Illegitimacy in fiction  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



This is a list of fictional stories in which illegitimacy features as an important plot element. Passing mentions are omitted from this list.


Written works

  • Sir Thomas Malory, Le Morte d'Arthur (1485 prose romance): King Arthur unwittingly begets a bastard son, Mordred, on his own half-sister Morgause. At Arthur's court, Mordred and his half-brother Agravain rake up discontent about the Queen’s adulterous relations with Sir Lancelot, and a civil war ensues. While Arthur is preoccupied fighting Lancelot, Mordred spreads word that Arthur has been killed, seizes the crown for himself, and attempts to seduce the queen. She resists, and Arthur quickly returns, attacking and defeating his son Mordred’s armies. Mordred dies in combat. Arthur is fatally wounded and dies shortly thereafter with his kingdom in ruins.
  • William Shakespeare, Richard III (1591 play): Richard, Duke of Gloucester, usurps the English throne, justifying the coup by claiming that the young nephew he deposed, King Edward V, and his younger brother, the Duke of York, are both illegitimate, as their father (Edward IV) was pre-contracted to another woman at the time of his marriage to their mother.
  • William Shakespeare, Much Ado about Nothing (1598 play): The envious and melancholy villain of the comedy, Don John, is a bastard, and invents schemes to thwart the marriage of his legitimate brother’s close friends.
  • William Shakespeare, King Lear (1605 play): Edmund, bastard son of the Earl of Gloucester, first cheats his legitimate brother Edgar of his lands, then stands by while his father is declared a traitor, blinded, and sent to wander in the wilderness. Edmund finally makes an attempt on the English crown itself by bedding Lear's two daughters Regan and Goneril.
  • Thomas Middleton, The Revenger's Tragedy (1607 play): In addition to cuckolding his father and plotting against his legitimate brother, the Duke's bastard son, Spurio, also becomes heavily embroiled in the Revenger's plot to undo the Duke and the rest of his family.
  • Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (1749 novel): Tom, the bastard infant of a country girl, is left in an anonymous bundle to the care of the rich and kind-hearted Mr. Allworthy. Mr. Allworthy raises Tom, who grows up and has a number of adventures over the book's thousand-plus pages.
  • Jane Austen, Emma (1815 novel): Harriet Smith, a young woman who attends a local school and who has been befriended by Emma Woodhouse, is described as the "natural daughter of somebody" ("natural" in this sense meaning illegitimate). Emma imagines that Harriet is the child of a royal duke and introduces her to the local vicar, Mr. Elton, who she thinks is a good match. Elton, however, sees Harriet as far below him socially, and instead woos the unsuspecting Emma. It is revealed later in the novel that Harriet is the child of a prosperous tradesman.
  • Elizabeth Gaskell, Ruth (1853 social novel): a compassionate portrayal of an orphaned young seamstress, Ruth Hilton, who is seduced, impregnated and abandoned by gentleman Henry Bellingham.
  • Alphonse Daudet, Jack (1876 novel): about an illegitimate child, a martyr to his mother's selfishness.
  • C.S. Forester, Brown on Resolution (1929 novel): the protagonist, an illegitimate British sailor and the only survivor of his ship, escapes custody aboard an Imperial German raider making repairs off an island in the South Atlantic and delays the ship's departure long enough for a British ship to arrive and destroy it, losing his life on the island in the process. The captain of the ship finds the sailor's body and discovers it is his own illegitimate son whose existence he has denied.
  • Marcel Pagnol, Fanny (1932 play)
  • Marcel Pagnol, César (1936 play)
  • Grace Metalious, Peyton Place (1956 novel): The main plot follows the lives of three women in a small New England town — lonely, repressed Constance MacKenzie, her illegitimate daughter Allison, and her employee Selena Cross.




  • Peyton Place (1957, based on Grace Metalious' best-selling novel)
  • Brown on Resolution (1935), based on C.S. Forester's book of the same name
  • Sailor of the King (1953), also based on Brown on Resolution. The film has two endings; in one, the sailor dies and his origin is revealed; in the other, he survives and his origin is not revealed. In both endings the sailor is shown to be Canadian, as the actor chosen for the part (Jeffrey Hunter) was American.
  • Fanny (1961, adapted from the musical play Fanny, which in turn had been adapted from Marcel Pagnol's trilogy of plays, Fanny, Marius and César)


See also


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Illegitimacy in fiction" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools