Literature's Best & Worst Fictional Mother-Figures

Mummy dearest? Sometimes. Not always though.

Literature is filled with some of the best, worst and the downright horrific mother-figures imaginable - love them or loathe them, they certainly make for some unforgettable story-telling. 

Check out ten of the most memorable mothers and mother-figures in fiction:

Literature's Best Mothers And Mother Figures


1. Marilla Cuthbert in Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Stern, reserved Marilla Cuthbert was hoping for a boy to help her brother Matthew around the farm. Instead, her life is transformed and enriched by the arrival of Anne, a red-headed orphan with a vivid imagination who desperately yearns for love and family.

2. Mrs March in Little Women by Lousia May Alcott

With a husband away at war, there are not-so-subtle hints throughout Little Women that the family has fallen on lean times. It's Mrs March who holds the family together, encouraging her daughters' individuality and raising them to be a strong, compassionate women.

3. Elizabeth Zott in Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

As a single and unmarried mother in 1950s America, Elizabeth Zott's efforts to overcome misogyny and prejudice in society and to pursue her ambitions within the field of scientific research form the heart of her relationship with her young daughter. "Children, set the table. Your mother needs a moment to herself".

4. Nanny Ogg in Terry Pratchett's Discworld Series

With 15 children and umpteen grandchildren, Nanny Ogg is the undisputed matriarch not just her family, but of the whole of the kingdom Lancre. Affectionate and down-to-earth (unless you're one of her unfortunate daughters-in-law), she's the definitive 'Mother' figure amongst the Lancre witches.

5. Helen Graham in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall tells the story of Helen Graham, a woman fleeing from an abusive marriage with her young son. In a time when such actions would have been seen as scandalous, her bravery and determination to save her son, whatever the consequences, make her inclusion in this list a no-brainer.

The best and worst fictional mothers

6. Mrs Bennett in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Gossipy, indiscrete, social-climbing Mrs Bennett, is a huge embarrassment to her daughters - and almost causes them Elizabeth and Jane to miss out on love altogether. But knowing that the whole family would lose their home and financial security entirely should her husband die, can she really be faulted for trying to ensure her daughters' future?

7. Mrs Coulter in His Dark Material by Philip Pullman

Although she ultimately dies to save her daughter Lyra and does undoubtably love her deeply, abandoning your daughter while pursuing a career that effectively involves lobotomising children, all in the name of research, probably isn't going to win you any mother of the year awards.

The worst mothers in fiction

8. The Other Mother in Coraline by Neil Gaiman 

The Other Mother is terrifying, no matter what age you first were when you read it. Buttons for eyes and penchant for manipulation, gaslighting and trapping kids behind a mirror to extract their life forces - it still gives us the heebie-jeebies to be honest. 

9. Margaret White in Carrie by Stephen King

Telekinetic teenager Carrie may have ended up terrorising her school, but let's face it, the true villain of this book is her abusive and bullying mother. Locking her daughter in a closet for hours on end and subjecting Carrie to horrendous abuse was probably never going to lead to a happy ending.

10. Euripides' Medea

The original bad mother. Killing your two children just to avenge your cheating husband? There's not much worse than that. And to top it off, she gets whisked off in a sun chariot provided by Helios, the sun god, without any hint of consequence or comeuppance. 

Mother's Day Gift Idea

Say it with books this year with a unique and memorable gift that lasts month after month.


Find out more

Back to blog