After fighting in the American War of Independence, Ross Poldark returns home to discover his father is dead and his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth, is about to marry his cousin. Brokenhearted, Ross throws himself into restoring Nampara but finds it next to impossible establishing his place in society.
As Ross resigns himself to a lonely future, he rescues fourteen-year-old Demelza from her abusive father and gives her a place as a kitchen maid at Nampara. As Demelza grows into a beautiful young woman, the nature of their relationship changes and they marry much to the horror of Ross’s family. Demelza, aware Ross doesn’t love her as much as Elizabeth, is determined to prove she is worthy of being his wife despite her humble background.
My curiosity about the Poldark saga was aroused when the BBC announced they were making a new series with the lovely Aidan Turner in the lead role, so I thought I would given them a go. It did take me a while to get into the story, mainly because I found the first few chapters dragged a little and I really couldn’t muster enthusiasm for the descriptive passages on mining. Ross is a suitably brooding hero who has more than his fair share of adversity in dealing with the ramifications of his father’s death, the decline of the family estate and the loss of his true love. Ross’s experiences in America have also made him more socially aware and although he appears to be trapped between the classes, it quickly becomes obvious he has more of an affinity for the working class. Despite his solitude, Ross becomes increasingly involved in the lives of his tenants and often champions their cause against the local gentry.
Ross’s actions often mystify his family and his friends but tongues start wagging when he takes Demelza into his home and it is widely assumed the girl is warming his bed. For me, the arrival of Demelza is when the book truly comes to life as she is such an intriguing character with her thirst for knowledge and her down to earth persona. Demelza thrives at Nampara, blossoming into a young woman over a three year period, and she quickly becomes an important part of the household, often seeking out Ross’s companionship. When Demelza turns seventeen, she is the one who instigates the romantic overtures and this is a wise choice considering how unsavoury it would’ve appeared had it been done the other way around. The age gap between Ross and Demelza is only ten years so it isn’t unreasonable at all but the difficulty arises when you go back to how Demelza was a child and he a grown man when they first met.
Wisely, Graham also chooses not to have Demelza and Ross falling madly in love with each other as Ross’s unreciprocated feelings for Elizabeth have formed a large part of the story so far and have yet to be resolved. Demelza has no illusions about her place in Ross’s life and I liked how Graham described Demelza as being two different characters, the fourteen year old waif and the seventeen year old friend, who were slowly merging into one: Ross’s wife. By the conclusion, Ross is admittedly in love with Demelza, although the strength of that love is still untested and Elizabeth remains a thorn in Demelza’s side. Demelza is also growing into her own skin, and although her insecurities surface whenever she has to appear at some social event, her confidence grows steadily and even Ross is impressed by her ability to handle herself. Even though Ross accepts his wife for who she is, there is still a part of him that sees her as being socially inferior and he has to learn to overcome it.
Apart from the two main protagonists, there are a number of characters representing both the good and bad in both classes with Ross attempting to bridge the gap. The plight of the Carters is particularly tragic but is offset with the humour provided by Ross’s slovenly servants, Jud and Prudie, whom I grew to love. Graham paints an accurate picture of the social classes of eighteenth century Cornwall which is a microcosm of what is happening in the world at large. Ross has just fought in the American War of Independence which saw the Americans throw off the shackles of the British and there is more than one mention of the unrest brewing across the continent in France.
The Cornwall setting is also vividly detailed in all its wild glory from the aforementioned mines to the rough seas which have caused more than one ship to wreck over the course of time. The style of writing is something I’m undecided about though as I found some passages wonderfully descriptive but some paragraphs were so repetitive I found my mind wandering. I’m not a huge fan of dialect in books and found the Cornish one difficult initially, although I didn’t mind it so much once I got used to it.
Although it was a rocky beginning, somewhere along the way, I started to fall in love with the characters and I care enough about them to want to continue with the series.