Advice for Fathers in Romance Novels

Jessica Plummer

Contributing Editor

Jessica Plummer has lived her whole life in New York City, but she prefers to think of it as Metropolis. Her day job is in books, her side hustle is in books, and she writes books on the side (including a short story in Sword Stone Table from Vintage). She loves running, knitting, and thinking about superheroes, and knows an unnecessary amount of things about Donald Duck. Follow her on Twitter at @jess_plummer.

I’ve read a fair number of historical romance novels in my day, and though the genre has a wider range than its detractors would have us believe, there’s one thing that remains by and large consistent throughout: 90% of the main characters’ fathers suck eggs. Whether distant and cold, wildly irresponsible, or flat-out abusive, romance novel dads are by and large the absolute pits.

Don’t roll your eyes, Mr. Bennet, you’re on my list.

Since their failings generally fall into familiar patterns, especially where the Regency is concerned, I thought I’d put together some advice for any fictional fathers who might be looking to improve their parenting skills. Especially if they’re dukes.

  • Don’t raise your highly sensitive child on a dilapidated estate on a remote, howling moor, constantly reminding them of your family’s past glory while the house falls to pieces around your ears.
  • Don’t encourage older sons to tumble the parlourmaids (or tumble them yourself).
  • Don’t deliver coldly dismissive lectures or hypocritically pious sermons from behind a massive desk in your well-appointed library or study, an ornate and heavy desk that looks as massive as a ship to a child’s impressionable eyes. If you must deliver such lectures, just be aware that your child will have sex on that desk after your death in order to exorcise those demons. It’s just a thing that’s going to happen.
  • Don’t push anyone down the stairs. Drunkenly falling down them yourself is permissible.
  • Don’t bleed your tenants so dry that they can only receive material salvation from the warmhearted heiress to whom your son has been wed in a marriage of convenience. She will catch a consumption from one of the aforementioned tenants while tending to them day and night with no thought of her own health, and although she will of course survive, she may have to have her hair—her crowning glory!—cut off and it’ll all be very stressful.
  • Don’t live such a dissolute, Bohemian life that your three to six daughters’ reputations will be, if not exactly stained, certainly smudged, forcing them to marry a succession of rakes who will find themselves unaccountably tamed by the love of a good woman. England’s supply of rakes depends on you!
  • Don’t be French.
  • Don’t invest heavily in a financial venture offered you by a seemingly respectable fellow at your club who will subsequently reveal himself to be a cad and abscond to the colonies with your fortune, forcing your child to enter into—my blushes, sir!—a trade.
  • Don’t get yourself embarrassingly deep into debt with the local tradesmen and then die.
  • Don’t be gouty.
  • Don’t press your daughter to marry that one really creepy friend of yours, or a cousin of any sort. Romance novel cousins are usually dicks.
  • Don’t send a disobedient son to the front lines against Napoleon and ignore all further apologetic communication from him until your death, leaving him alive but forever changed by the horrors he has seen, as well as saddled with a leg injury that in no way compromises his manly stature but will play up at narratively convenient times.
  • Don’t construct any of the following rooms on your estate: a dark, cavernous dining room far too big for two with a table so enormous it impedes conversation; a cold and unwelcoming nursery with no toys; a study in a constant state of disorder meaning that key financial papers will be lost amongst your voluminous correspondence after your death; a lengthy portrait gallery featuring only your most unattractive and disapproving ancestors and perhaps one haunting likeness of your dead wife. Maybe try a solarium instead? Solariums are nice!
  • Like, honestly, just try not to be a complete and utter jag.

    As Tolstoy said, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways, so this is by no means an exhaustive list of all the ways you can screw up your little duke or duchess. But by avoiding them, you can steer clear of some of the most common pitfalls in your fatherly career. Good luck to you! Be careful on horseback, and for god’s sake don’t go on any risky sea voyages if there’s any uncertainty whatsoever about your will!