The Four Swans by Winston Graham

Cornwall, 1795: Although Ross Poldark – now something of a war hero – seems secure in his hard-won prosperity, a new dilemma faces him in the sudden infatuation of a young naval officer for his wife Demelza.

All four women – the four swans – whose lives touch Ross’ face a crisis in these years. For his wife Demelza, his old love Elizabeth, for his friend’s new wife Caroline and for the unhappy Morwenna Chynoweth, these are times of stress and conflict. 

Thoughts

While Ross is as prominent in The Four Swans as the previous books, the focus of this story is mainly on the women who Ross refers to as his swans: Demelza, Elizabeth, Caroline and Morwenna. Each of these ladies has their own cross to bear throughout this novel and the lion’s share of character growth is given over to them. At this point I have to admit that I am completely bored with Ross’s constant mooning over Elizabeth and this particular topic should’ve been put to bed ages ago. At least in The Four Swans, Ross finally acknowledges that while he will always love Elizabeth in some way, his feelings for Demelza will always be stronger. However, since Ross is a complete idiot at expressing his feelings, he neglects to mention this to Demelza who jumps to the conclusion Ross is once again cheating on her with Elizabeth.

Believing her husband is still in love with another woman, Demelza is far more open to the amorous advances of her young naval lieutenant than she should be. The author attempts to make the affair seem more pure by having Demelza be open about her feelings to Ross and making the young man in question seem heroic, yet it just never works for me as I don’t believe Demelza would do such a thing. Ross also seems far too calm about the affair and I really believe he should’ve been made to fight for his marriage.

While Ross is brooding about Demelza, Elizabeth is facing her own marriage crisis as her husband, George, seems to be suspicious about the paternity of his son, Valentine, and can barely bring himself to look at the boy. As Elizabeth discusses her situation with Ross, I find it incredible Ross never once suspected he could have fathered the boy and Elizabeth has to spell it out to him. Incredibly, Ross’s solution to the problem is to encourage Elizabeth to have another child and to be deliberately vague about the dates so the event mirrors Valentine’s birth, thereby throwing George of the scent. Wisely, Elizabeth decides to confront her husband over his behaviour and manages to convince him his fears are unfounded.

Out of all the women, the prize for the most miserable life has to go to Elizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna, who was forced to marry Rev Whitworth in The Black Moon. While Morwenna is giving birth to her son and things begin to look bleak for mother and child, the despicable Whitworth is already making plans for his third wife and seems disappointed when Morwenna survives. The medical treatment poor Morwenna receives will have you saying a quick prayer of gratitude for modern childbirth techniques while shaking your head at the thought of treating severe blood loss with even more bloodletting. However, the real horror of the situation is Whitworth’s complete selfishness as he complains about Morwenna not fulfilling her marital duties. Frustrated, Whitworth turns his attentions to Morwenna’s younger sister, Rowella, with whom he begins an affair which will prove to be very expensive.

Although Morwenna is described as one of Ross’s swans, they barely interact but I suspect her renewed sense of self-worth and her continued acquaintance with Demelza’s brother, Drake, is likely to cause more trouble in the seventh book of the series. The weakest storyline by far belongs to Caroline Penvenen who is now married to Ross’s best friend, Dwight Enys. Physically weak, Dwight is still recovering from his ordeal in France but is pushing himself so hard he is risking his health and neglecting Caroline into the bargain. However, there is happy news when Caroline discovers she is pregnant and Dwight promises to be more attentive.

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