Yesterday I wrote a short scene between the heroine of my very new mess-in-progress and her mother. The heroine’s father had to be dead, for plot purposes, but I thought perhaps the mother might prove an interesting character. Well, I tried her one way and another—sympathetic, controlling, whiny, funny—and nothing clicked. So I decided she was just better off dead, too. I may revive her at some point, but only if she has something entertaining to contribute to the story!

I think there’s a reason why heroines of romances often don’t have mothers, or at least not ones who are present for most of the story. The mother/daughter relationship is very complex and can take over from the romance. A mother’s good counsel might keep a heroine from making her own mistakes and learning from them. And depending on the story, having a mom around might destroy the mood.

And yet, is creating orphaned characters an easy (and cheap) way to buy a reader’s sympathy? A problematic mother (like Mrs. Bennett in Pride & Prejudice) can escalate conflict, but wouldn’t it be refreshing to see more positive mother figures in romance fiction?

Most books I recall that included such a mother also featured a hero with bigger problems than the heroine’s, where it made sense that a mother’s support would help her deal with him. Some examples: Julia Ross’s MY DARK PRINCE and Jo Beverley’s DEVILISH.

Can anyone else think of examples of interesting fictional mothers, good, bad and ugly?


About Elena Greene

Elena Greene grew up reading anything she could lay her hands on, including her mother's Georgette Heyer novels. She also enjoyed writing but decided to pursue a more practical career in software engineering. Fate intervened when she was sent on a three year international assignment to England, where she was inspired to start writing romances set in the Regency. Her books have won the National Readers' Choice Award, the Desert Rose Golden Quill and the Colorado Romance Writers' Award of Excellence. Her Super Regency, LADY DEARING'S MASQUERADE, won RT Book Club's award for Best Regency Romance of 2005 and made the Kindle Top 100 list in 2011. When not writing, Elena enjoys swimming, cooking, meditation, playing the piano, volunteer work and craft projects. She lives in upstate New York with her two daughters and more yarn, wire and beads than she would like to admit.
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7 Responses to Mothers!

  1. Elena:

    You’ve pinpointed why every single Disney film features an orphan or, at the very least, one dead parent. Children need to make their own mistakes, and parents can interfere with that process. Not good for the child in question, but definitely good for the plot.

    Mrs. Bennett is an excellent parent example, and Elizabeth does actually have two living parents, which is remarkable. Jane Eyre? Nope. Wuthering Heights? No. Any Dickens book? No way.

    I can’t think of any representations of parents that aren’t stereotyped. I’d like to see some examples, because I get tired of knowing the parent character immediately from the first mention of him/her: addled father, overbearing mother, vain mother, title-seeking father, etc., etc.

    But it’s hard to be creative with parents when the focus should be on their offspring. And I have to admit I killed off my heroine’s parents, too. My hero has a father, but they’re estranged.

  2. Cara King says:

    Hmm… In fiction in general, I think LITTLE WOMEN’S Marmee is actually a fairly rounded portrait. She seems a saint at first, but isn’t really.

    But strong parents will indeed take much of the burden off the shoulders of the heroine or hero, which diminishes their story.

    The heroine of the first Regency I wrote had both parents still alive, though they were bad parents… Maybe if I’d made her an orphan, it would have sold! 🙂

    Okay, let’s see about Austen:

    NORTHANGER ABBEY — both parents alive and good parents (though busy), but far away

    SENSE AND SENSIBILITY — father dead, mother nice but clueless

    PRIDE AND PREJUDICE — father often ignores offspring, mother horrendous

    MANSFIELD PARK — parents alive, but not very good parents, and very far away for most of book

    EMMA — mother dead, father a spoiled child 🙂

    PERSUASION — mother dead, father a spoiled child in a different sense. 🙂

    But if Mrs Bennet had been a good mother, she wouldn’t have put up Darcy’s back, and she’d have warned Elizabeth about Wickham. If Mrs Dashwood had been a capable mother, she never would have let Marianne carry on that way with Willoughby… If Mr Woodhouse had been a good father, he would have told his buddy “hands off any daughters of mine who are half your age!” 🙂

    So. Much simpler Austen’s way.


  3. The Duchess of Salford–parent of Heyer’s SYLVESTER–is in my personal pantheon of best Regency mothers.

    This novel also features one of the worst, Lady Ianthe Rayne.

    Heyer offers up such a marvellous range. She tends towards the bad ‘uns–great entertainment value, all those tiresome social-climbing females, their eyes on the main chance. The worst of these is surely Mrs. Scorrier in VENETIA.

    But some, like the Duchess, are gems.

  4. Elena Greene says:

    The duchess is indeed a gem! Though I think she bears out my earlier hypothesis, as Sylvester is one of Heyer’s more damaged heroes. And consider this, that Heyer gave the duchess a physical disability that prevented her from going to London and getting more involved in her son’s social life. She might have nipped the whole conflict in the bud by reminding him to be kind and not merely polite to mousy debutantes!


  5. One memorable mom is Mrs. Gibson in Mrs. Gaskell’s “Wives and Daughters”–an aging, widowed governess who marries the local doctor, hoping for security and gentility. It’s beautifully done, and she’s loathsome and sympathetic at the same time; full of astute pyschological and social observation (I love this book).

    I recently wrote 2 moms I’m rather proud of–one talks continuously without ever taking a breath, and the other is a dowager countess having a late-life fling, while her sons are happily in denial about it.


  6. Todd says:

    OK, I’m reaching a bit, but I’ve always liked the Dowager Duchess of Denver in the Dorothy Sayers novels. Of course, we only see her when her children are fully grown.

    Just off the top of my head–the parents in “A Wrinkle in Time” and sequels by Madeleine L’Engle are good characters and good parents. She works around them in her plots by arranging for them to be unable to help their children in one way or another.


  7. Glad Todd mentioned Lord Peter Wimsey’s mother. Yes, she’s fun. Has anyone ever read a wonderful novel (long out of print) called Jane, by Dee Wells. Wells was fabulously clever, and married to the philosopher A.J. Ayer. It’s a novel about a young American woman in early 70s London, with 3 lovers, each more delicious than the next (the very handsome younger son of a duke, an African-American lawyer, and a gorgeous, cuddly young burgler). Anyhow, the duke’s younger son has a horror of a mother, whom I’m sure is the Dowager Duchess of Denver as seen through a convex mirror. But I’ve never known if I’m entirely alone in this reading.

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