I think there must be a loss of self-respect before suicide can even be thought of … Dwight, Bk 1, Ch 9, p. 121
I’ve only followed the devices and desires of my own heart …. Demelza, Bk 2, Ch 14, p 341
Dear friends and readers,
Those who read my blog regularly will know this spring I fell in love with the 1975-76 mini-series Poldark, and have been watching them slowly ever since. I’m half-way through the first half of season 2 (1977-78).
About half-way through watching season 1 of the 1970s Poldark films, I began reading Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark (novel 1 of the cycle), and liked the novels so I went onto Demelza (novel 2). Two weeks ago I found I could readJeremy Poldark (novel 3), anywhere: I’d open it up, and enter into it utterly, and forget where I was, on a train station surrounded by people, in the heat, in the car, didn’t matter. The world of these novels is fully formed and ever so gradually being filled out, added to. This time I’d like to suggest the quality of the book’s text (supple, alive), describe its tightly shaped structure, and then suggest some of its themes. Mainly I’ve transcribed pieces of three sets of scenes, two from the opening, two in the middle, and one at the close of the book. I suggest the key to making a historical novel come alive is not to feed the reader too much information, but tell only what you need as you go, and trust the reader to understand it the way he or she understands anything said about our world today simply.
For an outline of the plot, see comment.
So, this blog takes us back to the third novel of the series which is dramatized in Season 1 (Parts 8-11 or so).
First, the quality of the text. All the descriptions, occasional close readings (of which I’ve done very little), and commentary can’t show why a novel is good or bad. It’s its text that matters. Matthew Arnold’s touchstone theory.
As in Novel 2 (Demelza), Novel 3 (Jeremy Poldark) opens where the previous novel left off. Graham does not rehearse the previous book (as for example Trollope, Balzac, or Oliphant do in theirs) but writes each book as a kind of continuation and development from the previous; the novels do not quite stand on their own.
Demelza left off on the wild night of Ross’s at first joining in to help and then trying to control and stop a mass stealing of goods by crowds of starving and harassed people from two richly-loaded colonialist government and merchant ships (complete with slaves aboard, which slaves escape and are heard of no more) which came into the harbor. Half-maddened with grief and disappointment (from his failed ventures to build a community like some benevolent patriarch), Ross worked from both sides: helped “his” people stealing and the people trying to flee, but began to draw the line at the outbreaks of violent killings which started. We saw him go home that night, invite the militia to stay with him, and then care for his wife and dying baby, Julia; the baby die, the mass funeral and Demelza’s beginning a slow convalescence.
As book 3 opens, we see a group of thugs come to visit Jud Paynter, Ross’s fired servant. They want him to lie about Ross on the stand and are prepare to buy, beat, or bully him into doing this. We switch to Ross’s home and find a rethinking meditation passage by Ross as he is facing a trial for instigating this mass stealing. Of course his actions are a direct threat to the private property system (of which he is himself a beneficiary after all).
Several incidents follow where we slowly gather that behind this lies the powerful people who have destroyed his mining company, and especially the spite and desire for revenge by George Warleggan who is spreading vicious rumors (sexual too) about him. We have to pick this up: we see George ostensibly come to visit Elizabeth and Francis Poldark, with a gift of a pony for their son, but Francis surmises why George has come and what he is doing. So too Dr Enys when he talks to Demelza before going off to doctoring people with typhoid.
The two scenes I’ve scanned in. The first shows Ross and Demelza walking about their garden. They are bankrupt in the way landlords were then. He owes far far more than he brings in each year and has to live on his land — but somehow he does still have the land and they live like the impoverished landlords – as does Francis Poldark who is now very sympathetic to Demelza. Francis has tried to talk to Ross whose pride is very stiff and his anger still too. Francis is the same: both upper class males who will not bend. They break instead.
The point of this scene is to show and anticipate how Ross will make things much worse for himself by not cooperating with friends, accepting their aid, the advice of the lawyer to lie on the stand or present a falsifying version of what happened that night. Also that he and she can’t accept the death of the child, Julia. I skip some of it with ellipses (as like many novels it goes on building up, lingeringly to make its effect)
They walked round in silence. The garden was motionless under the lowering clouds, leaf and flower taking on the warmer, firmer substance of permanent things. Ross thought, there are no permanent things, only fleeting moments of warmth and companionship, precious stationary seconds in a flicker of troubled days.
