Poldark: The Joy and the Terror of Series Reading
PINK HEART SOCIETY COLUMN
I’m prefacing this column with a my nutshell view of the good and the bad of reading a book series – and by series, I mean a continuing story over several volumes (think Game of Thrones) rather than a group of discrete stories featuring interlinked characters (like Rachel Gibson’s Seattle Chinooks series – six standalone books, each featuring a different hero from the one ice hockey team)
Enormous potential for deep, rich character development
Intricate, sweeping, multi-layered plots
Waiting for the next book to come out – especially if the last one ended on a cliffhanger
Coming to terms with the fact that in the large cast of characters necessary to sustain an epic storyline, there are some whose subplots bore you, and some you feel are not given enough page time
Now that that’s covered, is it a surprise to anyone that the series I am really interested in talking about is Poldark, just as the new season (#2) has started filming in Cornwall?
The 'new' Ross and Demelza - Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson
Some of you may recall my Poldark obsession from a previous Pink Heart Society column at the time it the new TV adaptation was announced – which you can read here. Certainly my ad nauseam posts and tweets since then would have outed me as a Poldark tragic.
The original Ross and Demelza - Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees
The fact is, I love the new show, and I loved the old show that was filmed in the 1970s – but for me it all started with the books.
Books 1 & 2 - check out the gorgeous Cornwall scenes
Yes, for those who don’t know, the Poldark story is a book series spanning the years from 1783 to 1820, written by the brilliant Winston Graham. He actually wrote 12 Poldark books, between the years 1945 and 2002.
Now, take a moment to think about that! Twelve books written over 57 years? Imagine reading book 1 and then having to wait 57 years to read the last one!
To be fair to Winston Graham, he really only intended it to be a four book series, and he wrote the first four books^ over an eight year period, which isn’t that bad.
He said that after the fourth book, “…the modern world, and particularly the techniques of suspense, came to interest me more. Although thinking vaguely that some time in the future, it might be enjoyable to pick up the Poldarks again, I gradually drifted further and further away from them in mood and style…” (Author's Note, The Black Moon, 1973)
Okay, author’s prerogative, fair enough!
Twenty years later*, however, in 1973, for “no discoverable reason”, he decided he had to see what had happened to the Poldark clan and their associates post-1793, and gave us books five to 12 – and I will be eternally grateful.
I’m even more grateful that all except the 12th Poldark book were published by the time I stumbled upon the first, Ross Poldark, back in the day, so I got to binge read them all at once. (No way could I have waited 57 years without exploding!)
The story begins in Ross Poldark, that first book, with Captain Ross Poldark returning home to Cornwall from the American Revolutionary war to find his father dead and the only woman he has ever loved, Elizabeth, preparing to marry the cousin he has also always loved, Francis. Ross’s house is in ruins, his mines have failed, he is effectively broke – all this he has to try to repair. He saves an urchin girl, Demelza, from a brawl at a fair and employs her as a kitchen maid. He ultimately marries Demelza for a confusion of reasons – lust/conscience/loneliness? In the background is a third man who loves Elizabeth (that Elizabeth sure has something!) – George, son of a blacksmith made good, with whom the seeds of a lifelong enmity with Ross have already been sown.
Okay, so I’m not going to give any major spoilers for those who haven't read the books or seen the show, but can you imagine what can be made out of that? Talk about love triangles, for starters!
What follows is an engrossing story told over two generations, and what Winston Graham gives us along the way are:
Deeply flawed, nuanced, vulnerable characters, who are all the more wonderful for their imperfections.
Joy and tragedy, heroism and villainy.
A wonderfully unfolded story of enduring love, jealousy, vengeance, bitterness, longing.
Magnificently researched historical detail of Cornwall (which is a character in itself, and please take me there immediately); mining; the Napoleonic Wars; the class divide; medical treatments; smuggling; Government processes; the development of the steam engine; theatre and opera
At one point, we even get a serial killer thrown into the mix. (Not my favourite subplot, but hey, why not?)
Almost miraculously, the themes, characterisation, mood and style of the books was maintained over 57 years of writing. I bow down to the master every time I open one of these books!
(And okay, just once scene from the new show, because I love this one so much. SPOILER ALERT for those who are late to the show and maybe haven't watched episode 8...):
Now don’t get me wrong, even for a Poldark tragic like me, there are some storylines in the books that don’t interest me greatly, some characters (even main characters) along the way who fail to intrigue me or simply annoy me, some scenes and phrases that rankle. But having just this week finished book 12 again, I can say the Poldark tale continues to resonate deeply and I am left in awe. Seriously, I have laughed and cried and cheered all over again– despite knowing this story like the back of my hand.
For those wary of starting a series (as I really, truly am), I offer these few additional arguments for giving Poldark a go:
You do not have to read all the books! Whew, right? The trailing ends may not be neatly tied up in a pretty bow at the end of each book, but there are no cliffhangers, either, so you can stop and go as you like, and imagine a future for yourself at the end of each book.
You can read the first four books only – as Graham initially intended – and then stop. No probelmo.
There is another natural stopping point after book 7^* (The Angry Tide) which is the point where the second generation comes prominently to the fore – although everyone’s favourite characters, Ross and Demelza Poldark, are with us to the end.
Just one word of caution – these books are addictive. Enter at your own risk.
^ Season 1 of the new television adaptation coves the action of only the first two books. From what I hear, you can expect two books per series.
* During that hiatus, Graham penned novels such as Marnie (published in 1961), which was made into an Alfred Hitchcock film.
^* The original TV series covers the action of these seven books.
So are there any other Poldark tragics out there? I'd love to know what you think of the books, or the television adaptations – even if you hate them!
After all that, I am almost afraid to say that I do have a few series books of my own in the works, but these are not of the long-running-saga Poldark/Game of Thrones variety. The one that is already out and about is the Sydney's Most Eligible – four standalone books, different authors, a very sexy series. This is the order they come in:
Her Boss By Day, by Joss Wood
The Millionaire's Proposition (by yours truly)
The Tycoon's Stowaway, by Stefanie London
The Hotel Magnate's Demand, by Jennifer Rae
Avril's series book, The Millionaire's Proposition, is out now:
He suggested a "friends with benefits" arrangement?
• Two nights a week
• Strictly confidential
• One month only…
It may have been his proposition, but lawyer Kate Cleary is so buttoned up she whips out a contract for them both to sign! With her high heels and stockings, all Scott Knight can do is sign and move to the implementation stage!
Kate couldn't be more jaded about relationships. After all, she is in the business of ending marriages! Millionaire architect Scott might be seriously sexy, but he's also a complicated enigma. One she's quickly becoming determined to solve…even if that means breaking the terms of her own watertight contract?
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