Mary Balogh’s seventy-sixth novel, The Arrangement, was released on August 27. The hero, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, is a beta, the most recent in an impressive list of Balogh’s beta heroes that stretches across nearly three decades. I consider myself a connoisseur of beta heroes in romance fiction, and I think Balogh has created some of the best. Here are my favorites:
1. Tom Russell, The Trysting Place (1986)
This, Balogh’s fifth novel, is not among my favorites of Balogh’s novels because about a third of the way into the book, I lose all sympathy for the heroine. But Tom is a wonderful hero, warm and loving with a quiet strength that is typical of beta heroes. He is wholly devoted to Felicity’s happiness even at considerable cost to his own.
2. Ralph, Earl of Chartleigh, Gentle Conquest (1987)
Like Balogh’s most recent beta hero, Lord Chartleigh is very young, only twenty-one. He is also a shy scholar with no sexual experience, no interest in fashion, and no interest in society. In other words, despite his title, his wealth, and his good looks, he is the antithesis of the usual lordly hero, and his bride, who considers herself quite the sophisticate, holds her young husband in contempt. Georgiana has to grow up before she can appreciate Charleigh’s genuine kindness, integrity, and intelligence.
3. Sir Peregrine Lampman, A Promise of Spring (1990)
Perry is an outgoing, sweet-natured young man with a wide range of interests, a favorite with ladies of all ages. Everyone is surprised when he marries the decade-older, spinster sister of a close friend after her brother is killed in heroic circumstances. Although an atypical beta in some ways, Perry demonstrates essential beta qualities when he refuses to impose his will on Grace, even if recognizing her autonomy may lead to his losing her.
4. Paul Villiers, Duke of Milford, The Unlikely Duchess (1990)
The Duke of Milford is a short young man with a good-humored face and a devotion to duty and decorum befitting his status. When his grandfather arranges a marriage for him with the granddaughter of an old friend, he acquiesces without complaint. He has no idea that his future bride is anything but decorous and that she is about to introduce adventure and opportunities for deeds of derring-do into his life as well as the chance to win her regard as a plain mister with no titles or fortune. One of Balogh’s rare romps, An Unlikely Duchess features a beta hero who steals the reader’s heart and tickles her funny bone.
5. Sir Gerald Stapleton, A Precious Jewel (1993)
A mere baronet, Gerald Stapleton is not especially handsome, staggeringly wealthy, remarkably intelligent, particularly charming, or significantly courageous. In fact, he is the rather stolid, not too sharp friend of the hero that readers never expect to see become the star of his own story, which is exactly the role he plays in The Ideal Wife (1991). In that book, Stapleton complains about the loss of his mistress who forsakes him to marry someone from her past. Balogh has said that she became fascinated with the character and his relationship to Pris, the prostitute turned mistress with whom the insecure Gerald becomes comfortable. Balogh wrote the story, doubting if it would ever be published. It has become a reader favorite with one of romance fiction’s most poignant proposal scenes and most beloved betas.
6. Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew, Lord Carew’s Bride (1995)
There is nothing heroic about Lord Carew’s looks. At best, he would be ordinary looking, but he also walks with a limp and copes with a weak, twisted right hand, the result of a childhood riding accident that was really no accident. He is so unassuming that when the heroine meets him she thinks he is a gardener. The beautiful Samantha marries him expecting a safe, undemanding friendship and discovers her husband is a passionate man, confident enough to trust her and strong enough to live his life free of self-pity and to physically defend his lady’s honor when it is necessary to do so. This is one of the best friends-to-lovers romances ever, and Lord Carew is one of my all-time favorite heroes.
7. Sydnam Butler, Simply Love (2006)
Once a handsome artist, Sydnam is now a scarred veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, who, thanks to the loss of an arm and an eye, has had to rethink his plans for his life. Refusing to succumb to self-pity or to depend on his family, he has accepted the position of steward on the Duke of Bewcastle’s Welsh estate. The beauty of the land, the music of the people, and the satisfaction of challenging work done well help Sydnam find self-acceptance and peace. His contentment is threatened when the Bewcastles arrive for a summer visit, bringing with them the beautiful schoolteacher Anne Jewel, an unwed mother who has achieved a hard-won peace of her own. Sydnam’s courage in the face of torture, in confronting his altered life, and in proposing marriage to a woman who would never be accepted by many offers evidence that there is nothing wimpy about a beta hero.
8. Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf, Simply Magic (2007)
Peter, an indulged only son who inherited his title at an early age, is a pleasant, easy-going fellow who has taken the path of least resistance and allowed his mother and older sisters to control his life. A born flirt who likes women and enjoys their company, he is a great favorite with the ladies who enjoy his charming ways and understand that he poses no threat to them. Susanna Osbourne, a young schoolteacher, is the exception. Wary at first, the two become friends, and his feelings for Susanna foster a growing dissatisfaction with failure to assert himself. Peter’s story shows the growth of a beta from an accommodating son to a confident man in control of his life and his happiness.
9. Stephen Huxtable, the Earl of Merton, Seducing an Angel (2009)
Stephen Huxtable is almost perfect. Tall, blond, and handsome, he performs his lordly duties diligently, loves his sisters and their families devotedly, and treats women from wallflowers to scandalous ladies with respect. Like other Balogh betas, he came into his title recently and unexpectedly and for his first years as an earl was strongly influenced by his older sisters. All these things make him like the worst of beta stereotypes, spineless, boring, and bland, but he is none of these. He is genuine and honorable and true to his own values, and, despite his youth, he proves a match for the more experienced heroine in perseverance, perceptiveness, and strength of will.
10. Edward Ailsbury, Earl of Heyward, The Secret Mistress (2011)
Readers are introduced to Heyward in More than a Mistress (2000) and No Man’s Mistress (2001) in which Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, and his younger brother, Ferdinand, are the respective heroes. In those books, Heyward is the staid husband of the irrepressible Angeline, younger sister of the Dudleys. Balogh fans were so intrigued by the relationship between Angeline and her husband that Balogh wrote the prequel in which Angeline falls in love with her sober earl. Angeline wants a husband who is the opposite of her brothers who are practiced charmers, and she finds her dreams fulfilled in Heyward, who is serious, ultra responsible, and determined to be the opposite of his rakish older brother, the previous earl, in all things.
“In a few short minutes he had shown himself to be her ideal of manhood. Of gentlemanhood. He seemed perfectly content and comfortable with his ordinariness. He seemed not to feel the need to posture and prove his masculinity at every turn…. He was, in fact, more than ordinary. He was an extraordinary man.”
Echoing Angeline’s description of Heyward, Balogh expresses what she explains is the “wonderful challenge” of creating a beta hero with whom the author and her readers fall in love: “taking a very ordinary man, a very believable man, and making him into something extraordinary in the course of his love story.” I hope she continues to show the extraordinary in the ordinary hero. I’m already looking forward to the next of Balogh’s beta heroes.
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.