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The 30 most memorable literary fathers

These book dads certainly left an impression

The 30 most memorable literary fathers
16 June 2017

At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, being a dad isn’t easy. Then again, it isn’t meant to be a walk in the park – although, of course, there are plenty of them.

So, alongside (hopefully) your own dad, who should prospective fathers look to emulate? Well, as ever with this life thing, literature is awash with fathers.

Some you’d do well to base your own parenting skills on, others, well, let’s just say you should note what they did – or didn’t do – and then do the opposite. So, without further ado, please find literature’s 30 most memorable fathers.

Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird)

Author: Harper Lee

The absolute acme of model fathership. Atticus Finch has moral fibre, is dignified, brave, loyal and kind – traits that any child would wish to see shine in their dad. Memorably brought to life by Gregory Peck in the big screen adaptation, but it’s Harper Lee’s mesmeric depiction of Atticus in her original novel – not least his numerous quotes to live by, chief among them: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – that really shines brightest.

Mr Bennet (Pride & Prejudice)

Author: Jane Austen

Mr Bennet appears to be something of a divisive father figure. On the one hand he is generous, a lover of life and clearly dotes on his five daughters; however, his detractors point to his imperfections: his tendency to withdraw when it comes to the big decisions – especially when it comes to Elizabeth’s marital prospects - and his lack of financial foresight. Us? We think his failings are only human. His spirit should be an example to all dads.

Jean-Joachim Goriot (Le Père Goriot)

Author: Honoré de Balzac

Jean-Joachim Goriot is a successful member of France’s burgeoning bourgeoisie and yet the only thing that gives him any pleasure is the happiness of his daughters. Unfortunately for him, they see this as a green light to fleece him blind, bringing him to bankruptcy. Even on his deathbed, Balzac summons up a poignant scene in which Goriot sells his few remaining possessions so that his daughters can go to a ball in style. A cautionary tale in overindulging your children.

Bob Cratchit (A Christmas Carol)

Author: Charles Dickens

Is Bob Cratchit a weak and feeble man? Or an honourable character merely doing his best for his family in extremely trying circumstances? Sentimentalists to the core, we favour the later explanation. His bond with his children, notably the crippled Tiny Tim, is one that all fathers would do well to emulate.

Arthur Weasley (Harry Potter)

Author: JK Rowling

Arthur Weasley might come across as a less than domineering alpha male – he leaves the patriarchal side of duties to his wife Molly – but his zest for life and jokey demeanour serve his seven children well.

The Father (The Road)

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy has written no end of memorable characters, all of them subject to varying degrees of morality, but no individual shines like a beacon of hope for mankind like The Man/The Father in his classic post-apocalyptic novel, The Road. He does everything to keep his son alive in this barren wasteland, and although his fate is grim, his work, you hope, is not in vain.

King Lear (King Lear)

Author: William Shakespeare

King Lear is arguably Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy and a welcome reminder of mankind’s numerous follies. The titular King is an elderly man who wishes to see his kingdom go to the daughter who loves him best – an act of extreme stupidity that eventually sees him go mad.

Harry Silver (Man And Boy)

Author: Tony Parsons

Tony Parsons knows full well the travails of bringing up a child alone (see his son with Julie Birchill, Bobby Kennedy), so he wrote from a position of experience when he penned Man And Boy. Harry Silver brings on his misfortune though having bedded a work colleague one night, an act that sees his marriage disintegrate. Silver has to adjust to life as a single parent, and it’s a journey that captured the imagination of numerous readers upon publication.

Pop Larkin (The Darling Buds of May)

Author: H E Bates

Perhaps best known for David Jason’s memorable portrayal in the TV adaptation of the early 90s, Pop Larkin is a boisterous character who indulges himself and his family to great effect. The Larkin household is a loving one and it’s this base that enables the Larkin children to enter the wider world with confidence.

Pap Finn (Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)

Author: Mark Twain

If Atticus Finch is the model father, Huckleberry Finn’s dad is the antithesis. A malevolent drunk, his reappearance at the start of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn sets in motion a chain of events that sees Huck flee. Eventually meets his maker as Jim reveals towards the end of the book. Good riddance.

Horton (Horton Hatches The Egg)

Author: Dr Seuss

Being a parent takes hard work, persistence and patience. It is not an easy job and certainly not for the lazy or fainthearted. Dr Seuss’s classic tale Horton Hatches The Egg captures this perfectly. Mayzie the bird lays an egg, but can’t be bothered to see it through to hatching so Horton the elephant tends to it. Despite the scenario of an elephant sitting on an egg, and even after Horton is captured and put in a circus he won’t abandon the egg. The creature that hatches is testimony to the duty of Horton. Magic.

Jean Valjean (Les Misérables)

Author: Victor Hugo

Ok, the heroic and noble Jean Valjean was not a biological father to Cosette, but his actions demonstrate that it takes more than just fathering a child to be a real dad. Valjean is a man of virtue and conscience – his kindly actions continually put him in peril (we first know of his travails after he is arrested for stealing a loaf of bread to help his sister feed her seven children), but he never shies away from doing the right thing. Cosette couldn’t have wished for a more caring guardian.

Ed Boone (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

Author: Mark Haddon

What to make of Ed Boone? At the beginning of Mark Haddon’s spellbinding novel, we are led to believe that Ed is a single parent due to the death of his wife and the mother of his son Christopher. However, Judy is not dead. She has run off with the neighbour. And Ed is going slightly mad as he kills next door’s dog. This is not going to end awfully well for Ed.

Thomas Schell (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close)

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Thomas Schell dies in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack before the events of Jonathan Safran Foer’s acclaimed novel. However, his memory lives on in his doting son Oskar. It soon becomes clear that the pair’s relationship was a fun and loving one, with Thomas treating Oskar with respect and devotion. No one wants to live without their child or father, but living, and loving, in the here and now will allow for wonderful memories should the worst happen.

