Memorable mothers in literature

04 May 2022

Despite what greeting cards imply, mothers aren’t one-dimensional creatures whose only purpose in life is to care for children.  

Mothers are women who can be complex, tough, outrageous, wise, funny, and/or just plain bad.

In celebration of Mother’s Day, Sunday May 8, the Vision Australia Library has put together a list of some memorable mothers in books.

Not a member of the Vision Australia Library? Membership is free and available to anyone with a print disability. Find out more at the Vision Australia Library webpage or call 1300 654 656.

The ideal mother

Marmee Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Marmee nurturing her daughters to be ‘little women’ and ‘good wives. Although in Alcott’s defence she wanted protagonist Jo to remain unmarried.

The library has the full range of Alcott writings in a variety of formats.

Solo mothers

Nora, Monkey Grip by Helen Garner. Groundbreaking in many ways, Monkey Grip portrayed single mother Nora, rejecting the constraints of suburban life and having agency in her own life.

Marita, Camille’s Bread by Amanda Lohrey. A realistic portrayal of modern-day family life. Marita wants just one year off to look after her daughter, Camille. Then she meets Stephen, who is in the process of reinventing himself. As their relationship grows, so does the drama of parenting Camille.

Tough mothers

The Drover’s Wife,  In essays and commentary, Frank Moorhouse examines our ongoing fascination with Henry Lawson’s short story, first published in 1892.

The story tells the struggles of an unnamed outback woman left with her four children in an isolated hut.

The Drovers Wife the Legend of Molly Johnson by Leah Purcell: One-night Molly has a visitor - a Black 'story keeper', Yadaka. He’s on the run from authorities, and they both know that justice in this nation can be as brutal as its landscape. But in their short time together, Yadaka shows Molly a secret truth, and the strength to imagine a different path. 

This book isn’t currently available in the library but available in audio via Audible or through the public library service.

Marilla Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables by L.M Montgomery. A middle-aged spinster tasked with parenting a flighty eleven-year-old girl, Marilla still manages to transform both Anne’s life and her own.

Ma, Room by Emma Donoghue.  Room is a story of unconquerable love in harrowing circumstances, and of the diamond-hard bond between a mother and her child.

Mothers we love to hate

Miss Havershem, Great Expectations. Estella's adopted mother trained her to break men's hearts.

Margaret White, Carrie by Stephen King. A religious zealot who took to her daughter with a knife.

Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin. A stage mother on steroids, Cersei will do anything to see one of her children ensconced on the iron throne.