The clouds broke in a shower-and drove them in, and he stood a minute in the window of the parlour watching the big drops pattering on the-leaves of the lilac tree, sunning them dark. When rain came suddenly Demelza still had the instinct to go and see if Julia were sleeping outside.
She thought of saying this to Ross but checked herself. The child’s name was hardly ever mentioned. Sometimes she still suspected that Julia was a bar between them, that though he tried his utmost not to, the memory of her courting infection to help at Trenwith still rankled.
She said: ‘Is it not time you went to see Mr Notary Pearce again?’
He grunted. ‘The man frets me. The less I see of him the better.’
She said quietly: ‘It is my life, you know, as well as yours that’s at hazard … Ross, I shall have nothing. I shall be a beggar again. I shall be an unfledged miner’s wench-‘
‘You’ll be a handsome young woman in your first twenties with a small estate and a load of debts. The best of your life will be ahead of you … – –
‘Stuff. You’d surely marry again. If I were gone there’d be men humming round here from all over the county. It isn’t flattery, but the sober truth. You could take your pick of a dozen.’
‘I should never marry again. Never!”
The scene ends with her trying to maneuver him into going upstairs with her before dinner; but he will not (no sex you see), and her saying:
‘Perhaps in time it will seem different. Mayhap we shall have other children.’
He moved away from her. ‘I do not think any child would be grateful for having-a gallows bird for a father … I wonder if dinner is ready.’ (Chapter 2, pp. 26-27)
The second is Dr Enys on his way to his patients. What I like here is Graham’s scepticism towards medicine. In reality the novelist is thinking of mid-20th century medicine as much as later 18th:
When Dwight parted from Demelza he rode down the steep narrow track to Sawle village, into the bubble of the stream and the clatter of the tin stamps. It was a short enough time since he had come to this district, a callow young physician with radical ideas about medicine; but it seemed a decade in his life. In that time he had earned the confidence and affection of the people he worked among, had inexcusably broken his Hippocratic oath, and since then had painfully re-established himself – entirely in the eyes of the countryside, who laid the blame on the girl, very ‘partially in his own, which at all times were self-critical and self-exacting.
He had learned a great deal: that humanity was infinitely variable and infinitely contradictory, so that all treatment consisted of patient experiment and trial and error; that the surgeon and the physician were often mere onlookers at battles fought under their eyes; that no outward aid was one quarter as powerful as the ordinary recuperative power of the body, and that drugs and potions were sometimes as likely to hinder as to help.
If he had been a self-satisfied man he might have found some comfort in having come this’ far, for many of the surgeons and apothecaries he met had learned nothing like this in a lifetime and were never likely to. He avoided members of his own profession, for he found himself constantly at loggerheads with them. His only comfort was that they were often as much at variance among themselves, having only one element in common, an absolute and unquestioning confidence that their own method was infallible – a confidence that seemed in no way shaken when one of their patients died. If a sick man collapsed under treatment that was the fault of the sick man, not of the method.
What Dr Thomas Choake believed Dwight was not sure. Since their early quarrel they had seen little of each other; but as they practised over much the same territory … (Chapter Two, pp. 27-28)
Thus book begins with Ross’s continuing half-depression, his anger and the trial; Enys’s uncertainy, Francis wanting to do better. Those who have seen the series know Ross gets off (Episodes 9-12): declared not guilty though in fact he partly was. The trial is mid-point in the book.
Despite Ross’s love for Demelza and how her presence in the court pressured and led him to present himself more positively and how her conversation with the judge the night before gave the judge a tiny edge of leniency, they are still not getting along once they get home. He cannot reconcile himself to what he has become socially — his failed position. His cousin, Francis, is near suicidal over his. They are failed gentry. It’s here Demelza takes to fishing to supply food for the house. These scenes of her going out to sea punctuate the text. They are controlled persuasive experiences of a kind of sublimity home-style (as from her point of view).
To stay with my attempt to give a sense of the quality of the text, I turn to a particular kind of writing used occasionally by Graham: letters.
There is an intriguing dialogue about letter-writing as conversation and substitution for a presence — the way emails can be. The education theme is in the Poldark novels, for like a good historical novelist imitating novels of the era we are told when Demelza settles into Ross’s house (at age 13 or so) she is encouraged to improve her reading skills by Prudie and then (naturally) given the run of the master’s library where she reads away. This is very common in 18th century novels for virtuous heroines. Perhaps it was true in life for gentlewomen who wanted to read and learn. Alas, we are not told what Demelza reads.
