Fiction’s Best Moms and Dads

They’re kind, warm, patient, honest, tolerant, unselfish, reliable, entertaining, good listeners, occasionally firm but not smothering, and other positive things. Politicians? Not a chance. We’re talking about…great parents!

And who are the best mothers and fathers in literature? This blog post will name some of them — and all are members of the PTA: Parents to Admire.

Let’s start with that 3M person herself: Margaret “Marmee” March of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. She’s almost perfect — which is a bit unrealistic but impressive. She holds her family of four daughters together through thick and thin while dad is away during the Civil War or musing philosophical thoughts. Marmee also has an even disposition (after some hot-tempered younger years), gives good advice, is not materialistic, engages in charitable efforts, and believes girls should be thoroughly educated — not a typical 19th-century attitude.

Another memorable mother from 19th-century fiction is Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. Even as she deals with her social-outcast status, she is a great single parent to Pearl — and allows her daughter to be a free spirit.

It’s hard to top the love and courage of the enslaved Eliza, who, in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, makes a harrowing escape to the North with her young son Harry to spare him from being sold to a crueler master.

The brave and self-sufficient Helen Huntington also has the safety of her son in mind when she flees an abusive marriage in Anne Bronte’s early feminist classic, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Ma Joad of The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the supreme female creation of an author, John Steinbeck, mostly known for his male protagonists. The compassionate Ma (I don’t think her first name is mentioned in the novel) has a deep reservoir of toughness and leadership qualities she will need as the Joad family gets into increasingly difficult straits.

In Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Lee is a servant/housekeeper rather than a biological parent, but he’s essentially a father — and a darn good one — to the Trask sons.

Another non-parent who’s basically a parent is orphan Denise Baudu, who becomes a substitute mother to her two younger brothers in Emile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames.

Matthew Cuthbert, the adoptive dad of former orphan Anne Shirley in L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, is shy and and socially awkward. But he is a sweet, gentle soul who gives Anne what she needs emotionally — and sometimes practically (we’re talking puffy-sleeved dresses here!). Matthew’s sister Marilla (Anne’s adoptive mother) is initially a tough cookie as parents go, until…

As fictional fathers go, few can match widowed lawyer Atticus Finch of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Integrity is practically his middle name, and he mixes lots of low-key love and lesson-giving when parenting his daughter Scout and her older brother Jem.

A great single dad of more recent literary vintage is Subhash Mitra, of Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland, who becomes a dedicated father to his niece Bela after his activist brother Udayan is murdered by police (before Bela is born).

Then there are Molly and Arthur of the large Weasley household in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Those two parents are rather eccentric and disorganized, but somehow the family dynamics work. Molly and Arthur are also fun, smart, curious, and brave — all of which rubs off on their children.

I’ve of course just scratched the surface here. Who are your favorite great parents in literature? (And, if you’d like, you could also name the most memorable bad parents. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area โ€” unless youโ€™re replying to someone else.)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

181 thoughts on “Fiction’s Best Moms and Dads

  1. And how does ‘Seinfeld’ relate to the discussion of good/bad parents? Well, if you want to understand why George is so neurotic look no further than his parents (“What am I gonna do with all this paella?”; “A mouse! I will not tolerate rodents in this house!”). He never had a chance with those two. Compare that with the well-meaning but somewhat naive and clueless parents of Jerry. They’re loving people but they’re just set in their ways and they’ll totally devoted to Jerry. Then there are the ones with one parent. IN the episode “The Jacket”, Jerry and George end up stuck at a dinner with Elaine’s tyrannical father, a well-respected author (this was inspired by the real-life experience that show creator Larry David had when he was dating the daughter of great American author Richard Yates, most famous for ‘Revolutionary Road’). Kramer is also finally reunited with his mother, who is a cleaning lady at a fancy restaurant. Through her we learn his first name–Cosmo!

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    • Reeling, really, from the fact that Larry David dated Richard Yates’ daughter! Can’ begin to imagine the conversations at dinner, the Seinfeld show’s fictional depictions notwithstanding.

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    • Funny…bobess..was that started with MTM..then to Bob Newhart ending..then to Seinfeld..perhaps.
      Recently Charlie Rose interviewed Larry David..and Larry insisted he is George in real life which is hard to believe. Also George Steinbrenner`s voice was David himself. Also elsewhere it was mother of Seinfeld was like Larry`s mom..she never believed that Larry was making any money.

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    • Excellent, bobess48! And I like the way you brought this around to the column topic!

      Though the four “Seinfeld” stars played single people with no kids on the show, their occasionally appearing parents were indeed “interesting” — and, as you skillfully note, seeing those parents shed light on why their offspring were so offbeat or neurotic.

      Jerry Seinfeld had three kids after the show went off the air. I wonder how the show would have been affected if he had some parenting experience in the 1990s? ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • I guess a somewhat similar relationship spanning the entertainment and literary worlds would be the marriage of actor Daniel Day-Lewis and Arthur Miller’s daughter Rebecca Miller. But, then again, Rebecca Miller was/is of the entertainment world. And, as far as I know, neither are as neurotic as Larry David!

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      • interestingly in real life Jerry`s wife wrote a cookbook and someone unknown brought up a lawsuit that is was allegedly the exact copy of her own cookbook.
        Of course the “unknown” had no chance dealing with the rich and famous.

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      • indulge me Dave while we are on the topic…..from Seinfeld to Larry David to Curb your Enthusiasm…a fun show in HBO.
        From a crazy neurotic guy Larry this was a minute and half of enchanting moment. You can`t go wrong with the music of John Legend.

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        • Sorry it took a while to reply, bebe — I was out for a few hours.

          Thanks for the link! Unfortunately, for some reason I’m getting a “disabled” notice when I try to watch this video. I love your comment with it, though. ๐Ÿ™‚

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              • For whatever reason, some videos can only be watched directly on YouTube, not when linked elsewhere — such as on this blog. I have no idea why!

                Scarlett could work on Wall Street today. ๐Ÿ™‚

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            • Morning Dave..I loved that minute and half piece..loved the song and th perfect moment for it, I used to watch the show.
              On GWTW i watched an hour and half of it. Have more respect for Rhett..for his compassionate side and not advertising about it.

              Have fun today with your relatives.

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              • Good morning, bebe! Yes, a lot of good stuff in just 90 or so seconds. I never watched the show myself, but have heard it’s great.

                If/when I watch “GWTW” again, I’ll keep an eye on the positive side of Rhett. ๐Ÿ™‚ “…his compassionate side and not advertising about it” — nicely said!

                Thanks for the have-fun wishes! I’ll probably be “off the grid” for roughly six hours this afternoon/evening, but hope to post a new column later tonight. Hope you have a great Sunday!

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  2. One more.

    I’ve mentioned The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver before, but I just love this book. Taylor informally adopted a little Native American girl she nicknamed Turtle, which was the best thing that happened to the little girl. Turtle had a rough start in her young life. She was a victim of sexual and physical abuse, she didn’t/couldn’t communicate with people, her birth mother was deceased, and her entire world seemed empty…until Taylor came into her life.

    Turtle thrived under Taylor’s care. She started talking, playing, and acting like a happy little girl. She even started to recognise vegetable plants and flowers that grew around Taylor’s job and at home.

    Taylor was young herself and trying to find her way in life. Motherhood should have been the last thing on her mind. Something in her made her accept Turtle and raise her as her own. Reading this book was like going on an adventure, and it was nice to see them take that journey through life together.

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    • Nice description of that novel and relationship, Ana! Barbara Kingsolver is such a great author, including her earlier works such as “The Bean Trees.”

      Your comment also made me think of subcategories for this discussion — very young parents (Novalee in Billie Letts’ “Where the Heart Is” comes to mind) and older parents (such as Silas Marner in the George Eliot novel).

