Posts Tagged ‘romans fleuves’

Demelza, contemplative: After a few years marriage to Ross

Dear friends and readers,

Having finished Winston’s Demelza (Novel 2 in Graham Winston’s Poldark series) about a week ago, I started Jeremy Poldark (Novel 3) last night, and was delighted to find myself in yet another superb novel by this man. Even though I’ve now watched more than half-way through the first half of the second season (1977-78) of the mini-series, Poldark, and just loved the first season, I was surprised. I assumed the man would not keep it up. He does.

So here am I writing about the second novel to recommend, describe and say what is so good about this set of historical novels.

Cover photo of the 1996 Pan MacMillan edition of Demelza: the Pan MacMillans are the best imprints

Demelza keeps up the spirit and life of Ross Poldark. Maybe because it’s not so much a sequel, as a continuation. In this sense it’s not quite like most romans fleuves (Trollope’s Palliser novels, Margaret Oliphant’s Carlingford novels, Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time) but rather an ongoing huge novel, coming out in installments where each one must have closure for a while.

I wrote my central enjoyment of Ross Poldark came from liking for the central character, his implied author’s tone of mind, and the central left politics and vision of the book. In Demelza I am very fond of the heroine, recognize aspects of my feelings in her (engage with them): she is a lower class woman thrust into an environment where she does not fit easily and she feels (is made to feel) this daily; she is independent-minded (as so many say), acts on her own for her own existence: we do not see her as a wife much, in this book scarcely as a mother (though frequently pregnant three times thus far), but rather Ross’s mistress, sex partner (this is done discreetly), working with and for him for his causes (which I like) and his safety (which is hers), waiting for her revenant-adventurer (primarily she is at home). He reads evenings (though what we are not told, alas, as that would be fun to see which 18th century texts Graham might pick for him) and often drinks, is more solitary than one might expect; she sits by his side, sewing, talking. She walks, rides (sidesaddle), goes boating and fishes.

Unlike many male authors, Graham understands the importance of female friendships but does not quite have a feel for how they work so like the other women in this book Demelza is rarely seen with the women we are told are her friends, but rather with Ross or in connection with him. Her relationship with Verity is developed through Demelza’s enabling Verity to marry, which while it brings them close is not all such women would bond through: here, tellingly perhaps, the film series improves this pair as in Season 1 we have scenes of them as friends discussing their needs, pregnancies, attitudes (the film passes the Bechtel test). They do go shopping together in Demelza, one of its fun scenes. No mother is ever seen, even mentioned for Demelza, only a stepmother her father marries after she goes to live with Ross and with whom Demelza makes no connection. The stepmother is religious and this is presented mostly from the angle of bigotry, over controlling.

For a later reread and an outline of the book, see Demelza: A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World.

Demelza, the novel, opens and closes on Demelza herself. The opening chapters tell of Demelza’s childbirth, the birth of Julia. Far from skipped (common in nvoels), the pregnancy and childbirth are dwelt upon. We are shown that the doctor’s remedy and his interference makes things worse. He bleeds the poor woman and then goes home.

Ross does become indignant and insist the doctor come back, but luckily he keeps away, and Prudie, Ross’s woman servant, and the woman who partly brought Demelza up, and Verity, Ross’s cousin, who has become Demelza’s good friend, assist Mrs Zacky Martin (Jinny’s mother) who suddenly emerges as a woman with knowledge of childbirth.

Again this is deft historical fiction for we do not feel we are getting a treatise or information but experiencing childbirth as in a novel set today — only conditions are different.

The birth itself is not really described only suggested. She then gets up from bed, the young baby begins to thrive, and she makes it her business to get Verity, Ross’s cousin, together with Captain Blamey (the man Verity loves) — where the previous novel ended. Verity has come to stay during her convalescence and help out.

