Eva Khatchadourian, We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Eva isn’t necessarily bad or evil, but she’s probably the type of person who shouldn’t be having kids. That becomes pretty clear the more you read through this one.
Sophie Portnoy, Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth
For better or worse, Roth launched pretty much every overbearing Jewish mother stereotype you can think of into the popular consciousness with Alexander Portnoy’s mom.
Charlotte Haze, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
If you’ve ever read this book, you’ve probably wondered how the hell Charlotte didn’t realize Humbert Humbert was creeping on her daughter sooner. When she does figure it out, well, you know what happens…
Addie Bundren, As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
How the hell are you going to have an affair with a minister? That’s just messed up.
Margaret White, Carrie by Stephen King
Carrie’s mother is an insane religious fanatic who thinks that only easy women grow breasts and that women get their periods (and basically everything else) as some sort of punishment for sinning.
Eleanor Melrose, The Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Eleanor probably has some sort of clue that her husband is driving the family into bankruptcy, and of the fact that he rapes Patrick when he’s a little boy (which probably is a big reason why he falls into a downward spiral in the other books), but she does everything in her power to ignore all of it. Not a great way to parent.
Emma Bovary, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
There are two ways to look at Emma:
1. She’s a romantic who just wants a more beautiful life.
2. She’s totally selfish and only cares about herself.
Whichever way you choose, Emma’s actions pretty much spell ruin for her young daughter, Berthe.
Cersei Lannister, A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin
The thing about Cersei is that she isn’t a bad mother to her kids; she actually loves them, but she’s so horrible, cruel, and crazy that she has to be on this list. (There’s also the small fact that her children were fathered by her brother…)
Medea by Euripedes
You have to be pretty horrible to be considered the worst mother in Greek literature, but by killing her own sons, Medea earned that title, making her pretty much the original horrible mom in literature.
Corinne Dollanganger, Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews
Terrible, creepy mom leaves her kids with her own terrible and abusive mother, then feeds them arsenic so she can keep her inheritance. All in all, a terrible mother with very few equals.