Lucy Hughes-Hallett

Mum’s the Word

Writers and Their Mothers


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Walt Whitman liked it when people told him that he was just like his mother. His poetry meant nothing to her – ‘well if it dont hurt you i am glad’, she wrote dismissively of Leaves of Grass – but he claimed it was ‘the flower of her temperament active in me’. Away, he wrote to her almost daily. At home, he thought her coffee and buckwheat the best in the world. ‘Oh! we have been great chums: always next to each other: always.’ For others, that kind of closeness was problematic. Samuel Beckett was desperate to leave his mother, taking off to spend long periods in Continental Europe. But repeatedly he returned, only to quarrel with her and, on one occasion, throw a pudding into the veronica hedge. Her death, for him, was a release: ‘All over and done with at last.’

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