Then the fiction moves to consider what this world would appear like to a young girl child growing up: a bleak bare place, much withered and dead, things damaged, poverty everywhere, murdered springs and Graham goes into the background of the novel, the larger picture, before a christening brings the other Poldark characters over (so they can be introduced) and a new one: Dr Ennys. In the film series he is a major character from the fifth episode on.

Our point of view now is a combination of Ross and Demelza, back and forth.

The book closes on her too: She returns from nursing Francis, Ross’s male cousin, and Geoffrey Charles, Francis and Elizabeth (Francis’s wife), child, to fall deadly ill herself, together with her and Julia, her and Ross’s first child, born at the opening of the book.

The power of these scenes comes from remaining mostly in Ross’s mind. As Demelza sinks she remembers back to when she first came to this house, a beggar beaten up, and was put in a huge bed to sleep, and we get a reprise, but then we switch to Ross and his thoughts which range wide over the two novels thus far. Deftly we get a certain amount of information about the best care available (not effective) from Dr Ennys’s ministrations. Julia dies, and Ross puts off Demelza’s requests to see Julia for another day.

Talk about “wild nights” (the quotation from Emily Dickinson with which I opened my blog on Elena Ferrante), Demelza ends in a conflagration of wild nights, driven by Ross’s bitterness over his bankruptcy, the death of Julia (while Francis and Elizabeth’s son, Geoffrey Charles will now live on), the spectacle of homeland and kin and worker as desperately poor and continuing to half-starve.

Robin Ellis writes Ross Poldark combined Che Guevara with a Gainsborough movie costume-hero and he is right.

As it becomes clear Demelza will live, we get a frank comment in third person indirect discourse: Ross is not as celebratory or relieved as one might assume or hope he would be. Half-relieved and mostly for her sake. He is cheered and enabled to carry on because her nature is cheerful by instinct, she makes the best of things.

Then two ships laden with wealth are blown into the near coast of Nampara Bay, one gaining money and riches partly by slavery, and the other a government-war supported venture.

Ross encourages all the people round to scavenge the first ship; he leads a desperate mob action. Graham has the storm to describe, the breakup of the ship, the desperation of people on board and then the increasing violence, pillage and exultation of the people stealing.

He himself begins to calm a little and see the damage that is ensuing to individuals, his passions calm but the hard core inside remains so that when the second ship lands and bunches of miners now come out, he offers his home to the officers and left-over crew, and takes them back.

This is not to say that for a moment he regrets what has happened. He rejoices to see people bringing back to their homes stacks of corn, of cloth, of whatever, to see the military officers who grow rich from their “prizes” see their gain shared with others, see the sailors partly mutiny, see a couple of black people flee from slavery (half exhausted, starved, might not have gotten very far).

Captain McNeil watches Ross and we know or surmise this is not going to end here – and from Season 1 I know a court case was rigged up to hang Ross for all this.

IN the meantime we return to his home where that night he shows great tenderness for Demelza remembering her sunny disposition, her real giving of herself, and her selfless wanting to me his mate, and her grief over teh death of their child.

On the next day is the funeral for the small child. A large crowd comes out of respect for Ross (only the Poldarks stayed away — their excuse they are still not well). A funeral ensues which again exacerbates his feelings. He didn’t expect the great crowds and didn’t prepare a feast or wine.

Dawn breaks over ruined beach, dispersed military, destroyed ships, and the people much the same. Now Demelza is well enough to be brought upstairs to their old bedroom and he carries her up there in blankets. She is suppose to be small — as is Angharad Rees.

The two sit at the window looking out and talking of the summer to come. They notice the cot in the room and don’t have what it takes to remove it. She encourages him to try to forget, and to try to accept Verity’s marriage and whatever Francis and Elizabeth Poldark are. Friendship such as it is is needed, and people must not live in hatred.

“They watched the scene on the beach.
‘I shan’t have to finish that frock for Julia now,’ she said. ‘It was that dainty too.’
‘Come,’ he said, ‘you will be catching cold.’
‘No. I am quite warm, Ross. Let me stay a little longer in the sun.

