The witty pop
Mr Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The long-suffering husband of Mrs Bennet and the father of five unmarried daughters, Mr Bennet uses his sarcasm and wry humour to cope with the domestic dramas that unfold on a daily basis in the Bennet household. Often playing the part of the bemused bystander, he’s as reserved as his wife is loquacious, but is always ready with a pithy remark to pierce the tension when times are tough. We see his authoritarian side when his youngest, Lydia, elopes, but he’s paternally tender to all of his daughters, particularly Elizabeth, and supports both her and Jane in their decisions to marry for love over money. In an 18th-century context, that makes him one cool pa.
The gruff father
Mr Banks in Mary Poppins by PL Travers
The typical middle-class patriarch, city banker George Banks is portrayed as a distant father in the Poppins series of books, although gruffly loving of his wife and children. In the iconic 1964 film version the character, played by David Tomlinson, is given a bigger spotlight and goes through a transformation: from uptight workaholic he’s charmed by nanny Mary and chimney sweep Bert into becoming a relaxed, hands-on dad by the closing credits.
The vain old man
King Lear in King Lear by William Shakespeare
Deciding to retire as monarch of England, Lear’s decision to hold a ‘love test’ for his daughters to determine the size of their inheritance is the beginning of his end. He openly favours his youngest, Cordelia, but throws a tantrum when she refuses to play the ludicrous ego-massaging game to his rules. Meanwhile his other daughters, Goneril and Reagan, are happy to flatter for the spoils and, after winning the land accordingly, plot his downfall. By the end of the play Lear is a pitiful figure and his fatal paternal flaw makes for one of the Bard’s greatest tragedies.
The generous guardian
Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
He’s usually portrayed solely as a romantic figure, so it’s easy to forget that the whole reason Jane and Mr Rochester ever meet is because she’s the governess for his young ward, Adele. It’s unclear whether he is her biological parent – Adele has been abandoned by her French mother and her father’s identity is in doubt – but he takes responsibility for the little girl and she wants for nothing, being pampered and spoilt by the servants. Just like Jane, Adele has been rejected by the people responsible for raising her, but her kind treatment at the hands of the generous Mr Rochester makes her the ebullient, free-spirited child that Jane never had the chance to be.
The inspiring hero
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Fair, kind and noble, Atticus Finch is not only an inspiration to his own children, Jem and Scout, but the fictional character has acquired a legendary status in real-life legal circles, with the Michigan Law Review even going so far as to say, “No real-life lawyer has done more for the self-image or public perception of the legal profession.” A paragon of virtue and a moral hero, Lee is said to have based the character on her own father, Amasa Coleman Lee, an Alabama lawyer who, like his fictional counterpart, represented black defendants in a highly publicised criminal trial. Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Finch in the film adaptation, and the character was voted the greatest hero in American film by the American Film Institute, beating blockbuster contenders such as Indiana Jones and Rocky Balboa.
The cuddly daddy
Mr Lancaster in The Fault in our Stars by John Green
The father of thyroid cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster in this bittersweet book is a small character but a hugely important influence on Hazel’s world view. Her offbeat, quirky humour means that at first she mocks her dad for his tendency to display emotions and cry during difficult times. But she soon comes to realise that her father is the wisest guide she has in life, concluding,
“My old man. He always knew just what to say.”
The bad dad
Pap Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
There’s a reason Huck sets off in a little boat across the Mississippi, and his father, the ne’er-do-well ‘Pap’ Finn, is it. Uncouth, abusive and a slave to addiction, the wilfully ignorant Pap is jealous of his son’s success and does his best to ruin it. Luckily Huck is canny enough to escape such destructive parenting and sets off on great adventures.
The reluctant role model
Will in About a Boy by Nick Hornby
Cynical Will stumbles on his role as a proxy father while attending a single parents’ support group – a rouse he uses as a way to meet potential female friends. A 36-year-old layabout, Will has never had to work a day in his life, and his days are full of shallow, superficial pursuits. Until he meets Marcus, that is. The unworldly 12-year-old quickly discovers the truth about Will’s supposed singled parenthood, but keeps it a secret so Will stays on his side. In return Will teaches Marcus about trainers, trends and bands, becoming a reluctant mentor in the process. Unenthusiastic as he begins, Will evolves into a pretty cool father figure to the boy and they teach each other a lot in the process.
The neglectful nurturer
Mr Wormwood in Matilda by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s oeuvre is full of positive paternal role models, from the kindly dad in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to the gentle giant in The BFG. But the dim-witted Mr Wormwood, father of Matilda, is nothing of the sort. A crooked second-hand-car salesman, he’s boorish and blind to his daughter’s many gifts. The lonely Matilda seeks solace in the form of her teacher, Miss Honey, and exacts revenge on her dad with a range of pranks, such as pouring Superglue into his hat. When Matilda’s parents are forced to run from the police because of her father’s underhand automotive dealings, they give her permission to stay with Miss Honey and the two live happily ever after.
The criminal carer
Fagin in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
He’s not really a father, but the grotesque Fagin is the only paternal figure that the poor orphans in Oliver Twist have. A dastardly villain, Fagin recruits unfortunate children to become pickpockets in exchange for food and shelter, caring less for their welfare than he does about them not ‘peaching’ on him and his criminal ring. Nevertheless, the treatment Oliver receives while in the thieving enclave is better than he did at the baby farm and, perverse as it is, fellow children such as Jack Dawkins, aka the Artful Dodger, have great respect for the advice of the old man. Dickens knew what he was talking about – he took the name Fagin from a friend he’d known when he worked at a boot-blacking factory in his childhood and based the character on Ikey Solomon, a criminal at the centre of a highly publicised arrest, escape, recapture, and trial in Victorian London.