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Archive for October 14th, 2012

‘People who brag of their ancestors are like root vegetables (Ross, The Stranger from the Sea, Bk 1, Ch 3)

‘Brighten up, Cuby, for the Farce. I believe you have taken the tragedy too much to heart (Valentine, Miller’s Dance, Bk 1, ch 2)

‘We all know, unhappily, what a hand, a man’s hand, whosoever’s it may be, can do to a virgin’s body, how it can enslave … Intellect… the mind, the spirit — they’re forgot. It is as strong as any spell, and between good and evil there is little difference of choice.’ That’s what she said. I — have thought of it many times since (Demelza quoting a Mrs Dawson’s words, Miller’s Dance, Bk I, Ch 3)


Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Warleggan, taken aback to learn of her cousin Morwenna’s suffering (1977-88 Poldark, Part 7, Episode 2, from Four Swans)

Dear friends and readers,

Since I last wrote here on this blog of Winston Graham’s Poldark and other writing (Angharad Rees has died) and set up my Poldark region on my website, I’ve joined a Poldark society in Cornwall; a face-group called “A Passion for Poldark and Cornwall”); and an on-line Winston Graham and Poldark literary society. My “avatar” is the above still of Jill Townsend as Elizabeth truly distressed to be made to recognize the suffering caused her cousin, Morwenna, by the coerced marriage to Osborne Whitworth inflicted on Morwenna by George Warleggan, Elizabeth’s second husband — and of course Elizabeth herself who allowed this to occur.

I’ve also re-read for a second time, the second quartet of Poldark novels. For those unfamiliar with these marvelous historical novels, the first seven, a quartet written between 1945 (at the close of WW2) and 1952 (Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan), and a trilogy written 20 years later, 1973-78 (The Black Moon, The Four Swans, and The Angry Tide) comprise the on-going story filmed by the BBC in their extraordinarily commercially successful mini-series, Poldark (1975-76, 1977-78).

Unfortunately, only the first of the second quartet, written a few years later over the decade of the 1980s, 1981-90) (The Stranger from the Sea, The Miller’s Dance, The Loving Cup, and The Twisted Sword) was filmed. This 1995 film offended an organized group of people passionately in love with the first two mini-series by not re-hiring Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees for the lead roles; having watched it, I know the film-makers made the serious mistake of omitting the epic perspective of the books, this time through the Peninsular War and its liberal-left (really radical politics). While admitting that its two-hour American style presentation further obscured the pace and slow psychological subtleties of his fiction (in his Memoirs of a Private Man), Graham thought that given a fair watching, it was effectively (powerfully) acted and a modest success could have lead to another mini-series of the later books. In the event, it was vociferously condemned.

I’ve been wanting to write again about the 2nd quartet, but having written separately about each book and not wanting to repeat what I had written, I found myself at a loss even though each time I reread one of the books I found so much that I had not seen and altered my views on two. First, The Stranger from the Sea does not represent a falling off or failure at all. Rather it corresponds in feel and type to the first book of the first quartet, Ross Poldark: both slow-moving, not much happens on-stage in comparison to how much inward life of the new characters.

The second books of both (Demelza & Miller’s Dance) give us much action (in Demelza, a scavanger riot instigated by Ross; in Miller’s Dance, a piracy rather than smuggling or free-trading and then an outrageous robbery) which will in the course of the third and fourth books lead to ironic tragedy. The third books differ: the tragedy as developed in Jeremy Poldark is a trial, bankruptcy, smuggling (it’s a hectic active book); the tragedy as developed in The Loving Cup is inward as the young men are not caught but what happens corrodes Jeremy Poldark’s young manhood and results in Clowance’s betrayal in marriage.

The fourth of both return us to the same pattern: what seems inexorable ironic tragedy: in Warleggan, the rape of Elizabeth by Ross and the apparent decimation of Ross and Demalza’s marriage, her near betrayal of him; in The Twisted Sword the senseless death of Jeremy on the field of Waterloo, Clowance’s discovery that Stephen Carrington is a near bigamist, a ruthless “common murderer” (young Andrew Blamey’s apt description of one brawl Carrington is involved in), an untrustworthy liar, scoundrel willing to trade even in slaves.

