Lost Mothers - Why novels bump off moms

lost mothersWarning: if you ever find yourself a fictional mom, look out—there's a risk you'll get BUMPED OFF. It could happen during the course of your novel… or maybe before the novel even begins.

The author may have destined your daughter for a great literary adventure; maybe she's slated to become one of literature's beloved heroines. If so, SORRY, MOM, you've gotta go.

Literature's spunkiest, most independent heroines—the ones we admire and remember most fondly?—they're motherless:

Moll Flanders (1721)
Fanny Hill (1749)
Emma (1815)
Jane Eyre (1847)
Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1903)
Nancy Drew (1930…)
Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier) 1938

More recently, we've had the heroines of Ahab’s Wife and Amy Bloom’s Away, both of whose mothers die.

What's wrong with mothers? Well, traditionally, a mother's role is to instill proper behavior — to correct for waywardness — especially in their DAUGHTERS. And they are fierce protectors of their offspring, keeping them out of harm's way.

Yet literature's greatest heroines are placed squarely IN THE PATH of harm's way, right where their authors want them—but where any mom worth her salt doesn't. So a character who would restrain improper or dangerous behavior must be gotten rid of. Dumped. That would be a mother.

Today, most moms aren't so old-fashioned. We want our girls to enjoy a wealth of human experience — education, career, and travel, as well as family life. Even so, I'm not so sure many of us would want our girls sneaking aboard a whaling ship, let alone working in a brothel like Moll Flanders — which means an author would have to write us out of the storyline. Oh, well…

Ideas for book clubs

  1. Think of other books featuring independent heroines in which mothers are done away or are simply never present.
  2. Think of books with father-and-son or father-and-daughter adventures.
  3. Prove my theory wrong: come up with some mother-daughter adventure stories.(Okay...Little Women. Any others?)

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