In Sept. 2013 I wrote a post called “Mothering” and reviewed the generally poor mothering skills of the women in Portwenn. I want to revisit the topic of mothering because I have become convinced that the role of mother is eminently important and that when Martin and Louisa enter marriage counseling, they will have to address their experiences with their own mothers.
In Sept. 2013, I wrote that Joan and Louisa were the only women in the show who demonstrated an aptitude for mothering. It’s especially curious that Joan is portrayed as a good mother figure because she has never had children of her own. Instead, Martin’s summer visits seem to have been a vicarious way for her to fulfill her mothering instincts (unless we consider her animals her children). We are led to believe that she always loved Martin and was sincerely hurt when his parents no longer allowed him to visit; however, we also know that whatever mothering she provided was limited to the few months he visited each summer. We also know that during his visits he met John Slater who was actually Joan’s lover, not her husband. What sort of relationship Martin had with Joan’s husband remains unexplored. Therefore, not only was Martin subjected to a biological mother who rejected him, and even resented him, but also the one loving mother figure in his life was only with him a few months each year and had a questionable home life herself. (We have speculated that there might have been a loving nanny/governess during his early childhood years, but we haven’t heard anything about that on the show.)
Louisa demonstrates natural mothering instincts when she has her baby. She has previously told Bert that she wants children of her own, she spends her days working with children as a nurturer and teacher, and she has come to her student Peter Cronk’s rescue more than once. Hence we are not very surprised that she falls easily into her role as mother. From the moment the baby is born, we see Louisa hold the baby close, have difficulty letting the baby cry, worry about whether she’s handling things right and reading the current literature pre and post natal. She starts out breastfeeding, although we aren’t shown too much of that (something that would be much more a part of her daily life under normal circumstances), and she has the baby near her a lot of the time. Once she returns to work, she is conflicted about leaving the baby, except with his father (and sometimes even with his father). Thus, we have the overall sense that Louisa is the kind of mother neither Martin nor she had themselves, and who Martin appears to take delight in when observing her. She would probably be seen by Martin as the sort of mother he would have liked to have had.
What I find most interesting, however, is Louisa’s relationship with her own mother and how that may have played a role in Louisa’s personal development. What we’ve been told about Louisa’s childhood begins at the age of 11. To the best of our knowledge, she was born in or near Portwenn and grew up there. She remembers good times with her father, Terry, who occasionally took her for ice cream. The most significant memory of her mother, however, is that she left for Spain to be with Javier when Louisa was 11 years old. We have no idea what her home life was like until then, but her mother’s departure to be with another man must have been preceded by some sort of affair with him as well as some sort of estrangement between Eleanor and Terry. It certainly seems as though Louisa and Eleanor have been out of contact with each other much of the time Eleanor has been in Spain, despite the fact that Louisa decided to write her mother about her pregnancy. Clearly Eleanor considered a letter from her daughter significant enough to fly to see her after the baby is born. (She also came because she wanted to make a deal for a seafood supplier for the restaurant in Spain.)
In Eleanor we meet a fun loving, free spirited woman who acts totally unaffected by the long break in their contact with each other. She immediately tells Louisa she looks like she could use a rest and she wants to hold the baby. There’s not even a slight hesitation on her part.
Soon Eleanor becomes involved in their family life and Louisa trusts her, with some reservations, to care for James Henry. They need someone to watch the baby while they both continue to work, and Eleanor appears competent until she adds a few drops of her elixir to JH’s bottle to calm him. Once that somewhat innocent blunder is overcome, Eleanor disappoints again when she shows up late and hires a questionable teen to watch JH so she can work in Bert’s restaurant. Eleanor is not sufficiently committed to the baby’s care even after she is given this second chance to redeem herself. Moreover, it is at Louisa’s lowest moment that Eleanor decides to leave again.
The unexpected behaviors Louisa exhibits are turning to her mother twice following difficulties with Martin. The first time is in S5 when Louisa decides she can’t stay with Martin due to his consistent failure to consult her about matters of the home. She takes JH in his carriage to her mother’s house and is received there with genuine sympathy. The second time is in the last two episodes of S6 when she decides to fly to Spain with JH to have some time to think about her marriage. As Martin says, in his constant state of bewilderment, she doesn’t even like her mother. But such is the power of mothers and the need for their comforting and nurturing that, despite ongoing conflicted feelings, Louisa looks to her mother for sanctuary.
Because I find the decision to have Louisa seek out her mother under trying circumstances in her marriage so credible and yet so startling, I think it’s worth writing about. While acknowledging that the show needs a place for Louisa to go in both cases, and her mother fulfills that need quite well, it’s also telling that they choose her mother as the person Louisa seeks out. Here’s a thirtysomething woman who has been on her own most of her life and now needs a soft place to land. And the place she decides on is with her mother, the person who abandoned her and has disappointed her many times.
We could think there aren’t many options for Louisa, and we have to say that’s true. However, there could also be something else going on here. To some degree there could be some sense of unresolved abandonment issues in Louisa. Throughout Eleanor’s reappearance in Portwenn following James Henry’s birth, Louisa tries to excuse her behavior. She gives Eleanor second chances, she thinks her mother is having a romantic dinner with an old flame, and is jealous of her, when she’s only going out to close a business deal and has no concern for the man as a person. Once he’s injured and can’t fulfill his contract, she’s off to find someone else. No matter what Eleanor does, Louisa continues to care about her. When she ultimately requires an emergency surgical procedure, Louisa is markedly worried and acts very relieved when it all goes well. Thus, Louisa is depicted as much more compassionate than her mother and towards her mother than her mother is towards her.
Another thing that could be going on is some feelings of self-doubt in Louisa. One source notes the following rather pedestrian, but substantive, observations: “All children who have been abandoned by their mothers, either physically or psychologically, wonder what they did to cause “Mommy” to leave. They ask themselves if they did something wrong; if they did, they want to figure out what it was. These children also wonder if they are lovable.” There is a strong likelihood that Louisa is still blaming herself for her mother’s departure during her childhood and she is probably still yearning for her mother to treat her in a loving manner. When Eleanor ushers Louisa into her home in S5, she is showing Louisa the acceptance and love she craves; and when Eleanor talks to Louisa prior to departing again at the end of S5, she tells her how proud she is of her. To a certain extent, Eleanor has finally answered Louisa’s apprehensions developed in childhood about her mother. After that resolution, minimal as it may appear, perhaps Louisa’s decision to fly to Spain to stay with her mother isn’t so surprising.
It’s also perhaps not surprising that Louisa habitually decides to leave Martin whenever they have dissension in their relationship. According to the same source, “Some children who have experienced a maternal abandonment will come to the mistaken conclusion that they are better off protecting themselves from any more hurt. They also decide that it’s better to do the abandoning than to go through the pain of being abandoned again.” Marriage counseling should at some point identify these inclinations as well as how Louisa’s mother has played a role in her approach to her marriage. Feeling abandoned by one’s mother is traumatic at any age. In this show we have two main characters who have been either physically or psychologically (or both) abandoned by their mothers. It’s a topic of some importance to the show.
We have discussed Martin’s mother’s influence on him to some extent, but in my next post I want to add more to that too. It’s nice to get back to writing another post and I hope to hear from some of you. Sorry for the lengthy break.
Originally posted 2015-02-14 15:21:57.