“…and Your Father Smelt of Elderberries.” (Famous Literary Papas)

I couldn't find a Monty Python card, so this will have to do. Happy Father's Day!
I couldn’t find a Monty Python card, so this will have to do. Happy Father’s Day!


Perhaps literary fathers aren’t quite as exciting or sexy as the hot and crazy mamas I entertained you with last month. At least Monty Python and the Holy Grail levels the medieval playing field via the French soldiers who taunt King Arthur’s gallant knights (and their collective patriarchies). Remember, “It’s just a flesh wound!”

Perfectly timed to coincide with Father’s Day weekend, I present some of the most unforgettable dads who began their lives on the printed page of a book:


Jean Valjean Couldn’t Sing, but He Acted the Perfect Pere: It all started with a stolen loaf of bread to feed his widowed sister’s children. As a former convict and then pursued parolee, Jean Valjean is one of the best adoptive dads on the library shelf. I know you might think of Les Miserables as a stage musical or Hugh Jackman movie extravaganza. I doubt either was Victor Hugo’s intent when he penned his behemoth of a book.

Once “Monsieur Madeleine” (aka Jean Valjean) rescues Fantine’s daughter, Cosette, from a life of drudgery with the greedy Thenardier family, you know he’ll do anything for her. He raises Cosette as his own, and he does a damn fine job of it. (Mon Dieu!)

Did you know Hugo loosely based the character of Valjean on a real ex-con, Eugene Francois Vidocq, who became a successful businessman and was known for his philanthropic work? It took Victor Hugo 17 years to bring his most famous protagonist to life (in 1862). Vive le pere!

Emma’s Daddy Provides Comic Relief (and Lots of Gruel): It’s time to lighten things up a bit as we revisit the socially cruel, tongue-in-cheek world of Jane Austen. Of all Miss Austen’s proper British gents, none amuses more than Emma Woodhouse’s not-quite-hypochondriac of a daddy, Mr. Woodhouse. He’s oblivious to most things (and people), except for: food and how it impacts his health, his personal physician, and continuing to be cared for by Emma.

Whenever another character in Emma isn’t feeling well, Mr. Woodhouse diagnoses the illness and uses food as his stethoscope. He usually ends his assessment by offering a therapeutic bowl of gruel! He’s just like your overprotective mother who won’t let you go swimming until one hour after eating or leave the house without a jacket.

Toward the end of the novel, Emma’s beloved Mr. Knightley proposes and she accepts, but there’s one little problem. Mr. Woodhouse has molded Emma into such a dedicated daughter that he can’t reconcile himself to the pending marriage.

Emma knows she can’t leave dear Papa alone to a lifetime supply of gruel for one. So she asks her future husband to dwell at the Woodhouse estate (Hartfield), rather than Donwell Abbey (the Knightley estate). Cue up Paul Simon’s famous “Father and Daughter” song for the wedding dance floor…

Atticus Finch Is a Great Role Model for All Future Lawyers: In my hallowed world of literature, no one compares to Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird as an exemplary father.

A three-piece-suit-wearing, book-reading lawyer and widower (in the 1930s deep South), Atticus deals with his small town’s racial wrath. He intends to do right by a black man (falsely) accused of raping a white girl. No, Atticus isn’t about to phone in his role as public defender and allow the town of Maycomb to lynch Tom Robinson without a trial.

What I love most about Atticus Finch is how, by walking his honorable talk (great article alert!), he raises his kids Jem and Scout as decent human beings. Perhaps you’ve seen the (wonderful!) movie version starring Gregory Peck as Atticus. If you’ve never read Harper Lee’s amazing one-book wonder, add it to your summer reading list. Do it now! Don’t make me show up at your home with the book in hand…

Never Put King Lear in Charge of Your Family Reunion…: How many of you had to read William Shakespeare’s play King Lear in high school or college? Do you remember his really bad decision regarding how to split up his post-retirement kingdom? Unlike the comic results of Jerry Seinfeld’s “The Contest” episode, King Lear destines his own demise and that of all three daughters (Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia).

Shakespeare wrote a tragedy like no other by having King Lear stage a “Who loves Daddy most?” competition among his daughters. Post-contest, both nasty, unloving Goneril and Regan win, while Cordelia (the decent daughter who actually loves the old fool) is disowned.

In the very end, dunce cap Daddy Lear dies of a broken heart while holding his dead daughter Cordelia in his arms – the only child who was true to him.  The best analogy I can offer regarding this play’s ending is the last 15 minutes of the currently infamous Season 3, Episode 9 of Game of Thrones (aka “The Rains of Castamere” and #RedWedding).


What do you think of this sampling of literary fathers – interesting enough for you to read the whole thing, or was this post merely “feh?” If you haven’t yet read any of these books, which one(s) are you now most motivated to read and why? I suppose I’m done with mothers and fathers for 2013, but I do hope to find a way to incorporate more Monty Python into future blog posts!

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!

2 Responses to “…and Your Father Smelt of Elderberries.” (Famous Literary Papas)

    • Hi Lynn,

      Thanks for the moral support – I was concerned this post was a wee bit too long and that my readers would lose interest. Happy Father’s Day this weekend to the men in your family! A future Monty Python blog post is percolating…