After enjoying the Masterpiece 2015 version of Winston Graham’s Poldark, I read the book. Set in the late 18th century, Poldark is the first novel in the series about the Poldark family. It’s a family with some interesting facets. The side headed by Charles Poldark is quite refined and wealthy. The side headed by Joshua Poldark, Charles brother was less fortunate. Joshua had two sons and one died as a child. His wife died young. His son Ross, who’s the central character in this novel, got into gambling trouble and was urged to fight in the American colonies to let matters at home cool. Joshua didn’t have great success with his mining or farming interests and dies before he can see his son Ross return from the war.
Ross’ death becomes a rumor that takes hold in Cornwall. His true love believes it and winds up engaged to his cousin. His family’s drunk and disorderly servants believe it and they let the property fall to almost ruin. This book covers about half the events that you see in season one of the 2015 television series.
I read historical fiction for the details and surprises. Winston Graham’s clearly done his homework on life in Cornwall in 1873 and following. The dialect sounds accurate and every event and encounter, whether it’s a day at the market or a fishing trip rings true. It’s an era where people had a lot of spirit and vitality. (I’m starting to think the human race lost a lot by not riding horses. I think horseback riding made people stronger, physically and emotionally.)
Ross intrigues as he’s a bridge between classes. He understands his periwigged relatives as well as the villagers who scrape by and have no standing in a court of law where the scales are tilted in favor of the gentry. Even though Ross has little money, his rank puts him far above the villagers, yet as Demelza, the urchin girl he saves from her drunken abusive father, points out Ross can fit in either social circle.
In the book, readers get more of Graham’s well drawn characters, like Demelza who becomes the spirit of Ross’ home, Prudie and Jud, who curse and complain at every turn, Elizabeth, Ross’ former love and Francis, his cousin. At the start of the book Demelza’s 14 and then the story jumps ahead to when she’s 17, which I’d have liked to see.
This gap between the rich and the really rich intrigues and I’m trying to figure out how these families trained their servants so that in a few generations they no longer spit, cursed and drank way too much.
The story moves along quickly and includes some events I wish the 2015 series had. I’m ready to start on the second novel Demelza once I finish my other books.
If you liked the TV series, you really ought to read this novel. If you like Downton Abbey or Mr. Selfridge, you may just like Poldark more.
*In the 1970s the BBC produced the first Poldark series.