Reviews, Women in History

Celebrating Mothers

(first published by Paper Lantern Writers, May 2020)

To wrap up a month of celebrating motherhood, I thought I’d share some books you might not have read about mothers of famous people. I started searching for historical fiction, but only found two. The others are biography and memoir. I know there’s a lot out there about mothers in general, or mothers of real people who aren’t famous. Do you know of any historical fiction written about mothers of famous people? Please share!

Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother by Eve LaPlante (biography) 

Published in 2012, this book is written by a descendant of Louisa May Alcott-my favorite kind of story! Many of Abigail Alcott’s papers were destroyed, which makes the author’s discovery of journals and letters in an old trunk a miracle. These documents take an unknown mother and show her to be a complex woman who clung to her convictions despite suffering. 

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman (historical fiction)

This novel was published in 2015. It showcases Rachel, the mother of impressionist painter Camille Pissaro, as she grows up on the island of St. Thomas dreaming about Paris. She’s married off to a widower and conducts an illicit affair with his nephew, whom she later marries. The story tells of the painter’s life as a young man and Rachel’s displeasure at his chosen career.

Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart (historical fiction)

Published in 2012, this novel glitters with Gilded Age ambition and empty wealth. Alva is a domineering mother who pushes her daughter into a fairytale wedding with a horrific aftermath. Both women suffered, yet both rose above it to become suffragettes. In a shallow society where women were meant to be decorative, the Vanderbilts insisted on a voice.

The Velveteen Daughter by Laurel Davis Huber (historical fiction)

Published in 2017, this novel is more about the famous author and her daughter, but I love The Velveteen Rabbit so much I had to include it. Margery Williams’ daughter, Pamela, was a child prodigy artist who was more famous at the time than her mother. Margery is Pamela’s support through depression and broken love affairs.

Mom & Me & Mom by Maya Angelou (memoir)

This book, published in 2013, tells the emotional story of Maya reconnecting with her mother, who gave her away to be raised by her paternal grandmother. Her mother’s unwavering support, despite being an unwed mother, failing at marriage, and navigating a rocky career, eventually win Maya over. 

The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt (memoir)

First of all, I never knew that Gloria Vanderbilt was Anderson Cooper’s mother until I saw this book. Published in 2017, this is a book of letters between them in her last years when she was ill and he was a busy journalist. It’s a candid conversation about what matters in their lives, humorous, inspirational, and emotional. 

There Was a Little Girl: The Real Story Of My Mother And Me by Brooke Shields (memoir)

Published in 2014, this is the story of Shields’ tough single mom. She fiercely protected her young daughter in her career, but was personally troubled and a heavy drinker. The woman is as complicated as her relationship with her daughter, just like most mother/daughter relationships.

More books about celebrity mothers:

Mommie Dearest by Christina Crawford (biography)

The Book of Joan by Melissa Rivers (biography)

Then Again by Diane Keaton (biography)

About My Mother by Peggy Rowe (memoir)

More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother by Natalie Wood (memoir)

Jackie, Janet, & Lee: The Secret Lives of Janet Auchincloss and her Daughters Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Lee Radziwill by J. Randy Taraborrelli (biography)

The Key is Love: My Mother’s Wisdom, A Daughter’s Gratitude by Marie Osmond (memoir)

A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir (memoir)

May isn’t the only time to celebrate mothers. They deserve to be celebrated all the time! So as you recover from Memorial Day weekend and prepare to take on Father’s Day and summer, pick up a book about a mother you haven’t met yet. 

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