In Jeremy Poldark, much older now there’s a touching scene between her and Verity when Verity comes to be with Demelza for Ross’s court case: Verity’s letters form part of the narrative of Demelza, and she writes a good letter. Demelza says she is glad to see Verity because her own letters are not good; she has so much to say, but it never gets past her head into her quill. She laments her lack of a teacher and says she could learn to read on her own but her writing remains slow and awkward
“They greeted one other like old lovers, kissing with a depth of affection that trouble brought to the surface, each aware of the other’s love for Ross and of a uniting purpose.
‘Verity! Oh, I’m that glad to see you; it’s been an age and no one to talk to as I talk to you.’ Demelza wanted to board the stage at once, but Verity knew they had a quarter of an hour’s wait, so steered her cousin-in-law into the inn. “‘They sat in a comer by the door and talked in earnest confidential tones. Verity thought Demelza looked years older than at their last meeting, and thinner and paler . . .
‘I wish I could write like you,’ Demelza said. ‘Letters that tell something. I can’t write, no more’n Prudie Paynter, and never shall. It is there, there in my mind, but when I pick up the quill it all puffs away like steam out of the spout of a kettle.'” (p 57)
Something did jar in a letter by Verity to Ross after the trial. It’s a good letter and forms a chapter (as other of her letters have), but here the problem is Graham knows she would capitalize many of the first letters. But there were no rules for such things. Since in Graham’s previous letters by her (in Demelza), he hadn’t tried that, there was no problem; he writes her letters in good modern English ever so slightly inflected to feel Cornish during the rest of the book — she’s an educated woman so no mispellings.
But this time he tried some caps. Well there weren’t enough — or he did it too carefully so only the emphatic words had caps. It’s true people writing at the time capitalized their first letters in words and that in general it was emphatic words that had caps. But anyone who has read 18th century letters as printed in books and seen in manuscripts knows caps are everywhere, many more than simply emphatic.
Suddenly the letter looked “cooked” — and the fiction had that slightly stilted feel that is so fatal for historical fiction.
I’ve been reading genuine 18th century novels this week for my project towards a paper on lesser known gothic sources for Austen’s Northanger Abbey, and have struck with how Demelza resembles 18th century virtuous heroines in more ways than how she was educated — except in her freedom over sex with Ross before marriage (this happens only very rarely to virtuous heroines and then they are severely punished). For example, Demelza “conciliates by civility” and “engages by gentleness” (p. 183). These phrases could come straight from 18th century books. And such behavior works well for her in the Poldark novels: she’s liked and can gain what she wants. Now in many 18th century novels such qualifies often hurt the heroine. What hurts Demelza in this mid-20th century book are economic and social conditions as they hurt Ross; she gets beyond her lower class background (perhaps improbable).
Again on the quality of the novel: scenes combine marital adjustments over sex, the problems of poverty, bankruptcy, making do, whether they should resort to allowing smuggling on their property to help make ends meet, the eerie power of human memory over events.
So the persuasive depiction of a married couple at odds, in near estrangement is intertwined with Demelza going to various people to try to get Ross freed or declared not guilty and the trouble that results as a part of this.
One scene stays in mind because it’s so much truer to experience than most of such scenes I’ve come across. Ross has reason to believe Sir Hugh Bodrugan has been trying to get his wife, Demelza to go to bed with Bodrugan since she came for help over the trial. We are not playing silly games about flirting conversations here. He does think she said no, and now would prefer she not go visit him to help with his cow. She says she will because she’s promised but gets angry at the implication she might have been willing to go to bed with Bodrugan, and she sees in his lack of trust in her his looking down on her as a lower class and therefore someone with less strength or integrity: ” Especially … a common miner’s daughter.” He hits back: “that’s for you to demonstrate.” That she is much better than he could suppose. To which she says: “You’re detestable – saying things like that.”
This is an adult reasonable couple. He is not making a mountain from a molehill, and she is not demanding ludicrously unlikely demonstrations of
trust and respect on his part. They are both human beings with complicated impulses. He is wrong for his snide remark, cruel, but she doesn’t throw him out of her bedroom and he doesn’t forbid her to keep her appointment. She goes not to offend; they need every friend, and in the incident Graham finds time hilariously to end up not only 18th century medicine but our own. I sometimes think I’d have done as well to light a pyre and pray as any help I’ve gotten from a doctor; it’s what she does for the cow.
It’s not just in Victorian novels one finds a curiously screwed up overwrought exaggeration of how people behave without the actual possible threat of an illicit fuck (so to speak), but I’ve found it in other novels, admittedly mostly by men: fictional wives who refuse to assuage their husband’s sexual anxiety and insist questioning her or doubting her is an intense insult. One such is in the LeCarre’s Constant Gardenerand there the husband has the mortification others really believe him cuckolded, yet she will not adamantly reassure him or stop her working (she works with him) relationship with a handsome doctor by telling her husband the doctor is homosexual. LeCarre says it’s the principle that counts. She should not have to reassure her husband. If he doesn’t believe her, that’s means he would control her and that prevent her from doing what she wants. Girls in my classes defend the wife. What’s at stake is liberty as well as respect.
I find this fascinating and even important: Ross exemplifies modern ideas about men and behavior which have changed. As I wrote the blog on Demelza, Ross is no Tom Jones; he is very like the hero of Andrew Davies’ To Serve them all my Days in outlook, determination, seriousness, earnestness, pride and sexuality is not a game to him — nor for us. Davies’s source book for his mini-series for that is just post-WW1. But our ideas of women really for a popular author have changed little: wife, mother, female friend, the same private ideals hold firm and it doesn’t matter that the world has changed a great deal. The costume drama even provides an escape for her that it does not for the hero. He must be engaged with the world as it was then directly or will not be respected by the reader.
Nevertheless, for me very powerful is the delineation of Ross and Demelza’s slow estrangement. We are made to feel they will somehow reach one another for we know she loves him, accepts everything about him, wants to serve him, though at the same time is strongly her own person, has pride, and will do what she thinks right and go after what she wants. He too in her mind and behavior is showing love, devotion, loyalty, but he does not articulate it. A bad thing is they are gradually not making love except when the physical need comes on. With real delicacy Graham brings out and back how Ross does still love Elizabeth, respect her in ways that are class inflected and would become her lover were she to let him. Francis is himself a noble figure, destroyed by his own weaknesses, and intensely wounded when Elizabeth has no love for him at all — his father, Charles, in the film series, had no respect. The love Elizabeth understands is for someone strong and also someone she grew up with and learned to love that way.
The scenes at the second Christmas are very real: they feel alive as we watch the two couples and Dwight Enys and the parents-in-law attempt to be cheerful and almost fail, but getting together was much better than not. It’s the contemporary understanding of Christmas today filtered through a period earlier than ours.
Like an 18th century fiction Ross Poldark dreamed of being the center of a kind of benevolent community; doesn’t and can’t happen. To the contrary, as the novel goes on, he and Demelza must pawn and then sell their possessions not to pay their debt but simply keep up with the interest.
The second half of the book brings out with strong vividness and develops indirectly (he is still off stage much of the time) the character of George Warleggan, and in his wake (as Elizabeth eventually marries George after Francis’s death), the character of Elizabeth, Francis’s wife, Ross’s ex-beloved. Ross and George are arch-rivals; Elizabeth has married Francis, and George brings presents (a pony Francis cannot afford) to make up to Elizabeth. Francis identifies with his cousin despite their quarrels and is the first to accost George, accuse him of paying off people and setting Ross up at the trial to be hung.
They have now sold much of their livestock, her brooches, clothes, furniture, not to invest, but stave off debt collectors. And comes to Ross an offer of 50 pounds from a double-dealing but desperate smuggling businessman, Mr Trencrom: if Ross will let Nampara Cove be used for smuggling, he can have a cut. In front of Demelza a powerful scene (comic too) of Ross haggling with the smuggler and getting 200 pounds a load. (After each one we see the community has more to eat, more money is better off.) But she is adamant against it: he has just escaped hanging for his part in the starvation riots and looting on the beach.
There follows this scene:
She … that nothing is worth letting these rough people into “our land”
He said sharply: ‘Two hundred pounds is excuse enough for that. I want no other.’
‘It’ll not buy you out of prison.’
‘I shall not be in there, thank you.’
‘You’ll have small choice if the landing is surprised.’
‘Nonsense. It’s a risk, I know — but not as big as I owe to Trencrom. It would be possible in fact to plead ignorance. We might not be believed, but there would no proof to the contrary.’