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        • It might be somewhat of a factor, but I think it mostly comes down to the type of person the parent is — at any age. If you ever become a parent, Ana, you’ll be great!

          Of course, a younger parent often has more energy and an older parent has more life experience…

          My daughters are 18 years apart in age, so, in terms of my own age, I’ve seen parenting from “both sides now…and then.” ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • I think what helps older parents is if they’ve had children in the past before their younger kids were born. You’re sort of like my parents. They are both in their 60s, and there are big age gaps with their children. The oldest child is 40; the youngest is 21 and is preparing to move to Toronto after graduating from college this May.

            The parenting skills they developed with the first set of children were useful when the second set came along. And now they have grandchildren, so all of us keep our parents young (lol, you remember that picture I posted on FB of my father holding that huge tarantula at that exhibit he took my nephew too? How many parents are cool enough to do that?)

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          • My mom was past mid 30s when I was born and dad was mid 40s, my older brother is ten years older than me and is simply awesome. My mom always said and true I was a handful and she was too old to tackle me . Too bad she never lived longer to see me now not so bad. ๐Ÿ˜€

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            • Your parents were definitely more “mature” in years than many parents were at that time, bebe. Very sorry your mother didn’t live longer. But so nice that you have a great older brother.

              I will be seeing a number of relatives tomorrow at a family dinner (sister, possibly brother, cousins, aunt, etc.).

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            • *blushes* Thank you for the compliments about my pic. That is one of my faves too. My friend-girl who took it captured me in a very natural state. My hair was tousled because I’d been running outside only moments before, I’m not wearing any makeup other than the cherry lip gloss, and I have a very content/relaxed/happy look on my face.

              bebe I’m glad you’re still active in this thread because I wanted to share something with you before it closed. Yesterday we held community garden day in my neighbourhood. People walked to different home gardens, took pics, got planting advice and demos, purchased and swapped seeds, live plants, eco planting items, things like that.

              An elderly lady who lives a few houses down from me knows how much I love lavender and what a terrible time I have with growing it. She has a backyard full and was kind enough to bring me some homemade lavender-based products. I have a bar of facial soap, a bottle of linen spray, ice cubes (yes, she made lavender ice cubes!), and a jar of whipped body butter.

              bebe, that body butter is absolutely wonderful. It feels like silk on my skin and smells divine. I asked my neighbour if she could please show me how she made it. We walked back to her house and sat in the kitchen. This is how she made the body butter: (1) spoon a sizable amount of solidified coconut oil from a jar into a bowl (2) add a few drops of lavender oil (3) blend everything using a hand mixer (4) take a spoon and lightly stir the fluffy mixture. It should resemble cake frosting at this point (5) spoon your body butter in a jar.

              I just had to share this with you since you love lavender and natural beauty products just as much as I do. This will be a hectic upcoming week for me, but I promise to get some pictures posted on Twitter soon so you can see what this body butter looks like. Talk to you later, girlie:)

              *fist bumps Dave before I go* U2 has been spotted in Vancouver preparing for the tour. Residents and fans near the venue reportedly heard them practice Vertigo and a couple of tracks from the latest album. Don’t you East Coast people get all jealous because U2 is opening their tour on the West Coast. You guys can have Bono and the boys once we’re done partying with them. Got my 360 t-shirt and Canadian flag bandana ready to go…don’t get jealous of that either, Dave. LOL…have a good week.

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              • Wow lovely Ana..yaa ..lots of silky hair and that smile โค

                Took a note of this and saved it, soon I`ll have my bird bath avi..actually I might send you some spring flower pics to you and I do have you e addy unless it is changed. Give me a week to get the full bloom..of all the bushes.

                Have fun ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. The Pelican is story number 3 in a collection of short stories by Edith Wharton. This short story is about a young, pretty widowed mother named Mrs. Amyot with a natural talent for public speaking and an appreciation of Greek art.

    Her husband was an alcoholic who didn’t provide for his family, and died when the baby was 6 months old. When he died, he left behind massive debts which the wife had to pay off. His debts left the wife and son deeper in poverty. Using her oratorical skills and knowledge of Greek art, Mrs. Amyot decided to go on a lecture circuit to earn money, and became quite successful. Naturally her son was given the best of everything…fine clothes, a doting supportive mother, excellent schools, and financial stability well into adulthood.

    This would appear to be the perfect family with a good “rags-to-riches” backstory, but you get a sense while reading it that something peculiar was going on. Mrs. Amyot gave several lectures in the New England area and Europe. The attendees praised her talents, but at the end of their praise, every person gave the same statement: “she’s doing this for her child.” And Mrs. Amyot never hesitated to mention how she was working so hard for her son during every introduction.
    The “I’m doing it for my son” reasoning seemed plausible and believable when he was younger; problem was, that story continued even after her son grew up, graduated from college, and had a family of his own.

    So it seems like Mrs. Amyot’s success was based on false premises. She presented herself as a charity case and used her son to sell tickets to her lectures, and the attendees felt “obligated” and/or took pity on her, especially the attendees who personally knew her husband’s background.

    Maybe she started off with good intentions of lecturing to pay off debts and provide financial security for her son, but she quickly used her single parenthood as a crutch, and got comfortable with telling people “I’m doing this for my son.” Was Mrs. Amyot a good mother? Yes. But did her deception turn her into a needy, attention-seeking mother? Yes. It’s really hard to put her into either category.

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    • Sounds like a REALLY interesting story, Ana, with one of those parents who, as you say, is somewhere between good and not so good (which of course is where many real-life parents fall).

      I’ve read about a half dozen of Edith Wharton’s novels, but never tried her short fiction. Thanks for describing “The Pelican” so well!

      I wonder if Ms. Amyot said she was doing her lectures for her son partly because (in a more sexist time) it would be “unseemly” for her to be doing those lectures because she had some ambition, enjoyed speaking/displaying her knowledge, etc.?

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      • Dover Thrift Editions are excellent. Great collections of fiction and non-fiction, and I’ve never paid over $2.00 for each one. The Edith Wharton collection has 7 short stories. I like all of them except one (Xingu).

        I can certainly see some shades of sexism in Mrs. Amyot’s decision. If she didn’t have a son, and wanted to conduct a lecture series for the joy of it, I’m sure someone would have been in her ear attempting to dissuade her. Sacrificing for your children sounds much more honourable, even in modern times, than embarking on a career/hobby for personal fulfillment.

        I don’t have any children. If I announced “hey, I’m going back to school to pursue my doctorate because it’s something I’ve always wanted to do”, and a woman with children said something similar but added “I’m doing this to make a better life for my children”, her announcement would be more impressive.

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        • I like those Dover Thrift Editions prices, Ana!

          And I think going back to school is impressive whatever the reason, though there are various levels of impressive. ๐Ÿ™‚ And of course one can go back to school for a combination of “self” and “for the children” reasons.

          Edith Wharton certainly dealt with the push-and-pull that late-19th-century/early-20th-century women felt about their level of independence — in novels such as “The Age of Innocence” (Ellen Olenska), “The House of Mirth” (Lily Bart), and “The Custom of the Country” (Undine Spragg).

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          • I got into her work maybe 3 years ago. She’s easily on my Top 5 List of Favourite Authors. You should try 1-2 of her ghost/goth stories. I have her ghost story collection in English, but a Portuguese translation of one of those stories is on my Kindle.

            Uma Garrafa de Perrier (A Bottle of Perrier) is set in Greece. Such a great, tense story. Not sure if ghost/goth is your thing, but if it is, keep that title tucked away in your memory bank.

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            • Thanks, Ana! Edith Wharton IS great. I’ll give her short stories (and ghost stories) a try sometime. I do like a ghost tale once in a while — as in some of Ambrose Bierce’s stories, Peter Straub’s “Ghost Story” novel, and even lighter versions of that genre such as Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost.”

