Five Fathers: the Good, the Bad & the Ugly

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a list of fictional dads that doesn’t lead with Atticus Finch, so here he gets a category all of his own. This guy had it all. A lawyer raising two kids, teaching them to be real humans (the audacious character of Scout alone is testament to his fathering abilities) and defending the indefensible from the vilest aspects of human nature, all the while dispensing ageless advice to his children on the front porch of their Alabama home.

In tribute to Father’s Day (and the reality that some will find it a mixed affair), here are a few of the best, the worst and the strangest dads in literature.

 

The Good

  1. Jean Valjean

Les Miserables, Victor Hugo

“Because things are not agreeable,” said Jean Valjean, “that is no reason for being unjust towards God.”

At the bequest of a dying Fantine he rescued Cosette from the despicable Thernadiers and despite being a fugitive, remained a steadfast adoptive father and all-round good guy until his death, never once losing faith despite all he endured. That takes some guts.

 

  1. Mr Bennet

Pride & Prejudice, Jane Austen

“Do not make yourself uneasy, my love. Wherever you and Jane are known you must be respected and valued; and you will not appear to less advantage for having a couple of—or I may say, three—very silly sisters.”

Some deride him for his sarcasm and his ambivalence toward his wife, but considering what he had to work with these are shown to be quite endearing qualities. It is his relationship with Elizabeth, the knowing-ness that passes between them, which makes him one of the best fathers in literature.

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  1. The Man/The Father

The Road, Cormac McCarthy

“He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.”

Leads his son through a wilderness of post-apocalyptic destruction and teaches him indispensable survival skills, navigating the ambiguous morality that arises from such desperation. His tenacity alone is enough to garner him father-of-the-year.

 

  1. Arthur Weasley

The Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling

“Ginny!” said Mr. Weasley, flabbergasted. “Haven’t I taught you anything? What have I always told you? Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’t see where it keeps its brain?”

His light-hearted perspective on life and unflinching defense of his children and the marginalised Muggles makes him almost a lovably clownish Atticus Finch. And without exception his seven children are among the greatest humans (?) on the planet.

 

  1. Thomas Schell

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer

“Honey! I got to go! Other people need to use the phone! I’m gonna be fine, you’re gonna be fine! You listen to me! You made my life better and I want you to know that absolutely love you. I’m going to call you back in a few minutes.”

Proof that even in absence a father can be fundamentally influential in his child’s life. Oskar goes in search of a perceived secret message from his father who was killed in 9/11, and finds himself again.

 

The Bad

  1. Pap Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain

“I’ll take you down a peg before I get done with you. You’re educated, too, they say—can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t?”

Drunk, abusive and sadistic, he is everything a father shouldn’t be. The only thing we are grateful for is that he produced such a son as Huck and spawned one of the most famously epic tales of childhood adventure known to literature. We are not sorry to learn of his death at the end of the book.

Lolita with Jeremy Irons

  1. Humbert Humbert

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

“You have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite melancholy, with a bubble of hot poison in your loins and a super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine.”

Marries Charlotte Haze to get close to her daughter, Lolita, which makes him her stepfather and legal guardian when Charlotte dies, leaving her at his mercy. Enough said.

 

  1. Michael Henchard

The Mayor of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy

“MICHAEL HENCHARD’S WILL
That Elizabeth-Jane Farfrae be not told of my death, or made to grieve on account of me.”

An alcoholic who auctions off his wife and child, never bothering to find them until they return eighteen years later while he is in the middle of courting another woman whom he has already disgraced. Lovely.

 

  1. Mr Wormwood

Matilda, Roald Dahl

“A book?! What d’you wanna flaming book for? …we’ve got a lovely telly with a 12-inch screen and now ya wanna book!”

This quote alone places Mr Wormwood into the lowest percentile of humans. A used-car salesman who deceives his customers, alienates his genius daughter and terrorizes her lovely teacher Miss Honey, he is the definition of terrible-dadness.

 

  1. Archibald Craven

The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

“My mother died when I was born and it makes him wretched to look at me. He thinks I don’t know, but I’ve heard people talking. He almost hates me.”

Yes, we feel sorry for him because his wife died but, no, that does not give him any right to abandon his sick son in a dingy room, especially when all his son needs is a bit of love and natural beauty in order to make a miraculous recovery.

 

The Ugly

  1. King Lear

King Lear, Shakespeare

“…he that makes his generation messes to gorge his appetite, shall to my bosom be as well neighbored, pitied, and relieved, as thou my sometime daughter.”

Definitely not the only terrible father in Shakespeare’s oeuvre, but certainly one of the most memorable. He makes the ugly list because he tests his three daughters to see who loves him most in order to decide who should inherit his estate, all the while completely blind to their true natures. He deserves to succumb to madness, and does so with spectacular pomp.

 

  1. Don Vito Corleone

The Godfather, Mario Puzo

“A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”

You could argue that as a father figure, the Don is actually a great family man. Everything he did was for his ‘family’ after all, including making people offers they couldn’t refuse. Yet his actions lead to the death of two of his sons and the corruption of another. So, yeah, ugly.

 

  1. Jack Torrance

The Shining, Stephen King

“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Another alcoholic dad, Jack adds to the mix by trying to kill his family with an axe. You could argue it’s not all his fault. But that doesn’t make him a better dad.

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  1. Heathcliff

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

“Linton can play the little tyrant well. He’ll undertake to torture any number of cats, if their teeth be drawn and their claws pared.”

