Four and a Half of the Best Fathers in Fiction
Yesterday the Turkish author Elif Shafak named her choice for the five best mothers in literature in the Daily Telegraph. It’s a subject close to her heart as her memoir Black Milk charts her own experience of post natal depression after the birth of her first child when “for the first time in my adult life …words wouldn’t speak to me”.
Her five fictional mothers – in no particular order – are:
The mother in the opening scene of Swann’s Way by Proust. She manages to be the cooing mother who tucks her boy into bed while retaining the kind of laugh that reveals she is also a woman
Sethe, the main character in Beloved by Toni Morrison. She is proud and noble and willing to kill her children rather than see them back on the plantation as slaves.
Clara in Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits. She spends most of her youth as an elective mute and in her adult years she veers been an over attentive mother. Motherhood is a thread running throughout the book and every woman has to find her own way of tackling the challanges it brings.
Marmee in Louise M. Alcott’s Little Women. The perfect single parent (Mr March is off fighting the American Civil war on the Union side), she is always patient and loving, and never ever cross. (On the other side of the fence, of course, is the wonderful example of Southern womanhood in Scarlet O’ Hara’s mother in Gone With The Wind.)
Elif Shafak‘s final choice is an inspired one… and another single parent – Aladdin’s mother in One Thousand and One Nights.
So, following in Elif’s footsteps, here’s my list of fictional fathers any child would be proud to call Dad, but I admit I’ve had some help.
Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mocking Bird
To Kill a Mocking Bird (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Principled, brave, amusing and with a sure instinct for knowing when to leave children well alone, he was based apparently on Harper Lee’s own lawyer father. in 2003, Atticus , as portrayed by Gregory Peck in the 1962 film adaptation, was voted the greatest hero in American film.
The father in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road who goes on and on and on because he can’t offer his son the wretched comfort of giving up.
Those two were easy but I got a bit stuck until my son suggested Charles Pooter in A Diary of a Nobody.
The well meaning bank clerk in 1890s North London is the teller of poor jokes and is often the butt of other people’s but at heart he is staunch, loyal and a bit of a hero, especially in the way he puts up with his wheeler-dealer son Lupin. People have called The Diary of A Nobody the Victorian equivalent of The Office and I envy you if you haven’t read it yet because it’s a gem of gentle humour (and it’s also a useful historical record – it was published in installment in Punch in the 1890s.)
Writer Carmel Walsh recommended A Beautiful Life by Roberto Benigni. The 1997 film and subsequent novel are set in Tuscany during World War II. It is a heartbreaking comedy that tells the story of a devoted father who uses jokes and humour to protect his son from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp. Part of the story is rooted in fact as Benigni’s own father survived three years in Belsen.
My sister also suggested a film and a book – although in the case of Evelyn the book came first. I never got around to seeing the film starring Pierce Brosnan, but it tells the story of a Dublin Dad who fought the bureaucracy of the Irish government to regain his children who had been taken into care. The book was written by Evelyn Doyle who was nine year old at the time of her father’s battle. The only problem is that this is a true story, although some of the reviews on Amazon suggest that Evelyn is looking at the past through rose coloured glasses…