When I wrote my paper, “I have a right to choose my own life” (says Verity), I found the last three books were more realistic, the mining and historical events more complex and modern (including unscrupulous banking practices, bankruptcies averted by sophisticated schemes of loans and merges), and the presentation of the lives of the women genuinely from a feminist point of view (with marital rape as one of the continuing events, the result of Morwenna’s coerced marriage).

Now I’ve found the second quartet to be post-colonial in its wider scope: it takes into account world-wide war in Europe and America. It also, as the previous 7 novels did not, introduces real historical people including some quite famous ones (George Canning, the Prince Regent, even Napoleon is glimpsed on his way back from Elba to Paris). And it uses allusions to real plays performed at the time.

Bigamy is rarely presented from the point of view of the 2nd wife who may half-suspect something is wrong and comes to realize her husband is profoundly amoral; she is usually vilified; Clowance is loved all the more for her strength to endure, her loyalty where she can act it out, her compassion and her quiet suffering and overcoming of what could have been a breakdown to say if she ever marries again, it will be for money and position. (Which I know she proceeds to do in Bella, the twelfth book.)

This blog will add a few thoughts and make some qualifications of the earlier ones. I’ve been making outlines of these four books and will post them on my website soon. In the meantime …

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Mel Martin as Demelza and Kelly Reilly as Clowance at home in Nampara (1996 Stranger from the Sea); see A Falling Off

First, I liked this book so much much better the second time round because I’ve gone on to read the later ones and instead of lamenting that Ross and Demelza have strong competition for their place as central characters, have learned to love their son, Jeremy, and daughter, Clowance.

I’ve learned that in these two characters we have two more instances of “cruel disempowerment’ and “unrecognized potential.” As in the lead and secondary stories of the first 7 novels, we again see our protagonists fight hard, and make serious mistakes (as real peopel will), and sometimes seem to by chance succeed, but ultimately either fail (not punitively for these books do not punish people as if life were a moral lesson in the 3rd grade) or accept some displaced version of what was really wanted. Jeremy heart-breakingly fails; Clowance learns what compromise feels like — hard. Clowance is by Book 12 (Bella) paradoxically dis-empowered when she chooses a rich lifestyle — she is very like Georgiana Spencer in the movie, The Duchess (a strong protest film, where cut off from idealisms, Georgiana chooses a safe upper class male.

In the first seven books, Morwenna who had an apparently fairy tale escape through the murder of her sadistic husband, but we see in Loving Cup, that one does not heal completely after such experiences; Elizabeth may be said to correspond to Jeremy, she dies in an effort to make some compensation to the man she married probably knowing she was pregnant by another. Ross and Demelza are the compromisers — as is Dwight, Caroline, just about all the characters.


Nicholas Greaves as Stephen Cravenson (name changed from the book).

Carrington, the stranger from the sea, is not at the center of the novel as I supposed because he is (I learned from the later novels) a scoundrel — and no excuse from his background is responsible for an innate nature. Had he been born wealthy and well-connected he would have been a upper class scoundrel able to inflict wider harm. (Like Trollope Graham distrusts strangers.) Graham’s radical rebellious types in Books 1-7 are not scoundrels, they have more brains, a thoughtfulness Stephen lacks (part of his strengths).

I was too hard on Elizabeth’s illegitimate son by Ross, Valentine (by way of the central rape in Warleggan): the young man is not presented as negatively as I thought: he’s an ambiguous character who uses a facade of gay superciliousness and (because of his putative father, George Warleggan) helplessness (“my dear fellow, but what can I do?”). He is at least more mixed and intriguing — I react with dislike towards men who take advantage of vulnerable women (poor, a servant, disabled) and that’s what he does. This is what Carrington does regularly, and one of our heroines marries him.

