from The Essential Paradise
The trope involves a mother whose prudish or imperious expectations of her adolescent daughter tend to be unrealistic, unreasonable or otherwise ill-received by the daughter, resulting in a strained relationship and, frequently, a fracturing of familiar responsibilities or obligations.
The masterful mother need not be cruel, such as Cinderella’s stepmother. As the trope is applied, she is merely overbearing, almost but not quite unreasonably so, and perhaps given to making disrespectful comments about her daughter’s inevitable maturation, as though out of jealousy or denial.
The masterful mother is usually oblivious to her daughter’s particular needs, dreams, intentions, inclinations or troubles, tending to regard her only as a generic girl of a given age rather than the unique being she has become. Thus the girl tends to live a kind of secret life, as with the closeted hussy, a trope which very often appears concurrently.
The archetype in Comet-penned stories for this may be the grouchy, self-centred, world-weary Mrs Young of the Sea Room fantasy/fiction realm, eager only to move forward with her own retirement from mothering her daughter Tracy who, at 14, becomes a noted girl-about-town on Tobasco Beach Island. Mrs Young, self-centred and aloof, concerned only with her own plans, friends and activities, constantly finds fault with the precocious, promiscuous Tracy, but never seems to observe nor care much about what girl is doing beyond her immediate purview.
According to readers' rumour the model for Mrs Young was the mother of one of author Comet's girlfriends, who alternatively regarded the girl with cynical disdain and relentlessly preached propriety at her.
Examples from the stories Edit
Typically, but not exclusively, the trope appears in stories of wilful, independently-minded girls whose exploits represent the core of the respective arc. Masterful mothers tend to provide either comic relief or the literary device to provide the girl opportunities to indulge in adventurous behaviour without concern for guilt at not meeting expectations or obligations at home.
Mrs St Claire - Paradise Two domain Edit
Darby’s mother frequently demonstrates a lack of respect towards her only child, about whose real life and inclinations she knows very little. The two live almost completely separate lives, coming and going without giving notice to each other and neither ever asking what the other has been up to, the only exceptions being when Mrs St Claire feels need to beleaguer Darby about her hours. Mrs St Claire never seems to notice that all of Darby’s associates are female nor that most are substantially older than she is. The only one for whom she has the least respect is Lady Susie, much more due to Lady Susie’s title and social influence than because she approves of her daughter’s having a friend in Lady Susie on a personal level.
Mrs St Claire often critiques Darby’s audacious fashion sense but is effectively powerless to improve it, probably because Darby would refuse to accept the advice however sensible and well-meant. She and Mr St Claire (who is even more out of the picture than she is) are away from home often, apparently content to leave the run of the house to Darby, who hosts risque doe parties in their absence or just sleeps elsewhere.
Possibly Mrs St Claire’s detachment may be part of Darby’s inclination as a lesbian; even more likely is that Darby’s promiscuity, even if with only girls, is a direct consequence of having grown up knowing little parental respect and no discernible boundaries for ladylike behaviour.
Best examples: The Seduction of Susie; Rivals At Heart; The Seduction of Laura
Fanny Hewlett - Janine, of Paradise, story arc Edit
Though the trope does apply, Janine’s mother is 'masterful' only on the surface, almost but not quite attaining a passive-aggressive personality.
Many times throughout Janine’s narration, her mother is heard, or overheard, to confess sincere, serious concern for her daughter’s welfare. In First Date Janine realises that her mother, having been much less shapely in her mid-teens than Janine is at 12-1/2, may be a bit jealous of her. But Fanny comes round quickly and, if having trouble accepting Janine as a dateworthy adolescent, is nonetheless encouraged to see her keeping to reasonable principles and house rules with regard to the safety of her reputation and of her person.
Fanny remains unaware of the extent of Janine’s sex life, accepting on face value, and to her credit, whatever few facts Janine actually reveals. The mother-daughter pact of trust is not revealed to be broken till after Charlie has proposed marriage to Janine and Janine comes to seek her parents’ blessing, upon which occasion Fanny interrogates her and concludes the truth, which upsets her profoundly.
The exchanges between Janine and her culturally-astute, traditional but not backward mother, though sometimes frustrating for Janine, are typically amusing and, coming from a first-person narrator, indicative of a deep mutual love, concern and respect lying just beneath the surface, for which Fanny Hewlett is only a ‘light’ version of the masterful mother.
Best examples: Janine’s First Date; Janine’s Growing Pains; Janine’s Night to Remember
Ruth Dahl - The Love of Gwendolyn Dahl, story arc Edit
Gwendolyn’s mother is perhaps the most vicious and yet most easily-conquered of masterful mothers in the Jonnie Comet stories of the Two Paradises realm. As revealed in the texts, it is down to her that her two sons, and her favourite nephew Lon, have had the impunity to mistreat Gwendolyn as long and as much as they have. Even as Gwendolyn, eventual Olympian, is by far the most accomplished of her generation in the family (perhaps even in the territory), Ruth seems to recognise only the boys’ anaemic contributions to the garden, their sports, or her own ego. She puts increasing pressure on Gwendolyn to excel, citing the financial investment in ballet classes, piano classes, and, later, private gymnastics training. Whilst Gwendolyn succeeds beyond even reasonable expectations in every challenge, Ruth rebukes her for being less than dutifully respectful, for constantly mixing it up with her brothers, and for spurning Lon’s romantic advances, which she calls ‘honourable’, entirely unaware or in denial that Lon has sexually abused Gwendolyn for four years.
Inspired by having met and beginning to date Lord Jonathan, Gwendolyn becomes masterful in her own way, standing up for her right to be treated as a lady, even by her own family, fitting a lock on her door and keeping her own hours. Once aware of whom her daughter has been seeing, Ruth effusively grants almost unlimited permission for Gwendolyn to visit the Cavalieres at Camelot, half the island away, a freedom which Gwendolyn and Lord Jonathan use to facilitate frequent nights and weekends together.
The texts (so far) do not indicate if Ruth is ever fully aware of what her boys and Lon have done to Gwendolyn, nor the nature of what Lord Jonathan and the very young Gwendolyn do romantically. What is clear is that she cares little for her daughter’s happiness except to hope that, should the two marry, she may benefit socially from the close association with the territory’s highest-ranking peerage family.
Best examples: Serendipity; Stepped Out Of a Dream; Sunday Dinner
Edie Chesney - Noemi’s Wold, novel Edit
Edie Coe Chesney is less a masterful mother than a meddling one, though she is often imperious towards 12-year-old Noemi, especially as regards Noemi’s disdain for clothing and for taking on school assignments enthusiastically. Typically addressing her daughter as ‘my love’, she enquires into the girl’s daily pursuits and then provides well-meant, but mainly naive and ineffective, advice in the way of guidelines for her intellectually precocious and scrupulously-moral daughter to interpret at will.
Her main concerns seem to be around Noemi’s penchant for nudism, especially in view of Noemi’s not having attained menarche, which she worries will be a messy shock to the innocent girl if it should happen whilst she is naked and from home. When it does come, Noemi accepts assistance and advice only from Anna, her maid and confidante; and when Edie hears of this she is at a loss as to whether she should chastise Anna, who has kept the secret according to Noemi's wishes, or to be proud of her daughter for having accepted the inevitability of womanhood with maturity, modesty and grace. Thereafter, especially after Noemi meets a nice boy during Festival, Edie backs off from needing to know everything her daughter does and the two redevelop their relationship with more openness and respect.
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