Posts Tagged ‘ross poldark’

Courage shall grow keener, clearer the will,
the heart fiercer as our force faileth …
— Anglo-Saxon poem, The Battle of Maldon (as translated by Michael Alexander

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark: as magnificent against defeat

Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza Carne, asked where she is going (near final shots of Episode 1)

Dear friends and readers,

As I have written altogether too much (probably) about the twelve Poldark books, the 1975 mini-series (a Cornish Che Guevara) and 1977-78, Graham’s other historical fiction, mysteries and costume drama, I asked myself what could I contribute that would be found useful, or enrichening to readers of the books and watchers of these two mini-series, made 40 years apart. Well, comparisons. I will not be recapping; I assume my reader has read the novels, at least Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan (the first quartet, written 1945-53) and refer him or her to recaps elsewhere. I find most far-reaching in the changes is how the popular vision, how we today see the 18th century is changing in films:

Let us begin with Episode 1:

Let us first admit there is a real similarity in what is covered and emphasized in two mini-series, though the presentation seems worlds apart cinematographically, and what was contained in two episodes in 1975 (the taking in of Demelza occurred in Jack Pullman’s 1975 Episode 2) and occurs in one in 2015 (the screenplay writer is a directing force in British productions, so 2015 is shaped by Debbie Horsfield). Neither film dramatized Joshua Poldark’s death, both begin with Ross coming home in the stagecoach; both have his visit to Trenwith where Verity and Francis greet him with emotional friendship, while Charles holds back; while the 1975 includes Pearce as a first visit and Pascoe as a second.

Ross and Pearce (1975, where an emotional soft bonding counts, Pearce calls Ross “m’boy”)

Ross and Pascoe (2015, where the banker is predominant in telling the bad news of no legacy that can support him)

Both emphasize how Nampara has become a wreck (though Jud and Prudie are made more appealing in 1975, more genuinely attached to Ross, and he less severe to them), Ross’s bonds with his tenant-friends and companions and decent humane behavior towards them. Centrally important, both take material from Warleggan, the fourth Poldark novel (the back story which is not told clearly or that emphatically in Ross Poldark, the 1st) in order to make clear how Ross has loved, in his mind and heart clung to, a dream of Elizabeth Chynoweth, so we have several scenes between them. Both have Francis and Ross going down in the mine and Francis nearly drowning because he tries to apologize to Ross for taking Elizabeth from him and arouses Ross’s deep rage, with Ross’s hesitation about saving him (“Why haven’t you learned to swim?”), the wedding, Ross’s desolation.

Kyle Soller as Francis trying to explain, openly vulnerable (2015)

Ross and Clive Francis as Francis Poldark, companionable, after Ross’s rescue, Ellis not as deeply angry as Turner (1975)

In literal details it may seem that the 2015 episode is closer to the book (for example, Ross meets Elizabeth first at Trenwith at the engagement party), but a second viewing will reveal some pivotal details have changed. For example, nowhere in the novel does Charles offer Ross 300£ to leave; Horsfield (however she may deny having watched or read the previous mini-series) got that from the Pullman where Charles demands 300£ in money owed him by his brother, Joshua, money Ross desperately needs and has borrowed from Pearce; Horsfield makes central to her first episode that Ross is tempted to leave and then decides not to because what is most meaningful to him in life is his relationship to the people there, the land, and what he can do for both through his ownership of possibly payable ground (mining). Horfield brings Demelza in much earlier than Pullman because Demelza is not seen as a raucous “fiesty” semi-sexual thieving rakish girl (a concept Pullman and his team modeled Angharad Rees on from Tony Richardson’s influential 1966 Tom Jones where women are coy sex kittens), nor Ross as combining the swashbuckling romance hero of Gainsborough costume drama (a kind of Stewart Grainger) with the strong leftist-liberal politics of both Graham’s 1945 book and the 1970s BBC progressive costume drama.

Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees from Episode 2 (1975)

Instead Demelza is a genuinely abject semi-cowed, beaten, subaltern young girl, understandably hostile (like a dog who has been badly treated), guarded against all comers, attached to her dog, Garrick, who alone has loved her, and standing for in Ross’s mind, Cornwall itself, what (he says in the last moments of the episode) he had almost forgotten, what he will retrieve, and the eighteenth century here is not a world of elegance seen from an upper class Austen-ish point of view, but from below, a grimy, grim, brutal, desperate place of people living mostly a subsidence life, where they are hard to one another.

Ross by fireside drinking and eating with men; he often also drinks alone

Demelza walking, singing with dog alongside, but basically alone too

The analogy for 1975 is The Oneddin Line mini-series, for 2015, the recent Outlander, indebted to Peter Weir’s 2003 Master and Commander). Ellis’s ultimately descend from the Errol Flynn image of the gay swashbuckling, elegant hero, combining with the liberal outlook say of Albert Finney as Tom Jones; Aidan Turner’s looks are rough, Napoleonic era long coat and rebellious army man, strongly influenced at the same time by Johnnie Depp in The Libertine.

Other important differences which will be developed: Heidi Reed (2015) as Elizabeth Chynoweth is made much kinder, sweeter, less self-involved, and unlike Graham’s Elizabeth) partly marrying out of obedience to a mother and affection for Francis, guilty about Ross and herself rooted in Cornwall (all an invention on Horsfield’s part)

Reed given a penultimate speech to Ross that he must stay in Cornwall (completely outside Graham’s Elizabeth’s character

Jill Townsend is permitted to enact Graham’s concept in Warleggan of a woman genuinely frightened of the reckless Ross, seeking material comfort and prestige, in need of security. In neither series does the ambiguous woman, adult with complex motives, deeply resentful of Demelza eventually, and no friend to Verity, selfish and yet strong when and where strength is needed, not particularly enamoured of Cornwall (she’d love to go to London) whom Ross had fallen in love with:

Townsend turning away from Ross lest she be seduced by her erotic and affectionate attachment to him

Perspectives on the themes of Graham’s book matter: in both Verity is a kind of female Ross, both of them indifferent to worldly values of others; I found myself preferring Norma Streader because she is allowed to be more forceful and to scold affectionately:

Streader is unafraid to project her emotional life: Ross is here the revenant come back

Rare moment of selfhood for Verity (2015)

Horsfield’s version of feminism is to show us how women are subject to men (so Charles is made to use Verity ruthlessly, forbid her men — in 1975 Frank Middlemass as Charles wanted Verity to marry) and Verity does not get much chance to emerge until Blamey comes onto the scene. But Horsfield is much more pro-capitalist and conformist herself; she brings George Warleggan in much earlier as someone willing to negotiate work with Ross, more humanly understandable supposedly in his cool greed, more acceptable than in 1945 or 1975 (with the man of some integrity as a capitalist who will stay within the law, Nicholas, not there, instead the amoral more criminal type, Cary companions George).

triesto makefriends
Jack Farthing as George Warleggan making overtures (2015), Turner as Ross turns fiercely away


Some notes on particulars in the two series, with a (I hope) fair assessment. We should remember the 1975 mini-series had the advantage of not expecting a wider critical audience, of seeing itself as fulfilling a minority taste in historical film costume drama, and by expecting a smaller minority audience could be more daring, more original, take chances. The 2015 has the burden of being second, of having to endure comparisons (like those above), of having much more closely monitored ratings so it must satisfy conventional expectations (thus Aidan Turner had to be muscularly gorgeous).

The iconic ending of the first episode (1975): Ross standing alone, swirling waters around the rocks


1975: The hour ends with him on top of a cliff fiercely looking down as the music rolls. The motifs of the Cornish seacoast and rocks and surging waters are part of a subgenre of Cornish movies. There has been more money spent on music and locations that persuade us we are in Cornwall in 1975. I was stirred by Robin Ellis’s ability to convey complex thoughts and depths. He is cinematically equated with the sea surging against the rocks, hurling itself. He comes home to find he has been thought dead and people didn’t really mind: his mine property taken over; his bethrothed refuses to break her engagement; his farmhouse a mess. He fights intensely at each turn and at each turn his way is made harder. His one great and faithful friend is Pearce, the banker-father, who secures some money for him. I loved how Ellis as Ross spoke and acted truthfully at each turn: he saves his cousin, Francis from drowning: he explains his hesitation by saying he forgot Francis can’t swim, but also it would have been in his interest to let Francis drown. The opening paratexts and music are haunting.