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John Bowes as Ross, father, and Ioan Gruffudd as Jeremy, son (1996 Stranger from Sea); see blog on Miller’s Dance: Alive with History

As I wrote the first time round, it’s a densely historically accurate account of the regency period, 1811-12, just the time frame for both Austen’s S&S and P&P in their current forms. In this era the burning topic of controversy was the French revolution for its aftermath in Napoleon’s wars as well as social, psychological and economic change. In the US the war of 1812 had begun. In all of these Austen’s brothers and family were intensely involved.

Where I was off was to miss quite how bloody this book is. As in Austen (why I mentioned er) just about all battles — except the ones reported (and that’s at a distance) in Geoffrey Charles Poldark’s politic letters — are offstage and I found I underestimated one and missed another. Unlike Austen from whom we hear not a peep of all this, those battles not reported however briefly are mentioned and alluded to. The novel has at its edges not just the Peninsula war (Geoffrey Charles in Portugal there so the most reported on), but the American war of 1812 and action on “the high seas” as it’s put and the Russian front.

True, everything is offstage so that the reader who wants not to see what is here could ignore it, but after a while it does pile up. Battle after battle, slaughter after slaughter. I’m keeping a list: all the battles from Portugal and Spain reported by Geoffrey Charles (great irony as he’s the son of the delicate withdrawn gentle Elizabeth by the ironist Francis): El Bodon (p 26). The Battle of El Boden was a small but important battle of the Peninsular War on 25 September 1811 which enabled the French temporarily to relieve Ciudad Rodrigo. Badajoz (p 97, 139). Salamanca (p 236). The first time I read the book I was not aware of how blood streams through it: all but one are off-stage, but they are there. The book indites Napoleon as this tyrant seeking power and spilling blood across Europe. The siege of Burgos near Madrid (p 305), French win.

Across the ocean: the US invades Canada and people kill each other at sea (p 256). One up north, around Lakes Huron and Erie, where Major General Isaac Brock, manages to slam the invasion by General Hull and his HMS Macdeonian, the Captain Carder, 356 killed, 70 wounded, by American frigate, the US — a “solitary marauder.” The point is signing treaties does not stop people once they start war

Russia: bitter disasters: Borodino, French forced out General Kutusov and his army (p 305). Moscow — abandon and then deliberately set ablaze by the defeated general Kutusov – what does he care if he destroys all the civilians and their property. Ordered by Rostopchin. Who claims anyone ever watched out for civilian,see Badagoz above (p 347, 357, 350-51)
Napoleon defeated and terrific loss of life between Moscow and Smmolensk.

I had not realized that of HMS Macedonian v United States (real incident, October 25 1812) was a real and significant incident (book 3, Chapter 3). It figures in talk at Flushing, a naval port in Cornwall

As the novel closes off stage we are told of the terrible scene of the crossing of Beresina (Book 3, chapter 5), led by Napoleon himself they broke through but lost 12,000 drowned, 20,000 imprisoned of half a million army, 10,000 left (26-29 Nov). Many pictures emerged from this one, a very few by those who were there or lived at the time, many more afterward. The war front of Russia and all its reports form the part of the central sequences of Tolstoi’s book and I had not noticed before that War and Peace is alluded to (anachronistically though by the narrator).

At the same time local history: Trevorgie Mine inside Wheal Leisure shows evidence of life way back when Cornish tin was first mined (p 346) old skeletons found.

As in Bella, we have Graham’s interest in what was known of apes and keeping apes as pegs: Harriet, the woman Warleggan so mistakenly married keeps a “galago”, which appears to be a small fierce and badly “frightened, inquisitive, nervous” monkey. (This culminates in Valentine and his ape in Bella).

Demelza ever nervous that her son, Jeremy, will sign up. She does what she can to keep him by encouraging Ross to return to London and Canning (his basic patron it seems).

Another facet of the historical backdrop of this book: I returned to Graham for a couple of days and am outlining and research The Miller’s Dance. It’s startling how the backdrop of this novel are the ferocious wars going on and the poverty and distress across the UK at the time, and how this is made concrete (so that it cannot be dismissed) by having historical characters in the book for the first time – and so many real battles.

