Monday, 30 March 2015

Poldark series; Ross, Demelza, Jeremy and Warleggan by Winston Graham

Addictive! This is the word to describe what happens when you start reading the first book in this
series. Winston Graham has written historical fiction at its best. Cornwall in the end of the 18th century, where people are mainly depending on the tin and copper mines.

The story starts when Ross, a young man from the higher classes, but without money, comes back after having fought in the American wars. Being rather disillusioned by his experience, he is on his way home. Already in the stage coach he gets news that his father has died. Deciding at the spur of the moment, not to go directly home, but visit his uncle to inquire more about the circumstances, he get his second chock when he learns that his first love, Elizabeth, is to marry his cousin Francis. With these devastating news he goes back to his house, Nampara, where he grew up. It is in an appalling state, and no money to take care of it. However, he is determined to take it back to how it once was. The other part of his inheritance is a couple of mines, where his father already had given up on finding anything. His prospects does not look that good.

I don’t want to reveal too much for you, who are still happy enough, to have the enjoyment of reading the books ahead of you. It is a family saga of the Poldark family, and the people surrounding them. It is a tale of family, love and betrayal, the rich and the poor, the mining business which seemed to have thrived during the time, but now in decline, the miners and their miserable life, but with highlights at times, the people making money on banks and businesses, not always fair, the unrest in France, the smugglers of the Cornwall coast and much more. They just go about their daily life, but Winston Graham has managed to make it into a very exciting and eventful time.

Winston Graham
How did he manage? Mainly, I would say, in the narrative. It is written in a cool, almost neutral kind of way, but he still manages to put sparkles on the pages. He tells the story of a number of different kinds of people in a very inspiring way. He lets their life be shadowed by real life events, but otherwise you have the feeling that this is the world as it exists. It is highlighted in all the things that is happening with the mines, the village, the workers, the family situations and is woven into a beautiful ‘piece of cloth’. 

The other remarkable thing is the characters he has created. They overtake everything, especially the main characters Ross and Demelza. Even when the story is told with other actors,  their characters are lingering over the story. Apart from that, you have the people working in Nampara, Ross’ cousin Francis and his wife Elizabeth, George Warleggan, a newly rich banker who is also in love with Elizabeth, other countryside gentry, the miners and people in the village. After four books they are all you friends. Hmm, maybe not all of them!

Just a few notes on the main characters, which hopefully will not destroy it for anyone else. 

Ross is a fantastic romantic character. Strong willed, making friends over the class borders, a natural, thinking of other people (most of the time). He is sometimes a little bit too emotional and lets his anger take the better of him, which puts him in difficult situations. There are times when you don’t like him so much, but he always manage to justify the means in the end.

Ross and Demelza (from BBC series)

Demelza is another fantastic character moulded out of a miner’s daughter and coming to Nampara by coincidence. She is the one who makes the longest ‘journey’ over the class borders, and has enough power to overcome the obstacles. Slowly, slowly, she works herself into the confidence of people and they very soon realise, that when she is not there, they miss her.

Francis, is a good natured boy, too kind, too easy to lure into a wrong path. Getting disappointed in his marriage rather early, he starts playing and loosing his money. He always have a minority complex towards Ross.
Ross and Elizabeth (from BBC series)

Elizabeth is beautiful and sensitive. Like a beautiful flower who is there to get admiring looks from men, but will bend with the first wind. It is difficult to understand what the men see in her, but maybe this was the ideal at the time. She is the one most difficult to get a grasp of.

Winston Graham wrote many books, and being so impressed by the way he tells a story, I think it is a must to try some of the rest. The first four books in the Poldark series were written in the fifties. It was only twenty years later, that he continued with the other eight(!) books. I only bought the first four, but I have to admit that I just have to read the others as well. Cannot leave this story without knowing how it will be developed. However, since I tend to get so captivated by the books, and have a lot of other books to read, I will not yet buy the rest! I hope you realise how disciplined I am in this venture?

I have some favourite books when it comes to strong stories and characters. Cathy and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Scarlett and Rhett in Gone With the Wind, and Claire and Jamie in the Outlander series. To this list I can now add Ross and Demelza. 

He also wrote Marnie which was a successful Hitchcock film with Sean Connery and Tippi Hedren.


  1. Elizabeth is beautiful and sensitive. Like a beautiful flower who is there to get admiring looks from men, but will bend with the first wind. It is difficult to understand what the men see in her, but maybe this was the ideal at the time. She is the one most difficult to get a grasp of.

    I've noticed that most people find it hard to appreciate complex and quiet female characters like Elizabeth Poldark. I've never understood why. Perhaps they want her characterization open and simple. Too bad.

    1. Thank you for your interesting comment. I am not sure that we want her, or other similar characters, open and simple. There are several interpretations to this questions. Here we have a very strong character in Demelza and Elizabeth would be the opposite. Although, I don't really think that she is weak. As the story develops she becomes more mature and stronger. In a way maybe even stronger than Demelza (she has to overcome that she lost the love of her life and an overall unhappy life), although it happens inside her and she does not show it all to the world around her. It she and Ross had married, I am sure that her character had been interpreted in a different light (but it would probably have been less of a good story!).
      Secondly, we have these kind of opposite characters in other books; Scarlett and Melanie in 'Gone With the Wind' for example. Through most of the book Scarlett comes out as the strong one, but when it really matters, Melanie's mental strength wins over Scarlett's.
      Thirdly, I think it might be a gender matter. I would think that modern women are always happy to see a strong, independent female character appearing during a time when women did not have a lot to say.
      There are more books to come in the series, and I think we will learn more about Elizabeth and her place in the world. Maybe she will come out as less of an enigma as after the first books.

  2. Elizabeth is not a weak character. Actually, she is a strong-willed individual. However, she has been trained to accept life at its most conventional. I can say the same thing about Demelza. Aside from marrying outside of her class, she doesn't really come off as a radical personality. Demelza has never struck me as no more independent as Elizabeth.

    I think most fans have great difficulty in accepting Elizabeth because she is a very private individual and they see her as a threat to what they see as a potentially "perfect love" between Ross and Demelza.

    It she and Ross had married, I am sure that her character had been interpreted in a different light (but it would probably have been less of a good story!).

    I doubt it. I suspect that a love story between Ross and Elizabeth would have been just as interesting . . . but only different. Again, I sense this taint of viewing Elizabeth as a threat to Demelza's marriage to Ross. And in reality, the only real threat was Ross and his difficulty in getting over Elizabeth.

  3. I loved reading this series long ago and also have enjoyed both the original and remake of the BBC series. I'm glad the series reboot has brought the novels into attention again. Graham's characters have a greater chance to emerge in the written word as is so often the case.

  4. I read the first two books when I was young, and loved them. Re-read them now plus a few more. Still want to read the rest of the series. The new BBC series is really fantastic, with great actors. I really loved it, and hope they will continue with the next books.