Both films have good actors and much has been done to re-create the 18th century worlds. The difference is the earlier one allows the characters to come forward much more individually with their presences felt; they are not figures in a landscape; the way films were made were to conceive of actors on a stage; in 1975 the actors interacted directly and have more length given each encounter and are more rounded as we meet them (a good example of this is Ross’s meeting with Ginny and the Martins in 1975); thus we feel their presence and their significance much more. Pullman’s screenplay is better: the language is really more particular bringing out the issues and feelings of the people much more adequately with more insight into the nature of their responses to one another and their environment. I miss Paul Curran as Jud — he was just so utterly believable, mean and yet comic; the good nature of Mary Wimbush as Prudie.

2015: since Horsfield chose to bring Demelza in early and include in the first episode material that takes half the 1975 second episode there is much less time in the first 2015 episode to develop the scenes, even if 2015 has 8 more minutes. there is too much garden opulence around Elizabeth Chynoweth: the Chynoweths are as broke or near genteel poverty as the Poldarks; only the Warleggans are doing well. Phil Davis is an utterly believable Jud but less appealing; the new Prudie is grossly sexualized (Jud seems ever to be having sex with her off-stage). This series lacks the comedy of 1975; it is darker dramatic romance. The best scenes as scenes are those closest to the book of which there are a number, e.g., between Ross and Elizabeth where he breaks out in exasperation. There though mostly is a reliance on sheer pictorial projection; we are given the backstory of Ross’s time in Virginia and his young love for a young Elizabeth as pantomime in a prologue; the camera makes love to Demelza’s hidden wordless moods:

Playing with her dog

Feeling better about being alive despite the putdowns and sordid jealous threats of the Paynters

The politics are not progressive (not pro-American revolution as in 1975), but darkly suspicious of all powerful people, Ross is seen as feeling the equal and friends of his men (Jim Carter, Zacky Martin, Mark Daniels), eating and drinking with them. Turner conceives him as forceful, self-contained as a survival technique. This series mirrors the scepticism of today in Britain.

The wide calm seascape is preferred (and a crossroads where a gibbet for hanging someone is placed)

2015 ends on Ross and Demelza riding by the mine — he looks up to it as what he may hope to support himself and his servants, tenants by

Next week, Episodes 2 compared.


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1968 Pan Books edition

Dear friends and readers,

[A great disappointment today: the first class of Poldark Novels In Context I was cancelled [see comments]. I decided we should forge ahead and begin reading Ross Poldark for next week (see pages schedule for 1st third of Ross Poldark). I also sent my students the lecture notes I had made up — a sort of informal essay on the life of Winston Graham as background for reading the first three Poldark novels. I had asked them to read A Forgotten Story (also published as The Wreck of the Grey Cat) for today too, but it seems some people didn’t realize they must buy it online as a book. So here in a clear readable version for my students (and anyone else interested) is Winston Graham: the writer of the Poldark novels & A Forgotten Story (or class lecture notes 1)]:

As to my lecture notes, please first read the blurb on the syllabus on line. Here is Graham’s Poldark novels in context, life, career, Cornwall, something of his stance towards historical fiction; A Forgotten Story.

Ross Poldark is said to have sold over 5 million copies; it’s been reprinted 27 times. Graham’s books were from 1945 to the 1990 a selection in the American book of the month club. You can find older copies of his books in used booksales in libraries. he is read in France: the first three Poldark novels are available in French translations; all 12 Poldark novels are in print and available in English on the French and Italian equivalents of Amazon. Books rarely sell this way and they are today rarely kept in print unless they are selling.

So why do I call Graham neglected? Until very recently his historical fiction has been ignored by the literary establishment, academics, respectable people. There is no handbook, no companion, he’s not always even mentioned in surveys of 20th century historical fiction. One reason for this has been the fall in respectability of historical fiction in the early 20th century. That’s changing: over the ten weeks I’ll have 4 recent good articles to share with you listed on syllabus) on topics of interest, one by me, Liberty in the Poldark novels, an important theme in the books. These are all recently written. Before that all academic and more intelligent articles about him were about his mysteries. In the 1970s there were brief articles comparing his novels to the mini-series. But nowadays popular books are studied in classrooms and colleges; and then the 2nd film expensive well-done adaptation has been in the works for a couple of years, and the first was a tremendous hit and best-seller in DVD version.

2015 British edition

You’ll note Warleggan, the fourth novel is part of my blurb. I would be stumbling over my feet if I did not over the course of the next 10 weeks include that in our purview. I originally wanted to go for 4 books but was told that was too much and I admit one should spend 3 weeks on a novel. The first three are however part of a quartet, 4 books which come to feel utterly intertwined once you finish them – all four reflect their era of 1945-53, post WW2, proto-feminist, reacting to this great traumatic war and a renewal of the social contract in the UK and US too – -later 1940s. Graham felt at the end of book 4, he’d done and he did not return to the series for 20 years. Another reason I’ll be telling what happens in that last book and will devote the last half-hour of the course to it, is the way the film adaptations are rightly done, is to bring in material found in Warleggan into the earliest episodes of the films; the new series has done it again.

What happens, as you’ll see as you read, is early on in Ross Poldark we meet Elizabeth Chynoweth whom Ross loved and was engaged to before he joined the British army and went to America; he and she were engaged (which in the era means they probably had some form of sex), and he expected her to wait for him after he returned – from the American revolution, a bit much as after all no one could know when it would end. She didn’t wait partly because he was reported dead. Ross Poldark is the story of a revenant – a man returned like some ghost from the past, to a present utterly unprepared for him, in some ways hostile to his reappearance and needs. Charles Poldark, Ross’s uncle who was the oldest son of the previous generation has taken over property left to Ross by his father, Joshua. His son, by primogeniture, the oldest son of the oldest son, is the heir. We also hear of a character who becomes Ross’s prime enemy and is the villain-protagonist, the contrasting character of all four books to Ross: George Warleggan.

But this pair of characters, even Elizabeth do not dominate Ross Poldark, Francis is paired with Elizabeth, and George Warleggan becomes active in Jeremy Poldark. They were filled out more later, came alive complete with back-stories in Warleggan. In other words Graham’s characters emerge slowly, organically, naturally but to explain to a film audience who do not read the books what is happening at first, the full context, the back story as it were, the adapters right away take material from Warleggan. The first films also made Elizabeth a far more negative character. So I will also tell of these back stories as we go along. I hope you’ll like the books so well you’ll go on to the fourth this summer.

I’ve suggested a wonderful book on Cornwall which I’ll bring in next time – Graham’s Poldark’s Cornwall filled with photos – by Graham telling of his connections with this place If you go to the authorized website, newly revamped you’ll see all the titles of his available mysteries. Other books for Cornwall that are good reads are Daphne DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall and Vanishing Cornwall.

The Forgotten Story is one of his better known mysteries (several got prizes, David Hemmings was in the film adaptation of his powerful Walking Stick), some are rooted in the Spanish civil war, politically relevant. I choose FS because it’s set in Cornwall, has a theme about historical fiction, was written at the same time as Ross Poldark. One might say Graham gave birth to twins. FS is the darker side of RP. Graham is dramatizing some problems when you try to write accurate historical fiction in FS.


Let us turn to Winston Graham’s life: Three perspective can help us through:

One and two: when he began to make a lot of money, the year Marnie was a film sensation in the US (1962, it caused some scandal) in 1962, he said “I am the most successful unknown novelist in England,” and his identification strong with the underdog, with working class people, his experiences growing up a usable past, an area of history where he could present the social contract as he sees it between peoples, different classes, as it’s practised and as it’s betrayed.

A third, from Poldark’s Cornwall is his relationship with this southwestern county. As he says rightly in Poldark’s Cornwall, the idea that historical fiction is disqualified from respect because it’s filled with the presence of an author is rubbish: all great books are. They are lamps and mirrors: lamps filled with the author’s soul, mirrors of the time they are made in.

He was born in 1908 and grew up in Manchester, the city most identified with a huge growth in population and the industrial revolution in England over the later 18th into the early 19th century. In the 19th century a place where working men and women fought hard for reform – including the right to representation. Some of his family members were long lived and he lasted until 2003, still writing. He never did anything but write for a living. He experienced the pre-WW1 world; arguably our modern world emerges from WW1. He was not himself of working class background; by his generation genteel middle middle class, his family grew rich from pharmaceuticals – it began with his grandfather as a grocer and chemist (in the UK that means you own a drugstore).

