Today being National Aunts and Uncles Day (who knew, right?), here’s a shout-out to some of the most memorable aunts in both literature and pop culture– the sweet and the sour, the doting and the demanding, the over-indulgent and the overbearing—with, in literature at least, the unfortunate majority being the more domineering.
Especially in Victorian literature, with its plethora of poor orphans, aunts would often step in as surrogate moms. Unfortunately, some of the more notable ones are known to us by their surnames only.
Here are some of the most memorable, from sources as varied as from novels to comics.
Ada—Aunt Ada Doom, in Cold Comfort Farm, who very much lives up to her surname.
Agatha—In P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories fearsome Aunt Agatha is Bertie Wooster’s demeaning and demanding nemesis, known as ‘the nephew crusher.’ Batman’s Bruce Wayne also has an Aunt Agatha, who is equally overbearing.
Alexandra—In To Kill a Mockingbird Scout and Jem’s Aunt Alexandra Hancock, the sister of Atticus Finch, is another somewhat opinionated and judgmental aunt, who moves in with the Finch family.
Augusta—(Yet another common Aunt name beginning and ending in ‘a’.) In Oscar Wilde’s play The Importance of Being Earnest, Aunt Augusta, aka Lady Bracknell, is Algernon’s –once again—snobbish and domineering aunt, whereas the eponymous Aunt Augusta featured in Graham Greene’s Travels With My Aunt is a dynamic romantic
Beatrice—Beverly Cleary’s character Ramona Quimby has an Aunt Beatrice, nn Bea, who is the namesake of Ramona‘s sister, nicknamed Beezus–Beatrice in baby talk.
Bee—Beatrice Taylor is everybody’s Aunt (pron. ain’t) Bee on The Andy Griffith Show/Mayberry RFD–busy cooking, pickling and offering sage advice. More and more modern parents are beginning to opt for the Bee spelling over Bea.
Beru—This may be a little off target, but in Star Wars, Beru Whitesun Lars is the aunt who raised Luke Skywalker after the fall of the Galactic Republic.
Betsey –In David Copperfield, Betsey Trotwood is David‘s eccentric great-aunt, who takes him in when he runs away from his factory job. This is the more unusual spelling of Betsy.
Catherine—Lady Catherine de Bourgh is Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy’s snobbish and meddlesome aunt in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Clara—Aunt Clara is a kindly, absent-minded character on Bewitched; Samantha’s less visible other aunts were Entrantra and Hagatha.
Dahlia—The opposite of her sister Agatha in the Jeeves stories is Bertie Wooster’s beloved Aunt Dahlia, described as being constructed along the lines of Mae West.
Edna—Crochety old Aunt Edna is foisted upon the Griswald family in National Lampoon’s Vacation. It was Aunt Bethany who appeared in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Em/Emily—Dorothy Gale’s Aunty Em is her surrogate mother on the Kansas farm in the Oz books, one of the people she misses most on her adventures—in fact her command to the magical Silver Shoes is “Take me home to Aunt Em!”
Esther—On Sanford & Son, the Bible-toting Aunt Esther Anderson is the bane of Fred Sanford’s existence”
Harriet—In Batman, Dick Grayson’s Aunt Harriet Cooper first appears on the scene upon the death of Bruce Wayne‘s butler Alfred, announcing her intention to move into Wayne Manor and take care of Bruce and Dick.
Hilda—In Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Aunt Hildegarde Antoinette “Hilda” Spellman is a 642-year-old European witch who is a bit of a worrywart.
Lavinia—Aunt Lavinia Penniman, Henry James’s Washington Square, is another of literature’s eccentric, meddlesome, melodramatic aunts.
Léonie—In Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way, the religious, bedridden Aunt Léonie, based on the author’s own Aunt Élisabeth, figures largely in his remembrances of things past.
Lydia—In Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer is taken under the wing of her maternal Aunt Lydia Touchett after her father’s death, and is taken by her to Europe.
Mame—Patrick Dennis’s Auntie Mame is the personification of the word ‘madcap,’ her expacades seen on the printed page, the movie screen and the Broadway stage.
Matilda—Aunt Matilda Crawley is a favorite, very wealthy, aunt of the Crawley family in Thackeray’s Vanity Fair.
Maud–In Henry James’s Wings of the Dove, Maud Lowder is Kate Croy’s domineering aunt.
May—In the story of Spiderman, Peter Parker’s Aunt May takes him in, becoming like a parent to him, a source of strength and wisdom.
Patty and Selma Bouvier are Marge Simpson‘s’s cigarette smoking, raspy voiced, older twin sisters, who treat poor brother-in-law Homer with total hostility and disdain.
Petunia—Harry Potter’s Aunt Petunia Dursley is essentially an outsider, with little knowledge of the wizarding world.
Pittypat—Aunt Pittypat Hamilton in GWTW, born Sarah Jane Hamilton, acquired her childhood nickname from the way she walked on her tiny feet. She raised niece and nephew Melanie and Charles Hamilton after their father died, and provided a refuge for Scarlett O’Hara as well.
Polly—Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Polly is one of the quintessential American fictional aunts, a caring but disciplined, naïve but generous mother figure. Also, in the eponymous children’s classic Pollyanna, the young orphan girl goes to live with her stern Aunt Polly.
Vivian—In Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Professor Vivian Banks is the wealthy (she does live in Bel Air, after all), no-nonsense, career-minded aunt of streetwise nephew Will Smith.
Zerelda, aka Zelda—In Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, Zelda Spellman is Sabrina‘s brainy aunt who is continually engaged in new scientific experiments. (Sabrina also had Great Aunts Irma, Beulah and Dorma.)
And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Which other aunts’ names would you add? Do you have a favorite fictional aunt—either character or name?