Thursday, September 15, 2016

Michelle Styles: A Mother's Influence

Sometimes it seems the only time people discuss mothers is when Mother’s day happens. However,  my daughter happened to stumble upon Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante which is the first exploration of the influence Abigail May Alcott had on her daughter Louisa. Prior to this the focus had been on her father, Bronson Alcott a self-proclaimed visionary educationalist. However in Little Women, the lynchpin is Marmee, the mother.  And then I  started thinking – how many other book were about the mother/daughter relationship and why have the mothers of authors been ignored?
When reading about the  Little House books, why is the emphasis on Pa rather than on both the parents? I recently read the annotated autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilde, Pioneer Girl and much was made of the father, rather less of the mother. Equally I suppose the relationship between Laura and her own daughter Rose is ripe for exploration.
Then there is Jane Austen who wrote about strong older women (some of them monstrous). What was her mother like? Was she a Mrs Bennett type? Or some other creature entirely?  And what about the Bronte’s? What was their mother like? I know she died young but what effect did her death have on the family? What were her beliefs and how did that affect her daughters?
Some of it could be lack of material. If the journals and letters have
disappeared, there can be no way of telling a person’s thoughts or looking for clues. In Abigail May Alcott’s case, some survived but they were heavily redacted by her husband. After her death he cut out those passages which were unfavourable to him. Given what remained, it begs the question of how badly did he treat her?  He was not a man who believed in supporting his family.
Some of could be subtle (or not so subtle) misogyny — that the father/daughter relationship matters more for some reason. Or that women somehow have less influence in their children’s lives.
I am suppose I am as guilty as any for not wondering more about the mother’s influence. I know my mother had and continues to have a huge influence on me, even though there is an ocean between us.
Anyway, the book is excellent. I had not realised how much Louisa had cribbed from her mother’s life. Abigail May Alcott also proved to be a woman of courage and really moulded her daughter.

Michelle Styles writes warm, witty and intimate historical romance. Her next book Sold to the Viking Warrior will be published in February 2017. You can learn more about her books on

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