Being a mum is often a very difficult task and no one realises how much they do for their children until they actually become one. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, The Publishing Post felt it topical to celebrate the maternal figures in our lives by appreciating our favourite fictional mums, in all their perfect glory.
Avril “The Moms” Incandenza in Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is many things - a contemporary American epic, a post-postmodern behemoth critiquing consumerism, American culture and the bleakness of our future, told through settings of an elite tennis academy, and a rehab centre. With a fast-moving, large cast of characters, it may be easy to look past Avril Incandenza - mother of the (arguably) three central figures - amidst all else going on. But Avril, or “The Moms” as she is almost exclusively referred to, is a comical confidante in the text for not only her sons, but all the pupils of the tennis academy of which she is the head. Based off of Foster Wallace’s own mother, Avril possesses a realness - and therefore, a loveable and understandable flawedness - that makes her a staggering joy to read.
Helen in Leonard and Hungry Paul by Rónán Hession
If you consider the cover of Leonard and Hungry Paul, you will note the simplicity of the design and its single image – a sunfish. It may seem an unusual choice, but this image encapsulates the remarkable qualities of Hungry Paul’s mother, Helen. In a colourful aquarium of beautiful creatures, the sunfish betrays itself with its disproportionate form and sour expression. Whilst others would favour the beautiful fish, Helen is quick to claim the sunfish as her favourite because it would break her heart to think that a creature could be so unloved. In the same way, Helen seeks to love and support Hungry Paul, refraining from pushing him to lead a life other people think he is ready for, instead enabling him to follow his natural, meandering course through life. It is her trust in her son’s ability to find his own path that makes her a fictional favourite.
Mrs March ‘Marmee’ in Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Mrs March is nothing short of extraordinary, a quintessential mother. Raising four daughters on your own in the middle of the Civil War, with a poor financial situation is the very definition of difficult and yet Marmee is the perfect mother anyone could ask for. She treats her daughters with love and kindness, a role-model for how they should behave in their own lives. In a society when the norm was for mothers to marry their daughters off for money, she encourages her children to find their passions first and foremost and marry for love. Patient and wise, her charity and compassion rings true, even 153 years later; I’d give anything for a Marmee hug.
Helen in The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
The Magic Fish is a beautiful YA graphic novel that follows a Vietnamese American boy named Tiến and his mother Helen. The book depicts Tiến’s coming out story, Helen’s reflections on her childhood in Vietnam, and the fairy tales they read together. These interwoven storylines highlight the unbreakable bond between mother and son as they connect over storytelling. Though their lives look very different at this stage, their shared love of stories bridge this gap and show how universally connected they are. Although Tiến is the protagonist of this novel, Helen’s character demonstrates an inner strength and love for her family that adds an extra dimension to this multi-generational story.
Agnes in Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell
The portrayal of motherhood in Hamnet is beautiful, absorbing, and devastating. O’Farrell’s depiction is so compelling that you quickly forget that the novel is set during the 16th century. Agnes is a character that transcends time with her gentle and all-consuming love for her children. With her enchanting personality and love for the natural world, it is wonderful to see the world through her eyes in the rich detail that O’Farrell captures.
Equally, the depiction of Agnes’ grief is one that is incredibly difficult to read. You feel every ounce of pain and suffering that she is experiencing. You feel poignantly her sense of betrayal that the world she loves so dearly could be so cruel as to take away something so precious to her. Agnes has quickly become one of my favourite literary mothers because her story contains multitudes. From giving birth alone in the woods to the crippling loss of a child, she is truly extraordinary.