In recognition of English Mother’s Day and to counterbalance the rash of greeting card excess, the Guardian has published an article by Moira Redmond entitled Bad Mothers in Books: a literary litany. Top award goes to Charles Dickens with a hat trick consisting of Mrs. Nickleby, Mrs. Copperfield and Mrs. Jellyby. Other obvious winners include Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prujudice and Lady Montdore from Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate who pronounced upon the death of her granddaughter, “So the poor little baby died; I expect it was just as well, children are such an awful expense.” Waugh wins inclusion for Brenda Last (although Lady Marchmain must also have been on the short list):
Brenda Last (in the 1934 novel Handful of Dust) takes some kind of prize: her lover and her child are both called John, and when she is told “John is dead” she is relieved that it is the child. The main thought that this provokes is “How much did Waugh hate his first wife to write this fictionalised version of her?”
Whether or not she was a replication of the first Mrs. Waugh is perhaps debatable but one can hardly deny that Brenda was a piece of work worthy of inclusion with the others in the Guardian’s maternal rogue’s gallery.