TTT: One for Mothers' Day! Female protagonists who are Mums


This Sunday is Mothers' Day in the UK (and yesterday was International Women's Day!) so I've skipped the TTT prompt this week in favour of something to suit. On this blog in the past I've struggled a bit with creating lists like 'best mothers in books.' There are a few memorable mothers, but a lot of them are actually pretty awful and most of them are absent altogether (read: dead.) The mother role in most stories, as in life, is allotted as the nurturing figure who lives and would die for her children - or she's a bad mother, embarrassing, neglectful or cruel. Or she's just a background character. But do mothers in literature ever get to be the heroines of their own stories? I tried to come up with a list of female protagonists who are also mothers, at least for part of their book. Because your life doesn't end when you have a kid, right? At least, I'd like to think so. It was tricky, but I managed to get to ten! They're not all wonderful, but here they are. Can you think of any others?


Vianne Rocher, Chocolat


Vianne is a single mother in rural France, who moves into a small village with her daughter and opens a Chocolate shop. Chocolat by Joanne Harris is the story of her life there, the prejudices she faces, the challenges she meets and she also gets a romance. I've not read the book yet, but I've heard good things and I really enjoyed the film - Vianne is an interesting, likeable character and wears some really lovely clothes!


Mrs. Frisby, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh  


In this classic childrens book by Robert C. O'Brien, the protagonist is the widowed mother of a family of field mice who seeks help from a group of former lab rats when her home is about to be destroyed. I can't remember much about it, but I remember it was exciting, and Mrs. Frisby is definitely the hero! 


Sephy Hadely, Knife Edge


In the second of Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses series, Sephy is left alone with a new baby, dealing with grief and post-natal depression. It's still her story though, and with the support of family and friends (although I actually hate Meggie) and the strength that she showed in the first book, she starts learning how to deal with her new life. This book is bleak, not going to lie, but I like Sephy and on my last re-read I was actually really interested in the band story-line she gets here, and the dynamics with the new love interests. 


Kerry, Half a World a Way 


I don't normally read a lot of contemporary, but I enjoyed this book (if enjoyed is the right word, it's a weepy!) which a work friend lent me. It's told through two different perspectives, one a single mum who lives on a council estate and works as a cleaner, the other her half brother Noah, who was adopted as child and is now a barrister. I got into the story quickly and really liked Kerry, but hadn't registered the author. As it's a chick-lit book with a white, working-class heroine I'd assumed the author was a woman with a similar background. Turned out it's by Mike Gayle, a middle-class black guy. For a male author, I was really impressed by the way he wrote the the character. Although being a mum was a massive part of Kerry's life, it wasn't all her story was about. 


Joanna, Here be Dragons


This historical novel by Sharon Kay Penman is one of my all time favourites. Set in the medieval period, It's about the illegitimate daughter of Prince John who is married off to Llewellyn Fawr, one of the last Welsh princes of Wales. Most of the conflict comes from the clashing cultures of the Normans and the Welsh, and Joanna's conflicted loyalties between the father she loves and the husband he's at war with (on and off.) I love the romance and the family dynamics. There's at least one pretty horrific birth scene, but if you're going to have your heroine have kids in medieval times, you have to show that stuff. 

Scarlett O' Hara, Gone with the Wind


In the film Scarlett only has one child, but she has three over the course of the book. Is she a really terrible parent? Yes. But you can't say she doesn't provide for her kids. She does everything in her power to make sure that she - and the children - will 'never be hungry again' and you definitely wouldn't want to cross her. Gone with the Wind is massively problematic but Scarlett herself is still one of the best written female characters in a book ever. She's not nice, but she's hardcore. And she's still one hundred percent Scarlett however many kids she has. She's also the heroine throughout, not relegated to the role of mother while we move on to a younger protagonist - as often happens in books. 


Dona St Columb, Frenchman's Creek 

This historical Daphne du Maurier novel has, as it's heroine, a mother of two, but the kids don't really feature. It's a essentially a fun fantasy, where she's left alone with only the children (toddlers) and the servants at her husband's Cornwall estate - but she meets a sensitive-soul Pirate Captain down at the creek, who whisks her off now and again (in a Doctor Who companion sort of way) to help with smuggling missions. 


Bridget Jones, Mad About the Boy


I haven't read this one, but it's Bridget in her fifties with the kids in primary school. It's the 2010s so she has a whole new cultural landscape to deal with and obviously there are new problems and opportunities for comedy now that she's in a different age bracket. I'll have to try this eventually, I loved the first two. 