A central character in Demelza (the 2nd Poldark novel) is Dwight Enys, a doctor, the name that of an old Cornish mining family, his profession growing out of Graham’s identification with quack, amateur, well-meaning and recent so-called scientific medicine. The firm was D. Mawdsley and Co, which eventually manufactured drugs and medicinal compounds. Never grew to be Big Pharma partly because his father died and the kind of business acumen his grandfather had had was no longer there. This is perhaps reflected in the conflicted tragic Francis Poldark. The Manchester era of his life is commemorated in Cornelia, his one historical novel not set in Cornwall but Manchester 19th century. Published 1949, it surprised people by how widely it sold. He became a book-of-the-month club author with it. People are continually surprised by how liked his books are – one of our essays, Nickianne Moody’s is about this.

He was expected to go to Manchester grammar school, but had contracted meningitis at the age of seven and, because of continuing ill health, went instead to a small select Longsight grammar school, which was nearer his home. They lived in a genteel neighborhood, Victoria Park, but of course as a boy he spent time in Manchester proper too. A lot of his time was at home since he was educated mostly at home. He did not go to a British public school (these are private schools for the upper classes), and he did not become part of upper class coteries – so he was an outsider to an establishment which could have bought, written about, pushed his books. he was a sensitive reading boy but very able to make friends.

After his father had had a stroke at the age of fifty-four, the family moved to Perranporth, in Cornwall – it was cheaper. That county, with its isolation and dark overtones, was to provide the setting and inspiration for much of Graham’s writing. He was very close to his mother to whom he dictated his first story at the age of five. She, even when widowed, determined to subsidize him until he succeeded. Like Anthony Trollope it was a long apprenticeship – he was not paid much for his early books, but they got in print and in those days could get reviews. He met and married his wife, Jean, in Cornwall who ran a lodging house which enabled him to keep writing. So imagine a long period of more or less isolated writing for him in his 20s to 30s, reading, then the experience of WW2 which was shattering for all in the UK, and it transformed the feel of his fiction, its nerve. his first financial successes seem to have begun at the close of WW2: Take My Life, The Little Walls, Marnie and The Walking Stick for books set in the present (taking his writing career to the 1960s), all thrillers, psychologically astute, and Ross Poldark with the three further historical books by 1953.

So the first theme: he called himself “the most successful unknown writer in the UK – and US too.” He signed a contract with Hitchcock so his name would not appear on the films adapted– $50,000. He married a local girl; she became lame in one of her legs early on, suffered asthma – so did not connect up – she had a stroke in her early 50s. She carried a walking stick. There is terrific snobbery among academics and the elite in the UK – he didn’t network into these groups; the prestigious prize as a selling tool first emerged in the 1970s. It probably hurt his reputation that he was a book-of-the-month club seller. The Poldark books were seen as regional romances.

A second perspective: individuals he tells life stories of in his autobiography (The Memoirs of a Private Man) are people badly hurt by social, economic, and political arrangements, whom he feels for; as he reveals the history of his family, we see socially and politically active people from the early 19th century on. Again his grandfather. The men in his family were trade unionists part of the Chartist movement, early Labor people. In the first chapter of his autobiography he tells of the house maid in his childhood, Evelyn: her parents had been forced to marry because mother pregnant, father a miner died young from poisonous fumes, mother of malnutrition and peritonitis; she endured a long hard life first as servant and then a seamstress, she did marry, then worked as day cleaning woman, with a single son, later in a vast department store, where the management deprived of her pension late in life because the company was able to prove she had a break in service: “I hope whoever was responsible for that decision rots in hell.” We might say she was the real upstairs-downstairs servant (see Margaret Powell’s Below Stairs), the real clerk in Mr Selfridge. Over the course of his Memoirs we meet people like her as typical and Graham’s hero identifies with the working man; in the first four books, Ross Poldark is a kind of Jacobin – a revolutionary typical of the time 1780s to 90s, our revolutionary era too.

The third; a deep sense of land- and seascape are central to his vision, deep time past,. Graham distinguishes three periods in Cornwall.

First period living in Cornwall with his mother and brother, 1925, so age 15 through the 1930s, the WW2 and the early years of his marriage. This is the era out of which our books comes.

A second era in Cornwall as summer people : Graham had moved his family to southern France for privacy, to escape taxes, but at the end of the year he missed Britain so strongly he moved back to Sussex (near London and as a literary man of letters he needed to be in contact) but spent long summers in Cornwall, bathing, swimming, walking.

The third era is the last return just before and during the films – nostalgia he calls it. In 1969 there was a proposal to film his books; he claims to have re-started the Poldarks well before 1975 when the first super-successful series aired. No one was to know it was be a success; it was ridiculed and derided by the snarky British press who only became silent after a few weeks. Not only love but accuracy; that’s where our course’s themes about early industrial capitalism, smuggling, banking, riots, medicine at the time, women’s position, comes in: he writes on Poldark’s Cornwall “I do not know how near to the truth of life in the 18th century these novels are; all I know is they are as near to the truth as I can make them.” He read extensively in texts written at the time everywhere – not just novels and memoirs, but hard records, chronicles, tax returns, court cases, about prisons.

On the later Poldark novels (5-12):

In 1969 he had been absent from Cornwall for nearly 20 years, and Associated British Pictures proposed to film the four books as a kind of GWTW in Cornwall. There was an extended visit, the film did not come off, but Graham was deeply prompted to return imaginatively, and began The Black Moon – the 5th Poldark book, returning not only to the era, but to these specific characters. He said it was like “breaking some sound barrier,” a gouging struggle to get back, and he did it, and then wrote The Four Swans (Poldark 6) and The Angry Tide (Poldark 7). It’s a trio that mirrors the 1970s, post 1960s, Vietnam, now feminist, more realistic, deeply delving the issues of local politics and patronage, the French revolution’s effect on the British; written between 1973-77. Books 5-7 wee used for the second year of the old Poldark series and I’ve no doubt they would form the basis of a second new season for the new series – 2016.

The success of the mini-series made the BBC hungry to do more but Graham had too much integrity and deep attachment to his characters and themes and would not allow other people’s stories to be formed around them. It took time but eventually he wrote another quartet, 1981-1990: issues of The Stranger from the Sea, Loving Cup, Miller’s Dance, The Twisted Sword are post-colonialism, imperialism; piracy; he dramatizes the peninsula war in Spain and Portugal during the Napoleonic era (a genuine kind of Vietnam); these are anti-war books, the last closely following the battle at Waterloo (The Twisted Sword) and we have disabled characters too. These end with the same sort of depth of nothing is concluded as Warleggan (end of first four) and The Angry Tide (end of next trio).

There was a film adaptation of just Stranger from the Sea, in an American movie-house style – cut the post-colonial politics (so delete Spain and Portugal and an important part of the book), make it just 2 hours. It failed for reasons beyond the gutting of the book’s central themes.

So no attempt was made to film books 9-12. A twelfth Poldark novel did come very late 2003; Bella, a very late child of Ross and Demelza, did finally provide closure; now we have a deeply troubled hero bonding with an orangutan. Animal rights. During these years of 1970s to 2003 he rewrote some of his earlier mystery thrillers, and wrote Poldark’s Cornwall and the autobiography.

He was very lucky in being the second son, born much later than the first, to a woman who had sufficient private income to support them both. She could, however, have been intolerant and bowed not only to the norms then and now, but the ridicule heaped on her son for “doing nothing.” He was fortunate in one relative: his father’s younger sister, an unmarried woman, persuaded him not to leave his ms in the drawer, to type it, and then she bound it lovingly in two boards and it was sent to Ward and Lock (publishers of Trollope volumes in the early 20th century). The writing industry or literary marketplace at the time included many small publishers to whom an author could send manuscripts; if and when, an author was accepted, the contract was simplicity itself. He had actually stockpiled novels (novels he had written and not sent out) and was able to keep up attention to himself by sending along a novel quickly after the first to be published, and one after that. He was reviewed in big dailies and locally. Again his big break began around the time WW2 ended.

Next time I’ll talk about his views on historical fiction before embarking on Ross Poldark. For now I’ll suggest that Graham he shows in his autobiography Poldark’s Cornwall and of course his fictions he’s interested in the mystery of the mind, the exploration of motives and deeds that lie rooted in the past and produce the conflicts, doubts, hesitations, and eccentricities of the present, a deep interest in the psychological underpinnings of his characters. His characters are compelling: beset by moral dilemmas, beset by fears, guilts, cover ups, do apparently bizarre things supposedly out of character. Do not do the logical or the rational and as a result often find themselves in complicated and incriminating circumstances that reveal the underpinnings, contradictions, values of the society they live in.

I want to talk about Cornwall’s history as mining place – made up of payable rising ground – tiny originally rural population going back to neolithic era one of the first industrial capitalist places, changed character of world with its creation of mining, trading and later export of mined minerals and techniques. And as a mythic place – Daphne DuMaurier books come out of this. Graham is far more realistic.