Cornish seascape landscape (from 1977 series)

Moment of triumphing in one another (early years of marriage, Season 2)

And so the book concludes; it opened on Demelza’s giving birth to Julia, her almost dying had she been left to a doctor and being saved/taken decent care of by Zacky Martin’s mother, and the christening (with all its strife and class and family conflicts/humiliations).’

One way to write a historical novel set in the 18th century is to imitate previous ones. Ross Poldark (or Book 1 of the series) ends in a remarkable social scene in a private great house where two heroines (as it were) become indirect rivals (not their choice) in singing using a harp. I thought it partly modeled on (or showed memories of) the scene of Jane Fairfax and Emma Woodhouse’s piano playing in Austen’s Emma.

from 1996 Meridian/A&E Emma: Harriet (Samantha Morton) watched Jane (Olivia Williams) play, with Mr Weston turning the pages

After Demelza’s pregnancy and the successful birth of Julia, several chapters are expended on the two day christening. Graham offers two powerful scenes of social interaction, with characters attacking, protecting, coping with the occasions on class lines. I liked how afterward when Ross was determined to have the second day even though Demelza felt humiliated after the first (her father showed up with her mother and mortified her with his behavior, some of the upper class women were able to use this to sneer openly at her), he went ahead but she did not alter her feelings about it. This a hard rock gritty sense of two personalities living alongside.

Through Ross’s idea to start a copper company of his own (on a huge loan) to get round all the laws and customs impoverishing the many for the sake of the upper British-connected few and his visit to the countryside, and mines and prisons, Graham keeps up his two-pronged (then and now) social criticism. All of these three things are worked finely in Season 1 too.

This is not a book whose strength comes out of dwelling in Demelza’s mind. While it begins with her and she’s an important force in the book, as it opens out (so to speak) to re-assume a wider perspective after the close of the previous book and opening here concentrating on Ross and Demelza’s relationship, their home life, and their relationship with his and her relatives (much on class differences here), it turns into an omniscient narrative much like Book 1.

The powerful scenes are dramatic and concern his interaction with his Poldark family, with him trying hard to set up a copper company to bypass all the regulations impoverishing the locals (by preventing them from operating their own businesses). He has not yet resorted to smuggling in this book; he is as yet very law-biding and I’m one-quarter the way through the second novel. He’s about to visit Jimmy Carter in a horrible prison (put there for poaching).

Demelza’s part of the narrative is central however: the birth, the christening; her attempts to get Captain Blamey for Verity and to his credit suddenly Graham presents Blamey as not altogether desirable as husband material, and Ross weighs in against it; the high point of the ball after Jim Carter has died; her apology to Francis and her sickening and the death of Julia which ends the piece. She is paralleled to Verity and Keren too.

The depiction of Falmouth (to which Demelza travels to find and see Blamey) is very fine, convincing and pleasurable, with the character of Demelza vivid with uncertainty about her plans once she sees him — and on the first visit her coming leads to nothing. She does see how lonely Blamey is but also how twisted, not really perhaps to be trusted because husbands were so powerful.

And there’s developing centrally the romance about the player girl taken by Mark Daniels to be his wife, she’s rescued from her nomadic existence (beautifully portrayed) but is bored and frivolous — this is evocatively done but the sublime scenes of the TV mini-series are not given over to this pair; rather the TV series and writers were too taken up by her as having committed adultery and couldn’t get themselves to see the landscape in romantic ways at all, nor the romance of Mark Daniel.

In the early phases of Demelza a persuasive, believable account of the attempt of the Poldarks (Ross and his cousin, Francis) to set up a mining company through hidden loans, their leaving off a mine (and the misery this causes) and attempts to begin a new mine. What a rough laborious dangerous business.

Then Graham delves the deterioration of the marriage of Keren and Mark Daniels; if he is not sufficiently sympathetic to Keren as a person (she is from the get-go of inferior material it seems), he does understand how a woman would be stifled and bored silly with such a life with a mining husband.

