Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mothers in Writing

Since we’re blogging about mothers this month, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I portray mothers in my novels. I tend to make certain they’re absent or more of a villain than a helper to my hero or heroine.

I love my mom and consider her a good friend. So why do I kill off my characters’ mothers or make them horrible adversaries?

And my conclusion? It makes my characters more vulnerable. And stronger. If they’re alone in the world, they’ve had to make their own way, build their own life, go it alone. So it’s not that I’m against mothers, but characters lacking a mother or a supportive mother are more interesting to me.

That said, in my next novel, The Making of a Duchess, I’ve written a wonderful mother character. Rowena, the duchess de Valére, escaped the French Revolution with my hero Julien. Unfortunately, she had to leave her other two sons behind. Very early in the book, Rowena has to make a decision: save one son or lose all three. She decides to save Julien.

Rowena isn’t a central character in the novel. The novel is about the romance between Julien and Sarah, but as I wrote the scenes with Rowena, I thought a lot about what her life must have been like after her decision. Was she ever able to reconcile her decision? Did she wish she had died, rather than face life knowing her twin sons perished? Or worse—not knowing what happened to them at all.

Julien, her son, thinks of little else but his brothers’ fates. He makes it his life’s work to search for news of them. And it’s that search that gets him into trouble…but that’s another part of the story.

I’ve been trying to think about novels with strong, positive mother characters. So far I’ve got the mother in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and the mother in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels. Can you think of any others? There must be more…


  1. Little House on the Prairie? :) I wrote about an awful mother for True Romance once--but gave her a good reason for being that way, and the future daughter-in-law finally became the daughter she needed in "Mother Trouble." My mother wasn't anything like that, but I've known woman who are---so controlling of a son after a husband has left them--widowed or divorced--that a DIL is seen as a thief in the night. :)

  2. I loved Ben's mother, Colleen, in Too Hot to Handle. After writing a bunch of bad moms, it was wonderful to write a nice mother with a great relationship with her son.

  3. Caroline Ingalls is a great example, Terry! Glad I'm not the only one to write mean moms.

    Good for you, Robin. Maybe I should try writing a nice mom.

  4. I had a mean mom in the book I'm working on now - but she wasn't ringing true (maybe because my mom is the opposite of mean!). So I made her quirky/crazy instead, and it worked so much better and gave my heroine a reason to try harder. Come to think of it, the mom in Cowboy Trouble is a little crazy too, and in One Fine Cowboy has her issues as well. Hmmm... What would Freud say? Never mind, i don't want to know!

  5. Yes, I usually kill the mother and father off too as they can easily get in the way of the romance. Laura Kinsale did a great job on the hero's mother in Lessons in French.

  6. I think you're so right about the lack of a caring mother making a heroine more vulnerable, Shana. And forcing her to become tougher because of it. Great insight!

  7. I wrote a mother with issues in When Dashing Met Danger, Joanne. That was actually kind of fun. I have Kinsale's book on my TBR pile. I need to start it, Amelia. Thanks, Kathryne!

  8. Hmmmm, I'm having a hard time thinking of positive moms in romance novels. They are generally dead or a negative influence. I did think of the hero's mom in Lessons in French (but Amelia posted it first). I think I'm going to have to take this as a challenge and try to write a positive mother character!

  9. The mother in Little Women comes to mind - Mrs. March. Fabulous mother who gives advice and support.

    The whole bad mother thing in novels is kind of weird. I never thought about it until the topic came up here. Odd. Yet I still see no reason why a heroine can't have issues and face dilemmas with a good set of parents in the background somewhere!

  10. I can't think of anything harder than to have to chose which of one's children to save. And talk about survivor's guilt if you were the one saved! Sounds like a recipe for an emotional read--just like I love.

    Good mothers in fiction? I saw Letters to Juliet last night. The grandmother is a wonderful, strong, balanced woman, well able to stand up for herself and also able to offer the heroine some much needed mothering.

    One of the reason I like to write linked books (they are not truly in series) is that I get to show more than one perspective--particularly of mothers. In one book I can show them making mistakes, in another, show them getting it exactly right. Just like really happens.

  11. Mothers in literature--what a great topic! I agree with many of the mothers mentioned already--LOVED Mrs. March in Little Women... but it's hard to think of many more. I wonder why that is... In my book club that i'm in with my mom, there are actually quite a few mother/daughter pairings within it, and we always have a bit of a joke in our discussions: "it all goes back to that crazy/sad/weird/absent/overbearing mother," but more times than not, some of those "problems" or actions etc. are influenced by the mother/mother-figure. Very interesting!