              Then there are works that are sort of/not quite ghost stories: Toni Morrison’s “Beloved,” Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones,” Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting Of Hill House,” Stephen King’s “Rose Madder,” Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Overcoat,” etc.

              Oh, and “A Christmas Carol”!

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              • The Canterville Ghost should be considered comedy rather than supernatural because it is a very funny tale. Poor ghost. He tried so hard to scare the family, but they looked down on and disrespected him at every turn. How does one trash-talk a ghost? LOL…hilarious.

                Oscar Wilde was a literary genius. I don’t think there’s anything he’s ever written that I don’t love.

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  4. Up the page someplace I noticed somebody else mentioned the principal character’s parents in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, so I won’t. Though originally marketed as authentic pioneer tales from America’s yesteryear, these books are mostly memories at a remove, lit by nostalgia, obscured by time and refitted to fictional purposes, though I defy anybody with a heart who’s read them to think of old Jack circling his bed for the last time without shedding a little tear. Me either.

    Then there are the plucky and infinitely resourceful parents in The Swiss Family Robinson, a book just long enough that readers must ask in all sincerity: what wasn’t on board and salvageable when needed? I mean, besides a steamship ticket home.

    Parents who work together and with their children in the face of danger, privation and even death, these two examples. Notably, these wish-fulfilling books were always a big hit with the kids.

    Of course, there’s the Boy Named Sue angle. Parent puts child in a terrible social situation, but the kid gets tough, grows up a winner, despite abandonment issues, and having to explain his first name periodically with his fists.

    Huck Finn, being a leader amongst his peers, and a pretty good friend to the friendless, might never have become himself were it not for his awful father, or despite him. If a character somehow but certainly becomes a fine example of adulthood, though his parents might have failed him throughout childhood at every opportunity, are not the best parents in literature sometimes the worst?

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    • Welcome back, jhNY!!! Hope you’re doing okay.

      Thought-provoking premise about “bad” parents sometimes turning out great kids, despite the parents being neglectful or laying on the “tough love” too thick. Adversary can certainly screw up and embitter a kid, or, as you note with Huck Finn, make the kid sympathetic to suffering and to the underdog. Other examples of fictional children who overcame tough upbringings to become exemplary people would include Jane Eyre and Harry Potter, among many others.

      My own real-life father was awful, and I turned out to be…a book blogger. So I guess the jury is still out on that. ๐Ÿ™‚

      By the way, I finished “The Leopard” a few days ago, and will be mentioning it prominently in my next column this Sunday night. Thanks again for recommending it — that Guiseppe di Lampedusa novel contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever seen (in the service of a melancholy story).

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      • Happy to be back. Hope be sticking around for a while, barring emergency– which of course, is how I came to extend my stay out of town…

        My real-life father and I had a very different relationship when we were both younger than we have today. Only after he abandoned all hope of having the power of influence over me did we begin to get along; too much of my young energy was bound up in resistance to his will, which was very nearly relentless as my own will to be free of it. I think we both wish we’d spent the time being smarter with each other.

        When a parent, for whatever reason, quits the scene at a point of great discord, that’s pretty much all we’ve got to go by, present absence and past uproar, unless later, we live together through other better scenes.

        An old pal had a very contentious relationship with his very volatile father, much as I did with my own as a teen, but unlike me, his father died when my friend was still a teen, and thus he enjoyed no mellower season with the man. I consider myself fortunate to have lived through all the daze of my youth, but more fortunate to have lived through all the years that followed, when we finally began to see the better parts of ourselves and each other.

        Heck, in your own case, your father left you a name, that, while not Sue, at least made me think you might be a distant relation to that early American family whose great fortune was founded on beaver pelts. Intimations of nobility are easier to defend, even if baseless, than a name like that guy had to live with in the Silverstein song, and easier on the knuckles.

        Pleased deeply you found good things and good writing in Lampedusa!

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        • Hope that out-of-town situation has stabilized or improved, jhNY.

          It’s great that things have evolved for the better with you and your father! That doesn’t always happen in parent-child relationships.

          Yes, sometimes things happen to prevent a parent-child relationship from being repaired. In my case, I didn’t see my father for the last 15 or so years of his life, and didn’t even know he had died (in 1991) until a number of years later.

          My father’s last name came from his immigrant father going through the name-change thing around the time of his Ellis Island arrival from Eastern Europe. Always ironic to have that last name given that we were lower middle class (my father repaired TVs and radios, when he was working. Once the TV was repaired, we could watch “Leave It to Beaver Pelts” ๐Ÿ™‚ ).

          Lampedusa’s prose was masterful. A shame he wrote only that one novel, and didn’t even get to see its (posthumous) publication.

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          • There are a few other bits and bobs Lampedusa left behind– most notably a short story on a mythic theme. I’ve also read a hilariously provocative short essay he wrote on on the excoriating effect opera had on Italian history and self-image– or at least those parts published in a biography I’ve got around here someplace.

            But he also wrote out copious notes on literature, for the purpose of tutoring a relative, which I’d love to see translated. Can’t help but think his opinions, on a topic that consumed his intellectual life, would make interesting and possibly profound reading.

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            • Thanks, jhNY! “The Leopard” edition I now own (my wife got me it as a birthday present) has some “foreword” and “afterword” material that mentions Lampedusa doing other writing here and there. As you say, I’m sure it would be WELL worth reading.

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      • As you say Dave โ€œbadโ€ parents sometimes turning out great kids, despite the parents being neglectful or laying on the โ€œtough loveโ€ too thick.”
        And what a wonderful, caring individual you turned out to be. So sorry Dave.. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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          • Sorry again…I never was able to meet up my mom’s expectations she was well loved and good in everything and she passed in my 20s didn’t get to see was okay.

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              • Oh thank you…my mom never have said anything but others have. Then again I am a very fortunate person to have a wonderful father but was not there in his later years. By older brother is absolutely awesome and being the youngest one in my family some of my cousins are old enough to be my parents always doted on me.

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              • In my opinion, ‘Seinfeld’ was to sitcoms what the Beatles were to music. ‘The Opposite’ actually influenced my approach to living over the last five years or so. Even if the opposite results in something not entirely positive, it is definitely different and you know that if you do the same thing repeatedly you will get the same results. So you’ve got some novelty and excitement and a level of awareness that you were too numbed by the sameness to notice.

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                • bobess48, I had mostly stopped watching TV by the 1990s, but those episodes of “Seinfeld” that I did see were fantastic. Glad “The Opposite” episode had such a big impact on you! That’s “something” for a show that was (allegedly) about “nothing.” ๐Ÿ™‚

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                  • I wasn’t a TV watcher either, mostly catching things that my wife at the time and stepchildren had on. After a few people recommended ‘Seinfeld’ I checked it out and became an intermittent watcher in its first runs in the 90’s and I definitely caught the finale. Over the subsequent years I would catch it in reruns on syndication occasionally. Then when I was in library school, doing distance learning, meaning that I logged on to the class from home, the class would usually end by 8:30 or 9:00 and I would often unwind with the two back-to-back episodes between 9 and 10. It became addicted to it, to the point that I bought the complete series on DVD as a Christmas present to myself (I had a financial cushion for a couple of years due to student loan money and I admit that I bought a lot of things for myself in addition to spending it on school expenses) so I could watch all of it plus all the special features, interviews, commentaries, etc. I came to appreciate how unique and clever it was. They actually used network censorship to their advantage, employing ‘euphemism’s for their humor. For example, You can’t watch the episode entitled ‘The Contest’ without knowing what ‘master of your domain’ refers to. The absurd convergences of separate plot threads and the self-referential looping back of words, phrases and images enabled the humor to build in momentum. Like The Beatles, nothing the cast members has gone on to do matched the impact they made together. The chemistry is still palpable when two or more of them are gathered as well. The ‘Seinfeld’ spirit lives on.