From two angles we learn of the realities of mining lives in Cornwall.

The powerful story of Mark Daniel’s relationship with Keren. She is (we are to see) instinctively now tempting Dr Ennys to have an affair with her.

Ennys’s house (turret) is nearby and she is attracted to him. There is an intense antagonism to women’s sexuality finding fulfillment at work here. While Graham can see how bored she would be with this man and what a half- (quarter — for he’s just home at nights and then dull, has no conversation whatsoever) life she leads, but nonetheless, she is supposed to accept this. Dr Ennys is presented as allured in spite of himself — good man he would not want to intrude or break up a marriage. He falls to her as temptress.

At the same time the story of Verity Blamey goes forward. Here the assumption is she is drying up as an old maid, but sympathy is shown to her because she is not pro-active and wants to be a particular man’s wife — no matter what his past, she trusts to him and his love for her once they are married.

Similarly, Demelza is utterly loyal to Ross; of course she has this wonderful guy and so it’s understandable, but it is the typology I’m pointing out here.

Not that easy-going prostitutes are disliked. As long as they know their “place” it’s just fine.

A comparison of the book and film: This is a powerful section of the book which was taken over for major threads in the film adaptation. In each case the changes that were made were in the direction of making what was happening softer (not as hard as in life) and more romantic, and revealingly (alas) again I notice that the depiction of Ross and Demelza’s relationship is nowhere as interesting as the one in the novel.

One thread is the poaching, imprisonment and death from disease and bad treatment of Jimmy Carter. In this section it has come to Jinny’s knowledge that her husband very ill has been transferred to worse place very disease ridden. Ross goes to see him and discovers the place to be an utter rotten hellhole the keepers are unwilling to go into, and against the law but on his authority and rank gets a group of men to take Jimmy Carter out of that prison. The book is like the film, but unlike the film, Carter does not live long enough to see his wife. So the film version resembles Garrick’s rewriting of Romeo and Juliet where he had the lovers wake up and be together before their death. In the book Jimmy never makes it past a new clean bed; Dr Ennys amputates one of his particularly gangrene limbs and he dies of the operation.

A later 18th century Cornish mansion (probably remodelled), used as Penrice (the Warleggans’s second home, Season 2)

The next sequence swirls around a vast festival the Warleggans put on which includes a weekend at their house of certain select members of the community (including the two sets of Poldarks), a party and dancing and gambling at their house, then a ball at an assembly, then the select company returns to the Warleggan’s house to resume eating, drinking, some dancing but mostly gambling until the morning hours when all sleep. Then the guests get up and leave.

Ross at first does not want to go, so sickened is he by Jimmy’s death and his awareness these very people are those who put the young man in prison, paid nothing to make the place decent, made the laws against poaching while they pay starvation wages. He is persuaded he gains nothing from keeping away and needs these people to continue with his new company. He has also on the way to the prison a couple of weeks before bought beautiful material for Demelza’s dress, a brooch and she is looking forward to going, wants to. She is one of those who feels they must live in this world and cannot help the Carters by staying away.

But he goes in an ill temper. She does not know how to cope with looking so beautiful and being beset by a group of men who in effect proceed to take advantage of her since she does not know how to control giving out her dances. Some of the people in the ball admire her from afar on the basis of her “framing” (as Ross puts it later) but we see her actual experience while at first fun soon turns stressful and souring. This reminded me of Campion’s take on how Isabel Archer might really have felt being beset by men. There are also women in the hall and other snobs who sneer at her; it has been rumored (quite wrongly) that Jinny’s last baby was not Jimmy’s but Ross’s and this helps the sneering.

