As you can probably tell, my mom and I are very close, so I jumped at the chance to celebrate other great mothers in fiction this week for Mother’s Day. Want to join in the fun? Head on over to Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.
1. Fantine (Les Miserables)
It may be partially the fact that I have been so shaped by the musical, and then, as an adult, by the book Les Miserables, but Fantine is the first example of a great mother who comes to mind. Everything Fantine does is for her daughter. Seeing the way that the innkeeper’s wife Thenardier treats her own daughters, Fantine naively entrusts Cosette to the woman’s care and regularly sends money and clothing to pay for her daughter’s expenses. As the Thenardiers, who treat abuse Cosette and treat her as a servant, claim more and more money, Fantine sells her two front teeth, and her golden blonde hair, before turning to the streets and selling herself. Ultimately she suffers from tuberculosis and dies before seeing her daughter again, but it is clear that Cosette is the light of her life.
“Calm yourself, my child,” said the doctor. “Your child is here.”
Fantine’s eyes beamed and filled her whole face with light. She clasped her hands with an expression which contained all that is possible to prayer in the way of violence and tenderness.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, “bring her to me!”
Touching illusion of a mother! Cosette was, for her, still the little child who is carried.
2. Sunja (Pachinko)
The thing I loved most about Pachinko (one of my favourite reads so far this year!) was its incredibly likable yet flawed characters. There are multiple mothers in this story, such as Yangjin, who lets her daughter go because she knows it will give her the best opportunity to make a life for herself, but knows that saying goodbye means she may never see the girl again, but my favourite is Sunja. More than anything Pachinko is Sunja’s story, one of hard work as she makes candy and sells her sister-in-law’s kimchi in a marketplace all day to make money, and as she swallows her pride and goes to Hansu, the gangster who lied to her and got her pregnant, in order to pay for her son’s schooling when he’s accepted to a prestigious Japanese university. She doesn’t always make the right decision and she faces the consequences of her choices, but I believe that she always tries to do the right thing for her children and she certainly works hard, sacrifice for them, and loves them.
3. Ma (Room)
Room is undoubtedly as fascinating as it is because it’s written from the perspective of a five-year-old boy and his limited worldview. Through this perspective the reader, who has a broader understanding of what’s happening, sees just how hard Ma tries to shield her son from harm, ordering him into a wardrobe on the nights when Old Nick may arrive to rape her. I also marveled at how well this young mother raises a son in such a confined environment. Limiting his TV intake, creating new and entertaining games and ways of keeping physically fit, and fiercely loving her boy.
4. Kate Somerville (The Lymond Chronicles)
There are a few mothers in the Lymond Chronicles and many of them raise conflicting emotions in me, but not superb Kate! Is there anyone who has read these books that doesn’t love Kate? A plain, sensible young woman in a stained gown, Kate becomes a young widow raising a daughter alone on the border between England and Scotland. Down-to-earth, she consistently provides practical advice to both her daughter Philippa and Francis Crawford, who becomes a friend of the family. I adore Kate for the way she parents with love but also good common sense, ensuring that Philippa grows into an admirable and self-sufficient young woman, and for the way she offers some peace and normality to the distinctly not normal life of Francis Crawford.
“Lymond said softly, ‘That is the only thing you may not say to me. . . . Kate, superb Kate: I will not be mothered.’
‘Mothered!’ Kate’s small, undistinguished face was black with annoyance. ‘I would sooner mother a vampire. I am merely trying to point out what your browbeaten theorists at St Mary’s ought surely to have mentioned in passing. Health is a weapon of war. Unless you obtain adequate rest, first your judgement will go, and then every other qualification you may have to command, and either way, the forces of light will have a field-day in the end.”
5. Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan (The Vorkosigan Saga)
A rare sci-fi and fantasy mom on this list, I adore Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan. A former commander of a ship and a formidable woman, Cordelia becomes pregnant in Barrayar but is targeted along with her government official husband by a nerve gas. Although she receives an antidote, she is told that it will weaken her unborn child, turning its bones to jelly, and is encouraged to abort. Cordelia makes the choice to keep the fetus and, thanks to woman-centric uterine replicator technology that means a woman doesn’t have to carry their child to term inside them, she’s able to save the planet from civil war while her baby grows, presenting the severed head of the leader of the coup d’etat to her husband in a memorable scene. Although her son Miles is physically small and fragile, he is also incredibly intelligent and courageous. Cordelia raises her differently abled son with love and opts not to have more children, although she would like them, because healthy children could endanger her son’s life and position as heir.
6. Marmee (Little Women)
I have to admit, it’s been several years since I’ve read Little Women and my impression of Marmee is more from the books than Louisa May Alcott’s novel, but Marmee struck me as the quintessential mother. She works hard and keeps the household running while her husband is off at war, and she carries out charity work for the less fortunate and encourages her daughters to do the same. Most of all she is patient, counseling and consoling her girls. Ultimately she leads by example, showing that there are more important things in life than money and possessions, and believing that education is important so her daughters can think for themselves.
7. Molly Weasley (Harry Potter)
(Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)
Harry Potter is very much a story about mothers and their love for their children. Lily’s love for Harry (she died trying to protect him) is what makes him “The Boy Who Lived”., while Narcissa lies to Voldemort, telling him that Harry is dead, once she learns that her son Draco is still living and she has an opportunity to protect him. My favourite Harry Potter mom definitely has to be Molly Weasley though. Mrs. Weasley’s kindness means that she is in many ways a mother to Harry too, welcoming him into their home for the holidays and knitting a sweater for him at Christmas. Don’t let this generosity fool you though, when it comes to her children, Molly is not to be crossed! After dangerous Death eater Bellatrix LeStrange nearly hits daughter Ginny with a Killing Curse, Molly is enraged, challenging Bellatrix to a duel and killing her.
8. Catelyn Stark (ASoIaF)
Catelyn Stark, when her agency and storyline have not been taken away from her *ahem*, is a one of the small number of positive and present SFF novel mothers I can think of. Although Catelyn doesn’t always make the best choices, she means well and believes that she is doing the right thing for her family. Certainly she takes some heat from fans for her attitude towards Jon Snow, but she believes him to be Ned’s son, making Snow a constantly present symbol of her husband’s believed infidelity. I don’t always agree with Catelyn Stark and the fact that she makes Jon feel like an outsider, but I understand her motivations. Catelyn’s love for her children is absolute and she will do anything to see Sansa and Arya, who she believes to be hostages in King’s Landing, returned safely, including freeing Jaime Lannister.
9. Maura Sargent (The Raven Cycle)
In YA it’s often rare for the parents to play any roles at all, let alone positive ones. While other parental figures in The Raven Cycle run the gamut from joyful loving Aurora to Adam’s father, I think Maura Sargent is striking for a few reasons. It’s mentioned at one point that Maura’s daughter Blue is rich in love. Indeed confident independent, entirely original Blue is the product of the kind of home where she supported and free to be herself. Although Maura isn’t single-handedly responsible for this environment, the kinship and bustle that come from having Calla and Persephone and extended family at 300 Fox Way, also plays a role, Maura is a huge part of why Blue is so interesting a character.
10. Alana (Saga)
An army deserter in a mixed marriage (their two races are engaged in war) her main priority is keeping her daughter Hazel safe. Together with husband Marko, Alana flees from those who would harm the first cross-species baby to survive more than a few weeks. She spends many pages in the first issues of Saga kicking butt with baby Hazel strapped to her body, and even after Hazel is capable of walking, Alana is still fiercely protective of her daughter and will fight anyone who comes between them. She isn’t a perfect mother. The stresses of being on the run and being a mother lead her to pick up a drug habit from a co-worker. But Alana’s love for Hazel is still keenly felt in this ongoing comic series.
Have you read any of these books? Who are some of your favourite fictional mothers?