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                    • Sounds like you eventually became a “Seinfeld” expert, bobess48! GREAT discussion about the show, including how it used censorship to its advantage. (That’s also something some comic strips do in “family-friendly” newspapers.) Another thing I admired about “Seinfeld” was that the series ended while it was still relatively near its peak and still drawing good ratings. It didn’t hang on too long.

                      You’re right that the cast chemistry has been hard to duplicate, but, from what I gather, Julia Louis-Dreyfus has had quite a post-“Seinfeld” career with “Veep” and some other stuff.

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                    • There was no option to reply to your last ‘Seinfeld’ comment so I’m doing it here. I haven’t seen ‘Veep’ yet but it looks like the most promising thing she’s done since ‘Seinfeld’. I tried to watch a couple of episodes of ‘New Adventures of Old Christine’ but it was LAME, LAME, LAME! Come on, give me a break! These people are professionals and they’re supposedly good comedy writers but that was an inexcusable waste of time. I respect Jerry for still doing what he loves, which is standup comedy. His ‘Comedians in Cars’ is potentially a good idea but there’s definitely room for three passengers in that car (Julia Louis-Drefuss, Michael Richards and Jason Alexander) that could enliven the premise immensely. I loved their pseudo-reunion on Larry David’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ which was as close as we’ll ever come to seeing how those characters might react to the ‘wonders’ of the 21st century.

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                    • I’ve only seen a few “Veep” clips (on YouTube) and read some stuff about it, but it does seem pretty good. Apparently, the vice president Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays in the show has become or will soon become president!

                      I’ve also watched Jerry Seinfeld’s car thing a couple of times, and could take it or leave it.

                      Yes, those four “Seinfeld” stars in the 21st century (with social media and everything) would be quite interesting!

                      It IS a shame how lame some TV comedy can be. ๐Ÿ™‚

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                  • Dave in life also growing up seen someone in my family a cousin actually really gifted individual ended up having some mental issues ( that was so long ago ), the husband never wanted to spend a dime on her well being and my uncle in the end spend all his savings for her well being.
                    She was better in her old age….two of her Sons turned out to be wonderful.
                    They never had a proper mother growing up because she was fighting her own demons.
                    I was little and silently have observed the stress caused by her to my family. I decided then no matter what i will never ever bother my parents when grown up.
                    “Opposite Effect” could be a lesson in life.

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                    • There really is something to be said for “The Opposite Effect,” bebe. I know some people can’t help copying the negative ways they have seen and grown up with, but, if one has the ability to counteract that, it can be quite rewarding.

                      One of those “Opposite Effect” behaviors does indeed involve trying to not to be “a bother” when other people are causing so much stress. I’ve done that not-bother-anyone approach myself. Not really fair to the person trying to behave nicely all the time, but…

                      Very sorry about your cousin’s situation. I also have a close family member who has suffered from mental illness, and it’s incredibly hard — for the person suffering, and for the people around them.

                      Your uncle sounds very compassionate and caring. A shame he used all his savings. Sometimes, “no good deed goes unpunished.” ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

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                    • But my Uncle dies a happy man..just day before he was seen in a state fair eating food from vendors ( we were never to tell those to our aunt) and went home and later the end. But he had his house and managed .

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                    • “Iโ€™ve done that not-bother-anyone approach myself. Not really fair to the person trying to behave nicely all the time, butโ€ฆ”
                      That is me also and I ended up being a person never really open up deeply to anyone.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Yes, bebe, there is a downside to trying to be nice most of the time. I know exactly what you mean. As you say, it can become difficult to really open up to people. And a person at times can also be taken advantage of, become frustrated at not being able to be totally honest, and more. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But, as you know, being nice does have its positives, too!

                      Liked by 1 person

              • Dave jhNY made a point there, and the last episode was a statement made of four self centered individuals only care about themselves were really pests in the society.

                That show was brilliant and we still watch the reruns in the evenings instead of any political 24/7 stations.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Yes, a good point by jhNY, bebe.

                  And you’re right that those four “Seinfeld” characters were VERY self-centered. If they weren’t so funny, they would be hard to tolerate. ๐Ÿ™‚

                  A brilliant show — I agree!

                  Liked by 1 person

                • Thanks for the link, bebe! Interesting! I remember watching the last “Seinfeld” episode in 1998, and thought it was pretty good. I can see what the critic was saying about the finale being out of the show’s usual Manhattan context, but I kind of liked that things took an unexpected turn.

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • The ‘Seinfeld’ finale was exciting, momentous and frustrating. Yes, taking the four out of their native habitat was jarring but I think that was intentional. They were functional within their own bizarro world but when they acted naturally (to them) in an ‘alien’ environment, they ended up in a vacuum–a Samuel Beckett/Jean-Paul Sartre type cell with only each other to amuse or frustrate with ‘no exit’. It also looped back to the first scene of the first episode of the series, where Jerry is looking at George’s buttons and observed that one is out of place (‘look at that…it’s in no man’s land’).

                    The end credit scene kind of lightened to proceedings….Jerry is doing standup in front of a room full of fellow convicts–literally, a ‘tough crowd’. Just the right touch and also ending with Jerry’s standup as the original episodes always did.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • Insightful thoughts and analysis, bobess48! Yes, being “fish out of water” may have been the point — the “Seinfeld” foursome’s “shtick” didn’t necessarily work outside their particular Manhattan milieu, so there was humor potential/shock value there. (It was fun for many of the people watching the finale on TV, but not necessarily for the fictitious residents of where the quartet ended up. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

                      I had forgotten that stand-up routine in front of convicts — a great touch indeed!

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  5. Good Morning Dave..Atticus Finch of Harper Leeโ€™s To Kill a Mockingbird is the best father there ever could be in Fiction.

    Subhash Mitra, of Jhumpa Lahiriโ€™s The Lowland another single Dad that Bela know as her father until Subhash revealed to her that he was actually her uncle. Gouri Bela`s mother was the worse mother who abandoned then five year old child without any return address.

    One unlikely character and a great father was Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind , his kindness and understanding to children was well documented, he was a much better parent to Scarlett’s children from her previous marriages than she is hersel. Particularly to Wade even before Rhett married Wade`s mother.

    Then Bonnie was born Rhett spend every waking moment possible with Bonnie and Scarlett`s jealousy and aloofness drove Rhett further away and even more closer to Bonnie.

    Sadly the fatherhood of Rhett was shorter lived.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good morning to you, too, bebe!

      I totally agree with what you said about the parents in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “The Lowland.”

      VERY interesting observation about Rhett Butler! It has been so long since I read the novel and saw the movie that I forgot about what he was like with children in “Gone With the Wind.”

      Well said! Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

        • Okay…that is great..I have the book now and one day I will read it. Now I`ve forgotten the movie already ๐Ÿ˜‰
          Then I borrowed the ‘play-way” ( audio recording ) of Never Go Back.. when I opened the box , the little audio box was much chewed up but functions though , hopefully by a pet and not by any humans these days one never knows. So I took it back. Those play-way cost a lot and too bad was not reported by the patron for the same reason.

          ON GWTW when in my teen years I read it so many times that I almost memorized the words. Then of course the movie was done so well and Clark Gable is the Rhett just as Gregory Peck was Atticus.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Though I haven’t quite finished it yet, I can see that the “One Shot” novel is VERY cinematic. Actually, every Jack Reacher book I’ve read seems “movie ready” — just like Stephen King’s novels in another genre.

            That chewed-up audio box was an unwelcome surprise, bebe. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Very funny line about the possibility of human teeth being involved; stranger things have happened!

