THE BETA HERO: A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS?

Everyone loves an alpha hero–a tall, handsome, athletically built, powerful, wealthy, confident male who will fight dragons and other assorted threats for his woman and who will assert his will and take charge and make all right with the world. Oh, and did I forget to mention sexy?

But what about the beta male–the one who is not perfect in height or looks or physique, the one who is quiet and unassuming, not aggressive, not even necessarily very intelligent? And not obviously sexy either (not at first glance, anyway). Can’t he be a hero too? He doesn’t sound very promising material, does he? He seems far better suited to be a secondary character, maybe the heroine’s thoroughly nice friend.

Hang on a minute, though. I have created a number of beta male heroes, and invariably I fall headlong in love with them before I have finished with them. And all men–all people–can be heroic when the opportunity presents itself. There is a wonderful challenge about making a hero out of a beta male–the challenge of taking a very ordinary man, a very believable man, and making him into something extraordinary in the course of his love story.
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Consider Paul Villiers, Duke of Mitford, in An Unlikely Duchess, for example. He is small, only pleasant looking, and unassuming in manner. He decides to have a little adventure by traveling incognito to meet his future bride. He ends up having a very big adventure as he chases all over England with the madcap heroine (whom he meets and rescues from a huge and fierce thug on his very first night out), protecting her from harm, recovering her stolen property at great risk to himself, facing down the villain, and–of course–winning both the girl and (I hope) the reader’s heart.
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Then there is Hartley Wade, Marquess of Carew in Lord Carew’s Bride. He is not a big man, and he limps heavily and has one withered arm. He is quiet, sweet-natured, and reclusive. But when he loves, he does so selflessly and steadfastly. And when his lady is threatened by the very man who once crippled him, he challenges the man to a boxing duel, despite the derision of everyone who hears about it–and he devises a way of winning! Lord Carew is one of my most popular heroes with readers.
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And there is Sir Gerald Stapleton in A Precious Jewel. Gerald is not particularly handsome or bright. He is quiet and has low self-esteem as a result of childhood and boyhood abuse. But when his “regular” at a brothel is hurt by another client, he takes her away to be his mistress and quietly cares for her and falls in love with her–until she leaves beause she is pregnant. Once he finds out, he moves heaven and earth to find her and convince her to marry him. He thumbs his nose at society in order to do what is right for the woman he loves.
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Do you ever enjoy a romance with a beta hero? Do you have any favorites? To one randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before the end of next Tuesday, June 18, I will send an audio copy (CD or MP3-CD–winner’s choice) of my long novella A MATTER OF CLASS, which does NOT have a beta hero but does have my all-time favorite cover! Last week’s winner of THE ARRANGEMENT was Lori Tuckett.

63 thoughts on “THE BETA HERO: A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS?

  1. I love the beta hero. I always find them to be far more complex and well developed characters that allow me to believe they could exist in reality. I have a “friend” who has been someone I have always enjoyed spending time with, who has evolved into a beta hero. As I come to know him in new ways, he is a complex renaissance man who fascinates me. I look forward to spending more time with him, in real life and with the beta heroes of my beloved historical fiction.

  2. I like a Beta hero. To me, they’re more realistic. They feel like you could actually meet them, and they’re usually nicer, without all the arrogance which, while fun in a book, wouldn’t be so much to live with in real life!

  3. Long before I understood what a “beta male” was, I fell in love with Sir Gerald Stapleton. He wasn’t “perfect” in a way I had come to deplore romantic heroes being perfect, he was perfect to me because he was a wonderfully ordinary hero, the kind you absolutely could meet any day, any time period, and he could fall in love with a woman, regardless of what her background was and love her beyond any boundary, real or imagined. Beta males are my absolute favourite type of romantic heroes, thanks to Sir Gerald Stapleton and others like him, created by you and other authors who give the ordinary guy a chance to demonstrate that “perfect” and “extraordinary” are about how someone behaves, not what they look like or have. P.S. My husband’s name is Gerald. Coincidence? Maybe. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Alpha Heroes are part of the fantasy of romance.But we can all find and love a real life Beta hero; all people have their heroic moments… So I think a Beta hero actually hits closer to home and feels more real than some of the super hero handsome devils…If I met one of them, I wouldn’t even be able to talk sense. Give me a real man any day with weaknesses and strengths.

