Who are the most famous moms of literature?

May 6, 2009

For Mother’s Day, I thought it would be fun to write about some of the most famous moms in literature. But when I started to write, I found myself struggling to come up with influential moms. I have to admit that the first fictional mom that came to mind was Norman Bates’ mother–and that was because of the movie, not the book. Next, was Cinderella’s step-mom, Mrs. Bennet from Pride & Prejudice and Hamlet’s mother Gertrude (I wonder what my mom would say about my stream of thought!). Then, I started retrieving more positive memories: Momma Berenstain from the Berenstain Bears series, Mrs. Weasley from the Harry Potter series, Marmee from Little Women, and Ma from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books.

Who are your favorite (for better or for worse) moms of literature? (Extra credit goes to those with Hoosier ties!)


  1. If you are intersted in mother and daughter writers of literature, Mary Wollstonecraft, author of “A Vindication of The Rights of Women,” was the mother of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, famous for “Frankenstein.” “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” is widely regarded as a major piece of early feminist literature and “Frankenstein” is one of the great works of Victorian Gothic literature. I find “Frankenstein” an especially timely work, considering its central question: “What happens when when tamper with nature?” Both works are still taught in English Lit classes across the country today.
    Talk about a great mother and daughter duo that had a remarkable influence on our society! I wonder what Mary Shelley used to buy her mother for Mother’s Day? And you thought you had it rough!

  2. Ok – for extra credit:
    Elnora’s mother in A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter and the lack of a mother in Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley.

    The others I thought of are mostly tragic figures: Jocasta, Oedipus’s double duty, all purpose woman.

    Sophie Zawistowska, the mother who was given no choice in choosing which of her children would live and die.

    Anna Karenina and Hester Prynne – both tragic moms.

    Laura Brown, the mother of author Richard in The Hours, really bothers me. There’s something wrong with the concept of on-going motherhood as a fatal condition. I can’t ever decide if she’s really tragic or just pathetic and self centered.

    I guess my favorite mothers in literature are from children’s books – The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein has a great mom – even if she IS a tree.

    But my all time favorite mother is the one in Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. When her son grows up and leaves home, she takes to driving across town with a ladder on the car roof, climbing through her grown son’s window, and rocking the sleeping man in the same way she did when he was small. That’s my kind of mother!

  3. Two other famous examples from American literature: Sethe, the former slave in Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Beloved, and the four Chinese moms in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.

    Lots more in Shakespeare–how about Juliet’s mother?

    Extra credit for Indiana literature: Ben-Hur’s mom.

  4. I’m a little late to the game on this one (alas, Mother’s Day has come and gone), but the Mom who came immediately to mind was Mrs. Parker, Ralphie’s mom in “A Christmas Story,” which is set in a fictional town similar to Hammond, Indiana, where author Jean Shepherd grew up.

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