            You are a “Gone With the Wind” novel and film expert! I’ve only read/watched each once. Yes, some actors and actresses are just perfect for their roles. Another example of that, in the TV area, was the casting in the 1980s “Anne of Green Gables” miniseries. Megan Follows (Anne), Richard Farnsworth (Matthew), and Colleen Dewhurst (Marilla) were amazing.

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          • Never read GWTW, but I did watch the movie at a film festival in Toronto years ago. I honestly wanted to see it only because of Clark Gable. I enjoyed his roles in silent films (which I am a huge fan of). He wasn’t cast in any starring roles and was more of a background actor, but I still liked his style.

            And of course he was very easy on the eyes….

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          • I seem to remember that Margaret Mitchell wrote Rhett Butler with Clark Gable in mind from the beginning, so it’s not quite surprising that Gable would inhabit the role so well.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Interesting, jhNY. Didn’t know that. I wonder how many novelists have done something like that? I bet Lee Child didn’t write his Jack Reacher novels with Tom Cruise in mind! ๐Ÿ™‚

              While this is not the exact same thing, I think Colette was very enthusiastic about Audrey Hepburn playing her Gigi character on stage.

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              • Tom Cruise bought the franchise so what Lee Child could do… ๐Ÿ˜‰
                Also Julie Andrews was the original star of Sound of Music was passed for the movie for Audrey Hepburn. I did not know her doing Gigi on stage, have seen the movie with Leslie Caron but wish it was Hepburn .

                Liked by 1 person

                • That’s true, bebe. And I guess better a movie with Tom Cruise as Reacher than no Reacher movie at all!

                  From checking Wikipedia, it looks like the “Gigi” play hit Broadway in 1951, and the “Gigi” movie came out in 1958. Colette died in 1954, so she had no influence on Leslie Caron being cast. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’ve also seen the movie, and I agree Audrey Hepburn would have been better.

                  “Gigi” is actually one of my least favorite Colette novels. It’s less substantial than her greatest books (such as “The Vagabond”), yet it’s her most famous.

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            • oh jhNY I did not know that, and Ms. Mitchell chose him perfectly. Perfect to show Rhett`s wicked side and when he was so very vulnerable.
              I have read somewhere that initially Susan Hayward was considered for the role of Scarlett..interesting.

              Liked by 1 person

                • interesting..complex character conniving and mean so many times yet she placed herself in harms was to take care of Melanie because Ashley asked her to when he was away.
                  In the end she lost Rhett and Ashley she never had him or wanted him.
                  In fantasy world we form our own image of someone and so many times that is further from the truth.

                  Liked by 1 person

                    • It’s a really intriguing novel, bebe. I like the way the awful crime committed in the beginning of the book is seemingly solved immediately, yet…

                      Great supporting characters, too — the young lawyer who’s the daughter of the district attorney, the TV newswoman, etc.

                      And Reacher is as terse and amazing as ever!

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                    • Ah I see now…Richard Jenkins was the District attorney and Rosamund Pike was the daughter and Robert Duvall have a role there. I start the book this weekend after your grand reviewm ๐Ÿ™‚
                      Jenkins was nominated for best actor in “The Visitor” a fantastic offbeat movie i highly recommend, now you have a VCR Dave.
                      Rosamund Pike was nominated in Gone Girl this year but i refuse to see the movie never read the book either. Was a Bond Girl also .

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Sounds like an excellent cast, bebe! And I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the “One Shot” book!

                      Another thing I like about the Reacher series is that there’s a mix of good and bad law-enforcement people (the latter secretly in league with the crooks). Given what happens in the real world (Ferguson, Staten Island, North Charleston, etc.), having only good law-enforcement people would be very unrealistic.

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      • In the novel, Scarlett had three children, one from each of her husbands (greatly simplified in the film to the one with Rhett) and she was a horrible mother to all of them. She definitely qualifies for the very long list of bad parents in Literature. Rhett tries to make up for it by being a father to all three of the children and is even a surrogate to Ashley and Melanie’s boy Beau, especially after Melanie’s death when Ashely is too self-absorbed and self-pitying to be a parent to any child. Rhett is the true hero of the novel, even though in the sight of the Southern society he is a profiteer who has made his fortune through non-respectable means. Clark Gable nailed the rakish aspect of Rhett but, after reading the novel, it seems that he never could quite capture the nurturing side of Rhett. Sure, he pampers Bonnie but the absence of those other children in the film removes his other opportunities to be fatherly. So with ‘Gone With the Wind’ you have a character in each of the good/bad parent camps.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, bobess48, for that terrific description/analysis of Rhett’s and Scarlett’s parenting abilities! (Or lack of abilities. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) Plus you offered yet another example of the way movies based on novels often have to eliminate certain things from the script — and the loss can be significant. I guess we should be thankful that various “Pride and Prejudice” productions, as far as I know, haven’t eliminated any of the five daughters!

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  6. Howdy, Dave!

    โ€” Who are your favorite great parents in literature? (And, if youโ€™d like, you could also name the most memorable bad parents. ๐Ÿ™‚ ) โ€”

    Multiversal synchronicity appears to have been evidenced within the past week by my reading, for the first time, Philip Jose Farmerโ€™s completely creepy short story โ€œMotherโ€ and your writing, for the first time, the completely uncreepy blog post โ€œFictionโ€™s Best Moms and Dadโ€: Despite the singularity in the title, there are actually two highly memorable Mothers in the story, but I would be hard-pressed to describe either as a good parent or a bad parent, as each is depicted doing what comes naturally in a sequence of unnatural events woven into a tale surprisingly replete with absolutely, positively appropriate references to Ernie Bushmillerโ€™s second-most-famous character.

    Apparently, a return to the womb isnโ€™t all itโ€™s cracked up to be. (Hey! I told you itโ€™s creepy.)

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • “…Ernie Bushmillerโ€™s second-most-famous character” — are we talking Aunt Fritzi? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Terrific/eloquent comment, J.J., and your reference to the difficulty in describing characters either as good or bad parents is a great point. So many mothers and fathers are a combination of both, as are many parents in real life. We of course hope the mix leans positive in real life…

      As for “Mother,” that story does sound intriguing and, to quote your word, creepy. I found the story here, and plan to read it today or tomorrow: http://www.e-reading.club/chapter.php/71735/4/Farmer_-_The_Classic_Philip_Jose_Farmer_1952-1964.html

      Thanks!

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      • โ€” โ€œโ€ฆErnie Bushmillerโ€™s second-most-famous characterโ€ โ€” are we talking Aunt Fritzi? โ€”

        Nope. Clearly, you and I had different takeaways while reading that strip, and I believe Philip Jose Farmerโ€™s own may have been closer to mine than to yours.

        Liked by 1 person

          • โ€” I was thinking parents or parental figures. Is it, rather, Sluggo? โ€”

            Sure. As I understand the history, the original conception of the comic strip had Aunt Fritzi serving as the main character, but she was so lame Nancy was forced to take over to save the strip (with Sluggoโ€™s assistance, of course).

            Liked by 1 person

            • You’re right, J.J. The “Fritzi Ritz” comic strip evolved into “Nancy.” Of course, Nancy and Sluggo are also kind of lame, as characters go, but that’s appropriate for something that’s “so bad it’s almost good.” And “Nancy” is at least partly aimed at kids, so it was never meant to be that sophisticated.

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            • J.J., I just read the “Mother” story. Very original and compelling, while also making a reader feel rather queasy. ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, moms in most fiction are not like this alien matriarch!

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              • โ€” I just read the โ€œMotherโ€ story. Very original and compelling, while also making a reader feel rather queasy. โ€”

                Queasy! Thatโ€™s even a better descriptor than creepy, especially on the visceral level where most of the action in this piece takes place.

                (Meanwhile, I am aghast at your characterization of Nancy and Sluggo as โ€œkind of lame.โ€ Harsh, dude. Harsh.)

