The Eeeeevil Mother in Romance

You know who I’m talking about. She refers to her daughters or daughters-in-law routinely as “whores”, she refers to their children as “bastards”, she threatens continually to “ruin them all”. She has no sense of humor (unless an evil cackle counts), no personal history, and no apparent interest in anything other than showing up when the plot requires it and insulting our heroine or hero. She’s unbelievable on paper, and we would laugh in her face in real life, yet she makes our favorite characters quake in their boots, controlling their lives with but a sharp word or the crook of a finger.

I’ve recently read two books in which a family matriarch is hell on wheels. In my review of Nora Roberts‘ Born in Fire, I noted that the heroine’s miserable mother was the one part of the book that didn’t work for me. In Susan Mallery’s Irresistable, it’s the evil grandmother (the Buchanan brothers lost their parents as children). Another recent evil matriarch appears in Julia Quinn’s The Lost Duke of Wyndham, who enters the pantheon when she calls the heroine a “grasping little whore”.

Here are some other examples that really bug me: Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, probably the worst offender, features a mother that belittles and demeans her “size 12” daughter; Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation has the hero’s mom talking trash to the heroine. The heroine’s mom in Megan Hart’s Dirty blames her for everything that has gone wrong in her own life, but I can’t tell you exactly what makes this so especially horrific without spoiling the plot completely. Sascha’s mother in Nalini Singh’s Slave to Sensation is as evil as a mom can be without having any actual feelings.

Of course, sometimes it’s evil dads: In Judith McNaught’s Paradise, the father is the controlling one, and I felt he was owed a much bigger comeuppance than he eventually got. But I can also think of a lot more examples of benign dads in romance, in which heroines have adoring relationships with their fathers (for example, in The Serpent Prince, which I am reading now), than I can of heroines and their mothers.

Maybe it’s because I have a healthy relationship with my own mother, but I hate it when this stereotype shows up in otherwise good or great books. I’ve read probably hundreds of romances in the past year or so. Why can’t I think of one that features a close, loving relationship between the heroine and her mother? Can you?

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Published in: on August 18, 2008 at 9:08 pm  Comments (5)  
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  1. I can’t believe you haven’t gotten tons of comments from readers of the Julia Quinn Bridgerton series. That fictional Mom seems to have a wonderful relationship with all her children, male and female. Maybe people don’t mention her because she doesn’t usually have a huge presence in the story. But, now that you’ve started my thoughts racing along those lines, I really can’t come up with anyone else right off the top of my head. I’ll ponder on it.
    judybelle

  2. […] Ummm…no. But Heather’s relationship with her mother is fairly well done, making me eat my words of just a few posts ago. Heather’s sense of responsibility for everyone in her life includes […]

  3. Judybelle,

    I have read a bunch of the Bridgertons and I should have thought of that! Thank you for reminding me! Although, I forget (and I will check) — is she one of those perfect mothers who floats in and out of scenes to bestow affection and bon mots? I prefer a real person to a cardboard cutout, whether evil or good.

    As to why I haven’t gotten “tons” of comments… well, this is a very new blog and not super well known, to put it mildly.

    I appreciate every visitor I get. 🙂

  4. You may have a new blog but I’m so new to the computer I can’t even figure out how to put those little smiley thingies on.

    You are right, Mrs Bridgerton is a floater-inner for most of the series. Maybe the requirements for who qualifies (as in, is she the same perfect mother that my daughters would say I am)need to be specifically outlined.

    P.S. That remark about my girls – please don’t ask them for confirmation.

  5. […] The book is about two Italians in New York. Certainly the author knows her Brooklyn, having grown up there, and the descriptions of things like the brownstones were evocative without being too heavy. If only the same could be said for the cultural descriptors.  I expect there to be stuff about food, some accent stuff, etc. But multiple references to the Godfather, a secondary character called “my cousin Vinny”, a mother calling her daughter “puttana”, reaming her out on a daily basis for not being married and pregnant ( “Do you want I should die of a heart attack before I ever hold a grandchild?”), constant “stunards” and “madonnes”, signs of the cross and references to the Virgin Mary? Big pasta family dinners? I can’t tell you what the line is between appropriate ethnic description and stereotyping, but I felt it was crossed several times here. (The bitch mother is a special pet peeve of mine, as posted here.) […]


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