Ross in effect has deserted her. He is behaving badly while gambling, half-insulting people who irritate him. He should have himself danced with her the first dance and stayed near to help her. At long last he pulls away and comes to see her and he behaves in at first a suspicious fashion (as if she’s a “loose” woman and adverse because she’s not being the upper class mannered woman), then is about to leave her to the men, and then changes his mind. We get a dance sequence which reminded me of the famous aggressive and adverse talk of Darcy and Elizabeth in P&P the first time they danced (and I wondered if Graham had it in mind), only the talk here is grim and for real. It’s believable how they cut at one another, but towards the end he begins to see she needed him and half-yield and she takes the reins in keeping them gonig through decorum.

(Now all this is OMITTED from the films. I’d like to think it would be precisely this sequence Andrew Davies would seek to dramatize.)

When they return to the Warleggans Ross goes into the deep gambling he gets involved in in the film where the cheating relative, Samson, is after a long night’s cheating, which includes Francis Poldark, is exposed and Ross throws him the mud. I can see why it’s included because all gather round, Ross bets his mine shares and Clive Francis is just so perfect as the unstable,wry, half-destructive, weak honorable brother-in-law, but after all it’s not a zero sum game.

Verity’s story is kept in the film. Blamey turns up (after having been encouraged by Demelza) and they melt to one another again, and again there is a confrontation with Francis. This too is kept in the film, all the parts.

The adulterous love affair of Dr Ennys and Keren is part of the mini-series. The book’s presentation is kept in the film, only the book is better in making Mark Daniel slowly growing aware his wife is not loyal and is having an affair with someone else. This build-up of tension is powerful and is omitted in the film in order to have the shock of Daniel’s realization and thus half-justify his immediate murder of his wife. (There used to be a defense that men used successfully when they murdered their wives if they found her in bed with another. For all I know it may still be used.)

Another omission is when Ross and Demelza go home and they reconcile themselves after some talk, with him acknowledging his fault and she telling him of Verity’s new troubles in part. She omits telling him of her role. This closing scene of not love-making but laying together is deeply right. And it’s omitted in the film. A curious resonance in the book is how her being lower class keeps them together: he’s not as jealous too because he has a deeper rooted longing for Elizabeth who he regards as above Demelza; she accepts his treatment of her more readily because he is the upper class gentleman and is bringing her up in the world.

The next day he has to go and cope with keeping his mine going and one of his partners is angered that he broke the law and rescued Jimmy. It’s a good thing Jimmy died for now it will make any case moot and there will not be a hearing. The rich people would resent and defend themselves and their laws and thus hurt the new company Ross is trying to build. This too is omitted from the film – so the complexity of the social critique is lost.

But the meeting of the Warleggans angered at their relatives Sanson’s exposure and deeply vengeful over this new competition which then follows in the book is kept in the film.

I mentioned Andrew Davies: at the same time I’ve been slowly watching his very great early mini-series, To Serve Them all My Days (1980) an adaptation of R. F. Delderfield’s novel of the same title. It’s (I admit) a better series than Poldark because all the issues are presented in an adult and often complex way, and it’s highly original in some its approaches (especially to sex — as in his later films Davies is concerned to create tolerance for homoerotic relationships and defeat bigotry). But I’m struck by how both heroes, Ross and David Powlett-Jones are the same types: they stubbornly defy cruel and unjust social arrangements and mores at the risk (and cost sometimes) of their personal interest and even survival. This being TV in Davies’ case I see how Powlett-Jones wins out; Ross at the close of Season 1 was forced to leave once more in defeat. Graham is the more radical writer than Davies (and probably Delderfield) but the idea of what makes a hero is the same and (alas) it is not one pushed today.

In the next turn of the fiction, Verity flees Francis and Elizabeth Poldark’s house to join Captain Blamey. We are not told if there are plans for marriage — this shows how what we have here is a 20th century fiction. Graham imitates the 18th century motif of the fleeing young woman but himself does not think a young woman is ruined and probably doubts she was quite in the way respectable fiction at the time inculcated.

It’s an effective scene: she has to divest herself of little Geoffrey Charles. Here the scene is meant to reveal what an inadequate mother is Elizabeth for not reading stories to her son Geoffrey Charles: she has pushed this “duty” onto Verity.

