Top Ten Tuesday: Best of Mother-Daughter Drama

This week’s TTT, hosted as always by The Broke and The Bookish, is about mothers (we have Mother’s Day in March, so this is slightly confusing and makes me think someone should have brought me a cup of tea in bed this morning). I’m really fascinated with relationships between mothers and daughters in literature; now that I am both the daughter of a mother and the mother of a daughter, it’s become something of an obsession. Here are 10 of the most interesting representations of that relationship I’ve read.

The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie
I really loved this book, particularly for the mother; she’s a narcissistic hypochondriac and completely exhausting for her daughter. You definitely wouldn’t want her for a parent.

Allegedly by Tiffany D. Jackson
I am essentially obsessed with this YA book about a teenage girl released from prison, having been convicted of the murder of a baby some years before. The relationship between Mary and her mother is absolutely fascinating. I reviewed the book here.

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell 
Another of the annoying mother variety here. Celia is a total martyr and incredibly self-righteous, even by the standards of Victorian parents.

Ariel by Sylvia Plath
Several obsessions merge into one here; Ariel, Plath’s posthumously published collection of poems, contains aspects of her relationship with her daughter Frieda in You’re and Morning Song, and also Plath’s difficult relationship with her own mother in Medusa. You’re is one of my favourite poems.

Kindertransport by Diane Samuels
I taught this play a few years ago and found it quite traumatic. It’s about a young woman who discovers that her mother was a Jewish child, evacuated to England from Nazi Germany as part of the Kindertransport. There’s another mother-daughter relationship too, as the German girl is adopted by Lil, who is a big presence in the play too. It’s quite harrowing but really brilliant.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
More awful mothers here; this very low-key book (which I reviewed here) subtly hints at the wrongs committed against the eponymous character by her mother, who is a masterpiece of coldness. She scares me.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Yeah, yeah, star-cross’d lovers and all that; what really interests me in Romeo and Juliet these days is Lady Capulet. Married to (clearly horrible) Lord Capulet when she was just 13, you’d think she’d have a bit more sympathy for Juliet when everyone’s on at her to marry Paris, but no. She’s cold as ice towards the end of the play too.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
A new mother-daughter masterpiece; this is about an isolated and peculiar woman whose mother is a big influence on her life, despite being mysteriously absent. Everything about this book is outstanding. I reviewed it here.

The Sin Eater’s Daughter by Melissa Salisbury
I was let down by the romance element of this book, which dissuaded me from continuing with the series, but I was intrigued by the main character’s relationship with her grotesque mother, from whom she is due to inherit the macabre-sounding role of Sin Eater. I would have liked more of this and less love triangulation.

Nobody Told Me: Poetry and Parenthood by Hollie McNish
Wonderful poetry and honest prose, following McNish’s discovery that she’s pregnant up to the point that her daughter is a toddler. So relatable and brilliant.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It is possible that I have got carried away here and listed 11 books. Oh well. Mrs Bennet has to be on this list; historically, she’s been dismissed and ridiculed, much like she is by Mr Bennet in the book, who everyone loves. Reality check: Mr Bennet is a crap parent who only likes one of his five kids and isn’t even that nice to her. Mrs Bennet is in a state of permanent panic about being made homeless because of the patriarchy. So, who’s the real hero, hmm?

What are your favourite mother-daughter relationships in literature? While we’re on the subject, I wrote a blog about rubbish literary mothers a while back; it’s one of my favourite ever posts. Check it out if you want to read me ranting about why all mums in YA are absent.

10 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Best of Mother-Daughter Drama

    • Katy Goodwin-Bates says:

      I loved the Ya Yas! It’s been so long since I read it but I definitely remember all the different generations of mother-daughter relationships. I’ve not read The Joy Luck Club but I will seek it out. Thanks for the rec.


  1. Julia says:

    I love reading about complex mother-daughter relationships as well – Hot Milk is one in particular that comes to mind! I will have to check out some on your list that I’ve not yet read.


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