Demelza, The Poldark Saga


There are so many problems with the Poldark books, but one thing I love is the way Winston Graham writes Ross and Demelza's relationship, especially when they're a bit more settled with the kids. After book seven we move onto the next generation, and I never bothered with those, but there's something lovely about reading scenes in the earlier books where Demelza's just pottering around with the babies in the garden, or takes them down the beach, or they'll be feeding them at the table while she and Ross are having some conversation about a major plot point. They don't forget the children once they're born like every TV series ever, they become part of the narrative in a realistic way. 


Elizabeth Woodville, The White Queen 


I'm not a big fan of Phillipa Gregory, but the great thing about historical novels is they have to let the heroines have kids and still have drama in their lives - because that's historically accurate. Plus, no birth control back then. The White Queen tells the story of Edward IV's queen, and all the intrigue at court, both before and after she starts having kids. These medieval queens are all so interesting - I need to read some stuff about Eleanor of Aquitaine too, she's next on my list! 


Do we need more heroines who are mothers? Who is your favourite? 



Comments

  1. We do definitely need more mothers in starring roles, as heroines, etc. I loved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. In fact now that you've mentioned it I might go back and re- read it!

    Smuggling missions sound fun, and so does Bridget in her fifties. :)

    Demelza in Poldark sounds great, I haven't read the books but have watched some of the show.

    Eleanor of Aquitaine is fascinating.

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    1. Everything I've heard about Eleanor of Aquitaine I'm surprised there aren't loads of films about her. I think I might re-read Mrs. Frisby too!

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  2. I love this list! I'm struggling to come up with more to add to it.

    Here is our Top Ten Tuesday.

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  3. Okay, that gif is seriously adorable.

    And, yes, fiction does tend to kill off mothers far too regularly. I hope that changes soon.

    My post: https://lydiaschoch.com/top-ten-tuesday-books-about-fresh-starts/

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    1. Same, I see why it's easier that way, but I wish they wouldn't so much!

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  4. I felt so bad for poor Sephy in Knife Edge!
    My TTT: https://jjbookblog.wordpress.com/2021/03/09/top-ten-tuesday-306/

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  5. Great topic! One of my favorite literary mothers is Marme from LITTLE WOMEN. She seems too perfect sometimes, but she's also kind, wise, gentle, and gracious. No wonder the girls all adore her.

    Happy TTT!

    Susan
    www.blogginboutbooks.com

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    1. I love how Marmie's such a big part of those books! Thanks!

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  6. I love the Chocolat movie but I don't think I'll ever read the book to be honest. Happy reading! My TTT https://readwithstefani.com/spring-book-unhaul/

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    1. I've had it on my bookshelf for ages but I'm determined, only heard good things!

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  7. Great list! I really need to read Here Be Dragons. I love Knife Edge--even though, like you said, it's probably the bleakest book in the series--and I had so much fun with Frenchman's Creek. Some of my favourite fictional mothers are Essun in The Broken Earth Trilogy, Isabella in The Memoirs of Lady Trent, Alexia from the Parasol Protectorate series, and Helen Graham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

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    1. Thanks! Here be Dragons is really great - I wish Sharon Penman was better known. I really need to read some Anne Bronte, Tenant of Wildfell Hall's the one I'm most intrigued about!

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  8. Mrs. Weasley is a pretty great mother and stand in mother for Harry (I love when orphans get adopted into a friends family like that). Marmee, actually Jo too in Little Men and Jo's Boys. Iantha in the Penderwicks as mom and step-mom. Anne in Anne of Green Gables series although the writing made her feel too distant in those later books. Rossemund Meredith Née West in those books as well as stepmother. I feel like there are quite a few examples in literature of stepmothers or adoptee mothers, I guess because I read a lot of older books where mothers dying was more common or types of books where a not great mother is a significant plot point. It's realistic though, there is a range of mothers, the great, the good, the average, the not-great, the terrible.

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    1. There are a lot of adopted mothers, I loved Marilla in Anne of Green Gables but I never read any of the later ones with Anne as a mum - or the Little Women sequels. I'll have to get to them at some point!

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  9. I read so much middle grade and YA fantasy, that at this point, I don't think twice about dead or missing parents... Which is actually a bit disappointing. We could do with more bookish mother role-models! I haven't read any of these, although the Rats of Nimh series is on my TBR. I remember watching the movie when I was really little, and I enjoyed it, but I didn't realize until much later there were books!

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    1. I've never seen the movie but it seems more famous than the books so I don't know why I never watched it! The books are great from what I remember, think I only read the first two though

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