Top Ten Tuesday: Memorable Mothers in Literature

When I saw the topic for this week's Top Ten Tuesday (a weekly link-up hosted at The Broke and the Bookish) I had a bit of a panic attack. Mother's Day??? And then I realised that we had Mother's Day ages ago in the UK, and I did get my mum a card and a present in time. Phew. Anyway, here's my list of memorable mothers in books. Got to say, I struggled slightly (I found it much easier to make a dads list). Book mums generally tend to be awful or, well...dead.  Maybe this says something about our patriachal society, but I suppose it's good to show mothers as real people, rather than angelic beings. Plus, traumatised children often make for more interesting characters. Anyway, here are a few of my favourite fictional mothers, the good and the not-so-good, in all their flawed glory. Enjoy!

Molly Weasley

from the Harry Potter series

“Now, you two – this year, you behave yourselves. If I get one more owl telling me you’ve…you’ve blown up a toilet…”

There are loads of mother figures in Harry Potter, from the tragic Lily Evans to the unpleasant Narcissa Malfoy, who nevertheless loves her son more than anything. But the No. One Mum award has to go to Mrs. Weasley. The Weasleys don't have a lot of money, and they have plenty of flaws between them. But their defining characteristic as a family (other than the red hair and freckles) is the love they have for each other. Mrs. Weasley is the matriach, a stay-at-home mum but never just a caricature of domestic perfection (although she's certainly a great cook). She's kind and fierce, prepared to fight for what's right as well as for her family. Harry has plenty of father figures throughout the span of the seven books, but Mrs. Weasley is the only person who has really been a mother to him (that he can remember, anyway.) And he couldn't have asked for a better.

Eve Casson

from The Casson Family series

“I always say a little prayer when I put cakes in the oven,” remarked Eve, as she stopped to kiss Rose good-bye.

“What do you say?”

“I say, ‘Please, God, don’t let me forget I’ve put that cake in the oven.” 

The Cassons, stars of a teen series by Hilary McKay, are probably my favourite fictional family of all time (see my top ten). Eve is a 'garden shed' artist, wife to a mostly absentee husband and mother to four children (one of whom is actually her niece) as well as the occasional waifs and strays who make themselves at home amongst her family - her children's friends, boyfriends etc. Perhaps this is the reason she spends a lot of her time in the shed at the bottom of the garden.  Scatty, often neglectful, and with a complete inability to remember when to buy food, Eve is nevertheless a lovely mum. Very very kind, creative and encouraging. 

Mrs. Bennet

from Pride and Prejudice

"Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

When I started trying to think of fictional mothers, Mrs. Bennet was the first to spring to mind. Maybe not the best mother in the world - she's hugely embarrassing, has favourites, and anyone who'd try to force their child to marry Mr. Collins should probably be crossed off the good parent list, but her desperation to get her daughters married does come from a practical place. Plus, she's a lot of fun to read about.

Pam Jones

from Bridget Jones' Diary

"Oh, don't be silly, Bridget. You'll never get a boyfriend if you look like you've wandered out of Auschwitz."

Bridget Jones pays tribute to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice in a number of ways, and in Bridget's mum Helen Fielding has created a perfect Mrs. Bennet (with a bit of Lydia thrown in ) for the modern day. A suburban middle-class English mum, with her Turkey curry buffets and her determined match-making, Pam Jones is a perhaps a bit of a caricature, but she's still a woman that you can imagine actually meeting. And she makes me laugh just as much, if not more than, Mrs. Bennet. 

Mrs. Thornton

from North and South

“She's too good an opinion of herself to think of you. The saucy jade! I should like to know where she'd find a better!” 

Mothers of sons are an interesting breed, at least in literature - usually more doting and more possessive than mothers of daughters. In Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, the hero, John Thornton is definitely a mummy's boy, but we love him anyway. I love Mrs. Thornton too, although I think I'd rather die in a mill accident than have her as a mother-in-law. She's fierce, sarcastic and down to earth. She's held her family together in the hard times and is deeply proud of, and loyal to, her son. You would be though, wouldn't you?


from The Illustrated Mum

“I love you both - but Star is Mickey's child.”

I was a big reader of Jacqueline Wilson as a kid, although her books always made me cry. The family set ups were always very different from my own, but this didn't stop the main characters from being easy to empathise with (reading her books now is a little spooky - she conjures up so vividly the way it felt to be ten or eleven). The Illustrated Mum tells the story of single mum Marigold (the title refers to her tattoos) who is a manic depressive (among her other problems) and her two children, ten year old Dolphin and twelve year old Star, who has to do most of the mothering in the family.  Through the eyes of Dolphin, you see the wonderful things about Marigold, and how much the girls love her, which makes her failings as a mum all the harder to deal with. Definitely a weepy one.

Marilla Cuthbert

from Anne of Green Gables


"But have you ever noticed one encouraging thing about me, Marilla? I never make the same mistake twice".
 "I don't know as that's much benefit when you're always making new ones".” 

When Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew contemplated adopting an orphan, they'd planned for a boy to do the farm work. What they got was a talkative, romantic and imaginative girl. Old maid and old bachelor, they nevertheless find themselves suited to parenting, and I love the relationship between the stern, practical Marilla, and Anne, who is her opposite in a lot of ways. 

Helen Thermopolis

from The Princess Diaries 

“Mom’s been depressed ever since her last boyfriend turned out to be a Republican.” 

Mia Thermopolis's Mum is a New York artist, a fierce feminist and a lot of fun, so we can excuse the fact she lied to Mia throughout her childhood and then married one of her teachers. (Mr G was a good choice anyway, since Mia was failing Algebra.) Despite her whining, Mia is quite a well adjusted kid, and that's got to be down to her mum. She never makes a big fuss about Mia being a Princess and she puts up with Grandmere, which is saying something.

Catelyn Stark (and Cersei Lannister)

from the A Song of Ice and Fire series

“The singers make much of kings who valiantly die in battle, but your life is worth more than a sword. To me at least, who gave it to you.” 

As in Harry Potter, there're more than one memorable mother in Game of Thrones, but the one who sticks out the most, for me, is Catelyn Stark. For her failings as well as her admirable qualities. Strong and brave in desperate situations, Rob is her eldest child, her darling, but she finds it difficult when he suddenly becomes her King. A king who risks his life everyday and who has to make difficult decisions, like choosing not to ransom his sisters... Fiercely loyal and a good mother to her own, her main problem is she's so vile to poor Jon Snow. Was there any need to be so horrible? Cersei Lannister is the other Thrones mum that stands out for me. After all, her one redeeming feature is that she loves her children - that and those cheekbones. 

Louisa Durrell

from The Corfu Trilogy

“It's all your fault, Mother,' said Larry austerely; 'you shouldn't have brought us up to be so selfish.' 
'I like that!' exclaimed Mother. 'I never did anything of the sort!' 
'Well, we didn't get as selfish as this without some guidance,' said Larry.”

I'm enjoying the new series of the Durrells, and although the mum has a few less love interests in the book, she's got just as much on her plate. Vague, very English and pretty laid-back all things considered, Louisa Durrell deserves a place on this list just for dealing with her mad kids. Also for taking her family off to live in Corfu for no real reason. Sounds good to me!

Have you got a TTT this week? Who are your favourite fictional mothers? 


  1. Mrs. Weasley would no doubt be number one on my list of fictional mothers too! You make a good point though that book mums are often pretty shocking, and it's particularly bad with YA (though YA's problem is with both parents in general). I love your comment about Mrs. Thornton. As much as I'd love to be married to John, it would be so horrible to be her daughter-in-law!

    1. I suppose it would be worth it for John...but she'd probably end up moving in too, that'd definitely be tough, haha. I guess parent skills in YA have to be a bit lacking so the kids can be wilder - I love the mum and dad in 'Fault in our stars' though :)

  2. Molly Weasley is definitely a memorable mother! I can't believe I didn't add her to my list!

    1. Definitely, I think she's my favourite :)

  3. I love how many similar moms we included on our lists! I love the BBC adaptation of North and South--hoping to read the book this year! And I loved The Princess Diaries series when I was in middle/high school. Helen really is a great mom. Thanks for stopping by my TTT earlier :)

    1. Same, and you're welcome :) And the book of North and South is great! I found it a really easy read for a classic.

  4. Mrs Weasley is such a great mum! I loved Mia's mum as well. I remember reading The Illustrated Mum when I was a kid....poor Marigold.
    My TTT:

    1. I know, poor Marigold :( I like to think she got herself together and kept her relationship with the kids though!

  5. I use to have this intense dislike of Narcissa Malfoy. I still think her ideology is wrong, and insomuch as you can call it a "redemptive arc" I like what Rowling did with her story arc. I think it's a testament to how Rowling wrote the women in this series and what an amazing job she did fully fleshing out the characters.

    1. She definitely writes great women, good and bad :) The Malfoys are all interesting I think, as they do all go through an arc - but they don't exactly become better people!

  6. Great list! Mrs. Weasley is a fab fictional mum, and I love Mrs. Thornton. =) The Illustrated Mum made my list this week, too.

    1. Thanks :D Just been checking out your list, haha. The blog world needs more appreciation for Jacqueline Wilson!

  7. Fabulous list, Catherine! I too love Helen and Louisa (how did I forget them??). Like you, I wouldn't want to have her for a MIL (though if anyone could persuade me otherwise, it'd be John), but even still, I do like Mrs. Thornton. For all her annoying "airs" (as regards her ill feelings towards Margaret), she means well. Oh, and of course, I love Marilla's character, too. So glad she's made so many lists this week.

    Appreciate you stopping by Finding Wonderland. :)

    1. I've liked seeing Marilla on so many lists too, it's good to see adopted mums being included :D And I like Mrs. Thornton too in her way, and she makes me laugh!


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