Bad Mothers in Literature

Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet in Pride and Prejudice
Category: Reading
Tagged: events, characters

In the wake of Mothering Sunday, we take a look at some of the worst mothers in literature, from the irritating to the purely evil.

Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

This most memorable of mothers (but not perhaps the most likeable) is constantly trying to marry off her daughters whilst simultaneously reducing their chances of social advancement by embarrassing them with her vulgarity, and complaining of myriad minor ailments. Mrs Bennet exists in the novel as entertainment but also as a kind of warning against a lack of self-awareness. The scene where Mrs Bennet and Mr Bennet clash over cousin Mr Collins’ proposed marriage to their daughter Elizabeth is one of the best and funniest, not least because Mr Bennet is the perfect foil to her melodrama.

(Mrs Bennet to Mr Collins)  “But depend upon it, Mr Collins,” she added, “that Lizzy shall be brought to reason. I will speak to her about it myself directly. She is a very headstrong, foolish girl, and does not know her own interest; but I will make her know it.”

(Mr Bennet to Mrs Bennet) “An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth. From this day you must be a stranger to one of your parents. Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.”

(Mrs Bennet)  “Nobody can tell what I suffer! But it is always so. Those who do not complain are never pitied.”

Whilst Mrs Bennet is busy feeling sorry for herself, her youngest daughter embarks on a scandalous elopement with an unscrupulous cad.

Bad mother rating: 6 (well-meaning but embarrassing with a hint of neglect).


Charlotte Haze  from Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita

Charlotte must be one of the most useless mothers going as she falls for a man who actually has designs on her daughter, Delores, then proves if possible even more useless by getting hit and killed by a car, leaving her daughter with the most inappropriate father figure of all time, Humbert Humbert. We know it wasn’t all her fault but she hardly presented an obstacle to the predatory Humbert by actually going gooey-eyed and inviting him into her home. Also she was just very annoying.

Bad mother rating: 8 (maximum neglect points seasoned with self-delusion)


Mrs Sucksby from Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

The extent of this ghastly person can’t be described without spoiling the plot for those yet to enjoy this excellent novel, but let’s just say that this woman makes Charles Dickens’ Fagan look like a Blue Peter presenter. She kindly takes in little orphaned babies who have nowhere else to go and soothes them to sleep with gin, but one question that remains unanswered in this chilling story is what happened to the many infants she ‘farmed’ when they grow up. *shudder*

Bad mother rating: 9 (ghastly and irredeemable)

Do you have a bad literary mother you'd like to share? Add yours in the comments below.