                Liked by 1 person

                • How about queasy AND creepy? ๐Ÿ™‚ Both fit!

                  Ha! I guess I AM being harsh about Nancy and Sluggo. I never was a fan of those two. Now if Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable had played them in a movie, that would be a different story…

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  7. In the days when phones had dials, homes had radios, and dinner tables had talk, I earned attention from the eyes in the back of my mother’s head by sneaking into her bookshelves. Overlooking her copies of “Airy Fairy Lillian,” “Our Hearts Were Young and Gay,” and “So Big,” I headed straight for the James M. Cain section. What thrills awaited between the covers of his novels. What lessons of love, passion, and betrayal awaited my discovery. But it was in the pages of “Mildred Pierce” that I realized there was another point of view to life, one that looked down on a child instead of looking up at a parent. My mother was nothing like Mildred Pierce, who found her gift and parlayed it into a successful restaurant career, dumping her feckless husband, acquiring a lover, and sacrificing her daughter to her own ambition. The daughter turned out to be a monster, even worse than Mildred Pierce, who at least had the motive of supporting a family while the daughter had only revenge and greed in mind. I remember that character above others because she was like a woman from another planet. Nothing about her was included in my childlike definition of motherly, except for the apron.
    I wonder what James M. Cain’s mother was like, since his other novels (“Double Indemnity,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice”) depicted woman whose nature was far from that of any woman of my acquaintance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So elegantly written, thepatterer, from your first line on! You engagingly depicted the connections, and non-connections, between your life and certain literature — something many of us also think about in relation to our own lives and our own reading.

      You have of course convinced me to soon try James M. Cain, who has been on my to-read list for a while but who I’ve yet to read.

      Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

    • From what I recall, Cain’s mother was an opera singer, as Cain himself trained to be, before his mother informed him he didn’t have the pipes for a career. His novel Serenade borrows more than a bit from his background in music.
      As for Mildred Pierce, I might raise an argument as to just who and what was sacrificed, and to whom. I do agree that Veda is no damn good.

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  8. Hey Dave, Great topic many admirable, interesting and moving characters from classic and modern literature occur but I’d like to first go in the opposite direction and give awards for the worst parents in fiction. Most Foolish- Easy one here King Leer … Most Unlucky – Poor dear Jocasta the mother of Oedipus who of course himself was dealt a pretty bad hand…. The Most Nasty – Kronos upon their birth he devoured his own children .. last but not least for the Harshest ,Coldest father ever statue God- Made his only son run around the desert for 3 years with a bunch of ignorant ,hopeless losers only to have him crucified as to make a vague personal/political statement . Oh and perhaps an honorable mention in all categories to Medea who slit her children’s throats in front of their father Jason as an act of revenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a great gallery of parental rogues you skillfully and engagingly described, Donny! Thanks! And nice to see so many from long-ago literature.

      Not sure if I’ll ever do a column about bad parents in literature, but there are certainly plenty. A few in addition to the ones you named: The fathers in “The Brothers Karamazov” and “The Mosquito Coast,” Heathcliff in “Wuthering Heights,” Cathy Trask in “East of Eden,” the mothers in “Carrie” and “Portnoy’s Complaint,” etc.!

      (Glad you liked the column. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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    • “…Made his only son run around the desert for 3 years with a bunch of ignorant ,hopeless losers only to have him crucified as to make a vague personal/political statement.”

      I know it’s not right, and I shouldn’t mock biblical principles/text of any form, but this literally made me laugh out loud.

      Ignorant, hopeless losers….lol.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I recently read a beautiful book called The Fault In Our Stars. Both parents,the mother in particular, was extremely supportive, patient and excessively cared for their daughter who had a lung disease. Yet they did not coddle her,she was a bright girl who graduated Hs early,got to travel to Amsterdam thanks to her mother. Humor was essential in dealing with a very ill daughter, this helped put them all at ease. The mother encouraged her daughter to go to support groups to have an outlet to hear disclosure from other very ill young adults,a forum in which to grieve,not feel alone. At the same time,she gave her daughter independence to help with her confidence, make her feel stronger but was always accessible, close enough to watch out for her health and well being. The strength and acceptance her parents gave her enabled her to open her heart to help others critically ill giving her own life sustenance in the process.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eloquently described, Michele! I’ve heard about that John Green novel — and the movie it inspired. Definitely some great parenting under very difficult circumstances. People who parent lovingly, patiently, creatively, and even humorously in that situation are to be admired very much.

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    • Michele, I can’t believe that I didn’t think of this book myself, as it is one of my very favorites. I’ve read John Green’s other novels, “Looking for Alaska,” “Paper Towns,” and “An Abundance of Katherines,” and really enjoyed them all. One of the most striking things about all of his books is his very sympathetic portrayals of the parents in every one. The mother in “FIOS” is probably the strongest as you say, but she had the most to deal with because of her daughter’s terrible disease. The parents of the narrator in “Paper Towns” both happen to be psychologists, are likeable and loving, but somewhat clueless about their son in some ways; for example, thinking that he’d be thrilled to be given a car for his high school graduation — which he is, except it’s a minivan, just like his mom’s.:)

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  10. Dave, I was trying to come up with some parents in more classic literature, and my favorite father was Silas Marner, and the way in which he raised Eppie to be someone who was happy with the people that were of her standing in society and not out to take advantage of her biological father and his wealth. Another father who wasn’t exactly bad, but who allowed his daughter to spend money on clothes and other things that weren’t necessary, was Undine Spragg’s father in “The Custom of the Country.”. I’ve been running through my head the various parents in Jane Austen’s novels, and I suppose the best of them was Mrs. Dashwood in “Sense and Sensibility.” The worst has to be Sir Walter Elliot in “Persuasion.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well said, Kat Lib!

      Silas Marner WAS a great father, even though he was a bit clueless in the beginning of his parenthood. And you’re totally correct that he raised Eppie to choose love and “what’s right” over material gains.

      Yes, Undine Spragg’s father indulged her a bit too much as she plotted to rise way above “her station” in Edith Wharton’s novel.

      Walter Elliot was indeed not a good parent in “Persuasion.” Amazing that his daughter Anne turned out so well. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. There’s also the father in Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road.’ After the mother removes herself from the bleak, apocalyptic world, the father is left with the son. He does everything he can to protect his son from the savagery and the horror of the world where they have to literally fend for themselves, yet he also has to prepare the boy to survive on his own as his own end is imminent. In my opinion, this is a great parent in some of the most adverse circumstances one can imagine.

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    • Great example, bobess48, and well described! The father in “The Road” is indeed an admirable character in the worst possible situation.

      Not surprising that what might be Cormac McCarthy’s most memorable parent character is a father. As much as I love McCarthy’s novels and writing style, his female characters are usually scarce and/or secondary.

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    • She’s definitely a memorable parent in literature, Joe. Thank you for mentioning her!

      As you know, John Irving also created some other very interesting parents (or surrogate parents) — including Tabitha Wheelwright in “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and Wilbur Larch in “The Cider House Rules.”

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  12. The puffy sleeve dress scene from Anne of Green Gables was one of the most charming parts of the book, so great job of mentioning it. I liked how L.M. Montgomery switched gender roles. Usually it’s the women who are more into fashion trends, and they understand young girls’ desires to participate in those trends.

    In this instance, Marilla was the one who objected to Anne wearing more fashionable clothes, and Matthew was more supportive of Anne dressing like the other little girls. But I guess that’s a part of his overall character and the emotional connection he shared with Anne.

    Very cute topic. I’ll try to return and add a couple of titles later on this week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ana!

      Those WERE great scenes when Matthew noticed Anne was dressed differently than other girls and then did something about it. You’re right — L.M. Montgomery definitely switched her characters’ gender roles there; Marilla’s clothing tastes were very basic. No “frivolity” for her…

      “Talk” to you later on!