The scene where Verity’s letter is found is effective too. However, the films in Season 1 do skip over this letter and this whole scene of running away.

It was the 1980s breakthrough of art films into British TV and the transformation of what British films could have as content that made a terrific change and is a kind of threshold — and the Poldark films are on the far side of this.

The story of Mark Daniels’s murder of Keren is juxtaposed to the story of Verity’s flight to Blamey. Graham’s novel makes the parallel of two women seeking some real personal fulfillment. At the same time we see from Demelza’s keeping it a secret that it was she who enabled Verity to correspond with Blamey (Demelza hand-carried the letters back and forth with her during visits), we do — as well as that she keeps this from Ross. Ross was against Verity’s fleeing to this man known for his violence and drinking before. He is now being blamed by Francis and Elizabeth Poldark for having provided a house for Blamey and Verity to meet more than a year ago, before Francis and the father came to Ross’s house, caught them “in the act” (of courting) and provoked a duel which Blamey won (injuring both father and brother). Demelza rightly does not tell Ross, for he would be very angry.

Like everyone else, she now sides with Mark Daniels apparently, but they are also determined to protect Dr Enys, the lover in the case from Daniels’ intense wrath. Enys finds himself cornered by Daniels’s in Ross’s house as Daniels seeks to escape the law (with Ross’s help), and he does speak out for the murdered woman’s misery. Since she has been presented as oversexed somehow, ensnaring and instigating all this, she is from the get-go “bad” stuff. When Daniels catches her coming home from Enys (how he comes to murder her) and she tries to lie her way out and then discovering she cannot, defies him, it’s a good moment.

Perhaps a better title for this book would have been: On the other side of silence.

The novel begins to draw to a close: and like, Ross Poldark,, the reader will discover Demelza does not end (like so many) in a (meretricious) happy ending, but on a believable turning point in a life.

An interesting interlude occurs when Ross succeeds in getting Mark Daniels off to safety. This is done the same way in the film. A daring-deed of sneaking out at night and in the sight of the law almost Ross sends Mark off in his boat. The new captain, McNeil, does not catch Ross; he gets back to bed first, but McNeil knows and we get a sharp delightful conversation between them (only some of which is in the film) where in coded language Ross stands up for rebellion, for defying bad laws, and McNeil says he understands but now He is the Law and Ross had better be careful not to do it again. McNeil is also attracted to Demelza and she flattered, flirts back. All this in the film.

Meanwhile Ross’s attempt to create prosperity for himself and his tenants have begun to end in defeat: things have come to a “head:” Francis Poldark, very angry at Ross for (Francis thinks) helping Verity to flee to Blamey, has apparently been responsible for telling the powerful people in the community that there is a new mining company and undermining them completely by doing this. The banks’ have withdrawn support and Ross’s new company lost some markets. Ross’s debts are mounting up.

In the film we are also given to understand Francis is intensely jealous of Elizabeth’s previous relationship with Ross, but there is no sense of this in this novel as yet.

Demelza also has thought about how Verity could have been and was happy with her relatives; how her domestic life there meant something to her and how they miss her — though Francis never says this much less Elizabeth.

Guilty and upset, Demelza decides to tell Francis it was she who was the go-between delivering the letters and Ross had nothing to do with it. As we might expect, after she has trouble even getting in, and then gets a brief discourteous hearing, Francis is at first disbelieving, but when he begins to acquiesce in the probability Ross was also against Verity’s marriage (for she is now married to Blamey), it makes no difference. He asks Demelza to get out.

She is as yet young in the ways of the world and is learning that the truth does not set anyone free nor do apologies really make any deeper difference. They are a ritual of pretenses.

She goes home and proceeds to tell Ross. Now this does make a difference. He becomes enraged; he tells her he had reconciled himself to this marriage and grown to love her for her loyalty to him. Here she has been deceitful, and disloyal. She flees the room, he after her and almost beats her. He does not, but they are now estranged.

