From cuddly and caring dads to cool and aloof paters, the patriarch has always been a powerful motif in literature. This Father’s Day, June 16, Tabitha Barda looks at a few of the most famous in fiction – from the inspiring to the infuriating
10 famous fictional fathers – from the inspiring to the infuriating and everything in between.
The witty pop
Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen The long-suffering husband of Mrs Bennet and the father of five unmarried daughters, Mr Bennet uses his sarcasm and wry humour to cope with the domestic dramas that unfold on a daily basis in the Bennet household. Often playing the part of the bemused bystander, he’s as reserved as his wife is loquacious, but is always ready with a pithy remark to pierce the tension when times are tough. We see his authoritarian side when his youngest, Lydia, elopes, but he’s paternally tender to all of his daughters, particularly Elizabeth, and supports both her and Jane in their decisions to marry for love over money. In an 18th-century context, that makes him one cool pa.
The gruff father
Mr Banks in Mary Poppins by PL Travers The typical middle-class patriarch, city banker George Banks is portrayed as a distant father in the Poppins series of books, although gruffly loving of his wife Donald Sutherland plays Mr Bennet, father of Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) in the 2005 film version of Pride and Prejudice and children. In the iconic 1964 film version the character, played by David Tomlinson, is given a bigger spotlight and goes through a transformation: from uptight workaholic he’s charmed by nanny Mary and chimney sweep Bert into becoming a relaxed, handson dad by the closing credits.
The vain old man
King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare Deciding to retire as monarch of England, Lear’s decision to hold a ‘love test’ for his daughters to determine the size of their inheritance is the beginning of his end. He openly favours his youngest, Cordelia, but throws a tantrum when she refuses to play the ludicrous ego-massaging game to his rules. Meanwhile his other daughters, Goneril and Reagan, are happy to flatter for the spoils and, after winning the land accordingly, plot his downfall. By the end of the play Lear is a pitiful figure and his fatal paternal flaw makes for one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies.
The generous guardian
Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte He’s usually portrayed solely as a romantic figure, so it’s easy to forget
that the whole reason Jane and Mr Rochester ever meet is because she’s the governess for his young ward, Adele. It’s unclear whether he is her biological parent – Adele has been abandoned by her French mother and her father’s identity is in doubt – but he takes responsibility for the little girl and she wants for nothing, being pampered and spoilt by the servants. Just like Jane, Adele has been rejected by the people responsible for raising her, but her kind treatment at the hands of the generous Mr Rochester makes her the ebullient, free-spirited child that Jane never had the chance to be.
The inspiring hero
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee Fair, kind and noble, Atticus Finch is not only an inspiration to his own children, Jem and Scout, but the fictional character has acquired a legendary status in real-life legal circles, with the Michigan Law Review even going so far as to say, “No real-life lawyer has done more for the selfimage or public perception of the legal profession.” A paragon of virtue and a moral hero, Lee is said to have based the character on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, an Alabama lawyer who, like his fictional counterpart, represented black defendants in a highly publicised criminal trial. Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Finch in the film adaptation, and the character was voted the greatest hero in American film by the American Film Institute, beating blockbuster contenders such as Indiana Jones and Rocky Balboa.
The cuddly daddy
Mr Lancaster in The Fault in our Stars by John Green The father of thyroid cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster in this bittersweet book is a small character but a hugely important influence on Hazel’s world view. Her offbeat, quirky humour means that at first she mocks her dad for his tendency to display emotions and cry during difficult times. But she soon comes to realise that her father is the wisest guide she has in life, concluding, “My old man. He always knew just what to say.”
The bad dad
Pap Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain There’s a reason Huck sets off in a little boat across the Mississippi, and his father, the ne’er-do-well ‘Pap’ Finn, is it. Uncouth, abusive and a slave to addiction, the wilfully ignorant Pap is jealous of his son’s success and does his best to ruin it. Luckily Huck is canny enough to escape such destructive parenting and sets off on great adventures.