Saturday, May 11, 2013

Some of the Worst Mothers in Books or How I Love to Hate the Antagonist

Let me begin this post by wishing all of you wonderful mothers out there a Happy Day!   I hope you all have a wonderful time with children and grandchildren.  

I thought, for fun, I'd include this list from Jennifer Gilmore, author of  The Mothers. She has compiled the 10 worst mothers as a counterpoint. I am sharing part of the list. See what you think!

The bad mothers of literature can be spectacularly awful. But still, at the bottom of it, these are women who are suffering. They are suffering from bad marriages; they are trapped by their time, unable to be themselves. Their suffering makes them cruel or it makes them clueless to their children’s needs. Present or absent, a bad mother is fodder for great fiction. And a bad mother never fails to get a reaction from all spectrum of readers. Because being a bad mother is the least acceptable character to be.

Here are ten bad mothers in literature. They are in no particular order but as I write, I realize the worst ones are the selfish ones, who live their lives as if their children are not there. Whatever the case, across the board, all bad mothers are punished.

 Emma Bovary, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - Motherhood is a grand disappointment to Emma Bovary, just one in a list of many of her dissatisfactions. Initially she pretends to dote on her daughter, as a cover up of her transgressions, but soon her vanity and unstoppable desires lead her away from her daughter. When Emma swallows arsenic, killing herself (who can forget that wretched scene!) Berthe is left with her father. Soon he dies penniless and Berthe is alone and forced to work in a mill.

Queen Gertrude, Hamlet by William Shakespeare - Does Hamlet’s madness spring from the well of neglected love? Queen Gertrude, his mother, isn’t really paying attention. As soon as her husband’s corpse is cold, she marries Hamlet’s uncle, and doesn’t seem to have a lot of guilt about it. He believes he is alone in the world until he meets Ophelia, but of course, that doesn’t go well either.

Charlotte Haze, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov - Like Emma Bovary, Charlotte Haze craves for the finer and more sophisticated things, but she is portrayed as such a cow that she doesn’t even know what those things are. She thinks they are incarnate in Humbert, whom she manipulates into marriage, willfully clueless to his pedophiliac desire for her daughter. Like Emma Bovary and Queen Gertrude, Charlotte Haze (in a haze) pays with a violent death so leaving her unloved daughter vulnerable to the fire of Humbert’s loins.
Sophie Portnoy, Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth - Is constancy a bad thing, given what has happened above? Sophie Portnoy won’t leave her son’s side. She wants to see his bowel movements, control who he dates (no shiksas allowed), and she enables Portnoy to stay in a state of constant adolescence, tending to his every basic need. Has she awoken or thwarted his sexual desires? Sophie Portnoy is a living guilt trip, a constant complainer and perhaps her punishment is the son she has to mother. 
Beth Jarrett, Ordinary People by Judith Guest - There is no denying that Beth Jarrett is suffering. Her eldest son has been killed in a boating accident and her younger son, a survivor of that accident, is not doing so well. But Beth is cold. She is ice. In her attempt to maintain her composure and to keep up appearances, Beth won’t offer comfort to her living son; her dead son seems to be the focus of what little she has of love. Beth’s punishment is to be forced out of the family, leaving out of shock when her husband asks if she can ever really love anyone.

Eleanor Melrose, The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn - Things don’t begin well in this suite of four short novels when Eleanor, an American who has let her family fortune be run into the ground by her gentry husband David, lets her son be raped by his father, her husband David, and chooses to ignore it. Eleanor, who drinks and pops pills constantly, goes through a reform in the second novel, and instead of making amends with her son, allows the rest of her fortune—and what little is left of her motherly love—to a questionable religious organization, led by a conman. Eleanor is punished with a long and hideous sickness that leaves the once attractive woman toothless, with horrible breath, unbearable to her furious son.

I hope you had fun with the list!  You probably have your own.  Antagonists that are supposed to be loving, kind, and honest people and aren't, make for such good writing!

Happy Mother's Day!

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