Fictional mums have carried some of the world’s best-known books. But for some characters, the road to motherhood is sometimes a circuitous and fascinating story worth reading about.
What makes a mother? Whether it’s giving birth or raising a child, changing diapers or kissing an ouchie, posting endless baby pictures on Facebook or telling embarrassing childhood stories, there are many aspects that go into being a mother.
To celebrate Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 11, we celebrate motherhood in all its complicated, messy and offbeat forms. We take a look at five literary characters who may not be mums in the traditional sense, but whose traits embody the undeniably human and real maternal instinct.
Wendy Darling from Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
While she herself is only 12 or 13 years old in Barrie’s classic tale, Wendy becomes 'mother' to a whole tribe of lost boys when she travels to Neverland with Peter Pan. The boys, who only have vague memories of what it’s like to have a mother of their own, eagerly take to Wendy, who not only performs domestic duties for them ah, gender stereotypes what would we be without them!), but more importantly, gives the boys a much-needed motherly touch. Eventually, Wendy becomes a mum in her own right.
Victor Frankenstein from Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
By literally giving life to his nameless "monster", Victor – or Dr Frankenstein, as he’s come to be popularly known – is in many ways a depiction of unwilling motherhood. In fact, there are many feminist readings of Shelley’s celebrated book that view Victor’s sense of horror and revulsion at his creation, as well as his rejection of it, as a metaphor for post-natal depression.
Anna Madrigal from Tales Of The City by Armistead Maupin
One of literature’s earliest transgendered characters, Anna – who was born biologically male – rents out her house to a motley group of 20-somethings in San Francisco in the late 1970s. With her tenants ranging from the naive Mary Ann to the bisexual hippie Mona to the womanising Brian, it was hardly your average household.
Far from being just a landlady, however, the eccentric and mysterious Anna was more of a house mother to the youths: a benign, unifying presence as they discovered themselves.
Reginald Jeeves from the Jeeves books by P.G. Wodehouse
Jeeves may be the valet, but when it comes to taking care of the self-important and indolent Bertie Wooster, he is every inch the "mummy who knows best". Like most mothers, Jeeves is an expert at using the tools at his disposal to convince Bertie out of making impulsive decisions, whether that means scolding, cajoling or conniving him into changing his mind.
And as Wodehouse fan knows, if Jeeves disapproves of something – whether it’s Bertie’s new tie or latest fiancee – it’s going to be summarily ejected, sooner or later!
Agatha Harkness from the Marvel comics (notably The Fantastic Four and Avengers series)
First introduced as Franklin Richards’ (Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman’s son) governess, Agatha, unlike most motherly figures in superhero comics, is a powerful character in her own right. One of the original witches from the Salem Witch Trials, she has great magical talents.
Agatha also acted as a mentor to Wanda Maximoff, aka the Scarlet Witch, helping her deal with not just her magical abilities, but also motherhood and her eventual breakdown.