This estrangement is developed in Season 2 but it is instead derived from Ross’s continuing affection for Elizabeth (not seen in this novel), and Demelza’s hurt, insecurity and jealousy. In the novel Elizabeth seems to have nothing to do with Ross — perhaps this was written in as flashback in the next novel. The Elizabeth material put into Parts 1 and 2 of the film series come from Warleggan (where it’s developed as a flashback and memories).

A letter arrives from Verity (chapter long) where they see she is happy — if very lonely. Blamey’s children do not accept her, and he spends long weeks at sea. But making him a home and having one of her own and this love has made her happy in ways she was not just serving Francis, Elizabeth as their live-in servant-cousin-sister in effect.

So this is a coda which does give Ross pause but not enough to begin to bring the two together again.

Not much of the novel to go, and this stasis reminds me very much of the way Novel 1 ended: the rhythms of life before us: there it was the Christmas weekend and a night of semi-reconciliation and sex and love with Demelza’s coming child that closed the book.

But then we get a strong climax, reversal of emotions and return to stasis at the close.

As Demelza and Ross’s half-estrangement carries on, the disease Francis Poldark has caught is contracted by his son, and Demelza offers to come nurse the boy and this man.

Again we are (I suppose) to see how inadequate a woman (!) is Elizabeth. She can’t manage this as she couldn’t manage reading stories to the son.

It’s powerful because it’s seen from Demelza’s point of view and she doesn’t think about Elizabeth. As I wrote, the book doesn’t dwell on the sexual conflict between them. In the book there is no sense that Ross’s love has carried on nor is Demelza jealous sexually. She feels inferior as to class and social abilities. That’s different. The sexual angle is added in the film and it’s a powerful one.

As I’ve written and know Demelza herself (with a little help from Enys too)in the film saves Francis and his son, thus rehabilitating Enys in the eyes of the community, only to sicken herself and sicken her own child by Ross, Julia.

She gets better, Julia doesn’t. In the film Francis has learned to get over his despising of Demelza and forgives her for helping Verity to escape to Blamey; he will do this later in the books.

As we have seen (above), the book ends on Ross and Demelza coming together again when she sickens and their child dies.

An appealing moment: Robin Ellis is superb at enacting the strongly self-confident loving Ross — his rough jagged face, kind eyes, and muscular body are perfect for the role

I know I’ve been dwelling on the romance and adventure of the novels, in fact there is a lot of information and background of an economic kind deftly told — on mining, smuggling, fishing, becoming servants, the desperation of these mostly very poor people to survive.

So I would like to end this account of Novel 2 of the Poldark series on their general social and economic realism. From reading these novels I know am aware that a central place for mining had been Cornwall — for tin. The tin had been used up by the beginning of the century and people sought to find other minerals to make money by. In the novels, Ross seeks to break the monopolies created by local thug-families, families with ruthless aggressive successful types at their heads and the English — who treated the Cornish as if this was a colony (not part of them). He seeks to find copper and mine it; at the end of Season 1 he has been defeated. Season 2 he is doing better but we are really left in the dark as to what is happening (another aspect of why Season 2 is weaker than Season 1).

Now on C18-l (an often academic 18th century listserve), someone asked the following question while I was reading this book:

“I am doing research on the life of the Rev. Joseph Townsend (1739-1816) of Pewsey, Wiltshire. Joseph’s father Chauncy was involved in coal, silver, tin, and copper mines in Wales and Cornwall. Joseph’s attitude to mining may be found in A Journey to Spain (1791):

“It is certainly for the happiness of this principality [Spain], that the mines are not made more productive. In mining countries, the gains are exceedingly uncertain; a gambling spirit is encouraged; agriculture is neglected; and poverty prevails. If the mineral is raised on the adventurers account; unless they discover uncommon treasures, they will be inevitably ruined. If the working miners become sub-adventurers; they either gain too little, and are wretched; or they get too much, and soon contract strong habits of indolence, prodigality, and vice. Of this truth we have melancholy proof at home [Britain]. Let any one pass through the county, which most abounds with mines, and in mining parishes he will be struck, every moment, with the sight of poverty, and wretchedness.”