He’s also fascinated by how little we can know for sure about the past – paradoxically. Which takes us to The Forgotten Story.

The Forgotten Story

Oxford Bodley Head 1964 edition

The novel is also available as The Wreck of the Grey Cat, published by Doubleday (1958).

It is a complicated story to summarize. Here’s one bare-bones attempt.

Anthony is a young boy (11) whose mother (Charlotte) has died and his father gone to live in Canada, and he is sent to Falmouth to live with his mother’s sister’s husband, Joe Veal, who runs an eatery and drinking tavern. His mother’s sister (Christine) has also died. Anthony is welcomed and treated kindly by his cousin, Patricia Veal Harris, and taken in by Joe and his second wife, Madge, the ex-cook. Most of the novel is seen through Anthony’s point of view, rather like To Kill a Mockingbird. Gradually Anthony discovers Patricia is married and has left her husband, Tom Harris, because she was made to feel alien in Tom’s upper class environment, uncomfortable. One thread of the novel is about Tom’s attempt to persuade Patricia to come back to live with him; she is going out with a sailor Ned Pawlyn. At one point a riot ensued in her father’s drinking tavern, brought on by a fight between these two men. For a second time Patricia testifies truthfully in court: the first occurred before the novel begins: there was a riot and her father wanted to see it blamed on a Dutch sailor; but she says this is not so (and puts her father’s business license at risk), and the second time it was not Tom’s fault (again her father’s lawyers tried to blame the son-in-law in order to deflect attention from the way the tavern itself is managed). Both times she is reviled by various people for not lying; her father dies — he is clearly ill and failing, and she loves him, but he cuts her off with just 500 pounds. Joe Veal was a selfish, mean man; his first act upon meeting Anthony was to take from Anthony all the money Anthony had from his mother. His will is spiteful; he leaves his brother Perry something derisory. Thus ends the first book.

The second is discovery: we learn of a back story behind this front one at the tavern — we gradually suspect that Joe was poisoned to death slowly by Madge (as was Patricia’s mother).We see that no one but Patricia shows any concern or interest in Anthony for real. Tom Harris, in order to persuade Anthony to help him discover the truth of what’s been happening as well as regain Patricia pretends more concern than he feels and enlists Anthony’s help. Anthony discovers a previous will and Madge, a psychologically twisted woman, seeks to see that Anthony dies. Patricia must take a job; it’s almost impossible to find a good paying one, but she manages a teacher in a schoo; that means she must leave Anthony behind. Madge’s accomplice is Joe’s ne’er-do-well brother< Perry, an interesting character, an apparent loser with a conscience – a type in Graham's historical novels. Perry knows her poisoning propensities and she and he concoct a story that Anthony's father wants him to come to Canada; they will take him by boat to Bristol. She hopes Anthony will drown in an "accident." Anthony has very bad dreams in this book; some of them are real things he sees.

The last third, Epilogue, is about the shipwreck itself, the inspiration or beginning of the book in its prologue. It's a powerful rendition of an attempt to save a boat in this Falmouth harbor during a high storm. It is saved, but Perry slips overboard, now terrified of Madge and not willing to keep murdering people. We meet and read what a fictionalized the reporter who wrote the newspaper story said, hear of the coming trial of Madge, and what happens to Tom and Patricia and finally Anthony.

The inspiration for the book comes from a real shipwreck off the coast of Cornwall in 1897 found in a newspaper; Graham loved the tall ships and (as I said about his life), he was a coast guard in WW2 in Cornwall; although Cornwall was not bombed, the sea was fearful place during WW2 (the German planes with bombs came that way). The interest of the book is in the characters, their complicated psychology. the book manifests some obsessions or patterns we see in the Poldark books: At one point Tom Harris rapes Patricia (marital rape), partly out of revenge, partly anger, partly to conquer her.

One theme is the ambiguity of all records. I quote on article on Graham’s mystery novels by Gina MacDonald:

In the prologue to The Forgotten Story Graham describes those who would reconstruct real events from newspaper accounts as “like paleontologists trying to reconstruct an extinct animal,” never certain because of the deceptive nature of appearances, the multiplicity of details that add up to truth but that can also suggest a number of other possibilities. Thus, throughout Graham’s canon, men must deal with the disparity of facts and interpretations, and must wade through seeming truths that are at odds with their instinctive feelings. Invariably they must examine a number of contradictory hypotheses before finding a combination that rings true, and even then they have doubts until the final proof is in

Here are my lecture notes — what I would have said to prompt discussion.

It shows very well some of what’s most admired by people who know this side of his work well and it has themes and moods and devices like those of the Poldark novels – including a marital rape, complicated sexual relationships between people after marriage, Cornwall itself, the sea, a love of older type boats (all gone by the time WW1), of the coast line and cliffs how dangerous – just where Graham spent much of his WW2 – as a coastguard there. Remember the Nazis came over the channel with their bombs nightly, not to Cornwall but the sea was their path.

It falls into three parts the way many of his books do, with prologue as in Ross Poldark,, pp 1-6 (pages from Oxford Bodley Head book). Book 1, pp. 7-122 – the coming of Anthony to the household and it ends on the death (killing we later learn of Joe and reading of the apparent last will of Joe Veal (Chapter 1-16). Book 2, Chs 1-24 – pp 122-97, the unraveling of the story so we begin to understand what has been happening out of sight. Epilogue, pp. 198–224, where it’s not altogether clear what was resolved – we do not know that Mrs Veal was found guilty; she might get off, Anthony does not know he is set to go to Australia. He lies sleeping as the novel closes.

Here’s how it opens, pp 1-2. It’s a questioning of historical fiction itself at the same time as he enacts it. In this brief prologue Graham writes that it was novel written just before the first Poldark (Ross Poldark) and during some dark days in WW2 and he says it reflects the dark state of mind he felt at the public revelations of what the state of the UK had been doing, the concentration camps, the reality of what the war had been. He opens by describing those who would reconstruct real events from newspaper accounts as “like paleontologists trying to reconstruct an extinct animal,” never certain because of the deceptive nature of appearances, the multiplicity of details that add up to truth but that can also suggest a number of other possibilities.

Did they like it? What did you like about it? Was it intriguing? What is dark about it? What is hopeful? Disturbing. What did you think of the way Patricia Veal was treated by the town? About her efforts to find remunerative work and there is none for women of middle class background at all at the time. What did you think about Tom Harris? The class conflicts?

A Forgotten Story is a historical fiction set in Cornwall, centered on Anthony Veal, an orphan boy where we meet marginalized people making a living off an inn on the coast of Cornwall at the turn of the century; how Patricia Harris (nee Veal), the daughter attempts to flee a marriage where she has married above her and finds life constraining and painful.

What’s powerful is how the characters do not fall into preconceived categories of good and bad – except for the murderess and even she is psychoanalysed. The father, Joe, whom the daughter loves and whose death changes the whole world for everyone living with him, is a mean selfish, narrow man who is almost responsible for his own death: he won’t pay a doctor to take care of him and wouldn’t for his wife, the heroine’s mother, Charlotte – had he done so he might have discovered the woman who is the cook, and who he marries as a second wife because it’s easy for him as his housekeeper (like Ross Poldark) poisoned her to death, is poisoning him, and probably poisoned members of her family when she was younger. Madge turns out to be murderess at its center (she has spent a life poisoning people) who has been able to murder Joe Veal partly because he is so secretive and a miser, incapable it seems of loving anyone himself; and now she has taken over the louche cowardly but not totally unredeemable uncle, who had been brought into the plot into order to accomplish it. His great act is to kill himself lest he be dragged into killing more people with the Until near the end of the book it seems as if we are in a more straight historical novel about the psychological social troubles of a set of local people.

We do not know this until the very close to story’s end since it is told by a young boy, old enough to understand on a prime level what’s happening and the amorality or morality of a given event. The effect is part of the power: the naif perspective. We have to figure events out. We do see things he does not see. After the riot, Tom Harris rapes Patricia and we experience this from Tom’s point of videw. We see how people do not interest themselves in this boy at all; he is not being sent to school; he is at risk. In the Bristol ship Madge locks Anthony into a room below deck on a sinking ship in order to drown him. The use of a child narrator gives the word its intensity: he is not only innocent, but a good and well-meaning adolescent (aged 11), older than the children of Lee’s story and also (more recently Emma Donoghue’s The Room); nonetheless, the device works to deflect the reader from the central tabooed content in various ways and see what’s happening through normative eyes and a mind continually trying to give an upbeat presentation of events.

