This is Mothering Sunday – let’s use the correct, historical, term, please 🙂 . Obviously there are lots of mothers in books, but, especially in older books, there are a lot of children who are brought up by grandmas, aunties, older sisters, stepmothers, female guardians, female cousins, foster mothers, nannies or governesses; and there are also a lot of other women, such as family friends and teachers, who play an important role in characters’ lives. So let’s hear it for all those fictional characters, many of whom gave up their own chances of careers or romance to look after our heroes/heroines, and also for *all* the women who play, or have played, an important role in our own lives.
Sometimes, these fictional ladies get a bad press. Think about Cinderella’s wicked stepmother, or Jane Eyre’s villainous Aunt Reed. But most of them are wonderful, and here are just five who sprang to mind:
- Madge Bettany in the Chalet School books. At the start of the series, Madge, aged twenty-four, has sole reponsibility (her brother is unhelpfully working in India) for her twelve-year-old sister Joey, and their guardian’s just died after messing up their finances. Unable to take a job and look after Joey at the same time, Madge starts her own school – but soon gets two pupils, one in her teens and one aged only six, dumped on her full time as well. But she just gets on with it – and, happily, her having three kids in tow doesn’t put off Dr Jem Russell, whom she meets and eventually marries, and with whom she has six children. And they end up looking after four nieces and two nephews as well
- Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables. Marilla and her brother Matthew were looking to take on a boy to help on their farm. Instead, they end up with Anne – and Marilla becomes a wonderful mother-figure to her. It’s a lovely, lovely story. I love the relationship between Anne and the Cuthberts.
- Sylvia Brown in Ballet Shoes. I actually find Sylvia a bit annoying, because she takes freebies from friends and lets her servants go unpaid, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that she, a young, single woman, somehow ends up bringing up three girls whom her great uncle bizarrely collects and leaves with her. Let’s also hear it for Nana and for the two female academic doctors: they too play a big part in helping to bring up the Fossil girls.
- Izzie Carr in What Katy Did. Aunt Izzie is one of many characters in books who go to live with a widowed brother or brother-in-law, act as his housekeeper and bring up his children. We’re never really told whether or not they’re happy about this. Maybe, for some of them, it was a good option. For others, it probably wasn’t. But a lot of them don’t seem to be appreciated as much as they should have been, and I think that Aunt Izzie’s probably one of those.
- Jo March Bhaer in Little Men. Let’s not go into Louisa M Alcot’st family’s rather “interesting” ideas about life and education, and, instead, focus on the fact that Jo becomes a mother figure to several Lost Boys who end up at her boarding school/home. Marmee March is often hailed as an ideal fictional mother figure, but she really does get on my nerves. Sending Jo to a posh party in a burnt frock? Letting Beth’s canary die? Nah. Her daughters do a much better job! I prefer young Jo to adult Jo, but, even so, I think adult Jo is a great example of a mother figure in a scenario which isn’t that of a traditional family.
I don’t think we get so many of these Other Mother figures now, because the Victorian trope of the Motherless Heroine has pretty much died out; but, even if there’s a loving mother around, grandmas, aunties and other older female relatives or friends can still play a huge part in a child’s life.Here’s to all the wonderful mother figures in fiction, and here’s too all the women who’ve influenced our lives xxx.