  5. I am a beta lover. My love affair started with Sir Anthony Fanshawe in Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders. Then I met Hugo Darracotte in Heyer’s The Unknown Ajax and Gervase Frant in The Quiet Gentleman and dear Freddy Standen in Cotillion, and they too earned a piece of my heart. Since then, I have fallen in love with dozens of betas, Harley Wade and Sydnam Butler among them. I may stray and become infatuated with an alpha hero from time to time, but truly, my heart belongs to betas. I’m always eager to add another to my list. Just this week I added Quentin Fortescue from The Perks of Being a Beauty by Manda Collins. I’m hoping you have another beta for us among the Survivor’s Club heroes.

  6. I prefer the characters to be ‘real’. Their life doesn’t always move smoothly and they have to struggle to make things work for them. Too pretty or too handsome is too perfect.

  7. I fell in love with your writing with Simply Unforgettable, and I believe that Lucius Marshall is a simply unforgettable. That series has many alpha and beta heroes that I adore. Sydnam Butler might be my favorite of the beta males, but, the truth is, you make all of your characters well.

  8. I have a TV example rather than a literary example – Richard Boone. I fell in love with him when he was on Hec Ramsey. He was definitely not a handsome man, but he was very masculine. His character was not rich, but he worked hard and was smart and clever. He was a “man’s man”. Actually, none of the characters you have mentioned would be considered “beta” males. To me, character is what makes a man alpha or beta. A man with character is alpha in my book! A man without character is the villain.

  9. Alpha heroes can seem like a relationship shortcut in romance. When a man is strong, beautiful and confident, the author can cut corners in developing the attraction and the relationship between him and the heroine. Beta heroes must be drawn more carefully, and are often more interesting to read about. It’s not readily apparent what brings the two people together, but the development of the love between two such people can eclipse all the pirate kidnappings and highwaymen found more commonly in books with alpha heroes.

  10. I love your books, but truthfully, alpha males are boring and unrealistic. I greatly prefer more real men, flawed as they may be. None of us is perfect and none of us can be wholly beautiful/handsome, rich, etc. I sure am not! I find it refreshing to have a hero (and heroine!) who resemble real people involved in a real romance. Escapism is great fun, but not as a steady diet. I like your “beta-male” heroes.

  11. I loved Lord Carew as my most recent Beta Hero and a book I read awhile back would be Sydnam Butler. I fell in love with them and not the lovely words that describe the Alpha heros.

  12. Love my heros and think betas probably better. Was for me anyhow. Your stories and characters are awesome. Thank you for writing.

  13. No one is perfect, but yet we always seem to think our heros should be. I’ve never been overly fond of Alpha males, give me a nice guy with a sense of humor. I’ll take personality over looks every time, although there has to be a spark….even if you don’t discover it until he kisses you.

  14. Oh…..forgot to say, I’ve been a fan of yours since you started writing. You were the one who opened the door to a bit of heat in the Regency genre.

  15. Beta heroes are my favorites – I adore the 3 you mentioned, but I think you were particularly inspired when you created Gerald Stapleton. I greatly admire intelligence in my heroes, much more than their looks. Yet you made me love Gerald even though he was not terribly bright (struggling to understand the accounting in his ledgers, slow to figure out what was going on with Pris). His humility and generous heart made him such a worthy hero. The beta heroes steal my heart. Please keep giving us these wonderful, flawed, realistic men to swoon over.

  16. I absolutely love the beta hero. They are actually my favorite. We all know the obvious guy attracts us at first, but get to know his quiet, smart friend. That’s the guy you want to take home. The other side of the coin is the wallflower. The beautiful, diamond-of-the-first-water’s sweet, bookish friend/sister/cousin. I love her too. She’s the beta heroine. And we all love her.