I found the sequences towards the end of his dreams very effective – because they are not dreams, the body is really dug up, and because Freudian style they explain to him what is happening, pp 90-91, 102-13. Powerful descriptive abilities, p 190. Powerful analysis of people: Mrs Madge Veal is actually a commonplace woman, not a monster Perry, p 194-195. The scenes in the tavern, the singing (dark songs), the play-acting all attractive (in Demelza a group of players comes to the village).

A Forgotten Story begins with a wreck on the coast of Cornwall, and returns to the scene at the end, resembling DuMaurier’s Cousin Rachel and Trollope’s Eye for an Eye, which both begin in terribly disturbed moments: in all three cases the novel is the explanation in the form of a story. It gives the piece a gothic framing.

Norma Streader as Verity with Clive Francis as Francis Poldark when we first meet them: the expression on her face is appropriate to Patricia’s very often (1975-76 Poldark series)

Beyond the redolent use of Cornwall, I was attracted to the uncle who runs a genially transgressive bar, and to heroine, a type very like say Elinor Dashwood, the well-meaning but self-possessed and vulnerable young woman (played in the mini-series by Angarah Rees), a kind of Verity Poldark.

When Patricia flees her persistent husband, Tom who with a boyfriend, Ned Pawlyn (who later offers to flee to Australia so they can live as man-and-wife without being known), starts the quarrel in the bar which appears to lead to her father’s death, she has no means of supporting herself decently. This is 1898 and the only professions open to a young woman still are wife or teacher. She takes a position as a strict girls’ school — we are in a mild version of Jane Eyre too. The telling gripping incident of the story is a marital rape scene, which I’m coming to see as an obsession, a highly unusual one.

Tom rescues Patricia from the bar quarrel and to assert his rights over her, rapes her. Grahame returns to this unusual motif again and again: arguably Ross Poldark rapes Elizabeth Warleggan (as she is soon to become in Warleggan). In The Four Swans Graham presents Elizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth, coerced into marriage with a man who (in effect) rapes her nightly. Yet Patricia gives testimony on his behalf in a courtroom which reveals her liaison with Ned, she is ostracized and there’s a scene of public humiliation.

The dislike and resentment and discomfort of being with people above you is part of why she wants to stay away from him; he is too powerful for her. Tom Harris does not realize he’s arrogant, he does not realize he is privileged, and cannot see it – she flees this because it makes her feel bad about herself.

All the while she is of course in her heart a virtuous heroine. We are to re-define what we mean by virtuous and it does not mean strict sexual fidelity although in fact Patricia never has sex with another man, a decent merchant marine sailor, but not because it’s forbidden, but because she does not love him enough to go off with him to Australia as a partner, though he would provide an escape from her bad situation once her father dies and spitefully leaves her nothing.

Graham chose to return to the end of the Victorian period to be able to show this paradigm, only Graham de-constructs the framing social circumstances and shows us how unfair they are. Tom Harris no longer has the right to demand Patricia back. In 1891 it had become no longer accepted since a famous court case for a husband to try to wrest his wife back to live with him. But he feels he ought to. The sense in the fiction is that this is wrong. This is at least one place where a woman should have real liberty. She is nagged by her (murderous we find) aunt to return to Tom using the conventional argument, she should. She is shamed by her community when she does not return to him. That this motif is returned to ceaselessly shows its centrality for controlling women in this set of social structures, and that it’s at a great price to her. Another Poldark motif is the courtroom where a character unexpectedly tells the truth out of a stubborn integrity which truth hurts her – in the case Patricia Harris.

The ending shows Tom Harris who has all along been an ambivalent figure (he appears to be exploiting the boy to pressure Patricia) into a hero of integrity. He rescues Antony and brings Patricia back from the school. We discover that Tom has been responsible for her getting her job: he had the connections and respect by his family and position as a lawyer. Unlike Ned, he can take Patricia somewhere as his wife; they can afford to provide a home for Anthony.

But the way he wins her is more interesting than this, or the way it’s presented. The presentation of Patricia’s choice to return to Tom does not mean all is forgiven — and as in Marnie. It’s left ambiguous.

How do they come to this decision. the woman is married to the man and so she obeys the social convention, goes with it. So it’s about family life and convention and how they operate. Tom’s upper class status is what gets her the job in as a school mistress; as a lawyer he has access to the police who then come and dig up Joe’s grave to discover that he was poisoned.

After a while the books all do spin around the same concerns, and for me at least are gripping. I find I can’t put them down easily each time I start one up again. I get intensely emotionally involved.
The Forgotten story is all that happened which does not appear in history and what really mattered – how little can come out in records that matters. We don’t learn what really prompted events in records. Swept under the rug, swept away as the storm which sweeps away Uncle Perry, the uncle who colluded with the aunt, swept away as Uncle Joe, the father whose real vulnerability we are never permitted to delve. Why he married Madge? what happened to Patricia’s mother?

The fiction remains conventional: Graham treats this decision not as a violation of feeling and he presents the woman’s choice with tact and sympathy. It reminds me of Demelza central heroine of the Poldark books who also finds security, peace, respect from the community by doing the conventional thing – the obedient and going for promotion as we’ll see. Angharad Rees played both parts – in both films: Demelza and Patricia. I can see Norma Streader who played Verity in 1975=6 as Patricia too.

The Forgotten Story, has an unhappily apt title, which paradoxically point to one reason it may still be in a collection with Marnie and Greek Fire, as it was made into mini-series in 1983 by then respected actors which appears to have flopped if the complete lack of information in IMDB and on line stills are any indication. Nonetheless, The Forgotten Story, is also one of the few pre-1950s novels, novels before the Poldark series, Graham himself chose to reprint.

It’s one of three the non-Poldark novels put into print before this latest film adaptation of 2015: Winston Graham: Marnie, Greek Fire, and The Forgotten Story. Marnie is a highly unusual psychological study of a disturbed young woman which was travestied by Hitchcock into a film about a hateful mother, controlling husband and thieving woman (it made a lot of money); Greek Fire, very typical for Graham’s generation of writers, a novel about the overthrow of a socialist movement in Greece, 1948.


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The Movie

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.

Rough Tor, Bodmin Moor, Cornwall

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.

Norma Steader and Jonathan Newth as Verity Poldark and Captain Blamey dancing at an assembly ball (Poldark, 1st series, Episode 3)

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.”

I’m partial to this promotional black-and-white photograph of Robin Ellis as the revenant renegade Ross Poldark (used for advertisement of the 2nd season or series)

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:

One of the great houses of the fifth, sixth and seventh books (written in the 1970s). The above a country house (which emerges as political linchpin in Season 2)


On loving the books all over again.

Demelza, albeit pregnant, providing for the family as best she can by fishing (while Ross is allowing smuggling to go further over near the cove and cliff (Season 1)

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.

This was my chosen gravatar: Elizabeth (Jill Townsend) upon realizing what has been happening to Morwenna in marriage

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.

Here she is on the beach with Drake (a young Kevin McNally) who rescues her at last


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Robin Ellis as a young bitter Ross Poldark (1st season); Ross still withdrawn, saturnine in the 9th novel

Dear friends and readers,

So I returned to Graham and his ninth Poldark, this time with some trepidation, but like The Stranger from the Sea, it opens very well. It drew me right in.

I’m beginning to realize how often books are written by people who are not truly vulnerable, not having a deeply hard time at all, or they wouldn’t be getting published or to me — most of the time. There are exceptions. And most of the major characters of Graham are sturdy people; where his appeal has been for me is his radicalism and the (hidden) bitterness and bleakness which come out most strongly when Ross takes the fore — as in his descriptions of life in Parliament only there it’s too public and too short and anyway given at dinner to the Enys so he can’t tell what’s in his heart. We begin to get a little closer to him when he visits Verity upon getting home, but there again it’s Verity who does the talking and Valentine’s character we are invited just to glimpse.

I don’t like stereotypical kinds of misery that are reworked — and that’s one of the reasons Ishiguro’s novels began to pale for me. It’s too much a formula in some that he’s discovered sells, but his books are certainly in the line of novels I prefer and while Graham’s can participate in this his central area to dramatize comes out of a experienced complacency and success in his life that I’m glad for him he had but do not find finally what great art for me comes out of.

The pace of Miller’s Dance is slow — and it was that for Stranger in the Sea. Graham’s earlier Poldark novels has tight structures that moved for all they had several stories going at one. It’s a different aesthetic Graham is trying. He does not want just to repeat himself. It’s also more elusive than the earlier fictions. Reminding me of Jhumpa Lahiri’s non-presentation of her tragic hero in Nameless, Graham keeps Ross and now Demelza from us.