She put her hand on the mantelshelf. ‘I can’t stand it again! All the worrying anxious time of the trial — before; not sleeping, like a cloud all day. Picturing this that. Transported, hanged, rotting in gaol. The day at Bodmin – all I did – or tried to do! It isn’t fair! Not so soon. It isn’t fair to yourself … or to anyone!’
He looked at her again and perceived that she was upset. He said more gently: ‘Now you’re seeing bogeys the dark. There’s nothing to be scared of in a little free trading. I was only afraid lest I had set my price high. That’s why I came down fifty. Today, on top of news of the Warleggans … Mr Trenwith … was an angel in disguise.’
‘The devil!’ she said vehemently. ‘No less.’
‘Perhaps I should lie meek under this latest of George encroachments, but it’s not in me to do so. Besides … you may have forgotten it, but we have recently sold all our stock, your brooch and horse, the clock and the newer furnishings of the house. Not, mark you, to cancel our debts, but to postpone them for a mere twelve months. We’re not out of the wood if we sit together in bucolic bliss and weave daisy chains. I’m more likely to go to prison that way than any other.’
She said: ‘I can’t help it! I want your child to be free from fear.”‘
Ross put down his glass. ‘”What?’
There was a tap at the door and Jane Gimlett came in. ‘Please, will you be wanting supper at the usual time? I put the pie on to hot up just in case, like.’
‘The usual time,’ said Demelza.
‘And the ham? There’s a fair cutting on it yet, though tis getting fat’
‘Put it on,’ said Demelza. ‘The scones has come out nice, ‘m. I thought I’d leave, you know.’
She went out. One missed the ticking of the clock in here. A new piece wood, not quite dry, was hissing on the fire. Little bubbles moisture were forming at one end of it, trying to escape the flames.
Ross said: ‘When did you know?’ ‘September.’ He made a gesture. ‘Good God … ! Not to tell me … !’
‘You didn’t want it.’
‘You said you didn’t want another child – after Julia.’
‘Nor did I – nor do I –‘ He picked up his glass, set it down again without drinking. After a minute he added: ‘To grow into our hearts, and then to die. But if one is coming – that’s different.’
‘Well … it’s different.’
‘I wish I could believe that.’
‘Why should you not? It’s the truth.’ He turned. ‘I don’t know what to say — how to say it … I just don’t understand you. You’ve been closer about it even than last time. When do you expect — the birth?’
He frowned, trying to shut out his memories.
‘I know tis the same month,’ she said desperately. I could’ve wished for any other. But that’s the way things are I shouldn’t be amazed if it’s born the same day, three years after. It’s been the same so far – the visit to Trenwith and all. But all history don’t repeat itself. I don’t believe it can. Anyway, I’m sorry.’
‘Sorry? What for?’
‘That it’s happened. That it has got to come. That you have this extra burden which you don’t want.’
He came and stood beside her at the fireplace. ‘Now stop crying and be sensible.’
‘I’m not crying.’
‘Well, wanting to, then. Is this what’s been on your all winter?’
‘Not on my back,’ she said.
‘As you like. Ever since September you’ve been drawn from me – poking up your head now and then [like a] sheep from behind a fence. I couldn’t reach you. Is child the cause of all of it?’ ‘If I have, then it may be.’
‘Because you thought I didn’t want it?’
‘Tis only what you said.’
He said in exasperation: ‘God damn it, you should know I’m not used to dealing with women! You search them to find some special secret feminine grievance to gnaw on for months on end, and then produce it coolly on the to explain all the irrational hedging and dodging of an entire winter-‘
‘I didn’t search the earth for it!’
Well, I thought you could distinguish between a theoretical case and a practical one – evidently that isn’t so.’
‘I wasn’t well educated –‘
‘No more was I. Look.’ He thumped the flat of his hand the mantelshelf. ‘Look. If you ask me, do I want more children, I’ll say, no. We’re nearly paupers, the world’s awry and we’ve lost Julia. Correct? That’s a theoretical case. If you say you’re having another child, do I dislike the prospect, I’d say, yes, for all these reasons I still dislike the prospect; but a prospect is not a child, and a child can be welcomed for all that. D’you understand what I mean?’
‘No,’ she said.
