5 literary MOTHER FIGURES
1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, 1868.
WHAT: Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy’s life revolves around “Marmee” – their father is at war. Meg moans it’s dreadful to be poor, Jo pines for Pa, Beth is the pet, and baby Amy is injured that “some girls have lots of pretty things”. WHY: Mrs March not only raises four girls, she busies herself with charity. This cheery mother inspires her girls to be better people. “The girls thought the unfashionable bonnet covered the most splendid woman in the world.”
2. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, 1908.
WHAT: Orphan Anne Shirley was supposed to have been the boy requested by adult brother and sister Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert to help on their farm. Matthew dotes on her while gruff Marilla is inclined to send her back. WHY: Lucy Maud Montgomery’s depiction of an adoptive mother is actually positive. While Marilla has little patience with Anne, her love shines through; she knows if Anne is sent away, it will be to a woman harder than she.
3. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, 1927.
WHAT: Mr and Mrs Ramsay and their eight children are at their summer home in the Hebrides as the First World War creates havoc, and in the finale two of the now motherless children return to the Scottish island 10 years later. WHY: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Ramsay is mother to eight, yet painted as serene and calm. She dies at the beginning of part two, but is kept as the novel’s beating heart. She held the family together and lives on in the children’s memories.
4. Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers, 1934.
WHAT: Born Helen Lyndon Goff in Maryborough, Queensland, Travers created governess Poppins in London. There were eight books altogether about the magical nanny who sweeps into Cherry Tree Lane to care for the Banks children. WHY: The films are more famous, but things were toned down for the screen: Mary Poppins was far kinder than in the books. Travers adopted a baby boy from Ireland. The child, Camillus, was a twin but she refused to take both.
5. Carol by Patricia Highsmith, 1952.
WHAT: Highsmith based the story of Carol Aird, wealthy suburban mother, and 19-year-old Therese Belivet, New York sales assistant, on her own encounter with a stunning blonde. The women become lovers. WHY: There are maternal elements to the relationship, when Therese goes to Carol’s home, Carol tucks her into bed. Carol loses custody of her daughter, but Highsmith leaves the way open for a reunion.