Apparently most of Chauncy’s fortune was absorbed in mining adventures.
My question: was this a normal attitude in the 17th through 19th centuries? Was there a literature which opposed mining on the basis of its moral effects?”

Winston Graham’s Poldark novels (I’m just finishing No 2 and going on to 3) focus on mining as well as smuggling, and there is much moralizing on both sets of activities — both from an ethical and economic standpoint. Some of this is voiced by the narrator, but a lot by the characters and of course dramatized in their fates. Mining undermined (pun there) people’s health badly; characters grow weak, sicken and die; they drown. The characters also drown while mining, they seem to have to work very long hours, and they go back to it from agricultural and “service” (servants) because the money actually supports them. There was money in mining and not much money anywhere else.

They also fish but there are apparently laws set up to control this so as to make sure the money to be gotten from it in large amounts goes to the powerful in the area. One scene late in Ross Poldark shows Ross and Demelza going to watch some fishing in the early dawn because that’s when the fish return from somewhere to other and also to evade these authorities.

I can see why people preferred to smuggle, but it was dangerous. To offset starvation people also poached. For that they were thrown in jail to die if they were caught (like Jim Carter in Ross Poldark and Season 1).

Among the books Winston used for his research: Graham used for his research Victoria County History of Cornwall (Oppenheim), antiquarian. Others: Daniell’s A Compendium of the History of Cornwall. There is apparently no recent Georgian-era Cornwall history book. Lots of books on smuggling though.

Someone else contributed this:

” a proslavery tract published around 1790 was dedicated to the “Starving Tin Miners of Cornwall.” The writer goes on to lambast abolitionists for ignoring inequities at home (i.e., the situation of the miners) in order to chase “foreign” issues.”

Elizabeth Montagu was one of those who grew superrich on the labors and miseries of other people working mines: I feel sure the following article will not put it that way:

“Child, “Elizabeth Montagu, Bluestocking Businesswoman,” in Reconsidering the Bluestockings Edited by Nicole Pohl and Betty A. Schellenberg (San Marino, CA: Huntington Library, 2003), 153-73.”

Here is a still from Season 2 where Ross has bought and is giving to his brother-in-law, Drake Crane, a ruined property to turn into a blacksmith shop.

Arriving at new property

We see the state of Cornwall in the ruined nature of the property. In the fiction of the film it has come cheap. This will foster in the second season (based on the later novels) a repeat of the kind of romance-sex we had in Season 1 where Keren Thomas came to live near Dr Enys, so started up a liaison with him and was murdered (this occurs in Demelza). In season 2, the blacksmith shop that Drake Carne is given by Ross is near where Morwena lives with her nasty bullying vicar of a husband forced on her.

We do see the economics of the area. Drake could not make a living enough to buy property so Ross as a landowner who did inherit something can buy such a property for him; where Drake learned the trade from we are not told.

The characters get to the property by riding horses. There was a thread on Austen-l where someone asked about how often women rode, and the answer was some did when they wanted to travel. In the early modern period it was the only way to travel; but you had to have owned and learned to ride a horse to do this. An elite activity.

Anyway in Season 2 we see Ross, Drake and Demelza ride to the property on horses. This is deliberately done so we can have stills of the countryside, watch Robin Ellis ride (he loved to ride and did his own riding) and Demelza (whoever did it) ride sidesaddle:

Riding Sidesaddle

Historical fiction often tells us more about the author’s time/preoccupations than the historical period in question. Nevertheless, there are writers who ‘do their homework’, and are especially useful for illuminating private lives as well as the larger patterns of existence in an era. The Poldark series is one of these.


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