  17. I love heroes–alpha, beta, maybe even delta (are there such?) One of my very favorite is Gillie, Duke of Sale in Georgette Heyer’s The Foundling. He is short, ordinary looking, and of delicate health. He wonders how it would be to be “Mr. Dash of nowhere in particular.” Another favorite is Adam Linton of Georgette Heyer’s A Civil Contract–my favorite Heyer book.

  18. I would want my daughter to marry a beta hero rather than an alpha because the alphas seem so full of their own importance. Alphas make entertaining reading, but for life —the ones who will show kindness and steadfastness and responsiblity are more often the betas. That being said, the alpha I most enjoyed was the Duke of “More than a Mistress” although several times I tried to change the plot in my head to deflate him a little by imagining that the heroine ran back to the country with her boyhood friend and neighbor and he had to chase after her right to the altar. For beta, Sydney is my favorite.

  19. Beta males are more realistic. In my experience, they end up being the best part of a community, kind, supportive, best moral values

  20. I love Sir Gerald Stapleton in “The Precious Jewel”. He’s my all time favourite beta hero. I think beta males are endearing and lovable and once they fall in love they love hard. Let’s face it, most of us, ladies, would feel very much in awe of alpha boyfriends and always insecure about their love.

  21. Dear Ms. Balogh,
    It seems to me that in your plotting, the love of the right women turns your Beta into an Alpha, at least for the woman who loves him.
    Multifaceted characters is your secret for so fully engaging your readers.
    Thanks for sharing your talent with us readers.
    Linda

  22. I like the fact that almost any person can be a hero. Also not many authors are willing to take a chance on the beta heros. Thats why I like your books! Because you can write about regular unassuming men so well as heroes!

  23. Lord Carew was one of my favorite beta heroes! Though to be fair, he was definitely an alpha in the bedroom. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Or maybe I love alpha heroes so much, I try to find alpha qualities in every hero I read about.

  24. Sometimes I prefer the beta hero myself, alphas are pushy and I am not into pushy at all. I prefer steadfast to a quick blaze of glory.

  25. Lord Carew saved my life when I got trapped in 31 hours of airplane misery with only one book in my possession. He was my first Balogh hero of all and remains my favorite.

  26. Alpha heros are great for dreaming. However, there are very few in real life. We generally fall in love with our beta hero in life. They may not be a hero to anyone else but they are our hero.

  27. For most of us, I think, the beta hero is more attainable. He’s the sort of guy we ordinary girls would (and do) marry. The alpha hero is all right for the heroines as they are two of a kind. What would we do with them on an everyday basis when the high adventure is done and ordinary day-to-day life takes over? I suspect things would go downhill rather fast.

  28. Classic beta is Freddy in Geogette Heyer’s Cotillion. It is a wonderful book. I hooked my daughter on regency with that book. I enjoy both heros but the beta ones frequently stick in your head.

  29. I love the beta hero. He is the kind of man that makes life worth living, Someone who makes you believe that they exist and are very attainable. Sometimes the alpha heros are very hard and aggressive where as the beta hero is a very believeable person.

  30. I married a beta hero; he’s my favorite! So I love to read stories with beta heroes, especially those who have high intelligence, warmth, quiet success, kindness, empathy, strength, honor, loyalty and love of family. All these things make what seems to be an average guy a real hero. Like my husband.

  31. My hubby is my beta hero. He is tall and confident, but that’s about it, that matches the alpha description. He has a few injuries, no six-pack and is a quiet one. He has not much money, only the income from his job and that gets spend by me (well, I do the banking and pay the bills, ~grin~), but I am pretty sure he would fight dragons for me. No, he would tame it and give it to me as a pet. We don’t kill animals for sport. He would protect me. He makes me laugh and that’s why I fell for him. Oh, and he cooks!!!
    I love all your heros, the alphas and the betas and I have read, no, sucked in your books since I found them in my local library.