William Danny (The Champion of the World)

Author: Roald Dahl

Those of a commercial bent might try to persuade us otherwise, but really, the only thing children need is love. And that’s the one thing money cannot buy. Danny and his widowed father William might not have much in the way of financial luck, but they've got each other. And if any prospective fathers are reading, that, in essence is all you need.

Humbert Humbert (Lolita)

Author: Vladimir Nabokov

Humbert Humbert is not Dolores’ (Lolita) real father, merely her stepfather, but either way, the manner in which he behaves is beyond the pale. His wicked infatuation with Dolores rids the 12-year-old girl of her childhood. Humbert Humbert is evil to the core, and arguably one of literature’s most memorable characters.

Michael Henchard (The Mayor of Casterbridge)

Auhtor: Thomas Hardy

Michael Henchard is a classic rags to riches and back again character. As a tempestuous young man with a fondness for the drink he auctions off his wife and baby daughter while under the influence. Only too late does he realise what he has done. However, pride prevents him from searching for his family properly. He does well to keep his shame a secret and rises in society. However, years later his wife, and what appears to be his daughter return prompting a downward spiral in his fortunes. Henchard will not be winning any parenting prizes anytime soon.

Jack Torrance (The Shining)

Author: Stephen King

Again, better known because of Jack Nicholson’s unforgettable portrayal in Stanley Kubrick’s haunting big screen adaptation, but the literary Jack is some character too. A recovering alcoholic he takes a job looking after a deserted hotel for the winter. Unfortunately, his demons – and those that inhabit the eerie Overlook Hotel – come back to wreck his plans. At the novel’s climax he attempts to kill his son, Danny. Dad of the year!

Mr Emerson (A Room With A View)

Author: E.M. Forster

Mr Emerson is character somewhat out of time with the repressed individuals that he must mix with in E.M. Forster’s classic. His ideas are reportedly unconventional for the beginning of the 20th Century – he believes in the equality of women for instance. His love for his son, George, though is timeless, as is belief that his son and Lucy belong together. A hopeless romantic then.

Walter Berglund (Freedom)

Author: Jonathan Franzen

Walter Berglund is a strange and diffident man. His wife Patty doesn’t truly love him, and his son adopts a republican-coloured worldview at odds with his liberal politics. But Walter has love running through his veins and despite his children’s odd choices at times, he’s always there for them. What else can he do?

Don Vito Corleone (The Godfather)

Author: Mario Puzo

Ok, so Don Corleone wasn’t the most upstanding man around, but, as exemplified by his assertion that only real men spent time with their families, he loved his children. Granted, that love put them in some precarious positions and ultimately led to two of their deaths, but, hey, who said this mafia business was plain sailing?

T.S. Garp (The World According to Garp)

Author: John Irving

T.S. Garp is so-called because his mother impregnated herself after giving sexual relief to a brain damaged Technical Sergeant Garp. Despite such an eccentric mother and a strange upbringing, Garp grows up a well-adjusted adult and devoted parent. Surely one of the most recommended fathers in literature.

Harry Wormwood (Matilda)

Author: Roald Dahl

Harry Wormwood is a duplicitous man whose great wealth has been obtained by shady methods indeed. Despite having money, however, he hasn’t been able to attain grace or class. His daughter, Matilda, thankfully, sees right through him and gladly plays tricks on him at any given opportunity. She is not cut from the same cloth.

Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov (The Brothers Karamazov)

Auhtor: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Without Fyodor Karamazov’s desultory approach to parenting whither the fate of his three sons? His indifferent attitude to his three children – possibly four, as it’s inferred that his servant Pavel is his illegitimate son – is the fuel that fires Dostoyevsky’s iconic novel.

Abraham (The Bible)

Author: God

Controversial choice? Well, he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac to God to prove his love and devotion to the omnipotent beardy one. Surely you would protect your son from such events?

Harry Rabbit Angstrom (Rabbit, Run)

Author: John Updike

Finding yourself married with a kid at the age of 26 and that all your childhood dreams appear to be over is doubtless something of a wake-up call. Not that it happened to us of course. But the actions of Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom, former high school basketball star beggar belief. While his pregnant wife is looking after his son Nelson he does a runner. Old fashioned folk would probably tell him to grow a pair.

James Incandenza (Infinite Jest)

Author: David Foster Wallace

James’s sons gave him the sobriquet ‘Himself’, which shows that his fatherly duties were perhaps not up to the standard they desired. A workaholic filmmaker, his final up yours to his children was placing his head in a microwave and shuffling off this mortal coil. Not a lot of outward love in those actions.

Culla (Outer Dark)

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Without giving too much away let’s consider the opening sequences of one of Cormac McCarthy’s earliest works: Culla impregnates his sister Rinthy; after she gives birth he steals the infant and leaves it in the woods to die. The child doesn’t die, and Culla will not be rivalling David Beckham in the fatherhood stakes anytime soon.

Daniel Peggoty (David Copperfield)

Author: Charles Dickens

Daniel Peggoty is not David Copperfield’s real father – their respective surnames being enough of a clue of that. But, like Jean Valjean before him, Daniel is a thoughtful sort, and he takes in not only David, but his niece and nephew after they are orphaned. Actions really do count for a lot in this daddy game.

George Mole (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾)

Author: Sue Townsend

George Mole is not the kind of parent a would-be poet in Thatcher’s Britain would hope for. However, he’s exactly the parent the pretentious Adrian gets, much to his chagrin. He displays no literary or cultured bent, smokes too much and is something of a serial adulterer. He probably has more fun than poor Adrian.