So, I’ve finished the twelve volumes in the Poldark series by Winston Graham, and I must say that the books were fascinating and absorbing all the way through. From the first book, Ross Poldark, in which the dark and handsome eponymous hero returns from the wars in America to his home in Cornwall, only to find his beloved Elizabeth affianced to his wealthier cousin, to the final novel, Bella Poldark, in which Ross’s children are grown up and making their own ways in the world, I was swept up in the historical verisimilitude and the romance and the drama.
The twelve books in the series are:
Ross Poldark (1945) The setting is introduced: Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, with its tin and copper mines, shipping and smuggling industries, widespread poverty, and burgeoning banks and middle classes pushing their ways into the aristocracy. Ross Poldark is a swashbuckling veteran with unconventional ideas about equality between classes and yet with a sense of his own importance, even as a minor landowner in rural Cornwall.
Demelza (1946) Ross’s true love, Demelza, is a fascinating, but somewhat unbelievable character. She moves over the course of the twelve novels from the lowest class of impoverished beggars to the high and heady upper class, married to a Member of Parliament and a wealthy gentleman. It all requires a bit of believing, but who can resist a Cinderella rags-to riches story?
Jeremy Poldark (1950) The focus of this third book is not really so much on Ross and Demelza’s son and heir, Jeremy, as it is on the continuing feud between the Poldarks and the Warleggans, an upstart nouveau riche family of bankers who, especially in the person of George Warleggan, display a jealousy and rivalry that threatens to bring both families to ruin.
Warleggan (1953) The feud between banker and businessman George Warleggan and mine owner and country gentleman Ross Poldark continues. After writing and publishing this fifth book in the series, author Winston Graham quit writing about the Poldarks and their domestic dramas and turned to writing mystery and suspense novels, about thirty of them, before coming back to Cornwall and the Poldark family in the 1970’s.
The Black Moon (1973) A child is born “under a black moon” to Elizabeth Poldark Warleggan, a child who is destined to become a bone of contention between Elizabeth and her husband, between Ross and Demelza, and especially between Ross Poldark and George Warleggan.
The Four Swans (1976) 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.
The Angry Tide (1978) Set in the final years of the eighteenth century, this volume has Ross Poldark beginning his term as a Member of Parliament.
The Stranger from the Sea (1981) Ten years have passed since the tragic ending of the previous book in the series. This eighth installment of the Poldark Saga begins with King George III and his final descent into madness in 1810, and it ends with a marriage proposal for one of the Poldarks, refused, in 1811. The book is really more about Jeremy and Clowdance, the two elder Poldark children all grown up, and less about the stranger, a man rescued from the ocean, who does become more important in later books.
The Miller’s Dance (1982) Jeremy and Clowance continue to live through romance and tragedy, break-ups and love trysts, until, as the Napoleonic Peninsular wars continue in Spain and Portugal, Jeremy makes a fateful decision which turns the course of his life and of that of his friends, placing them all in jeopardy.
The Loving Cup (1984) Both Jeremy and Clowance finally get married, but both of their marriages have significant issues and hurdles to overcome. The loving cup of the title becomes a symbol of the past intruding on the present and of the love that can overcome past mistakes if repentance and new directions are allowed to take precedence.
The Twisted Sword (1992) Napoleon finally meets his Waterloo, and so do some of the characters in this saga, at least two of whom have been living under the shadow for quite some time.
Bella Poldark (2002) Bella, the younger daughter of Ross and Demelza, is all grown up and a force to be reckoned with. The author manages to tie up most of the loose ends in the ongoing story while providing a murder mystery and a bit of family tension to round out the series.
Yes, I believe the twelve novels were worth the time I invested in reading them, despite Demelza’s frequent use of an expletive that I found offensive and some repeated pruriency in the Morwenna story and in the later adult Valentine and Bella stories that could have been dispensed with, in my opinion. I had favorites among the characters, found characters that I identified with, and read of situations that that wrung my heart because they were similar to situations in my own family. The history of the time period as it was woven into the story was exciting and absorbing. I learned a lot, and now I want to read more about the late eighteenth century, especially British politics and culture in that time period. I recommend both the books and the 2015 PBS Masterpiece series. The TV series has already filmed four seasons, although the fourth season hasn’t yet aired in the US, and the story has progressed in the first three seasons through the first five books in Winston’s saga. The fourth season will probably finish out the first six books, and then maybe a fifth season will skip over the ten silent years and bring us the story of the Poldark adult children?
Books worth reading.
TV worth watching.