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  13. Dave, I would have to add Caleb and Susan Garth from “Middlemarch” to the list. The two of them make certain their children are educated, attempt to pay for further education for a son during the story, and take Fred Vincy to task and hire him to aid Mary’s happiness.

    “Fahrenheit 451” became available this weekend at the library so I read it and I must say the one parent you meet in the book is absolutely wretched as a person let alone a parent.

    As for good parents aside from the ones you’ve already mentioned I must say that I’ve seen a greater number of bad parents, but you see a good replacement figure most of the time. So either the parents aren’t there, dead or otherwise, but some one else steps in, Molly and Arthur Weasley are great examples of this, taking in Harry and treating him as one of their own.

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    • Great additions! Caleb and Susan Garth are supporting players in “Middlemarch,” but very important and admirable characters.

      You made me think of other good and bad parents in George Eliot’s magnificent novels. There’s the kind mother who takes in Mirah Lapidoth in “Daniel Deronda,” the mother who abandoned Daniel, the means-well-but-rather-clingy mother of the Bede brothers in “Adam Bede,” the somewhat bumbling but surprisingly good father Silas Marner, etc.

      Glad you read “Fahrenheit 451”! It’s a riveting novel and, yes, there is no good parental model in its pages. (I plan to mention that Ray Bradbury book in my next column this Sunday.)

      I agree that there are MANY bad parents in literature. They certainly can inspire more compelling story lines than angelic moms and dads. And it’s nice to see replacement parental figures — with Molly and Arthur Weasley (who treat Harry Potter so well) being excellent examples. Harry, of course, had appealing/heroic/but unfortunately dead biological parents and then awful substitute parents (the Dursleys) before his Hogwarts days.

      GL, I also mentioned this under my previous column, but I borrowed “American Gods” from the library — and look forward to reading my first Neil Gaiman novel within a few weeks. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. Hi Dave … As I’ve stated before, my all-time favorite parent in literature is Atticus Finch. On the other hand, it’s pretty hard to top Ma and Pa Ingalls, in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, when it comes to solid parenting. The parents in Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” are also quite memorable, not to mention very human and imperfect. The father, Johnny, is a sweet man who is adored by the his daughter, Francie. Unfortunately, he is also an alcoholic who, despite his best efforts, can never stay sober for very long. Needless to say, Francie’s mother, Katie, has to be the strong one. Whereas Johnny is full of dreams and plans that never materialize, Katie is, by necessity, a gritty realist. When Johnny dies suddenly, it’s Katie’s strong will and determination that keeps her family together. The thing about Katie is, she doesn’t allow herself an ounce of sentimentality — and that’s a hard thing for a mother to do! ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Thanks, Pat, for those excellent mentions of exemplary and mixed-bag parents! The Ingalls mom and dad are a great example of admirable heads of households.

      Loved your thoughts on “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” There are quite a few couples like that — one parent (usually but not always the father) charming but not responsible enough and the other parent trying to keep things together. That dynamic can also be found in E.L. Doctorow’s “World’s Fair” and Frank McCourt’s memoir “Angela’s Ashes,” among many other books.

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      • Dave, I neglected to mention “Angela’s Ashes” in a previous post about memoirs, but I found this memoir to be very difficult to read. I am so grateful for being born into a family considered perhaps upper middle, where even I as the sixth child never had to worry about there being not enough money to pay for anything, let alone food or clothes and shoes. One of the advantages to me as being the “baby” of the family is that by the time I came around, my parents were “whatever” and were quite permissive. My parents were completely supportive of my brother who went to prison for being a CO during the Vietnam War, and paid for my various trips to canvass for Gene McCarthy, as well as to get me to go to the Moratorium in DC, albeit via school bus (from Austin, TX!) My mom asked me nonchalantly once if I’d ever tried pot; when I said yes, but I didn’t care for it, that’s the last I ever heard. My dad thought it humorous that when he saw a photo from a national newspaper about an anti-war protest at UT, he was able to pick me out, even though less than half of my face appeared. Honestly, how can one ever rebel against one’s parents, especially when they are so eminently reasonable? Sorry to go on so long about family, but we suffered the loss of a nephew-in-law under very tragic circumstances this week.

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        • The poverty depicted in “Angela’s Ashes” was indeed harrowing, Kat Lib. An excellent memoir, but depressing — and a not-very-responsible father was part of the picture.

          Great that you grew up with the kind of parenting you so engagingly and colorfully described. I’m partial to permissive/tolerant parenting myself, and think it works well if the children know they are loved.

          Last but not least, very sorry about your nephew-in-law. Sounds like an awful situation.

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  15. Dave! Since most of the books I read are murder mysteries or legal thrillers, good parenting does not abound in them. But I am reminded of how I wish today’s family TV shows were more like the Donna Reed Show, Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, in giving kids better models to emulate. (Back off libbers :)).

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    • Funny last line, Cathy! ๐Ÿ™‚ While the three shows you mentioned had plenty of sexist and patriarchal moments, there was also plenty of good parenting going on in them.

      In a somewhat more recent sitcom, I also liked the sarcastic but basically loving parenting in “Roseanne.”

      Thanks for your comment!

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      • I loved “Roseanne”. Roseanne may have been a little rough around the edges, but she loved her kids, loved her husband, and her family was the most important thing in the world to her. She would stand her ground, but then she would often agonize over whether she had done the right thing — just like moms do ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • My favorite show when I was growing up was The Donna Reed Show. I think a little part of me always wanted to be Donna when I was raising my kids — but, believe me, I didn’t even come close! ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Pat, you described Roseanne and “Roseanne” perfectly! That show was really quite impressive and not too far from realistic — it was great to see such a flawed, annoying, funny, loving, three-dimensional family on a TV screen.

        For some reason, I didn’t watch “The Donna Reed Show” much. The family sitcoms I saw as a kid (I think the first two were in reruns by then) included “Father Knows Best,” “Leave It to Beaver,” “My Three Sons,” and “Bewitched” among others. Of course, “Bewitched” was a family sitcom in an offbeat way, sort of in the category of “The Addams Family” and “The Munsters” — both of which I also loved. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Yes, the more straightforward sitcoms of about a half-century ago set impossibly high standards. Real families just weren’t that way. And of course those shows were often sexist, all white, all middle class, all suburban, etc. But some were still quite entertaining, watchable, and “role-model-y.”

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        • I was preteen when The Donna Reed Show was on, and coming from a family that was dysfunctional before anybody knew what that word meant, Donna Reed was a wonderful escape, and definitely a sort of role model. I, too, was a fan of Bewitched — which challenged stereotypes without being too obvious about it, and I absolutely loved “That Girl” — a groundbreaking show that gently and hilariously imparted the message that women could make their own choices.

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          • Well said, Pat! I hear you that sitcoms like “The Donna Reed Show” were a nice 30-minute escape. I was also in a dysfunctional family (thanks to my father) and life on screen sure looked better. ๐Ÿ™‚

            “Bewitched” indeed challenged stereotypes in its way — Elizabeth Montgomery’s character was the more mature parent, and basically decided things in that family.

            As quaint as “That Girl” seems now, it was indeed groundbreaking for a TV sitcom back then (when most sitcoms were behind the times). An unmarried working woman — what a concept! “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” offered that as well.

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            • Dave, glad you mentioned “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which was on TV during my last few years in college into my first days in the working world as a single woman with no children. Mary Richards was a role model for me, and it didn’t hurt that she was living in Minneapolis, where I lived most of those years. What a great cast: Ed Asner, Cloris Leachman, Valerie Harper, Ted Knight, Betty White, and Georgia Engel – it’s got to be the one of the best ensembles ever. The funniest show was “Chuckles Bites the Dust.” But besides the comedy, it was the premise of an independent woman living alone, having good friends and a job she loved that was very liberating for me.