He stared at his tobacco jar on the shelf, his first protest … his mind leaping forward to what this news tailed. And all the memories of Julia it revived. The storm her birth, the two christening parties, the drunken Paynters that day Demelza was out, the high hopes, the love – and the storm at her death. It had come in a cycle, had conformed to a pattern, like a Greek tragedy prepared by a cynic It was to happen again. History had to repeat itself in the early stages whatever the later might bring. He glanced down at her. What did it mean for her? weeks of discomfort, agony at the end, then months of emitting care. All that had gone to Julia and much more; yet it had all been lost. What right had he to claim a monopoly of grief? … He’d never done that, and yet … He said more gently: ‘I’ve noticed no stoutness so far.’
She said: ‘By April I shall look like Mr Trencrom.’ It was the first time they had laughed together for a long time; but her laughter was still dangerously near tears, his a quite voluntary surrender of his irritation. He put his hand on her shoulder, trying to express something that he couldn’t yet say. Strange, the meaning of contacts! His firm clasp of this arm was entirely permissible familiar, pleasurable, the touch of a known and loved person, however exasperating. His clasp of another arm at Christmas [Elizabeth’s] had had electricity in the touch. Was it because he loved Elizabeth more – or because he knew her less?
Demelza said: ‘If you’ll care what is going to happen us … then you must have more care in what you undertake.’
‘I shall have care in everything I undertake – believe me I’ve every possible intention of keeping on the right side the law.’ He released her shoulder. ‘Or at any rate the blindside … Thank God at least that we have a capable physician [Enys] in the neighbourhood.’
‘I’d still rather have Mrs Zacky,’ said Demelza (pp. 258-62, Book 2, Chapter 6).
Fascinating to me how he’s insulted she didn’t tell him for so long – yet all the while she carries on with the dangerous fishing to bring in stuff for them to eat. That he liked.
The effect of landscape and memories of what happened in them: Ross goes to inspect the mine before deciding finally to sell: it was here that Enys and Keren came to grief over their love-making when found out by Mark Daniels:
It was pleasant enough sitting here among the whispering grass,and he scarcely moved for half an hour. There was some community of spirit between the man and the scene. Strange ideas were milling in his head, at least two of them, having taken shape from his conversation with Mr Trencrom. All of them derived from the events of yesterday and of them were moving him to one end. At length he got up and walked slowly, half aimlessly, back to Reath Cottage, he’d open the door and went in. It was dark, as it always could be except in the mornings; Mark had built it facing the wrong way. People wouldn’t pass the place after dusk; they said Keren still hung there sometimes with her broken little face out of the window. The earth floor was covered with brambles and gorse, and rank white grass, predatory and unhealthy, sprouted among the stones. An old stool stood in the comer, some faggots lay by the fireplace. He went out into the open again, deriding himself for being glad to go … (p265, Book 2, chapter 7).
Graham has the gift of making a situation and remarks that echo what we hear today and know wryly, ironically, amusingly to be what people say, and feelingly what they feel at the same time as historicizing just enough.
The last portion of the Jeremy Poldark shows Ross coming to terms and living with much beyond Demelza’s new pregnancy. First, his new awareness that Jud Paynter and Francis Poldark both betrayed him.
Jud first: he played a dual (mole) role of taking money from someone to testify on the stand that Ross was the leader in the starvation/looting riot over the two ships which entered Nampara harbor. He learns this because in a long semi-comic sequence, Jud is accosted late at night finally by George Warleggan’s henchman (we never know this for sure as we never know for sure as yet that it was Warleggan behind all the pamphlets circulating badmouthing Ross and the attempt paid for by bribes and pressure to get the judges and others to declare Ross guilty. Someone hits him over the head with a strong rod of iron and we think he’s dead, and Prudie holds a funeral with the 15 shillings in gold she unexpectedly finds hidden away in Jud’s bags.
Graham cheats by having Jud come back. In the midst of the revelry the body disappears and it seems that he was just very groggy and unconscious for 2 days. But he has been found out — what was the money for. Now Ross and Enys guess why Jud had become so careful at night and when he’d meet anyone on the road he’d behave liked a hunted animal or ask for company.
Worse, he has to accept that Francis Poldark also betrayed him. The 600 hundred pounds Francis now wants to invest in yet another venture together was payment by Warleggan for giving away who was behind the previous attempt to break the monopoly. This goes very hard with Ross. In a scene in a tavern Ross comes across Warleggen and needled by the man, he loses it and they have a knock-out fight — done in the film, where they break a bannister and strain and nearly break one another’s arms, legs, and heads. It’s not bloodthirsty and is real. The owner of the tavern is frantic for them to pay for this. He is proud and angry and feels no pity for Francis’s guilt in not spending this money even on new windows for Trenwith. He doesn’t care if Francis feels a failure or Elizabeth doesn’t love him or any of it.