Thus is Heathcliff’s view of his son, another sickly boy confined to a dingy house and his father’s intense disregard. Though it’s hard to really stay angry at Heathcliff because he is so damn brooding and so passionately in love with dead Cathy.

 

  1. Nick Dunne

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

“We weren’t ourselves when we fell in love, and when we became ourselves – surprise! – we were poison. We complete each other in the nastiest, ugliest possible way.”

Though he stays with the crazy wife because of his unborn child, we can all see the direction Nick Dunne is taking by the close of this book, foreshadowed by the misogynistic outbursts of his aging father. You could say it’s all her fault, but then again, is it?

 

Elise Janes

 

Passionate Prosings

To avoid dwelling on the release of a certain movie adaptation this month let’s turn our attention instead to some of the truly great novels of passion to have been penned. Whether it’s passion for vengeance, ideology, a relationship, or a quest to reclaim what was lost, these novels will stir your sanguine emotions in as many ways as Valentine’s Day.

 

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseELIC, Jonathan Safran Foer
A solitary young boy on a citywide quest of NYC to uncover a secret his father left behind after he perished in the World Trade Centre disaster. Less fairytale than his other novel, Everything Is Illuminated, Safran Foer brings the same childlike beauty and wisdom to an otherwise tragic story of determination, loss and yearning.

 

For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway
A war narrative about fighting for ideology beyond national identity that presents concepts rather pertinent to our times. The hero Robert Jordan struggles between conflicting pulls of duty and new love, raising questions about the heroism of wartime death versus the loss such death leaves behind.

 

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
A vast and detailed portrait of a bygone way of life that was swept away in the carnage of America’s Civil War. Though the anti-slavery revolution was a long-overdue event, one can’t help feeling some Old South nostalgia while reading about the idyllic Tara plantation. What makes the novel truly enduring, though, is the brutal depiction of Scarlett and Rhett’s selfish, tumultuous relationship.

 

Les Liasons Dangereuses, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos
An epistolary novel about seduction, manipulation and degradation, it was said to have been written in order to undermine the illusive virtue of the Ancien Régime in the decades leading up to the French Revolution. Whether or not this is true, the deception and debauchery of the two central characters would shock even the writers of The Bold and the Beautiful.

 

Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
Disdained by critics in its day, this epic went on to become one of the most popular tomes of all time. Spanning more than a decade and a vast array of characters and personal tales, Les Misérables is as much about obsessive duty, loyalty and personal justice as it is about love and loss.

 

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
This novel scarce needs introduction. The tale of a sexually stunted man falling for a much younger girl and the pedophilic scenes that ensue are shocking on their own but the tragicomic irony, pathos and cultural observations that construct its clever frame make this novel one of the greatest literary accomplishments of the 20th century.

 

220px-MusicAndSilenceMusic & Silence, Rose Tremain
A beautifully written and lushly depicted novel set in the 17th century court of Denmark’s King Christian IV. Far from being historical, the novel undulates between various time periods and points-of-view to weave several narratives into a fascinating and semi-fantastical Reformation world. Obsession with music and the elusive ‘perfect’ melody form the driving tension and strongest character thread.

 

Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami
A story of sexuality and young love in 1960s Japan, it is the novel that made Murakami a household name. Exploring the protagonist’s nostalgic reminiscences on his relationships with two vastly different women, the novel pointedly depicts the Tokyo student protests as ill-aimed and listless.

 

The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexander Dumas
Dumas’s ridiculously famous novel of injustice and revenge, complete with escapes from island dungeons, discovered fortunes, assumed identities, daring deceptions, and classic sword fights. What takes this beyond a simple adventure story is Dumas’s exploration of the wide-reaching effects of one man’s obsessive quest for vengeance.

 

The Godfather, Mario Puzo
The notorious ruthlessness of the Sicilian mafia is distilled and brought violently to life in Puzo’s Corleone family epic. Eccentric characters, short fuses and familial pride lead to fatal power struggles across the five families of New York City. Again, it is the human element that makes this story so good, as we watch the slow mutation of Michael into the Don he never wanted to be.

 

The Graduate, Charles Webb
An interesting and ironic examination of youthful aimlessness particularly relevant to the new college culture of 1960s America. The protagonist is equal parts aggravating and charming as he wavers unemotionally between pleasurable past-times and trying to decide what to do with his life. It is more the lack of passion that sets this novel apart and makes its climax that much more complete.

 

The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
The novel centres on Gatsby’s life-long obsession with Daisy Buchanan, but it is narrator Nick Carraway’s compulsive fascination with Gatsby and his lifestyle that keeps us reading and allows Fitzgerald to unpack the peculiar details of Jazz Age depravity that echo at once beautiful and vulgar, and ever so inviting.

 

the-red-and-the-blackThe Red and the Black, Stendhal
Another little-disguised satire on French culture in the 19th century, Stendhal’s Bildungsroman follows Julien Sorel from a peasant upbringing through his attempts at overcoming the social restrictions of the time. Littered with superficial love affairs, the narrative is distinct in its dealings with social hypocrisy and political manipulation.

 

Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
The immortal story of Heathcliff and Catherine set amidst the desolate moors of northern England is stark in its obsessive brutality and the almost animalistic behaviour of the central characters. A novel of painstaking vengeance and misery with a lost, twisted love story at the centre. Satisfying on so many levels.

 

Elise Janes