  32. Interesting reading about Beta verses Alpha male. Many of what you might term Alpha males in your books, although good looking, have psychological issues. Seems like that would make them a Beta male. “Red Rose” my favorite book has the good looking Edward, but he has many issues. I would love to see Red Rose be reissued for all the ladies that have never read it. My copy was hard to find many years ago.

  33. While the alpha males are appealing, I find I have a soft spot for the beta guys. I think of Kit in “A Summer to Remember” as a beta male – slender, not too tall, and with some “issues”, but more endearing than some of the alpha characters I’ve read about over the years. Keep up the good work!

  34. Hello Mary – I discovered your books last December, and have been steadily devouring them ever since. I find them so very much better written than most anything in the romance genre. Concerning beta heros, well alpha heros are hard to tell apart in most romances. Your characters are all distinct and memorable.
    Thanks! and keep them coming.

  35. Mary, perhaps we need to look at the definition of alpha and beta. All your characters are so complex and well developed, even those boys with beta tendencies have alpha moments. I am all for kindness, loyalty and gentleness so I guess I am loving the beta boys; from Lord Carew, to Sydnam Butler and even Edward Ailsbury, I appreciate thier kindess to thier lady loves.Even your alpha heroes have beta moments and for that, I love the world you create as it is as complex as this reality we live in.

  36. I love reading your books- hate finishing them, though! And, I’ve introduced them to my mother-in-law, and she loves them, too. Whenever we find one at a library, or if one of us buys one of your books, we always share. Thank you for the great escapes!

  37. Funny that your blog is about beta heros and in particular Paul Villiers from AN UNLIKELY DUCHESS since I just read it a few weeks ago. I liked Paul right away. There are certainly a lot more men like him in the real world so we’d better like them. ๐Ÿ™‚

  38. I started reading romance novels about 35 years ago when I was in a rather depressed frame of mind and didn’t want to waste my time on anything that didn’t have a happy ending (smile). My reading of these novels dropped off over the years (just too busy) but now that I am retired I’ve taken up reading again and I find that the historical (Regency, Victorian and Edwardian) romance is still my favorite genre. I read A LOT of these books and (sadly) most of them are totally forgettable! I enjoy them while I am reading them, but if you ask me about the book two days after I finish one, I’d have a hard time remembering the plot and characters.

    Not so with your books. They are TOTALLY MEMORABLE! And I have come to realize that it is because the characters you create are so interesting and well developed. I find that I can love a beta hero like Gerald Stapleton as much as I love the alpha heros such as Constantine Huxstable or any of the Bedwyn boys!

    If you have a well written story with interesting characters you will have me as a captive audience from page one to the end. LOVE YOUR STUFF!!

  39. Ms. Balogh
    I am a forever fan. I started reading your writings in my late teens. Now, I just turned 40 and I love them as much now as I did then. Alph Heroes, Beta Heroes I love them all, as long as in the end they find true love. Please keep writing and I will keep reading!

  40. Wow! If other authors of romance novels read the answers to this question, they might reconsider the characterizations of their heroes!

    The first love of my life looked exactly like the typical alpha hero in most romance novels – good shoulders, six-pack abs, thick black hair, brilliant green eyes and a classically handsome face. Unfortunately, he was faithful for about five minutes! My first lesson in alpha males!

    I’m going to be boring and vote with the majority – I love your beta heroes. And yes, Lord Carew is my favorite. I’ve probably read his story six times! But thanks to the reader who reminded me of Heyer’s Gillie. Loved him too.

  41. the beta heroes that you mentioned above were all favorites of mine. gerald stapleton of precious jewel is my all time favorite…have read precious jewel several times…he and pris were perfect together. thank you mary for creating these two precious characters!!

  42. I actually PREFER the beta hero, and Hartley Wade remains my favorite. I practically have the book memorized because I have read and re-read it so many times. I would count Sydnam Butler as a beta male, as well, and “Simply Love” is another book that I can quote verbatim in many passages. I found your books early on, Mary, and I own every one of them, including the novellas in anthologies. I treasure them.

