. The memoirs you mention look interesting as well.