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In Her Own Words

10 Unforgettable Literary Moms

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • May 06, 2020

The essence of motherhood is hard to sum up. With Mother's day right around the corner, we are celebrating by remembering some of the more unforgettable moms we've come across in books. They take many forms—from gentle to wise to fierce to tragic—but each loves her offspring in her own powerful way. Here, in their own words, we present ten unforgettable literary mothers.

You - will - never - touch - our - children - again!

J. K. Rowling's Molly Weasley is truly an amazing mum. Along with her own large brood, she happily takes the orphaned Harry under her expansive wing. But in addition to being thoroughly loving, she is also a formidable force. The moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when she vanquishes Beatrix Lestrange in defense of her young ones never fails to move us!

I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much pleasure indeed in talking to anybody. People who suffer as I do from nervous complaints can have no great inclination for talking. Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.

Moms can be difficult too! Mrs. Bennet from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice definitely stands out as one of most irksome mothers in literature. She is outspoken and ill-informed, demonstrating poor judgment and faulty reasoning at every turn. Although her aim is to secure good matches for her daughters, she nearly manages to chase off the most distinguished suitors who come around. But it all comes from a place of love, right?

Don't cry so bitterly, but remember this day, and resolve with all your soul that you will never know another like it.

Equal parts moral compass, loving caretaker, and ahead-of-her-time feminist, Little Women's Marmee was reportedly drawn from Louisa May Alcott's own real-life mother. With her husband away serving in the Civil War, Marmee single parents her daughters with unwavering goodness and a tender, yet firm, maternal strength.

Scared is what you're feeling. Brave is what you're doing.

Kidnapped at the age of nineteen and imprisoned in a small shed for seven years, Ma's ability to nurture and protect her five-year-old son is truly extraordinary. Although his father is her captor/rapist, she makes every effort to provide her child with everything he needs, while shielding him from the nightmarish abuse she endures. Emma Donoghue's Room is both horrific and inspiring.

That's right. You are bored. And I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be.

From Where'd You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple's eccentric titular character despises many things about her life in Seattle, but she is a dedicated (if unconventional) mother to her fifteen-year-old daughter. When Bernadette disappears just before a family vacation, Bee is determined to track her mother down. Because, even though Bernadette is temperamental, she is also the person her young daughter needs the most.

But from here on in I'm your Ma, and that means I love you the most. Forever.

In The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, Taylor Greer leaves her small hometown in Kentucky with the idea that she is specifically avoiding getting stuck by pregnancy and marriage. But by the time she makes her way to her new home in Tuscon, Arizona, she has inadvertently acquired a three-year-old girl named Turtle. And it turns out that motherhood suits her.

And it is I, Raksha, who answers. The man's cub is mine, Lungri—mine to me! He shall not be killed. He shall live to run with the Pack and to hunt with the Pack; and in the end, look you, hunter of little naked cubs—frog-eater—fish-killer—he shall hunt thee! No get hence ...

Wolf mother Raksha takes no prisoners as she faces down Shere Khan in Rudyard Kipling's classic The Jungle Book. Mowgli may have lost his human parents, but Mother Wolf sees his tenacious spirit and decides he is worth fighting for. It's a next-level adoption for sure.

Grown don't mean a thing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What's that supposed to mean? In my heart it don't mean a thing.

The deep complexity of motherhood is fully realized in Toni Morrison's Beloved, based on a true story. Sethe's history as a former slave complicates her relationships, especially with regards to her eighteen-year-old daughter Denver. The family is haunted (literally) by Sethe's tragic past.

I don't understand it any more than you do, but one thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be.

In A Wrinkle In Time by Madeline L'Engle, Kate Murry is beautiful, brilliant, and strong. When her husband goes missing, she rises to the challenge of raising her four very different children. What's most inspiring is her wisdom and open-mindedness when things get decidedly strange.

One thing about having a baby is that each step of the way you simply cannot imagine loving him any more than you already do, because you are bursting with love, loving as much as you are humanly capable of—and then you do, you love him even more.

In her memoir Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott explores her journey into single motherhood with a hilarious, honest, and moving account. A recovering addict, the author struggles to support her little family and stay sober at the same time. Between colic, wheat-free diets, and the triumph of solid food, Lamott taps into her hidden strength, raucous humor, and a deep capacity for love.

Mother's Day is a time to celebrate all kinds of mothers, literary or otherwise. Do any of these characters remind you of a mom in your life? Who are your favorite literary moms?

It's not too late to check out our Mother's Day Gift Guide to find something special for the moms in your life.

Read more by Ashly Moore Sheldon

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