National Reading Movement

Literature’s Top Stepmothers

Poor stepmothers everywhere! There’s no denying that they have been misrepresented terribly in culture, mostly thanks to fairy tales like Snow White, Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel. But of course, the ‘Evil Stepmother’ is not the only famous characterisation there is. Today, we’ll talk about 3 well-known stepmothers in literature: an evil one, a good one, and someone in-between.

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The Wicked Queen from Snow White by the Brothers Grimm

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The most notorious stepmother in literature is the Wicked Queen. She is, of course, a character from the 19th-century fairy tale, Snow White or Sneewittchen (German) by the Brothers Grimm, which tells the story slightly differently from the movie we all know.  

To put it bluntly, she’s a horrible stepmother. She is a beautiful lady who is very vain, and wants to be the fairest in the land, no matter the cost. That cost happens to be getting rid of her fairer and more beautiful stepdaughter, Snow White.

“My queen, you are the fairest here so true. But Snow White beyond the mountains at the Seven Dwarfs is a thousand times more beautiful than you.” Ouch!

In the original story, she tries and fails to kill Snow White multiple times. First, by ordering a huntsman to collect Snow White’s lungs and liver. Second, by disguising herself as an old peddler to lace Snow White up to death. Then, by trying to brush her hair with a poisoned comb disguised as a comb seller. And finally, by disguising herself as a farmer’s wife and offering her a poisoned apple.

Snow White is saved once by the huntsman, twice by the dwarves and lastly by a not-so-charming Prince, who punishes the Wicked Queen on their wedding day by getting her to dance to death wearing red-hot shoes.

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Mrs Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

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On an entirely opposite note, we’ll talk about the wonderful Mrs Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. Here’s some motherly advice from her: “Know your own happiness. You want nothing but patience- or give it a more fascinating name, call it hope.”

Mrs Dashwood is a likeable character, and a good mother to one stepson and three daughters. In this story, the antagonist is the stepson. When her husband dies, her stepson inherits the family property, and after being persuaded by his scheming wife, throws Mrs Dashwood out, along with her three daughters.

In this new and financially difficult circumstance, Mrs Dashwood goes to extraordinary lengths to take care of her daughters and find worthy husbands for them, always being more interested about their happiness than their financial fortunes. After all her daughters gets married, she spends the rest of her days contented in her modest cottage. Borrow this classic romance novel here.

 

Edith Grainger in Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens

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Edith Grainger is a character in Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son. When talking about stepmothers and their complex role, this literary figure is not to be left out!

Edith is the wife of Mr Dombey and the stepmother of Florence. Her relationship with these two characters are explored further in the story. She first encounters Dombey when she was widow who had lost a young child. She eventually marries him, and her relationship with her new stepdaughter would be the emotional core of the book.

“And now Florence began to hope that she would learn from her new and beautiful Mama, how to gaIn her father’s love; and in her sleep that night, in her lost old home, her own Mama smiled radiantly upon the hope, and blessed it.”

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What brings them closer together is their conflict with Mr Dombey. Edith is very unhappy in her marriage, while Florence has always been neglected for being a daughter instead of a son. One day, in a fit of rage, Edith can’t take anymore, and uses a fake affair with another man as a ploy to escape her marriage. When Florence realises that Edith has broken up with her father, she flees the house. Yikes!

 

So there you have it – three classic stepmothers, three classic books. We challenge you to read them all! 😉