I’ve begun to look up the plays the characters go to, and as in good fictions, these create parallels with the characters. Graham will make blunders on novels — where he’ll have a character reading a new Henry Fielding novel in 1780s, but not on the political books which characters argue about, and he certainly knows the drama.

The characters go to see Edward Young’s The Revenge while they are in London (Book 3,Chapter 4) – where they get involved in murderous erotic jealousy and competition and Ross ends up murdering the near homicidal maniac Adderly (an adder). _The Revenge is perfect for a parallel. It’s the Othello story made more intense, briefer, concise and brings out the competition between the two men. Garrick called it a perfect play and it held the boards as very popular throughout 18th century, omitting all but central paradigm. Zanga the moor hates Alonzo his master (now it’s black underling though); Leonora promised to Don Carlos, Alonzo’s best friend who Alonzo has saved. Carlos sent Alonzo wooing for him, and Leonora fell in love with Alonzo. Isabella Moor’s mistress and lady to Leonora — she’s used somehow. Father pressuring her to marry Carlos but easily switched and then Zanga works Alonzo into rage of sexual jealousy over Leonora. Alonso kills her. At close Zanga expresses tremendous remorse over Alonzo’s body.

In Book 1, Chapter 5, the Warleggans give a party — Valentine does and invite Clowance and Jeremy. Carrington doesnt’ come — as he often does not. He’s afraid who he will meet. They enjoy a full night’s theater. So the characters see Edward Moore’s The tragedy of The Gamester. Graham gives it a subtitle it doesn’t have: “Or the False Friend.” That’s because the play has a parallel with Stephen Carrington who is a false friend to Paul and Jeremy and a cruel lover (or will be) to Clowance. Its theme is a false friend, Stukely who betrays others treacherously; people attempt to expose him. Stukeley is after money and he is “a common murderer” as Andrew Blamey (the younger) recognizes Carrington is. On the same bill (as was common at the time)are two farces: Robert Drury The Rival Milliners — about problem of picking a husband — Graham includes a scene of Clowance sewing her wedding dress just before Ben comes to he to come with him to Wheal Leisure where he finds the old rooms where tin was mined in Elizabethan times. That leads to Stephen’s attacking him and her breaking up with Stephen.

They also see George Colman, The Village Lawyer – about a man trying to set up a legal practice in a country village because he has no connections. The difficulties. We see how his wife is against the place. In the place how the others see him as threat. This too parallels the feel of the world of village life.

And our hero-villain, Stephen Carrington, it’s implied clearly, murdered someone during a melee where the gov’t men tried to press him. One would not blame him for that necessarily but the context is his warning to her heroine’s brother that once he marries Clowance what he does to her is none of the brother’s business.

His unfaithfulness with the dying crippled Violet Fellowes reminds me of Sondheim’s Passion based on a 19th century epistolary novel, Fosca, where the heroine is crippled. the second time through watching Clowance apparently agreeing to carry on with her marriage to Stephen Carrington after she learns he is a murderer (though of a man who sought to press him) and watched him lie about it to someone, and then repeat a series of ever descending admissions that he did it though each time with a lie and excuse to her; after she just about knows he had sex with a crippled young woman just before this woman’s death (and may have bought it on), I find myself more anxious than the first time. The book ends with her breaking it off, but suddenly at the opening of the next book she does marry him.

I know that people do do such self-destructive acts, and here she is (Clarissa-like) going to be in his control, away from her family.

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Kevin McNally as Drake beat up to the point of murder: for fun, Warleggan’s men throw him in a lake (1977-78, Poldark Part 8, Episode 4, from Four Swans)

As you read him, keep your eye on how Graham skirts the inward and hidden outward real transgressions and disquieting things of life continually at the edges of his fictions.

As this is way long enough, I’ll make a second blog for The Loving Cup and The Twisted Sword tomorrow evening.

Ellen

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