Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed, Jo Beverley’s first novel, was published in 1988. A Shocking Delight, her most recent novel was published in 2014. In the first, Beverley gives her heroine a father prone to tedious lectures and very much under his wife’s rule and a hero whose father managed to mold his heir in his own image to a degree. In A Shocking Delight, the heroine’s father is loving and protective, but also sexist and ignorant, of who his daughter truly is. The hero, through clever maneuverings in an earlier book, has two fathers, each quite scandalous, although for different reasons. In between, Beverley has given readers more than forty novels and novellas in which fathers—loving, abusive and indifferent, wise and foolish, controlling and indulgent, powerful and ineffectual—play their parts. To examine all these fathers would require a dissertation, so I shall limit this discussion to the five novels that contain the characters I find Jo Beverley’s most interesting fathers.
Emily and the Dark Angel (1991) is one of my top-ten traditional regencies, and the protagonists’ relationships with their fathers are among the reasons it holds that place. Piers Verderan (The Dark Angel) has been shaped in large part into the man he is by the magic of his father’s presence and the contrast between his memories of his father and the reality of life under the control of his crazed and cruel grandfather. Fittingly, it is his father’s will, along with Piers’s own courage and ingenuity, that frees him from that control. Emily Grantwich’s father is still among the living, but a foolish duel has left him paralyzed. Emily tries to hold on to the fact that her father “had been a good landowner and a good father. A rough, bluff, old-fashioned squire. . .,” but his present flaws make remembering past virtues difficult. In the present, he is a querulous, demanding old man, “all twisted by his misfortune,” who finds fault with Emily’s administration of the estate, a task she’s forced to perform given her father’s incapacity and her soldier brother’s missing-in-action status. It is actually work at which she is quite skilled, although her father neither understands her gifts nor appreciates her efforts. Piers, on the other hand, not only appreciates what Emily does well but also sees all that she can become. He wants to see her soar.
Beverley’s most vividly drawn paternal figure is the Duke of Belcraven, who has a prominent role in the second of the Company of Rogues series, An Unwilling Bride (1992). Belcraven is both the legal father of Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, the hero, and the biological father of Beth Armitage, the novel’s heroine. Lucien has been reared as Belcraven’s son, and all his life he has held his father in high esteem: “A dressing down by his father was an indication that he had fallen below the standards of the de Vaux, that his father was ashamed of his son and heir. Arden had frequently wept.”
Belcraven is a proud, reserved man, one not given to free expression of his emotions, but he loves his son. He proves that love by the choices he makes over a quarter of a century. But when he learns that he has an illegitimate daughter and sees a way to ensure that the de Vaux blood that has run pure for seven centuries continues, his will is unshakable. “I wish to God you were my son, “ he says to Lucien even as he breaks the news that Lucien is the offspring of the duchess’s brief and soon-regretted affair with an old love and that Belcraven will take any measures necessary to see that Lucien marries Beth Armitage, who has the bloodline that Lucien lacks.
The Belcraven that readers see in his first scene with Beth is a very different man from the grim, tortured man revealed in the scene with Lucien. His conversation with her is leavened with humor. He gives her a “sweet smile,” and he is clearly delighted with her intelligence and spirit. And he is also sensitive to her feelings about him and about the mother who had no affection for her. However, he is no less ruthless with Beth when she opposes his plan for her marriage, threatening her with the mortgages he holds that give him the power to destroy the school of Beth’s “aunt” and benefactor.
Once plans for the marriage are set in motion, the focus, quite rightly, moves to the relationship between Beth and Lucien, but Beverley continues to give us glimpses of Belcraven, revealing his vulnerabilities where the duchess is concerned and his hope that Beth and Lucien will learn to deal with one another and find a measure of happiness. As the novel nears its end and all the threads are being tied up, there is a scene that suggests to me that the HEA for this story is large enough to include more than the H/H relationship. Beth, Lucien’s former mistress, and three of the Rogues (Lucien, Nicholas Delaney, and Miles Cavanagh) are in disreputable disguises, having just made sure through less than legal methods that evil is defeated and Rogue justice is dispensed. As part of the motley crown celebrating the allied victory over Napoleon, they encounter Belcraven and Lord Liverpool, the Prime Minister, in conversation with two more of the Rogues (Hal Beaumont and Francis, Lord Middlethorpe). Liverpool is indignant and disapproving of the riffraff, but Belcraven, recognizing them, is amused. He calls Beth a “saucy piece.”
She responds, “I’m the apple of my father’s eye.”
“I don’t doubt it,” the duke said, and his glance encompassed both Beth and Lucien. I don’t doubt it at all.”
It’s a moment I find almost as satisfying as Beth and Lucien’s bliss.
