Joanna Trollope on her Favourite Mothers in Literature
Joanna Trollope returns with her 24th novel, Mum and Dad, another keen-eyed observation of family dynamics written with a lightness of touch that many other authors can only dream of. In this exclusive piece, Joanna highlights the literary mothers, both real and fictional, that have fascinated and entertained her.
Mothers. We all have one, don’t we.....In fact, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t exist, would we? And of course those mothers vary in personality, and aptitude for mothering, as much as we do ourselves. That variety is reflected in fiction in precisely the way that it happens in real life, so that there are some wonderful mothers in books, just as there are some others who are less good at it, and some who are downright destructive. If you want a portrait of an almost perfect mother,you can’t do much better than Marmee in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. But if you are after a rather more nuanced portrayal of motherhood, then I would recommend the following:
Hideous Kinky is a novel describing, really, what it is like to be dragged around as a child by a hippy mother in Morocco in the sixties - which Esther Freud describes as extremely eccentric and unexpected, but certainly never dull…..The novel is plainly autobiographical, and is an affectionate portrait of a very random upbringing.
A House Full of Daughters is a non fiction account of Juliet Nicolson’s own extraordinary heritage, which starts with Vita Sackville West’s - she was Juliet’s grandmother - own grandmother, Pepita, ( a famous Spanish dancer, the mistress of Vita’s grandfather) and goes on to chronicle Juliet's own relationship with her mother, and then with her daughters. It’s a remarkable and candid read.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen is both the darkest and probably the least popular of her books. It is shadowed by the horrors of the slave trade, but also involves, in the figure of Lady Bertram, one of the idlest, most spoiled, and infantile mothers in all literature. But you have to remember that Lady Bertram lived in a period well before the Pill was even dreamed of, and had a classically hypocritical husband.
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, is both short and quietly devastating as a novel. The teenage heroine endures a very modern situation, of an increasingly controlling father and a passive, helpless mother. It’s gripping, as well as beautifully written - and will take you no more than two hours to read.
My Mother Myself is probably the classic study of mothers, what it means to be have one and to be one. It was written by the late Nancy Friday ( she died in 2017) as long ago as 1977, and is a serious non fiction examination, including interviews, with every aspect of being either a mother or a daughter. The book slides into sentimentality every so often but it is extremely thorough and worthwhile.
Would you like to proceed to the App store to download the Waterstones App?
Or, add to basket, pay online, collect in as little as 2 hours, subject to availability.