The old picture plays
Lights across the screen.
Overhead the beam
From the thoughtful booth
Flickers in a kind
Of code that only
The screen can read out.
Lights like memories
Flicker on the screen
of your deep gazing.
My eyes and my hand
are like some part of
The Surrounding dark.
— John Hollander.
Closing scene of Poldark, 1st series, Episode 1 (Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees as Ross and Demelza Poldark walking off on the beach together after a riot at and the burning down of Trenwith, the Poldark home)
Dear friends and readers,
We should be returning to this series of novels and film adaptations this coming spring because I sent in a proposal for this coming spring 2015 to OLLI at American University and it seems to have been liked, and is now accepted; I was hoping that the new film adaptation of the books would be aired this spring, and have now discovered it will be on BBC starting in March 3, 2015, with the older 1970s series replayed on WETA UK starting on January 17, 2015, each Saturday night at 10 pm, with a rerun on Sundays.
In this course we’ll read Winston Graham’s first three Poldark novels: Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark. These plus a fourth, Warleggan, were the novels adapted for the first season of televised Poldark (1974-75), and the matter for the coming Poldark mini-series (to be aired in 2015). They represent the first phase of a 12 novel roman fleuve, a regional romance continuing story, deeply researched and imaginatively realized historical novels moving from the time of the French revolution and reform and politically radical movements in England to the end of the Napoleonic era, including the realities of county politics, mining, banking, smuggling (known locally as free trade) and farming in Cornwall. Written 1945-52, the first four mirror issues of the post World-War II world, are proto-feminist, with a deeply appealing group of characters from all classes in suspenseful plot-designs. We will also study the older film adaptation against these novels, and if possible, discuss the new one. It is suggested that students read a novella mystery, Winston Graham’s The Forgotten Story, before the class begins. Graham won awards and praise from the literary establishment for his mysteries, several of which were filmed by Hitchcock (e.g., Marnie); many of his novels were US Book-of-the-Month Club selections. The Forgotten Story was written in tandem with Ross Poldark and became a BBC mini-series in 1984.
The first seven novels of the 12 have never fallen out of print since each was first published (beginning 1945), and there will be a republication (or reprinting) of the most recent editions of first four once again, with the new actors on the covers. For individual discussions of all 12, go to my website (linked in above), or the category, Poldark, Ellen and Jim have a blog, two; or this handy list bringing all Graham’s writing together and discussing it briefly. I would do all four, but this is considered too much reading in 10 weeks. Heigh ho. If the course is liked, I could go on to “do” novels 4, 5 and 6 in another semester (Warleggan, The Black Moon, The Four Swans), with Black Moon and Four Swans mirroring the conflicts of the 1960s-70s era (e.g., the story of continued marital rape would not have been written in the 1940s, early 50s), or skip Warleggan or ask the students to read the book before the course starts (the trouble is it’s too long) because I would prefer to do the second set of novels, 1970s (Black Moon, Four Swans, and The Angry Tide) as the trilogy it is.
Whether the 8 part British new version starting in March will come to the US is hard to tell. I think they will try because of the success last time. There are many signs in this new series of greater literal adherence to the storyline of the books (called “faithfulness) so there should be an accompanying historical accuracy.
I hope the series succeeds for they could go on to film the next three books for next year and then they’d have the last 5 for a third (which includes a novel as powerful as the best of the first 7), The Twisted Sword, partly set on the battlefield of Waterloo).
I now know of a person who wants to do a biography of Graham, who put on the net a Winston Graham reader, and he has told me who is the obstacle and what to further work; and can report there have been two academic style essays published on the Poldark novels, one on humor and the other on rape: “‘Why don’t you take her?’ Rape in the Poldark narrative” by Julie Taddeo. And I did the politics in a conference: “‘I have the right to choose my own life!’: Liberty in the Poldark Novels.”
In the great houses in the Poldark novels what is shown is they are center of political power — something usually left out nowdays. It's found everywhere in Trollope. In Trollope and Graham the purpose of the great house, and all your experiences in it are shaped by its political function, who’s there and the political reason you have been invited, and the film adaptation keeps to this:
On loving the books all over again.
As I prepare for the course, the tone, the attitude of mind, the characters, the explicit and implied axioms underlying Ross Poldark have made me feel better and revived good memories. I enjoy the attitudes of mind in Ross, bond with Demelza, Francis and Verity Poldark. I can understand Elizabeth. I enjoy this kind of depiction of the 18th century: it’ll allow me to talk of the 18th century “from below” (smuggling), of reform and radical politics. Of sexuality as seen in this novel. Of landscape. How historical fiction is powerful when written well. Of how it reflects post WW2 England and its worlds — one of the reasons it was so popular in the US too. I am enjoying even more Demelza with its depiction of the 18th century working and agricultural classes and early capitalism and the provincial theater and dancing.
Central to the charm of Ross and Demelza Poldark’s relationship in the first two novels for me is they walk away from the world to one another (for me an emblem of Jim and I); indeed the first season ended on them walking on the beach together after the community has been ravaged by riot, violence due to injustice.
Beyond Demelza, I’m also very found of Graham’s Elizabeth and Verity and for the brief time I was on the Graham fan website I chose the pseudonym Elizabeth Chynoweth — I felt for her, she made bad mistakes in her choices of husband, but she preferred her children to men, and I felt for her.
Verity for her plainness, direct honesty, kindliness, lack of concern, her dignity, when at first she feels she must give Blamey up her dignity, her resolution, her turning to her room and enduring it; how she can dismiss hierarchy when human value can trump this. I haven’t read the last 5 novels enough to be able to name a heroine I have bonded with in the same way, but while not identifying closely (as she is kept at a distance), the most compelling single figure of the second season for me is Morwenna Chynoweth (Jane Wymark), coerced into marriage (and in effect raped nightly by her husband), shattered by such experiences.