Beverley gives readers another book with two living fathers in Hazard (2002), a Rogues spinoff and book #8 in the series. Lady Anne Peckworth, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Arran, has been the next closest thing to jilted by two of the Rogues—Francis, Lord Middlethorpe (Forbidden, 1994) and Con Somerford, Viscount Amleigh (The Dragon’s Bride, 2001). The two disappointments coupled with the lameness she has had from birth make Lady Anne’s loving family particularly protective of her. Her father is a less forceful character than his duchess, but he proves he is well able to look after Anne’s best interests and that he likely understands what her best interests are better than does her ambitious mother. The duke is described as “softheartedly devoted to all his children,” and when Anne imagines her family’s reaction to her unconventional choice of a husband, she comforts herself that however angry her mother may be, the duke will not cut Anne off from the family.
There is a sweetness in Anne’s relationship with her father, but the hero’s complicated relationship with his father is more interesting. Race de Vere’s father is a rough-edged, self-made man whose wealth earned him a lady wife. He took a more aristocratic name, “deVere,” and sent his son to the right schools with the expectation that Race would become “the first true gentleman of his line.” Race refused and at seventeen ran away to join the army, with help from his maternal uncle. He and his father maintain a physically and emotionally distant relationship for seven years. Returning home after he leaves military service, Race learns that his father, who remarried and had a second family after the death of Race’s mother, has a plan to have his first marriage annulled, purchase a title, and see his younger son become the gentleman his eldest refused to be.
Race agrees with the plan, conceding that “Little Tom will doubtless grow up to be just the sort of son [their father] wants—the sort of aristocrat that England will need. One foot in tradition and the land, and the other in industry and new ideas.” Race is not even bothered that the annulment will make him a bastard—at least not until he falls in love with a duke’s daughter. When Race and Anne decide to marry against what they know will be her family’s furious objections, he decides they should visit his father. Race is not even certain they will be welcome in his father’s house.
Anne sees more clearly. She recognizes Mr. de Vere’s first look at his son as “part love, part loss, and part exasperated worry.” The elder de Vere not only receives them hospitably, but he also admits the mistakes he made with Race and vows to be a wiser father to young Tom. He assures Race, “But whatever the case, you are my son.” He insists too that Race accept a fair share of the de Vere fortune, a share that amounts to 5000 a year, enough to make Race slightly more palatable to Anne’s family.
From the complicated to the wonderfully simple . . . One of the most loving, supportive relationships between father and son is briefly pictured in The Rogue’s Return (2006), book #11 in the series but the homecoming story of the eighth Rogue, Simon St. Bride. Unusual in that the story is set partly in Canada and partly on board ship, the novel has Simon’s family appear only in the final section of the novel, after he and his bride have returned to England. Bridewell, Simon’s home is presented as an idyllic, beloved spot, filled with a large family devoted to one another. In words and action, the St. Brides demonstrate their love for their son and brother. They welcome him home with enthusiasm and accept his wife with no reservations. There is a rare absence of reserve between Simon and his father. They exchange an embrace in the homecoming scene, and the two men talk openly to one another of their concerns. They understand one another. His father knows Simon will never be content with the peaceful, slow-paced life his father enjoys. Simon admires his father: “My father is a wonderful man . . . and strong in many ways. He doesn’t avoid problems.” It comes as no surprise then when Simon makes a sacrifice for his father and the rest of the family—not from a sense of duty but as a gift freely given.
As much as I love the Rogues, I can’t forget her Mallorens and the character who is arguably Beverley’s most famous contribution to romance fiction. The Marquess of Rothgar is introduced in My Lady Notorious (1993), but readers waited seven years as Rothgar saw all his half-siblings happily settled and finally achieved his own HEA with Diana Westmount, Countess of Arradale. Rothgar’s dark memories of his mad, murderous mother and his determination to sire no children are threads that run through the series. Only at the end of Devilish (2000) do readers see Rothgar pass a kind of test and decide that he can enjoy being a father.
In A Lady’s Secret (2008), which I fondly refer to as Jo Beverley’s secret baby book, Rothgar finds that he has been a father for quite some time. After a road trip filled with danger, adventure, laughter, romance, and a scene-stealing Papillon, the heroine, Petra d'Averio, arrives at the home of her father, a titled Englishman who knows nothing of her existence. She looks so much like him that her father recognizes her immediately. This is the Rothgar readers fell in love with more than a decade ago, softened a bit by happiness but with his omniscience undiminished. In one breath, he assures Petra that she need have no fears, that he is fully capable of protecting her from her enemies; in the next, he expresses the hope that she will eventually call him “Father or Papa.” He is doubly delighted with his daughter, first because he values her for herself and secondly because her clear-eyed sanity reassures him that the “tainted blood” he has feared passing on is a shadow with no substance. The story ends with Rothgar as father of the bride—and scheduled to become a father for the second time about the time he becomes a first-time grandfather.
Happy Father’s Day, Rothgar!
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.