Mother's Day Thoughts
I just celebrated my first Mother's Day as a mom, while writing a novella in which my heroine is pregnant. While sipping a caramel latte and writing in a café with my daughter, I found myself thinking about mothers in books. So many of them are absent. Jane Eyre, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliott, and my own Suzanne all lost their mothers at birth or early in life.
When mothers are present in the lives of their fictional offspring, they often create complications. Mrs. Bennet nearly ruins her daughters' marriage prospects. Even the sweet and sympathetic Mrs. Dashwood leans a great deal on Elinor. Percy Blakeney's mother suffered from mental illness and one has the sense she was absent long before she died and took up a great deal of his father's time, so he had an isolated and lonely childhood. My own hero Malcolm had a mother who was an erratic presence in his life growing up and whose death left him scarred in ways he won't talk about. Francis Crawford begins the Lymond Chronicles with a mother who represents the most stable relationship in his life, but the secrets she keeps from him create one of the major conflicts in the series.
I suspect the numerous heroes and heroines with mothers who are absent or less than ideal stems from the fact that loving, supportive, engaged parents could do a long way toward solving their fictional children's problems or at least softening the crises in their children's lives. Though of course, even the best of parents can't protect their children from all trauma. The Duchess of Denver is a warm, supportive, intelligent mother, and Lord Peter Wimsey still suffers from plenty of angst. The duchess worries about him, but being a sensible woman she knows she can't protect him from everything.
Fear for one's children and the knowledge that one can't protect them from all of life's travails is of course something all parents grapple with. It's particularly complicated if the parents lead dangerous lives like my pregnant heroine Suzanne. I've read some discussions where people say that parenthood makes it too difficult for action heroes and heroines to go into danger, but I like writing about the tension of characters who are trying to balance being parents with a life of adventure. Yes, it get messy and they make mistakes, but that makes for interesting character dilemmas. And those dilemmas echo, in a more extreme way, the challenges all parents face balancing parenthood with the other aspects of their life.
How do you feel about parents in fiction? Who are some of your favorite fictional mothers? What do you think of heroines who balance motherhood with a life of action?