The most wonderful mother in fiction, of course, will always be Marmee March from Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” Pious and selfless, sensible and loving, she kept the home fires burning while her husband was away at war, guiding her four daughters wisely and, in her spare time, helping the poor.
To be quite honest, she never interested me much.
For a long time, my favorite books had no mothers at all. They starred plucky orphans: The boxcar children. Anne of Green Gables. All those intrepid, pull-themselves-up-by-their-bootstraps girls in Noel Streatfeild’s World War II-era “Shoe” books.
And then I grew up, and books grew darker. Mothers weren’t just flawed — sometimes they were downright evil.
You probably don’t want to live with evil, but it’s sure fun to read about. So here, for Mother’s Day, are 10 of the worst mothers in literature. Read this and be glad you were born to somebody else. (Now go do something nice for your own mom.)
Beth Jarrett. The cold and brittle mother in Judith Guest’s “Ordinary People” is damaged, for sure — she lost her son! But she seems to forget that she has another one.
Eva Khatchadourian. The narrator of Lionel Shriver’s chilling novel “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is worried, clueless, unable to bond — oh, let’s just say it: She hates her child. And he gets back at her for it, big time.
Emma Bovary. Why raise your daughter yourself when you can get the household staff to raise her for you?
Lady Macbeth. OK, she didn’t kill her child. But she thought about it.
Charlotte Haze. She preferred to think that Humbert Humbert was after her and not her daughter, Lolita. Nothing like blind devotion to a pedophile.
Ingrid Magnussen. The mother in “White Oleander” is a murdering narcissist. That’s quite a role model.
Becky Sharp. Is there any good in Becky Sharp? (Although I love her deeply, from the opening scene of “Vanity Fair,” when she throws a dictionary through the window of her departing carriage.) William Makepeace Thackeray calls her “a wicked woman, a heartless mother and a false wife.” So I’d say the answer is no. No good at all.
Daisy Buchanan. Did you even remember that she had a child? A daughter who makes only the briefest of appearances in “The Great Gatsby” — and, presumably, in Daisy’s life. “I hope she’ll be a fool — that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool,” Daisy says. Another great role model.
Medea. She killed her children to get revenge on her husband. I’m pretty sure that she is the very worst mother of all.
No. 10. I came up with nine. I’ll bet you have lots of good ideas for the tenth. Write me: firstname.lastname@example.org