Families in Books

The Guardian has a lovely series on families in literature. My favorites:

I was a 26-year-old living by myself when I first read The Mouse and His Child. I spent my evenings reading on an old, yellow sofa my mother gave me when I left home. It was uncomfortable and covered in stains, but it was a fixture in family pictures of the house I grew up in – a grainy bit of furniture in the background, sat next to a bookshelf and a little wooden seesaw. It reminded me of living with my sisters, of the posters on the wall and the dusty globe on the shelf. As I sat on it and read Russell Hoban’s book, I thought about my family.

I’m with Robert Freeman, Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and his Child is absolutely about family. It is lyrical, beautiful, melancholy, witty, demanding, and wonderful.

All of this makes Tove Jansson’s adorable Moomin family a joyous anomaly. There is a nuclear family at the centre – the boyish Moominpappa, the serene Moominmamma (who, wonder of wonders, encourages children to smoke) and Moomintroll, gullible and guileless, intending to do good and invariably getting into trouble….Yet it’s the fringes of these Finnish hippopotami-things that is intriguing. Moomintroll’s on-off girlfriend, the Snork Maiden, seems to live in the house with them at some point. Is she and her brother the Snork even the same species as the Moomins? …Why do they have that lucre-loving weaselish creature, Sniff, as a semi-permanent houseguest?

considers Tove Jansson’s delightful non-traditional Moomin family.

I didn’t like the March household at seven, when they were pressed on me as a warm refuge from my own family’s ungenteel poverty …. There are a few glimpses of a harsher world outside, as in the opening, when Marmee inspires the girls to give their Christmas breakfast to the children of a destitute immigrant (three of whom later die of scarlet fever offstage), but Alcott pulled a quilt of cosiness – a comforter, as the Americans say – over the Marches. As a child, I couldn’t have explained exactly why they felt phoney, but I was sure there was something much darker to Marmee/Abigail Alcott, and that Jo/Louisa faced more than trivial tribulations.

Veronica Horwell on her difficulties with Louisa May Alcott’s March family.

Dickens and Christmas are so intertwined that those of a literary disposition often think of them together. It is usually Ebenezer Scrooge and the Cratchit family who spring to mind, as we make our yearly return to A Christmas Carol and the otherChristmas Books. In contrast to these tales of hope and good cheer, Bleak House is, to use a phrase from the first chapter, “perennially hopeless”. Instead of the small and close-knit Cratchit family, we have the infamous Jarndyces: not so much a family as a disparate group of ill-matched individuals whose only real connection is their involvement in the never-ending legal dispute of Jarndyce v Jarndyce.

That’s Daniel Gooding on my favorite Dickens’ novel, Bleak House.

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