Daddy, my Daddy! Celebrating the Father Figure in Literature
You have to be pretty stone hearted not to well up at The Railway Children’s denouement.
The image of Bobbie running down the platform towards her father, who had been so unceremoniously uprooted from the heart of his family, is one of the most emotional literary examples of how important the daddy-daughter relationship is.
As Father’s Day rolls around again, with all the commercial paraphernalia now associated with it, we have decided not to publish a gift or activity guide, but to go back to basics and look at what being a dad really means, from those who have taken the time to write about it.
Tissues at the ready; this is a bit of a tear jerker.
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
Atticus Finch is arguably the ‘A’ standard for all fathers – in literature and in life. Dignified, determined, and quietly courageous, he teaches his children, Scout and Jem, the importance of standing by your principles, even when doing so results in ostracism and intimidation. He not only shows his children how they should behave, but also explains why they should act in a certain way, earning their respect and trust as opposed to expecting it. Whilst he holds his children to the same high standards as he holds himself, when it boils down to it he is, above all, their dad: loyal, devoted, and driven by love.
“It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.”
Jean Valjean, Les Miserables
When he adopts abused orphan girl, Cosette, Jean Valjean transforms from ex-convict to one of literature’s most caring guardians – a man so devoted that he is willing to lay down his life so his daughter might find happiness. Though in constant peril, his kindness and compassion mark him out as the most exemplary character in an otherwise fairly bleak book, and whilst Valjean is not Cosette’s biological father, his actions demonstrate that it takes more than genetics to be a real dad.
“[Valjean] had fallen back, the light from the candlesticks fell across him; his white face looked up toward heaven, he let Cosette and Marius cover his hands with kisses.”
Otto Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank
Not technically a ‘literary’ character, but a father figure in literature nonetheless – and one of the very best, at that. In her father, Otto Frank, Anne finds a kindred spirit: both devour books, history and news, and also share a wicked sense of humour, constantly trying to amuse those around them. But unlike the teenager – who found herself frustrated with the world and claustrophobic conditions of the Annex – Otto proves himself to be even-tempered and eager to keep the peace. As the only surviving member of the Frank family, Otto’s last act of love is also his greatest, fulfilling his daughter’s wishes of having her words published.
“I model myself after Father, and there’s no one in the world I love more.”
William, Danny the Champion of the World
Parents are not perfect, as nine-year old Danny learns when he realises his dad is engaging in criminal activity, but – despite not understanding his actions in full – William and Danny prove that love really is everything. Despite pining for his late wife and being financially hard up, in Danny’s eyes his father is the most marvellous man on earth. They might not have much, but they’ve got each other and, at the end of the day, that is all you need.
“It is impossible to tell you how much I loved my father. When he was sitting close to me on my bunk, I would reach out and slide my hand into his and then he would fold his long fingers around my fist, holding it tight.”
Mr Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Mr Bennet has many flaws: he withdraws himself when it comes to big decisions, he has little financial foresight, and many would say that he is a fairly weak father when it comes to parenting his five daughters. But the reason he makes this list – and his redeeming characteristic – is his generosity, spirit and love for his second eldest, Lizzy. Their relationship reminds us that despite human failings, a daughter’s first love will always be her dad.
“I cannot believe that anyone can deserve you… but it appears I am overruled. So, I heartily give my consent. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzy, to anyone less worthy.”
Which father figures do you most love – or loathe – in literature? What have they taught you about your own relationship with your dad? Let us know via the comments box below.
Image Credit: Aaron Gilson