The book is alive with interest and history too. I still yearn for my favorite characters (e.g., Francis Poldark, now long dead) and wish Graham would risk himself for real … Stephen, Valentine, Jeremy are versions of himself at a distance in the way Ross and George too were originally not. Cuby is a version of Demelza (who connects to Graham’s wife) going wrong, but there is no ravaged vulnerability as in Morwenna, no self-contained yet destroyable Elizabeth.

Chapters 1 – 2

We are in the following season from The Stranger in the Sea and with Ross and Demelza on the beach watching the landing and slow movement of a huge steam engine, part by part brought up from a bay onto a hill and by rollers and sleeps gradually brought before the now going/dying mine, Wheal Leisure. Several things are moving for me: suddenly once again Ross and Demelza there very strongly as a pair. The description of Cornwall, the seascape, and somehow realistically done yet no effort to read this depiction of an important — hugely important — form of engineering that is being brought to work into this area of Cornwall.

We are also re-introduced to Clowance, the daughter, and as her lover, Stephen Carrington. The promise of Stephen is fulfilled here: another renegade but not a good one. He pressures Clowance into meeting him at Trenwith, now a decaying house, where he pressures her to have sex with him or agree to marry him. She says she will ask her parents. The scene is embedded in a thread of chapters that includes suggestive reminders/hints at the same time Carrington is going to bed with the consumptive cripple, Violet Fellows we saw him — supposedly out of pity — take with him to the mid-summer festival which was a penultimate sequence in The Stranger from the Sea. We see Carrington is also not trustworthy over money, a liar. Ross is a renegade, but a renegade from the evils of the societies human nature creates which is quite a different thing. When Clowance tells Ross, he cannot think of a reason to say no as he has brought her up to marry for love.

An inlet in Cornwall

On the beach we see that Demelza has had second thoughts and regretted that Clowance refused the wealthy Fitzmaurice (of course this offer is sheer fantasy). Caroline’s view and that of her aunt, Mrs Pelham, is this was a decision Demelza should have fought and our narrator suggests that what may be coming for Clowance will not be happiness.

Chapter Two at long last Dwight Enys comes on the stage. He has not been on the stage at all for several books. Graham cannot bear for his heroes not to do well in life so while Ross is now an MP consulted by Canning (no less), Enys is a much respected physician, living in a gracious house with Caroline and the marriage is just fine, thank you very much. We are not allowed to look into that probability but we do go with Dwight on real medical rounds, are in his thoughts and visit with him a misery old man who beats his daughters (so there we are) and domineers over a young wife whose beauty he bought. He’s killing himself by his vices and may listen to Dwight’s sensible advice only because he wants to live. This household is being brought into the Clowance story.

And George Warleggan is back, this time coldly wooing Harriet Lee who is as calculating as he and the scene where he persuades her to marry him a coolly bitter one for the ethical eye of a reader.

At the same time we are again hearing of Geoffrey Charles whose presence contains a frisson, a kind of intense carry over from Francis Poldark (by no means forgotten in the mind of the author) and his tenderly loving mother, now dead, Elizabeth. He sends a letter from the Peninsula war to his uncle Ross and aunt Demelza. Trenwith is his and he could return to it.

Goldolphin House, Cornwall: Trenwith

The Stranger from the Sea began with a long powerful sequence of the Peninsula war which is repeated through Ross’s memories here (yes there is a use of memories, a sign of weakness again but they are well done). This brings in the larger political war whose full resonance I don’t know enough about the Prince Regent and his decision to stay with the Tories rather than Whigs once again). Demelza fears Ross will light out, but he now has his ties to Jeremy — who is bringing in this engine — and it may just be London. He’s getting old to go killing or risking death. But if he does she does not want to accompany him again after the last disaster.

Geoffrey Charles is also a good decent (humane, liberal) young man — as opposed to his half-brother, Valentine whose amours with married women Geoffrey Charles mentions in passing.

The series really is one long book and if you regard it that way you can remember The Stranger from the Sea as having several powerful interludes, one of Ross returning to Demelza after a long absence, estrangement and the long night’s love-making and week’s return conversations and walks. The falling offs become lulls over the course of thousands of pages.

Probably what is making this novel is the story of Clowance has the power of potential great misery, the strong sexuality of the scene between her and Carrington (as well as a contrast between Warleggan and his older aristocratic woman he wants as a trophy as well as a connection, Harriet) — and this time deeply alluring description of the place, very intensely done.

And as an old-time novel reader I suspect the happy ending may come — after much bad decisions — in a marriage of Clowance and Geoffrey Charles.

Only mentions of Drake and Morwenna. I did peek ahead and to my disappointment could not find them on stage. But at least they are not being forgotten. We hear they are happy but no more. Not how you see. And they are not Millers, but running a shipbuilding yard.

Doubtless the title refers to the song — a beauiful version of which is on Sondheim’s A Little Night Music. Oh I shall marry the Miller’s son ….

Chapters 3 – 4

Sheila White who played the murdered Keren would have been perfect for Clowance

Graham’s novel reflects real 18th century conflicts in the form we see them in 18th century novels (still with us in more attenuated form: is ideal marriage is of people of comparable age in companionate relationship with shared values, expectation — Ross and Demelza for this because they succeeded. Or it is an arrangement with property and interests to be served first — as Warleggan and Harriet mean to do, and Caroline (despite her marriage to Enys) defends.

This of direct relevant to Chapters 3-4 for what we find is Clowance is permitted to engage herself to Stephen Carrington and by indirection, narrator’s hints, what the characters say, we see Clowance is in real peril. Carrington is a liar, he is at this time having a sexual liaison with Violet Fellowes, if he could he would pressure Clowance into having sex with him at Trenwith. Demelza is alert to the danger of this: she has found out through someone telling her Clowance was seen with Stephen at Trenwith and while she cannot see her way to forbidding the match (which Ross in confidence tells her that he thinks he ought to), she can forbid these tyrsts. Carrington tells Clowance of a child and boyhood on the streets: he was the child of a woman where the father abandoned them, the mother abandoned the boy: he was for short while brought up by peasant, he has worked in chains in the mine as a youngster, lived off the streets, we’ve seen him be a pirate and smuggler (with Jeremy), but while she listens and appears to believe, we can wonder what is the full truth and how much of this is lies. Ross tells Demelza he caught Carrington out in at least one lie in his story. Yet he goes about to find his prospective son-in-law a place to live (Enys’s old house on the cliff — romantic), and set him up in a profession, that of miller — like he did Drake.

Two critiques: first Graham presents Clowance as wanting to be hurt and physically too. This is transparently not so, not even so in terms of the very character he presents. She has no broken spirit. It’s a dangerous pernicious myth This is factitious and from books. The near seduction scene is better than that I admit.

Second it really is not probable a pair of 18th century parents would not forbid a match they thought so badly of, worried so much about. The characterization here is of mid-20th century parents.

My surmise that eventually (maybe not in this book for this marriage is coming swiftly on) Geoffrey Charles will provide the real partner for Clowance was reinforced in how Graham made a parallel plot: we watch Geoffrey Charles in mortal danger in the Peninsula war at the same time as we watch the scene of Clowance’s engagement.

No sign as yet of Drake or Mowenna. Sigh. Sam emerges with his chapel but nothing more of this set of characters.


Ioan Gruffurd as Jeremy Poldark (1996)
Chapters 5 into 6: They go to a play, Jeremy’s angry ferocity

Graham likes to imitate 18th century novels (as did Donoghue in Life Mask). He does not have his character put on a play but go to an evening of plays: it is a full evening complete with a tragedy, The Gamester, a brief comedy, The Milliner, and after farce, The Village Lawyer.

Recent production of Cibber’s Love’s Last Shift

Graham uses this scene to stage an encounter between Jeremy Poldark and Cuby Trevanion: the long section on Stranger in the Sea on Jeremy’s smuggling and rescue by Cuby was of course meant to make us engage deeply with Jeremy; here he emerges as obsessed with Cuby and refuses to give her up. He insults here when she tells him she will marry only for money and for her family, will not desert them. She and they made the mistake of building their folly castle. The scene is raw with emotion and anger and also sexual attraction for she does regret not marrying him. Her brother who he clashed directly with is there.

It’s set so vividly in the theater.

Then the Poldarks do not go to the Warleggan great house, as Demelza has requested they do not — their love and loyalty to their mother reminds me of the depiction of the love and loyalty of Lady Glen’s children to her, not in Trollope but the 1970s film series. It’s the same ideal woman.

