A fan of the currently airing BBC Poldark television series(the second they have made), I picked up a 1968 Fonatana edition of the first novel Ross Poldark. The novel was first published in 1945 and seems to have launched the career of Winston Graham – he went on to write 11 more books in the series and an additional 32 novels right up until his death in 2003.
For a novel published at the end of the second world war I found that it weathered the intervening 70 years exceedingly well. If I didn’t know its publication date I’d suspect that it could have been written anytime in the last decade. The dialogue is smooth (indeed much of it makes it into the new BBC series), its representation of women, more balanced than many later novels.
I’d be comfortable saying that it passes the Bechdel test.
For those watching the TV show, Ross Poldark covers up to somewhere near the end of Episode 3, the plot is almost identical (only one subplot has been discarded). Having watched and enjoyed up to Episode 4 so far I was surprised to still find myself enchanted by the writing – a mark of Graham’s talent I think.
For those readers not yet to experience Aidan Turner playing Ross Poldark, shirtless and sweaty in a field swinging a scythe, the basic story is as follows:
Ross Poldark, scion of a second and less fortunate son of the ancient Poldark line, returns from the war against the American colonies. A rogue when he left, war has sobered him and he intends to settle down. In his time away Ross’ father has died, leaving him a house that is almost a ruin, inhabited by farm animals and two recalcitrant servants. He hopes to marry his sweetheart Elizabeth, but is frustrated by his Uncle’s plans.
Ross, nevertheless sets about to restore his property and land, helping his tenants in the process and dreams of reopening one of his mines.
Ross Poldark is set at a time of change. Having returned from the Revolutionary war, he has been exposed to more liberal ideas about class and the treatment of lower classes. This exposure, combined with poor treatment of the poor and landless in Cornwall, makes for dramatic tension in every direction. There’s the arrogant rich, money grabbing bankers, and predatory capitalists.
Come to think of it, nothing much has changed.
There is also romance, action and social comment. In short, a great start to a well loved historical saga.