Fathers of the heroes and heroines of historical romance novels come in a variety of flavors. There’s the father who is absent due to death or abandonment, the father who is an ineffective bumbler, and the father who, through indifference or outright malice, harms the protagonist. Even the good father is often nothing more than a paper-doll figure. I’ve long thought that Loretta Chase is an exception to the norm, creating throughout her career some of the most interesting father figures in historical romance fiction, from the scene-stealing Devil Desmond in The Devil’s Delilah (1989) to the solid Lord Lexham in Don’t Tempt Me (2009), but by far the most interesting of Chase’s fictional fathers is the Earl of Hargate.
Hargate is the father of five sons, the heroes of the Carsington Brothers series: Alistair (Miss Wonderful), Rupert (Mr. Impossible), Benedict (Lord Perfect), Darius (Not Quite a Lady), and Geoffrey, who is happily married when the series opens and is never seen, only mentioned occasionally. Hargate is a character for whom the term “lord” is more than recognition of his status as an aristocrat. His sons view him as a godlike figure, omnipotent and omniscient. He sets the hero on his journey in the first, second, and fourth books and serves as the deus ex machina who resolves the hero’s dilemma in the third book.
Chase offers evidence within the books and externally to them of her vision of Hargate as a figure of significance. When asked about the Carsingtons in an interview after the first two books had been published, she said, “I’m fascinated with the Carsington family dynamics. What's it like for these men, having an incredibly powerful, manipulative father?” Hargate is the first character introduced in the series. Miss Wonderful (2004) opens with these words: “The Right Honorable Edward Junius Carsington, Earl of Hargate, had five sons, which was three more than he needed.” In other words, he has his heir and his spare, and both are paragons. It is his three younger sons who are proving to be expensive and worrisome, and Hargate will use his impressive powers to ensure that they not waste their lives in the manner of many of their contemporaries. Hargate continues to play an important role throughout the series.
The Carsington sons retain a lively respect for their father’s powers even into their adulthood. Alistair has no doubts concerning his father’s role in his life. He credits Hargate with sending him to war and with severing Alistair’s ties to the military, but he thinks Mirabel has an inflated idea of Hargate’s influence in Derbyshire. However, Mirabel insists that Hargate is “at least as important as the Duke of Devonshire.” When Hargate wonders if he can solve the problem of Alistair, Lady Hargate’s reassurance indicates how wide the earl’s sphere of influence is: “If you can manage the royal offspring—not to mention those unruly fellows in the House of Commons—you most certainly can manage your son.” Even the British officials in Egypt express their awareness of Hargate’s influence. And when Bathsheba Wingate declares that she is not afraid of Hargate, Benedict cautions her, “You ought to be. . . . Most sentient beings are.”
It is hardly surprising that so powerful a lord would set high standards for his sons. Benedict recognizes that Hargate, unlike many of his peers who jealously guard their responsibilities and encourage their sons to play at life, gives his sons responsibilities “on the principle that the devil made work for idle hands.” Hargate makes clear to his youngest son Darius that no Carsington will belong to that company of “idle, thoughtless men incapable of doing anything more meaningful with their lives.” It is Lady Charlotte Hayward, the woman who will become Hargate’s fifth daughter-in-law, who sees this quality most clearly. She says to Darius: “He holds his sons to higher standards than most noblemen do. . . . If he appears dissatisfied with your accomplishments, it is because he believes you are capable of greater things.”
If Hargate’s parenting consisted only of the manipulative exercise of his powers and the high standards he sets for his sons, the reader might question whether the earl is a good father who truly cares for his sons. Manipulative fathers often see their children as extensions of their own identity or as tools to employ in political or social maneuvers. But Hargate demonstrates his love his sons. Granted one cannot imagine him expressing his sentiments as openly as does Mr. Oldridge when he says to his daughter Mirabel, “Nothing on earth is so dear to me as you.” Hargate would never say to one of his sons as Lord Lithby says to Charlotte, “I’m your father. You come to me when you are in trouble, and I bear it for you.” But the earl’s actions reveal his devotion to his sons.
When he receives the news of Rupert’s “death,” he responds with “silent and exceedingly lonely dignity. He feels “lost.” He makes the journey to tell Lady Hargate and the rest of the family without stopping to rest or sleep. His voice breaks when he tells his wife of the news from Egypt. When he arrives at Throgmorton to buy off the Dreadful DeLucey who has hooked the blameless Benedict, Bathsheba realizes that his shadowed eyes and drawn face are mute evidence of the sleepless nights he has spent worrying about Benedict. Perhaps the closest Hargate comes to giving voice to his feelings is when he expresses his “gratification” that Bathsheba has brought laughter and happiness back into Benedict’s life. It is a measure of his love for his son that he values Benedict’s happiness over the probable damage association with Bathsheba will do to the family reputation.
Although Hargate never speaks of his determination to see that his sons are settled into happy and prosperous lives, his every action affirms that as his purpose. Alistair goes to Derbyshire where he meets Mirabel because Hargate delivers an ultimatum: Alistair must find an occupation or marry an heiress or jeopardize the future of his younger brothers. Others may be surprised, but neither Hargate nor Oldridge, his partner in paternal matchmaking, is when Alistair finds both an occupation and an heiress and begins his happily-ever-after. Hargate sends Rupert to Egypt to the dismay of the British bureaucrats there, but his wife’s comment about a scholarly relative and Hargate’s raised eyebrow in response to Benedict’s query about why Rupert was sent to Egypt suggest that Rupert’s father may be less surprised than Rupert’s brothers to see Rupert with the brilliant Daphne. Hargate gives Darius the opportunity to prove himself by restoring Beechwood, a property conveniently bordering the property of Lord Lithby, whose only daughter had earlier been considered as a possible match for Benedict. While Hargate deplores Benedict’s road trip with the scandalous Bathsheba, once he believes Bathsheba is not the con artist he expected, it is he who conceives of the plan that will win her acceptance by the ton, a plan that will allow Benedict and Bathsheba to remain in England.
Benedict notes that his father’s expression when Olivia and Peregrine discover the treasure is the same subtle triumph that Hargate displayed at the weddings of Alistair and Rupert. Even though no one observed it, I feel certain he wore the same expression at Darius’s wedding. The Earl of Hargate, head of the Carsington family, could rest from the labors imposed upon him by fatherhood, confident of his sons’ futures, and taking lordly pleasure in the work his hands—and his Machiavellian mind—had wrought.
Janga spent decades teaching literature and writing to groups ranging from twelve-year-olds to college students. She is currently a freelance writer, who sometimes writes about romance fiction, and an aspiring writer of contemporary romance, who sometimes thinks of writing an American historical romance. She can be found at her blog Just Janga and tweeting obscure bits about writers as @Janga724.