This gives Graham as chance to move us back into George’s realm again, Lady Harriet, and slowly to Valentine. Graham does not say explicitly whose son Valentine is — does he expect us to know, and those who don’t are left in suspense, but we see George’s suspicions never go away. Valentine seems to be a total shit, for as I turned the page he was after a new maid. Genes indeed are not all, are they?

End of Chapter 5: George Warleggan meeting with Trevanion whose daughter Cuby he would like for his son (who is we are to remember not his son), Valentine. Of interest here are the thoughts given George (perhaps out of character) about what a decent person Cuby really is: for her brother she has taken care of his children, been a replacement mother “she deserved better than an arranged marriage.” But nonetheless George is angling for this, bargaining in the way we saw him bargain with Osbert Whitworth over Morwenna. We know how hard Jeremy has been to her because she persists in this loyalty to her brother and to marrying for money.

I surmise a big punishment in store if she is married off to Valentine (off in some part of the house harrassing a maid).

Chapter 6: We see Stephen visiting with the dying Violet who knows he is soon to marry Clowance. He then begins to make a shady deal with her brother, Paul;

Demelza tells Ross she is again pregnant. The scene held me: she is happy over this and he not at all. He cannot understand quite why she is happy for he thinks about the danger to her life, how she does not want to lose her. We are to remember that each time she’s gotten pregnant, he has been most un-eager. She plays with names, “Drake”?. Ross teases along, “Why not Garrick?” the name of her now deceased beloved dog. But there is this intriguing line: “But he was not amused; there was no laughter in him at all.” We see this in his scenes with Jeremy where Jeremy has only at long last confided. I wish Graham had developed this thread openly.

Jeremy our inventor is working at trying to make a steam engine which will make a carriage go without horses. Trevithick explains to him he has got to make the engine much smaller than present technology allows.

Book 1, Chapters 7 – 9, Book 2, Chapters 1-4

I’ve been feeling I’ve not done justice to it to The Miller’s Dance at all as I was re-reading then skimming again through, dipping and being absorbed in The Miller’s Dance — nor perhaps to his Stranger from the Sea.

For example I seem to have completely overlooked the story/character of Music Thomas (begun pp. 47-53). He is someone Dwight Enys meets on the way to the Popes. Music doesn’t fit in; he doesn’t know quite why. The question we are led to ask is, Is Music homosexual and he is hiding it (or supposedly doesn’t know it); more likely he is mildly disabled. He cannot socially integrate is part of this portrait. It’s touching to see Enys treat him with appropriate respect as well as compassion. Francis was a gentleman, this man doesn’t have that.

Clive Francis as Francis Poldark trying and failing to reconcile Ross to him after his betrayal of Ross

I also noticed how throw-away lines show us women’s “rough” deal (Graham’s work). Pope regularly beats his two daughters and no one can stop or does try to stop him. Enys as a character visiting the old man for his health can see this.

We are told off-hand of another women who pushed into having sex with a careless young man, and then discovering herself pregnant and unable to give herself an abortion killed herself — from pressure of the community nagging at her, intruding into her private space. I can’t find the vignette but it’s meant as a parallel to what could happen to Clowance (were her parents not watching over her) and what did happen to Violet Fellows only she apparently didn’t get pregnant.

Little throwaway vignettes of common realities of the time — all showing the plight of women. The widowed sister of a Duke, lady Harriet’s previous career (rather like Trollope signora Neroni) an now how George regards her (another trophy) is a moving character

Touching lines too.

At the same time there is high adventure and economic stories off stage — Stephen and Paul have obviously gone pirateering and brought back booty (Book 1, Chapter 9). Meanwhile Stephen lifted 30 pounds off Clowance (her last, but he did return it. We see his friend Paul’s father borrow a hefty sum of 200 from Ross to keep their omnibus going.

We meet Valentine Warleggan for the first time — on stage — and see that he combines some aspects of Ross physically and mentally or emotionally, but turned to the most selfish petty purposes, at least as yet. Warning signs of something more deadly to come are seen in the distance we are encouraged exists between his petty talk which rides over strain and miseries in conversations as if he didn’t see them and what he really is thinking/feeling, which we are led to believe is quite different.

Norma Streader as the young Verity

A talk between Verity and Ross when Ross returns home from London and parliament — we return to this motif that Ross can talk to his cousin Verity, where she likens Valentine to Ross’s father is intended to give us a clue as well as Graham himself a thread of his original vision to work a new character out of. Valentine has some physical resemblances to Elizabeth too — something steely-frail.

Jeremy is growing ever bitterer as he sees his engine won’t work; he is offered “ins” on Stephen Carrington and Paul’s smuggling deals, but does not want this — he is too upright and not angry at the order he finds himself in. How should he be, given his father and mother’s generosity of spirit and the home they made for him and themselves. He tries to make up for his earlier wrathful aggression against Cuby whom we are told he still hungers after by pretending not to care so deeply and flirting genially with her. She is surprised and relieved. I couldn’t resist peeking ahead to the next novel to see if she does marry Jeremy, but it did seem (though not altogether clear) that in fact she will marry Valentine, a deal engendered already in part by George (the supposed father) and Cuby’s brother. This does augur something grievous and complex to come for she is a willing victim: she buys into the idea she must marry money and big prestige, that she must obey her brother and owes this to her family.

We are certainly in the next generation with Ross returning from Parliament and again we get reasoned history in the form of Ross’s news and doings in London, his desire to stay in Cornwall – and with Demelza, especiall now she’s pregnant — but his feeling that however inadequate and clumsy and reluctant he does manage to do some good in his parliamentary maneuvrings. He feels he needs to get a different patron than the one he has, though if he does he will be working to abolish the rotten borough he stands for (rather like Phineas Finn). We get a real picture of how corrupt Cornwall is — all rotten boroughs and more representatives from it than all London’s vast population. For good measure we get Caroline defending this system as putting government in the hands of the educated. Right. We do get a picture of early 19th century UK run by the aristocrats for themselves, going to war to support their interests and their inhumane indecent notions of male glory (Geoffrey Charles adheres to this latter and his latest letter from the Peninsula tells of much death and the paralysis of one of his hands.), with the bourgeois supporting them to get a small or big as the case may be (George Warleggan) percentage of the take.

The most alive thread or subplot to me for the book considered as a novel is now that of Stephen Carrington and Clowance Poldark. He is getting her to accept (he thinks) his promiscuous ways. Every Friday he visits Violet Kellow, as she lies dying, and one morning he does fuck her. The curtain goes down in the usual discreet way. Clowance would break it off if she knew of this and is led to accept the Friday trysts only on the supposition the woman is dying and it would be cruel to deprive Violet of this “friendship.” A conversation between Jeremy on his sister’s behalf with Carrington shows Jermey warning Stephen he will defend his sister, and Stephen telling him to mind his own business.

The Enys and Poldarks at dinner with Clowance and Jeremy there: Paul comes to call Enys away (we have seen this several times in these past two books and each time it’s accompanied by sudden beauty in the landscape around Enys). Clowance says quietly, should you not go, Stephen. He says why? But at the last minute of the dinner conversation suddenly bolts for the Kellow house.

I stopped reading at a Truro fair chapter where we zero in on this pair — I did want to read on but could not. It’s a good sign when I want to read on to see what’s going to happen next. I do read for a love of characters or themes & alluring description (this book has a good deal of this latter) that rivet me.

The problem for me is I predict that Clowance will not marry Stephen after all. I peeked ahead there and couldn’t tell but saw in the family trees that preface each new book (and each time new characters are added and the new alliances laid out) no sign of a marriage of Stephen and Clowance. Well I like to read of people vulnerable and having a hard time, especially women and so in this book the one character I’ve really been interested in has been Violet, hardly here at all.
So surmize that Clowance’s story will not be one I can bond with (to use Caroline’s word for it).

Also we are having another of these happy events all characters gathered together (with only one or two having clashes outside the main stream of feeling) that first started in The Stranger from the Sea: visit to great house and mid-summer festival, and this one the night at the theater early on.

Still, Cuby will marry Valentine, a deal engendered already in part by George (the supposed father) and Cuby’s brother. This does augur something grievous and complex to come for she is a willing victim: she buys into the idea she must marry money and big prestige, that she must obey her brother and owes this to her family.

Also the scene of The Enys and Poldarks at dinner with Clowance and Jeremy there when all the politics and history is talked by Ross: Paul, Violet’s complicit brother, comes to call Enys away (we have seen this several times in these past two books and each time it’s accompanied by sudden beauty in the landscape around Enys). Clowance says quietly, should you not go, Stephen. He says why? But at the last minute of the dinner conversation suddenly bolts for the Kellow house.

