Debut novelist Hannah Beckerman explores the aftermath of a mother’s death in The Dead Wife’s Handbook. In the style of The Lovely Bones, Rachel is caught between the worlds of life and death. She struggles to cope with her passing as she watches her family mourn and begin to move on without her. Here, Beckerman shares the literary mothers who brought her inspiration when writing.
When I began writing The Dead Wife’s Handbook, I knew right away that it was going to be a paean to motherhood. Not just because that’s what the story required, but because mothers—and grandmothers—have played such an important part in my life, so I wanted the book, in some way, to pay homage to that.
Fiction throughout the ages has been filled with a wonderful array of maternal characters. Here are six of my favorites:
1. Mrs. Bennet
What’s not to love about Pride and Prejudice’s interfering, social climbing matriarch, desperate to marry her daughters off to the richest and most eligible suitors she can find? She’s surely the most exasperatingly funny mother in literature.
2. Margaret “Marmee” March
If Mrs. Bennett is the archetypal interfering mother, then Little Women’s Marmee is surely the epitome of patient and kindly mothering. Bringing up four daughters while her husband is away in the Civil War, she imparts the importance of kindness, generosity, and a good education on her offspring
Room is a harrowing read, but nonetheless one of the most beautiful portrayals of maternal love in literature. In this critically acclaimed novel, Ma tries to protect her 5-year-old son from the awful reality of their imprisonment.
4. Molly Weasley
A mom so good that even Harry Potter wants her to adopt him, Molly Weasley is everything a mom should be: kind, loving, and fiercely protective. She just so happens to be a damn fine witch, too.
A kangaroo might not be the most obvious choice for best fictional moms, but Kanga is patient and loving to her own son, Roo, and she also adopts Tigger when he moves to the forest. Plus, she has a wickedly dry sense of humor: There aren’t many moms who would react as she does when her child is abducted and replaced, temporarily, with a baby pig.
6. Mrs. Portnoy
Not so much one to emulate as a lesson in how not to parent, Alexander Portnoy’s mother is one of the funniest portrayals of the overbearing Yiddish mama in a rich history of Jewish literature. Take heed if you don’t want your teenage son doing unmentionable things with your Sunday roast!