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A Celebration of Mothers in Classic Literature

By Megan Powell, Michael Calder, Hannah Spruce and Dani Basina


Sunday 27 March marks an important celebration of incredible mothers in England with Mother’s Day. Therefore, the classics team saw it apt to devote this issue to continuing that celebration with an insight into some of the most remarkable mothers featured in classic literature. In almost all examples, there are notable female figures who are mothers whilst imperatively leading the plot, allowing the role to be synonymous with a protagonist. This feature will not only look at mothers who take on a protagonist role in classic literature, but also those who are featured and prove an essential part to each story.



Marmee in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott


The importance of family and female relationships are at the core of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, which follows the lives of the four March sisters. Despite their differences, the sisters are united in their love and respect for their mother, Marmee, who serves as a grounded, mentoring figure throughout the novel.


Marmee is a selfless and charitable character who encourages her daughters to follow those same principles. Despite raising her children alone while her husband is away during the civil war, she continues to serve the community by donating food and resources to families in poverty. She serves as a moral compass for the girls as they navigate their adolescence and values their individual aspirations. Even in times of unrest and tragedy she is a source of strength to those around her despite her own sufferings. The book ends in a cyclic manner, celebrating her sixtieth birthday with her family, highlighting her value for the next generation of Marches.


Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen


It goes without saying that we should include Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice. From first sight, Mrs. Bennet can be seen as a harsh and disciplinary character of a mother, as even Mr. Darcy points out. And we all know how strict she is on the thought of getting her daughters married! However, is this particularly bad? Mrs. Bennet does more than urge her daughters to find a suitable partner. Her motherly care can be seen in the way she gave them self-confidence in love and around men and is acting the way she is out of love for her children. She encourages them to be educated and also makes sure they are well treated in society.


Helen Graham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë


The Brontë family demonstrated a plethora of literary talent during the nineteenth century and have become renowned within literary criticism as iconic, pioneering novelists that predated the feminist movement. Charlotte and Emily were revered for their influential masterpieces; Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights respectively, however, many stipulate that Anne Brontë was often the forgotten sister. Her second novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, depicts the development of a woman on her journey for independence, whilst attempting to master motherhood and protect her son, and should hold as much reverence as her siblings’ work.


The focal protagonist and woman of the hour, Helen Graham, does the unthinkable within Victorian society and flees her alcoholic and abusive husband, attempts to fashion a profession within artistry, and demonstrates that being a single mother could be done, and was even preferable. As a Victorian novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall goes against the ideals of its society, and was rejected heavily by some, including Anne’s own sisters, but depicted an independent, driven, and relatable mother with her own agenda.


Vivian Baxter in Mom and Me and Mom by Maya Angelou


We think it is safe to assume Maya Angelou as a classic author with many of her novels being rewarded as so, including examples of modern classics, which this example is, being published in 2013.


Maya Angelou’s autobiography, Mom and Me and Mom, was published just before Mother’s Day and celebrates the author's relationship with her mother, just like how this issue is celebrating mothers. This was Angelou’s final novel in her autobiographical series and displays her relationship with Vivian Baxter – her mother – for the first time. The novel details Angelou’s experiences with her mother throughout her life, as readers and fans of Angelou might be aware of how she was raised by her grandmother. Mom and Me and Mom explores a journey of strong emotion throughout Angelou’s life and the decisions her mother had to take and thus their process to reconnect and heal with love. Their reunion is depicted and embodies an honest celebration of motherhood as Angelou writes a stunning and open account of her relationship. It is without a doubt that Angelou’s stunning writing is cause for celebration at all times and Mom and Me and Mom certainly is a must read.

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