“Your Mother Was a Hamster…” (Famous Literary Mamas)

Sorry, but hearts & flowers won't do for this blog post about famous mothers from literature. Happy Mother's Day!
Sorry, but hearts & flowers won’t do for this blog post about famous mothers from literature. Happy Mother’s Day!


In the annals of literature, no one character is as infamous as “the mother.” Perhaps yours is like no other, but according to Monty Python and the Holy Grail, hurling insults at someone’s mother is best done from atop a medieval castle (with a fake French accent). Vraiment!

Just in time for Mother’s Day weekend, I present some of the most unforgettable moms who began their lives on the printed page of a book:

Mrs. Bennet Was a Mother of “Mean Understanding, Little Information, and Uncertain Temper”: If you had five daughters, you too would be obsessed with matrimony 24/7! While author Jane Austen uses Mrs. Bennet for a good deal of Pride and Prejudice’s comic relief, this egregiously tactless mum views her social situation as dire indeed.

Mrs. B deals one of her worst blows to daughter Elizabeth when she encourages Mr. Collins (a most tepid cousin) to propose to Lizzy so Mr. Bennet’s ancestral home, Longbourn, will remain in the family. By the end of the novel, Mrs. B has managed to marry off three daughters; not too shabby a track record for a woman with “poor nerves.”

Margaret White Expressed Her Love with Serious Prayer and Punishment: Carrie White’s fundamentalist Christian mother in Stephen King’s first published novel lives in her own sinful snake pit. Mrs. White believes that “Eve was weak;” she also ignores Carrie’s pubescent education. This leads to her daughter being mercilessly taunted in the girls’ high school gym locker room after she menstruates for the first time and freaks out.

Carrie’s after-gym tampon assault inadvertently strengthens her telekinetic powers; by book’s end, she destroys most of the (fictional) town of Chamberlain, Maine. She also stops her mother’s heart during their final struggle – bam! Mommy Margaret is the mother you pray you’ll never end up with because, if you sin, the next time you pray with her will be the last time.

Margaret March Was a Progressive Mother in a Victorian World: What can I say about a mother who lectures men that the outdoors is beneficial for both girls and boys alike, supports education and critical thinking for her girls (over developing feminine wiles), and never yells at her children? Gee, I wish Marmee could be MY Marmee!

Lest you think Marmee the perfect mother, there is a point in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women when Mrs. March admits something to her writerly wildcat of a daughter, Jo. Apparently, she too used to have a volatile temper but learned to control it. Throughout the book, Marmee channels the author’s exposure and family adherence to the Transcendentalist movement of the 1800s. In other words, let your conscience be your guide…

Vivi Walker, Shaken and Stirred Ya-Ya, Louisiana Mama: The mother-daughter relationship in Rebecca Wells’s Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood launches dazzling fireworks after Viviane Joan Abbot Walker is referred to as a “tap-dancing child abuser” in a New York Times article. The friction between Vivi and her daughter Siddalee (Sidda) exists because bright, vivacious Vivi settled for marriage and kids after her true love died in WWII.

As a young mother, Vivi loved her children, but she simultaneously resented them and her “substitute” husband. She turned to alcohol to subdue and submerge all of life’s disappointments. This led to institutionalization and even shock therapy.

Sidda subsequently learns her mother’s past secrets from the collective “Ya-Ya Sisterhood” scrapbook (there are three other “Ya-Ya” friends). She ultimately realizes her mother is a flawed but compassionate human being who does love her. Tennessee Williams would have adored Vivi’s Southern Gothic sensibilities!

Marilla Cuthbert Is a “Sour Patch” Mix of Stern Disciplinarian and Plum Puff Genius: Despite first impressions, Marilla Cuthbert IS a fabulous adoptive mother in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables. Sure, her shy brother Matthew quickly falls for orphan Anne Shirley’s hyped-up imagination and loquacious use of language.

But Marilla is a spinster who never married or had any children. She is the one who realizes that if she and her brother don’t take Anne in, she’ll end up with a woman on Prince Edward Island known for her cold, disagreeable ways. Brr!

When Marilla’s face twitches, you know she’s suppressing her dry sense of humor. She also has a soft spot – after Marilla disciplines young Anne for her many crazy mishaps, all is forgiven with a fresh batch of delectable plum puffs. Even though Marilla was “slightly distrustful of sunshine,” she proved to be a kindred spirit who altered an orphan’s life with love.


Which fictional character from literature remains at the top of your list of unforgettable mothers? Did this blog post whet your appetite to read any of the referenced novels? Whether you’re paying or receiving homage on May 12, happy Mother’s Day!

Lori Shapiro is the owner of By All Writes LLC, a business writing, editing, and research company in Marlton, New Jersey. She revels in shielding her clients from the pain of writing their own print and web marketing copy. Call her (856-810-9764) or email her (lori@byallwrites.biz) for a no-obligation project quote today!

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.