This Sunday is Father’s Day, and in honor of the dads, granddads, and other father figures who’ve shaped our lives, we’ve compiled a list of some of literature’s most famous (and infamous) fathers. Check out Bas Bleu’s picks below, then tell us about your favorite literary dads in the comments section. (WARNING: plot spoilers ahead!)
Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
No “best of” list of fictional parents would be complete without the esteemed paterfamilias of Harper Lee’s seminal American novel. As a small-town lawyer in segregated Alabama during the Great Depression, Atticus knows defending a black man falsely accused of rape is a lost cause. And yet he persists, shouldering the ire of the townsfolk and facing down a lynch mob, all in the name of doing the right thing. He wears his integrity with quiet, humble grace, even when it means letting his children see him fail. Scout and Jem may have been Atticus’s only biological kids, but he’s a sterling role model for us all.
Carson Drew, the Nancy Drew mystery series
Helicopter parents today might look unfavorably upon Carson Drew’s indulgent style of child rearing, but without his lenient spirit, daughter Nancy Drew never would have become America’s favorite girl detective. As a lawyer, he was a priceless source of legal information for his young crime solver, yet never seemed too upset by the prospect of her skirting the law for her own ends. And he gets serious bonus points for providing Nancy with all of those sporty convertibles, cheerfully replacing them each and every time she was run off the road by some dastardly villain!
Jean Valjean, Les Misérables
As non-biological fathers go, Jean Valjean proves you don’t have to share genes to be a great dad. Not only does he go to prison for stealing bread to feed someone else’s kids, but he adopts the daughter of a prostitute when the woman is on her deathbed. And when his beloved Cosette falls in love with a revolutionary, Valjean risks his own life and freedom to rescue young Marius from the brink of death. Marius promptly rewards his selflessness by driving a wedge between father and daughter, but the trio reconcile in the nick of time.
King Lear, King Lear
If you thought Hamlet’s mom was a nightmare, William Shakespeare doubles down with King Lear. This guy tells his three daughters that if they want a shot at his fortune, they’ll have to earn it…each by proving she loves him more than her sisters do. When his youngest daughter, Cordelia, refuses to flatter his ego and quantify her love, Lear disinherits her. Eventually he figures out that Cordelia’s sisters are plotting against him, and little C is the only one who sticks by him when everyone else betrays him. But Lear’s revelation is too little too late. Not surprisingly, everyone dies in the end.
Vito Corleone, The Godfather
Maybe it’s strange to bestow parenting accolades on a mob boss, but Mario Puzo’s gangster saga is all about family. Sure, the don orders the murders of men as easily as he orders his dinner, but Vito Corleone is also utterly devoted to his family. In addition to his own four children, he adopts street orphan Tom Hagan, raising him up to become his consigliere. Don Corleone works hard (and in vain) to keep his youngest son, Michael, out of “the family business,” and admonishes his godson Johnny Fontane that, “a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”
Heathcliff, Wuthering Height
Oh, where to begin? The guy fathers a son by his very reluctant wife, keeps the child virtually housebound, then forces him to marry the daughter of his own lost love, Cathy. Plus he treats Cathy’s nephew Hareton as little more than a slave after cheating him out of his inheritance. True, Heathcliff was tormented by Hareton’s father when they were children, and Cathy wasn’t exactly winning any Miss Congeniality awards. Readers can only hope that Hareton and Catherine Junior turned out to be better parents to their own kids.
Matthew Cuthbert, Anne of Green Gables
If Anne Shirley has fate to thank for sending her (instead of the asked-for orphan boy) to Green Gables, readers the world over know we have Matthew Cuthbert to thank for keeping her there. The shy bachelor farmer is usually happy to let his sister Marilla handle the details of their domestic life, but spunky Anne wins his heart from the moment he claps eyes on her. It’s Matthew who convinces Marilla not to send Anne back to the orphanage and Matthew who delights in spoiling her—with puffed-sleeve dresses and a pearl necklace—when Marilla is too busy being stern.
Pap Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
If Huckleberry Finn is dismissed as a “juvenile pariah” by the townspeople in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it’s only because his neglectful drunkard of a father can’t be bothered to look out for the boy. But Pap adds insult to injury when he kidnaps Huck from his new home with the Widow Douglas in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, hankering to claim for himself his son’s recent financial windfall. To escape, Huck fakes his own death and embarks upon a river journey alongside escaped slave Jim. (Who, incidentally, turns out to be a much better father-figure than Pap.)
Mr. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
As gentlemen go, Elizabeth Bennet’s father isn’t exactly courageous. He spends most of his time hiding in his library from Mrs. Bennet, he’s rudely dismissive of her and three of their five daughters, and he makes no attempt to hide his favoritism for Elizabeth. But when his beloved Lizzie refuses to marry odious Mr. Collins, which would save the Bennets from being evicted from their family home, he risks his wife’s wrath and a stable future to give his daughter a chance at true happiness.
Bob Cratchit, A Christmas Carol
Because anyone who can put up with Ebenezer Scrooge and not carry that misery home to his wife and kids is a hero in our book.