It’s these moments in this book I like best.

Book 2, Chapters 4-5

I find myself experiencing the kind of intense absorption and pleasure in this book during this chapter, which was (to me) everywhere in Graham’s first 7 Poldark novels.

Where Truro races held today

The characters are at the Truro races and at last there is emerging real life out of the new generation.

In Chapter 5 We witness a troubling conversation between Clowance and Stephen where it’s clear he wants her to elope with him right now and fuck her — without marriage. It’s also clear that she’s tempted — to me very strangely as within a month she’ll have him or he her (more like it) anyway. They come upon a filthy poor urchin selling junk jewelry and Stephen disdains her; Clowance realizes this was what her mother once was and that Stephen since he says he lived this way once too ought to be feel for the street woman. He does not. She buys the jewelry and he says watch out you don’t get a disease. In the next chapter they come upon Andrew Blamey (junior), son of Verity and it emerges quickly that this naval officer Clowance had glimpsed from afar and whose life and job experience includes coping with pressing gangs (he is not subject to by virtue of his engagement with the merchant marine) and seeing smugglers has seen Stephen at a pub bar with Paul Kellow and another unnamed woman (pale — could it have been Violet?) and when Stephen denies it was him, Andrew cleverly lets Clowance know in front of Stephe that he witnessed Stephen’s careless murder of someone as the group were fleeing the press-gang. Stephen triumphs over her by saying before Andrew he won’t be having any relatives at the church, isn’t that so, my dear, and Clowance’s acknowledgement.

The urchin did predict that Stephen will not live to grow old (p. 262).

Jeremy is slowly emerging as a personality in his own right, complex, with integrity like Ross. Chapter 4 too allows us to experience him in his new distanced courting pattern, more casual, get Cuby to go on a walk with him. It’s moving for she first and then he, acknowledges that relationships cannot remain light if they are to be meaningful and not become tiresome. “Pleasantries soon begin to wear thin.” (p. 265) This is the genuine Graham note. He manages to kiss her for real and she responds, but at the close we know that she is still committed to the brother (pp. 263-70). He does tell her that since “sincerity keeps breaking in,” he will stick by her as a friend and she says “let it be so.” Since the next chapter ends (5) with George and Trevaunion planning the marriage of Valentine to Cuby this too harkens forward to what will be: Valentine marrying Cuby and Jeremy forming a friend as Ross originally intended to be for Elizabeth.

A strong sparks flying chapter (6) when Ross suddenly finds himself bidding on a horse someone else is determined to bid higher than he and it’s George Warleggan. The old rivalry ensues and again Ross comes out looking better for George having won and gaining the horse for 90 pounds suddenly doesn’t want to cough up the money and denies he won. He just wants the triumph not to pay. An old friend, Tholly Tregirls intervenes to say George did indeed get the horse – this irritates Ross as he is not glad of this support (even as he recognizes impulses in himself like Jud Paynter too). But George’s new wife, Lady Harriet, intervenes to say George did indeed win the horse, she wants it and they will pay 95 guineas. This shames George in a way as it is bucking him in front of all. The horse Tholly says a little ater is worth no more than 40.

Then a half chapter of George meditating his new marriage and its problems. Elizabeth was never the rival that Harriet is. He is allowed in Harriet’s bed sometimes; when there, it’s apparently like Rowella was with Osborne Whittington (or something like this — we never see these glamorized ideas of rocky sex Graham suggests — probably because it’s unreal in part and would be sordid). Elizabeth may have been firm, tenacious, her own person, but she was gentle and didn’t struggle against him directly. George is not so sure he didn’t make a mistake in marrying again, but when Harriet appears to demand that they also become friends with the Poldarks, especially Ross, to whom she is attracted, and describes him in terms reminiscent of Valentine, George does manage to call a halt to this, just.

Demelza not there because large in her pregnancy. I feel she’s kept away because her presence would change things to be less threatening.

Angharad Rees as the young bride, Demelza: open-faced, candid, strong sensible even there, utterly loyal

I reached the close of another Poldark novel. Happily Clowance has had the strength to break off her engagement to Stephen Carrington. I wish Graham had let us into her inner life to show us what this cost her; we only see her outwardly intensely imagining him around. A new suitor has apppeared, Tom Guildford, suitable, witty, likeable, but for this reader nowhere as interesting precisely because he fits normative ideals so well.

Repeating a pattern from the earlier novels, again George Warleggan negotiates an arranged marriage on sheer money terms: he buys for Valentine, Cuby Trevanion. She comes expensive, but he’s willing to shell out to gain the ancient family line intermingling with his. The bargaining with her brother and even Conan Whitworth knowing about this connects us directly back. With his presence we hear of his mother, Mowenna, as she once was, withdrawn, and as she is still, senstivie, but apparently we are not to see Drake and Morwenna any more though we do see Sam and Rosina.

Jeremy is incensed and despairs at the news of this clinched marriage. His engine has also gone nowhere. All his dreams have come to nothing. So we have — what did surprise me — a concluding series of chapters where he, Stephen, and Paul Kellow plan and (apparently) execute successfully a heist, a robbery, of the moneys, property deeds, jewels and whatever else is contained in two strong boxes travelling in a coach from one area of Cornwall and London to the Warleggan home. It’s done using disguise and very clever carpentry inside a coach, whereby the three undo the seat and pull out the boxes and pulls out the “spoils” over the long haul of a journey and then put the boxes back (empty) and clear out of the coach.

As in earlier novels, Graham plays a little game because it seems as if (as yet) we will not know if they are caught. If they are, the punishment is death. This is not quite the same thing as ending Demelza is a food riot (over starvation) led by Ross. There is no moral excuse for this. It will not prevent the marriage of Cuby to Valentine — a real shit who Harriet, George’s wife, has become an ally of.

It is a charged effective sequence: all the disguises are well done, and the interaction of the characters piquant — especially when an unsuspecting extra passanger, not expected, a lawyer, Mr Rose, is in the carriage with our three young men for some of the time. As ever Graham carries his learning lightly so our experience of this run of the carriage, the inns, and landscape is well done, with just the persuasive amount of social scenes glimpsed as we go.

Demelza’s giving birth to a new son, Henry, is handled beautifully. Another dinner and dance at the Warleggans where Clowance has been invited and also Jeremy. The night’s doings are at the end interrupted by the news which gives much relief, for Demelza is now old to have a child, and had not been doing well.

Graham manages to put us off about what happens to the young men by switching to Demelza and Ross and once again their presences carry the narrative with such strong charge. It does seem as if he will be off again and she accepts it again — now that she has another child who (like Julia did) resembles Ross closely. Their dialogue is persuasive, life-like, touching. He is not happy over the child, just relieved. The landscape they walk along made just so effective. And there is more than a hint that Geofffrey Charles is on his way — for my part I hope as a husband to Clowance.

I was not that surprised to discover that Jeremy (our secondary hero now, son of Ross and Demelza), Paul and Stephen literally get away with it. They steal the huge amounts of money, deeds, and jewels in the two strong boxes and make their flight good. I assume that Jeremy will indeed make a felt dent in the business operations of George Warleggan for at least a time. I doubt enough to put off the wedding of Cuby Trevanion to George’s apparent son, Valentine. I should say real son, for whatever were the biological genes, Valentine is now a product of his genes, the environment and norms of the era and in reaction to George.

But perhaps not for Jeremy is not looking all that well as he catches up to his mother, father and two sisters standing on the beach of Nampara and Demelza has a look at him:

“All the same she did not think Jeremy looked brave. From seeming younger than his twenty-one years – he~ had of a sudden come to look much older. His complexion was sallow, and his eyes dark, as if from worry or lack of sleep. A woman of eccentric perceptions where her own family was concerned, she had a sudden moment of unease, of panic, an awareness of crisis, as if something less tangible than the sensory was warning her of a looming danger, either shortly to come or just past. She looked again at Jeremy, assuring herself, trying to reassure herself that it was only a recurr­ence of the fever disturbing her blood…

Clowance is not altogether happy walking on that beach — Stephen is still alive and determined to have her. The money is yet to be divvied up.

Trevelgue Head, Cornwall: an Iron Age fort

Ross we can see will not stay as he meditates on the seacoast; he will be off to London, and a new presence is at last promised: This book ends with a letter from Geoffrey Charles (Francis’s son) on his way home from the Peninsula war. Another new character I “have bonded with”


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