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              • Kat Lib, great description of, and thoughts about, that show! A fantastic sitcom for so many reasons you mentioned — the Mary Richards character’s working/personal status, the acting, the interaction of the cast members, the humor, etc. I haven’t watched an episode since the show went off the air nearly 40 years ago. Have you? I wonder how it stands the test of time. I imagine pretty well.

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                • Actually, I haven’t seen any of those shows for many years, but I’d think they would hold up quite well, along with “The Newhart Show.”. I watch Jon Stewart and used to watch “The Colbert Report,” that I love, yet the comedies they show as commercials seem to be loaded with infantile and bathroom humor, which I never found funny.

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                  • I agree that some current sitcoms seem pretty dumb from the commercials promoting them, but I haven’t actually watched any sitcoms in recent years.

                    As for older, “classic” sitcoms, one wonders if some of them would not seem as good if we watched them now as we felt they were when we were kids. But I’ve never really made that experiment!

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                  • Hi Kat Lib..I loved the Newhart Show, both of them. I forgot all about them until you mentioned. Public library bringing back a lot of old shows but I have not seen any of Newhart`s.

                    You are so right on the new shows,I only watch Big Bang Theory although the show is losing it`s steam and might as well fold. Watch reruns of Seinfeld in the evenings and sometimes Who Loves Raymond.

                    Watch Nature a lot from PBS and recently borrowed Columbo and loving it.

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                    • Yes, bebe, both of the Newhart shows were great, and I don’t suppose there are many shows that came to such a funny and surprising ending. Not too long ago, some website I was on showed the top ten best series endings and that was one of them, and as funny as I remembered it being.

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                • A bit of trivia for you: The theme song for the MTM Show was written by Sonny Curtis, a member of Buddy Holly’s vocal back-up group, the Crickets– though later, not while Buddy was alive. he also wrote “I Fought the Law”– a song made famous by the Bobby Fuller Four, and after, by John Cigar Mellencamp

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                • Thanks, Ana! I didn’t see it in this clip, but in one of the opening montages, they had Mary walking around a lake which was just a short bike ride from the lake that we lived on for some years. I was amazed when we moved to Minneapolis, with it having so many beautiful lakes right in the city, with plenty of bike and walking paths, beaches, sailboats; ours even had an old wooden bandstand where there were concerts in the summer. It’s also a very cultural city with its museums and the Guthrie Theater. I’d probably still be there if it weren’t so darn cold and snowy!

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  16. Unfortunately, this seems to be a short list in my mind and you named most of them. On the other hand, the list of terrible parents in fiction is much longer. I think Lee in ‘East of Eden’ was a good parental figure. I’m glad he was able to step in because the mother of those boys was a demon and their father was a naive, weak man who really didn’t know what to do with two boys on his own.

    While the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series of George R.R. Martin contains a horrible parent on almost every other page,Ned and Catlyn Stark are the only parents that seem to really love their children unconditionally. Unfortunately, their idealism seals their fates in this extremely brutual, harsh world and Catlyn lets the fierce love she feels for her children lead her to do some foolish things that lead to destructive consequences. So even there the parent makes major mistakes, which I think is perhaps a little more in keeping with the nature of parents than the ‘too good to be true’ Marmee or Atticus.

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    • bobess48, there are indeed MANY bad parents in literature! That certainly leads to more drama and emotional pyrotechnics. Cathy Trask and Adam Trask in “East of Eden” are excellent examples of awful and clueless parents, respectively, and you described them to a tee!

      The mother in “The Lowland” (the Jhumpa Lahiri novel mentioned in my column) is another example of a bad parent, and the scene in which her daughter gets some verbal revenge is quite potent. Then there’s the vile father in “The Brothers Karamazov,” among many, many other examples.

      I didn’t realize there were so many not-good parents in the “Song of Ice and Fire” series!

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  17. Hi Dave, I always thought Marmee was the best mother ever, so you nailed that one. I have yet to read “March” by Geraldine Brooks, although it’s in my to-be read pile, but I think he will be an exemplary father as well. Since “Always Iowa” mentioned a detective novel, I’ll mention the D’Anunzio family in Lisa Scottoline’s series about her all-female legal series as a wonderful example of an Italian family in South Philly. They keep to the old ways and nothing is more important than family. I was at my local B&N last weekend and saw that Lisa is going to be at the store on the 14th to talk up her next book, “Every Fifteen Minutes,” but I’ll doubt that I will go, as much as I’d like to

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    • Thanks, Kat Lib! Yes, it’s hard to go wrong with Marmee as a parental model!

      “March” is an excellent novel, and it does show the “Little Women” dad in a mostly positive light. But the concern and courage that leads him to volunteer to be a minister to Union troops during the Civil War is also depicted as a decision not very good for his immediate family. Another interesting part of the novel is Marmee’s appearance in the later chapters; she is portrayed as quite a complex character.

      Thanks for that information about family in Lisa Scottoline’s books, which I hope to try one of this spring! Sorry you might not be able to see her in person. I just took a quick glance at YouTube, and there seems to be a number of clips of her there. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      • Dave, I’ve been thinking about this topic and I think that many of the most memorable parents that I’ve read about are those true stories in memoirs, such as the mother in Gerald Durrell’s many books about Corfu or obtaining animals for his zoo; the parents in Alexandra Fuller’s books that take place in Africa; and Elspeth Huxley’s book, “The Flame Trees of Thika.” There are many others that aren’t quite the sanest of parents, such as those of Jeannette Walls and the author of “Lit,” (I think Mary Karr). However, I think there are many parents who do the best they can, including my own.

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        • Very true that there are some great parents in memoirs, Kat Lib. The mother in Gerald Durrell’s “My Family and Other Animals” is so offbeat and amazing. One would be hard-pressed to create a fictional character as interesting!

          There are also very autobiographical novels with memorable parents, such as Colette’s “Sido” and “My Mother’s House.”

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          • I loved Kat lib’s comments about parents in autobiographical works. As you know, one of my favorite books is “My Family and Other Animals” by Gerald Durrell. I think I’ve also mentioned Jeanette Walls’ book “The Glass Castle” multiple times. Jeanette Walls’ parents were not nearly as bad as they COULD have been, but not nearly as good as they SHOULD have been. I think they loved their children in an offhanded, distracted way and did not overtly abuse them. They lived very hard lives as a result of their parents’ carelessness, laziness, craziness, and alcoholism.

            And, yes. Marmee was the first parent I thought of before I even read your piece. Marmee, Atticus Finch and Anne Shirley’s “parents”.

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            • lulabelleharris, this line of yours is terrific: “Jeanette Wallsโ€™ parents were not nearly as bad as they COULD have been, but not nearly as good as they SHOULD have been.”

              “My Family and Other Animals” — which you recommended I read — is a very funny and fascinating book.

              Marmee, Matthew, Marilla, and Atticus are definitely in the Fictional Parent Hall of Fame. (Marilla was a later inductee. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

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    • I have always liked Helen and Frank, the parents of Stephanie Plum, Janet Evanovich’s bounty-hunting heroine.

      Frank is never phased by anything – unless it’s a late dinner and Helen irons whenever she is stressed.

      One of my favorite exchanges comes after Stephanie finds her mother ironing on Sunday morning. Helen has learned through the grapevine that Stephanie inexplicably attended church.

      “Are you pregnant?” she asks. What other reason could there be?

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      • Thanks, Almost Iowa! I know of Janet Evanovich’s series, but unfortunately have yet to read any books in it.

        Often in literature, the parents of the protagonist are rather…eccentric. Great for “comic relief,” and great for getting a glimpse of the upbringing that may help explain what makes the protagonist “tick.”

        That church/pregnancy-related conversation is indeed a memorable, seriocomic exchange!

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