[DWJ] Mothers

Farah Mendlesohn farah.sf at gmail.com
Wed May 16 01:38:17 EDT 2007

This isn't really a commentary on DWJ's experience with her parents, but on
mine, because when I read Time of the Ghost I had a shuddering moment of

DWJ's parent figures are rarely abusive per se, they are just wound up in
themselves. With the possible exception of Ivy and ger husband, I'd describe
all of them as self-focussed rather than self-obsessed. Every single one of
them pays attention when an actual demand for attention is made, it's just
that in most families, children don't have to actually ask. Dark Lord of
Derkholm was an interesting book for me because it was the first time we saw
these "parent constructs" portrayed as sympathetic without actually changing
any of that. And as I ramble I realise I'm reminded of a book I've just read
by Rebecca Stott, Darwin's Barnacles. At one point she quotes a child asking
another child "when does your Father do his barnacles?". My household was
like that: "When does *your* mother write her leafets/work on her
degree/make costumes for theatre/whatever the latest thing is?"

Self-focussed parents are no fun, for all the reasons we see in Time of the
Ghost (I was the child in your class with holes in her socks, unironed and
off-white shirts), but when they are smart, intelligent, energetic
self-focussed parents some of the worst effects are mitigated simply because
they are People Worth Knowing and would be under any circumstances.

I'm not keen on spending much time with my mother (and am wondering what on
earth  I was thinking of when I said we'd go there this Christmas), but I
would be wary of describing her as a "dreadful" parent. She was hopeless in
many, many ways. But I can't help noticing that despite the apparent neglect
(she refused to teach me to read because that ws her day job, and there were
teachers whose day job it was to teach me, but she also took to me to every
gallery in the city and any book I wanted was available), I'm not in
therapy, and we do talk, and she remains someone Worth Knowing.


On 16/05/07, Jenny Schwartzberg <schwartzbergj at newberry.org> wrote:
> Oh dear.  I adore my mother.  She may not be perfect, who is? but she's
> pretty fabulous.  I wouldn't be the person I am without her.  While I know,
> from DWJ's autobiographical essay and other sources that she had dreadful
> parents and that influences how she treats parents in her fiction, I also
> suspect that she must have been a great mother.  After all, she began
> writing to give her kids good books to read!
> So it's possible to be a far better parent than one's parents, if one had
> bad parents.  As a family historian, I do see how parenting patterns repeat,
> and since my family tends to have good family relationships, there are a lot
> of good parent-kid relationships among my cousins.  I'm also sorry to report
> that once a bad parent-kid relationship is established, it tends to repeat
> through the generations, unless there's a lot of intervention and determined
> reaction against being like one's parents.
> I guess all of this is off-topic, but DWJ's depiction of family
> relationships has always fascinated me, being so alien to my own
> experiences.
> Yours,
> Jenny Schwartzberg
> Chicago, IL
> -----Original message-----
> >
> > None of us has a perfect mother.  Some of us have good
> > mothers, but many of us don't.  I think if there's something
> > to blame -- like interest in something other than us, the
> > children -- then it's going to get blamed.
> >
> >
> > I do know that we all deserve perfect parents and we none
> > of us get them.  We get people like us for parents.
> >
> >
> > --------------------------------------------------
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One day I want time to be bored.

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