What brings them together is the christening after the birth of Jeremy Poldark. Both Francis and Ross have not been decent to Verity but gradually slowly came round to accept her marriage — partly seeing Blamey is okay. Blamey comes to the taven and in the moment of the all seeing one another (just a small family affair this time) Francis forgives Blamey in language that alludes to Francis needing forgiveness from Ross: “This is the last moment to wipe out the past.” if they don’t, they will not get together again. And so they all do. They need one another.
This theme of the inexorableness of human nature is seen in the subplot where Verity welcomes her step-daughter and stepson. The daughter is just awful: mean, grudge holding and when she sees Verity trying so hard, she just gets meaner. It’s stopped when the stepson arrives and we see he is willing to make do with this new step mother and try to forget what was. There is a beautiful moment of Verity and the stepson having tea while the daughter goes out the room. She has not herself reconciled her heart to the new arrangement but her presence is modified by her brother’s more generous stance.
And of course Demelza. She has told Ross and still they have not mentally come together. She still sneaks out to fish while he goes about his business. IN the mini-series we see this remarkable number of hours where the tide gets too rough for her to row back as she’s 9 months pregnant and she almost turns under. In fact only fortitude (I’m linking threads) keeps her rowing and rowing, she is so weary and at a loss because she half-thinks Ross does not like or value her and she’s a burden and life so hard. Shall we give up or die. She doesn’t give up, and manages to get back to shore just as the labor gets very bad. We see her reach the beach and not until 4 chapters later (held off by Verity’s meeting with her stepchildren and the reconciliation of Blamey with Ross and Francis) do we know she’s survived and had a healthy boy.
The description of the place and shore is not overdone, just right. I’ve been thinking about how Graham is so deft where so many historical novelists are wooden. I’ve mentioned his control; he is also patient. He need not tell you everything you need to know now, just enough to make you experience what you are intended too. So too in this powerful chapter of Demelza almost giving in to the labor of birth and getting back to shore in a big storm of the coast of Nampara cove.
A lot happens on Nampara cove. She is our heroine holding this Poldark family together in the last scene. We get to see the judge not only understood when she approached him and tried and was in the court when we hear of how he has sent her good wishes as well as help. The Poldarks, like for her forgiveness and humility. And goodness. She tells Verity “I’ve only followed the devices and desires of my own heart.”
The closing scene is of Ross returning home, now with a new baby to take care of in an intense way, just what he dreaded, another venture and not much money, spending all he has and this time Francis, kept afloat by the cut in smuggling. One has to live by chance.
He came more slowly to the garden in front of the house.
At the door he stopped to sniff the lilac which in a day or two would be in full bloom. Human beings were blind, crazy creatures, he thought, forever walking the tightrope of the present condemned to ever changing shifts and expedients to maintain the balance of existence, not knowing even as far ahead as tomorrow what the actions of today would bring. How could one plan a year ahead, how influence the imponderables?
A butterfly settled on the lilac and stayed a moment with poised trembling wings. Not by a hairbreadth would a single external circumstance move to accommodate him and his schemes – he knew that. As well ask, on the butterfly’ behalf, for the postponement of sunset or tomorrow’s gale. That was as it might be. Within the scope of his own endeavour he accepted the challenge. He might at some later date look back on this day as marking the beginning of his prosperity or the last move towards his ultimate ruin. The tightrope was there. No one could see beyond the next step.
Within the house there were movements, and from where he stood he saw Demelza come into the parlour carrying some things of Jeremy’s which she spread before the fire. Her face was preoccupied, thoughtful, intent, bu’ not on what she was doing. He realized that all the struggle and anxiety of the next few months would not be his alone She would bear her share of the burden. She was bearing it already. He went in to join her (Book 2, Ch 14, p. 344).
A touching, moving close. Jeremy Poldark is a shorter, beautifully shaped, in some ways artistically superior novel to the first two in the series.
Smuggling remained common on the coasts of the UK throughout the 18th & 19th century, known as “free traders,” they helped many peoples in many districts to survive (see Mary Waugh, Smuggling in Devon and Cornwall)