From Heroic Protectors to ‘Facebook Mums’: the Greatest Literary Mothers of All Time

Grendel’s mother (Virgil Burnett); Mrs Bennet (CE Brock); Matilda and Miss Honey (Quentin Blake); the Weasley family (Littlesat)

Agatha Christie once wrote that ‘A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no law, no pity, it dates all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.’ Across time, this powerful and boundless maternal love that Christie describes has been captured by writers in a number of different ways – from the meddling, match-making housewives created by Jane Austen, to the strong-willed wizarding matriarchs depicted by J.K Rowling. Yet, what all these literary mother figures seem to have in common is an unfaltering desire to protect their families.

BeowulfBetween the vengeful and territorial representation of motherhood embodied by Grendel’s Mother in Beowulf, and the brave and protective Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series, the power of maternal love has been conveyed as a real force to be reckoned with. Though Grendel’s Mother is often characterised as a monstrous anti-hero, the motives behind her cruel actions are ultimately human: ‘She wanted to avenge her son, her only offspring’. This shows us that behind her vicious exterior, Grendel’s Mother is – dare I say it – simply a loving mother mourning the loss of her child. In this, she is similar to Molly Weasley (a comparison I never thought I’d find myself drawing). More commonly known for her nagging rants and exceptional culinary skills, Molly is also the ultimate mother figure – not only to her seven children, but to Harry Potter himself. Deathly hallowsNowhere is this better epitomised than in Goblet of Fire, when Molly wraps her arms around Harry and we are told that ‘He had no memory of ever being hugged like this, as though by a mother’. Molly’s defining moment, however, is her epic duel with Bellatrix Lestrange in the final book. In a fearless Grendel’s Mother-esque move, Molly comes to the rescue of her daughter and fights Bellatrix to the death – proving that a mother’s love is something that should not be messed with.

As we have already seen, maternal love comes in all kinds of forms – sometimes, as Molly Weasley’s relationship with Harry demonstrates to us, transcending the bounds of blood and DNA. In his classic children’s book Matilda, Roald Dahl brings us one of the gentlest and most loving literary mothers: Miss Jennifer Honey (who is, incidentally, just as sweet as her name suggests). MatildaThough Miss Honey is not Matilda’s biological mother, she proves to be more of a mother to her than Mrs Wormwood could ever be – encouraging her special gifts rather than attempting to diminish their power. In contrast to the defensive mother figure represented by Grendel’s Mother and Mrs Weasley, in Miss Honey we find a teacher, a guardian and a nurturer, who possesses ‘that rare gift for being adored by every small child under her care’. Miss Honey never fails to remind Matilda that ‘there is some kind of magic in you somewhere’ – ‘magic’ that can only reach its full potential under a mother’s love and guidance.

P&PFinally, this brings us to what is arguably the most iconic literary mother of all time: Pride and Prejudice’s Mrs Bennet. Constantly interfering in her children’s personal lives, Mrs Bennet is the original ‘Facebook Mum’ – whose tendency for oversharing in public is a source of embarrassment for many. Selfish, materialistic, and irrational, Mrs Bennet’s one main goal in life is to see all her daughters married and taken off her hands – something that she is willing to do anything to achieve. Yet, despite all her flaws, Mrs Bennet is also strangely likeable – not least for providing us with one of the most fantastically ironic quotes: ‘I have no pleasure in talking to undutiful children. Not that I have much pleasure, indeed, in talking to anybody.’ Though misguided in her judgments, Mrs Bennet ultimately has only her family’s best interests at heart – struggling, like most mothers, to guarantee the greatest possible futures for her children.

Whether you are a Molly Weasley or a Mrs Bennet, happy Mother’s Day from us at A&B!

Athena Christodoulou, intern.

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