The Blagger's Guide To: The best (and worst) fathers
So, Lolita, how would you rate Humbertas a stepfather?
Sunday 17 June 2012
Father's Day doesn't feature heavily in novels, but the father has played a pivotal role in fiction from the ancient Greeks to 2012. Here is the Blagger's Guide to the best – and worst – dads in literature, in descending order of cuddliness.
In a straw poll of literary Blaggers, Atticus Finch was resoundingly voted the best and most admirable father in the history of fiction. The father of Jem and Scout in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird was also voted the greatest hero in American film (as played by Gregory Peck in 1962) in a poll to mark 100 years of the American Film Institute. Peck said: "I put everything I had into it – all my feelings and everything I'd learned in 46 years of living, about family life and fathers and children. And my feelings about racial justice and inequality and opportunity."
With a rather different attitude to birdlife, Danny's dad William, in Roald Dahl's Danny The Champion of the World, was the coolest dad in fiction with his wily pheasant poaching techniques and knack for getting one over on the local landowner, Mr Hazell. He's a rare goodie among Dahl's fictional parents – see Matilda's dad.
Jo Gargery, while not technically a father, is the nearest Pip has to a father in Charles Dickens's Great Expectations, even when Pip doesn't exactly deserve him.
While not strictly fictional, Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies is a kind and generous father figure to his own son, Gregory, his nephew, Richard, and his clerk, Rafe Sadler – while being pretty brutal to almost everyone else. That's despite a rather glaring lack of role models – Wolf Hall opens with Thomas's face at the end of his own father's boot, and Henry VIII variously disowns his own two daughters as bastards.
While some rate Mr Bennett as one of literature's finer fathers, others say that he is a coward. Certainly the Bennett patriarch in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice doesn't do much to help his daughters, but he does have the advantage of not being as bad as Mrs Bennett.
During the Second World War, Evelyn Waugh's wife managed to get hold of three bananas for their young children. In front of the children, Waugh slowely peeled them, poured on cream and sugar, and ate them all. "It would be absurd to say that I never forgave him," Auberon Waugh later wrote, "but he was permanently marked down in my estimation from that moment."
Mr Wormwood in Roald Dahl's Matilda (and the recent musical by Tim Minchin) is bad to the bone. A crook, a liar and a bully, he eventually receives a comeuppance that is mild in Dahl world.
Shakespeare's plays explore the range of fatherhood, but at the "call Childline" end are Lear, Capulet and King Leontes in A Winter's Tale, who dumps his infant daughter on the island of Bohemia when he suspects her mother of having an affair.
Humbert Humbert in Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita: one of the finest characters in the history of literature, but not exactly a model stepdad.
The father of all bad fathers is Laius of Thebes, who abandoned baby Oedipus on a mountain but lived to regret it ....
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