Mothers’ Day – a time to honour lovely mothers in literature? Nah. Mothers like Marmee in Little women are all very well but the meanies are much more interesting. Fairy tales aside (Hansel and Gretel’s mum must be right up there), there are a few real horrors in fiction. My top three are, in no particular axis of evil order:
Ellen, A. M. Homes’ birth mother in The mistress’s daughter. When Homes was 31, Ellen sent her a message to say she wouldn’t mind hearing from her. Homes responded but this was one reunion story that did not end well. Ellen comes across as a terrifyingly needy creature: turning up unnanounced at book readings, demanding to be adopted and looked after by her own daughter and finally asking for a kidney.
Deidre, Augusten Burroughs’ mother in Running with scissors. Burroughs says of her “My mother began to go crazy. Not crazy in a let’s paint the kitchen bright red! sort of way. But crazy in a gas oven, toothpaste sandwich, I am God sort of way.” Deidre’s search to find herself unfortunately entailed losing her son, or at least mislaying him. She sent Augusten to live with her highly unorthodox psychiatrist, whose ideas about guardianship put more emphasis on the loco than the parentis.
Ingrid in White oleander. In prison for murdering her boyfriend, the best advice she can give her daughter Astrid is to look after her teeth and “never lie down for the father”. Nice.
- Corinne Dollanganger, Flowers in the attic – poisoned powdered doughnuts.
- The Other Mother, Coraline – buttons for eyes.
- Mrs. Bennett, Pride and prejudice – not so much mean as just really, really embarrassing.
Any advances on these mean literary mothers?