  43. Prefer alpha heroes as I read to escape and imagine and there are more betas than alphas around IRL.

    Just finished Simply Love and I would say Sidman is a beta in his looks since he was disfigured, but alpha in personality.

  44. I love the beta hero! My favorites are Lord Carew and Sydnam Butler. You do such an amazing job with this type of character. I’m wondering if Lord Darleigh in your new book is going to be that sort of character?

  45. I absolutely love Beta heroes. They are more like most real men. I think my favorite beta male is from television’s Big Bang Theory. Leonard is short and geeky. He is also a completely lovable guy who I would absolutely love to be loved by.

  46. I love beta heroes! As with any hero, they must complement the characteristics of the heroine, and fulfill a need in her life. Two of my favorites are Hartley Wade and Edward, Lord Heyward. It is a mistake to thing that a beta hero is weak. Quite the contrary! He may be unassuming, quiet, and modest, but there is nothing wrong with those traits. And it is delightful to read about someone who is more real than the perfectly handsome and elegant male leads in many stories.

  47. Besides the beta heroes mentioned in the original post, I’m going to go with another one from the first Mary Balogh I ever read, “Adian” in “Slightly Married” struck me sort of that way especially from the way he described himself and all of the self-loathing he exhibited before Eve really got into his heart. Several of the heroes int the Survivors Club series sound like they’ll start out at beta heroes but the strong women in the books will be a balm for the tortured souls.

    May I offer a beta heroine? Again, the Bedwyn saga–Freyja Bedwyn is not traditionally beautiful and doesn’t behave in a traditional way and yet, she wins a handsome noble who loves and respects her but never quite tames her.

  48. In a book I believe I do prefer the alpha male. Someone who storms the walls and sweeps the heroine off her feet. But I also appreciate the beta male, the guy who is kind and thoughtful and gentle. In fact this describes my husband to a T, so I guess I prefer the beta male in real life.

  49. I guess in most cases the author doesnโ€™t want to put much effort in these characters because they are not easy and do need more thinking to make the relationship work. But if this effort is taken these โ€œBeta-Heroesโ€ are more lovable because they are more human.
    But the same goes with the heroines: how many beautiful, willowy, petite, blonde, intelligent and witty girls without any flaws do you know? I do like reading about people with (small) imperfections if you feel the author has taken his/her time to create a lovable character.
    Christine

  50. Are you KIDDING? I love me a big strong Alpha, but beta heroes are where my heart comes home.

    In fact, my friend Eleanore and I love betas so much (particularly the wounded ones — hello, Sydnam Butler!) that we’re starting a brand new site. It’s called To the Pain! after one of our favorite alpha AND beta heroes: Westley, from the Princess Bride. (Seriously, he’s all that and the proverbial bag of chips, isn’t he? Num num num.)

    We’re still playing around with some of the features, but please stop by at http://to-the-pain.com and see what we’re up to ๐Ÿ™‚

  51. Pingback: Mary Balogh, why must you be so difficult?

  52. I just finished “One Night for Love”, I loved it!!! I had read the proposal last weekend and wanted more on the other characters mentioned, I love when there is the continuation and building on the story/stories into other books. I just had to tell you how much I enjoy your books, I have read all I can find and am looking forward to the next 2 this summer. As for the cover of a book, it does catch my eye, but the next thing I do is look for the name of the author and if your name is on it, I will own it! I especially like the dishy cover of “The Proposal”! Thank you for taking me to another time and place! Keep them coming, please!

  53. I think Peter Edgeworth, Viscount Whitleaf is beta.

    It’s true he’s drop dead gorgeous, but he doesn’t have a take-charge alpha personality.

    He’s hen-pecked by his domineering mother.

    There’s nothing wrong with a guy who loves his mother, but Peter is too passive with her on things he should not be.

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