The Four Swans by Winston Graham

“In the sixth book in the legendary Poldark saga, Ross is faced with a new battlefield, one involving the women whose lives are intertwined in his own.” The “four swans” are four women: Demelza Poldark, Ross Poldark’s rags-to-riches wife; Elizabeth Warleggan, Ross’s first love; Caroline Enys, the wife of Ross’s friend; and Morwenna Chynoweth Whitworth, the parson’s wife. Let’s take each of the four one at at time and see what’s up with them in this installment of the Poldark soap opera.

Demelza, perhaps for the purpose of plot tension and development, is acting like an idiot in this book. She has an admirer who writes poetry for her, and either the admiration or the poetry or both are enough to turn her head and make her all swoony, even though she knows she really loves her husband, Ross, the best. But, oh my, poetry and compliments and a beach encounter! It all seems out of character for sensible, loyal Demelza, more out of character than her attempted revenge-by-adultery in the fourth book, Warleggan. At least in that one, Demelza had a reason for her seductive behavior, not a good reason, but a reason. In this one, she’s just swayed by a lot of sweet talk and a sad story. She had better wake up and smell the coffee in the next book!

Elizabeth, is her usual wishy-washy self in this volume. She has become a better liar over the years, and in this book she pulls off a whopper and convinces husband George Warleggan that she has always been faithful, even before their marriage, never cared much for good old Ross’s smoldering passion, and has eyes only for George. he stakes are high since George suspects that Valentine, their son, may not actually be their son. I keep wondering what will happen if Valentine turns out to be the spitting image of Ross. Elizabeth and Ross manage, mostly, to keep their hands and lips off each other in this book, except for a brief kiss by the garden gate, which convinces Ross that he doesn’t really care for Elizabeth anymore. (Just when Demelza is “torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.”)

Caroline Enys doesn’t do much in this book. She is perverse and witty when she does appear, and she and Doctor Enys manage to get married, get pregnant, and have a few marital adjustments to make. But the Enyses have a mainly supporting role in this book, and Caroline doesn’t get much screen time.

Morwenna Whitworth continues to have the worst life of the lot. She has a perverted husband, a scheming little sister, and a houseful of children to care for. And she’s still in love with Drake Carne, Demelza’s little brother, but she can’t do anything about that because she’s too busy dealing with her own depression and physical illness and her husband’s incessant demands and her younger sister’s traitorous schemes. With much drama, Morwenna manages to get the upper hand over her husband, the Reverend Whitworth, but her situation remains fraught with peril. Think if the Reverend Whitworth had the guts he would take a hatchet to the beautiful Morwenna, but he’s a wimp and a pervert. Morwenna’s storyline is disturbing, and some people may want to give up on the books when she starts to be the focus of one of the four strands of the plot.

However, there is a fifth part or set of characters in this novel, title notwithstanding, and of all the characters I like Samuel Carne and his love interest, Emma, the best. Sam is a true Christian, a Methodist lay preacher who is committed to the simplicity and power of the gospel. I like Sam a lot. If the author “messes up” Sam in subsequent novels, I really will quit reading. That’s not to say that Sam must be perfect, but he should remain faithful to Jesus and to his Methodist faith. Some people are authentically committed to Christ and his church. Emma, on the other hand, could afford to get converted, but I’m not sure she will. Missionary dating and conversion by romantic attraction were no more or less effective and real in the eighteenth century than they are nowadays. If you decide to follow Jesus just so that you can marry one of his disciples, you carry a lot of baggage into your marriage and into your spiritual life. Emma seems to know this intuitively, but can she and Sam both find a way to look to Jesus first and to each other second? It seems unlikely.

These books should be read in order. There are twelve novels in the series, so I’m halfway through. The next book, The Angry Tide, is set in the final years of the eighteenth century, and Ross Poldark begins his term as a Member of Parliament. The rebel enters the establishment. What could possibly go wrong?

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