Poldark novel, Demelza, keeps cracking me up. I wouldn't have touched it in a million years, with its emphasis on lustiness and defiant love and whatnot. I would though, have been missing out.
As I observed recently, I was sold on the idea of reading these by the BBC TV adaptation (America's Grandest New TV Saga the little green label on this book cover says), but even so was not quite prepared for how much I would like these books, like Graham's writing, like the characters and their world.
It's a small world, is late 18th Century Cornwall, populated by struggling tin and copper miners, struggling farmers and the odd ridiculous bastion of Georgian gentility, but it feels the effects of the wider world in its own way, as last novel showed us in the hard homecoming of Captain Ross Poldark after Britain's loss of its American colonies, and this one shows us in its tiny echoes of the nascent French Revolution happening just across the water from its wind-and sea-swept shores -- mostly in the form of food riots in the bigger towns, but still, rumblings all the same.
But for our purposes, the biggest stirring is still Ross's decision to marry his kitchen wench Demelza, who has turned out to be the perfect wife for him and, in her own novel here, to be a fascinating character all on her own. Unbelievably happy in her marriage and motherhood, she thinks everybody should be so, and so a lot of the plot of Demelza spins out from her efforts to secure her kind of happiness for Ross's cousin Verity, long separated from her man by family and social disapproval of his past as a wife-beater, violent drunk and all-around less-than-ideal prospect for any daughter. But it's true love! Can't anyone see it but Demelza? No, apparently not, so off she goes on her errand, with surprising and far-reaching results.
For while Demelza is off match-making, Ross is busy trying to do his bit as a social reformer, trying to keep his workers' offspring out of trouble, their livelihood from going belly-up, and to keep himself from decking every ponce in a powdered wig who winks at his wife, cheats him at cards, or outmaneuvers him in business. Oh, and to do all of this mostly in secrecy, which is hard to do in a small world with a busybody wife running around playing cupid and touching off family and social drama.
And again, there are lots of lovely moments, poignant and well crafted, like when the great old Grambler mine, on which the Poldark fortune seems largely to have originally been built, closes down and the gentlemen gather around the huge steam pumps that keep its galleries more or less clear of water to watch their last ups and downs and Ross's cousin Francis chalks the word "Resurgam" ("I shall rise again") on the side of the biggest of them to express the hope that someday what's still down in the Grambler will be economically worth digging for again. I hope it will, I do! But those darn Warleggans, the upstart banking family who are always on the verge of becoming the Poldarks' nemesis but never quite manifest as same, seem destined to keep copper prices low and the mine owners and their employees poor and dependent, those bastards!
Thrown into the mix is a High Romantic sub-plot involving a fancy lass who marries an honest, big-but-dim mining man and regrets it to the ruin of, well, just about everybody in some fashion or another. It's this sub-plot that raises a lot of modern eyebrows, because of course it all ends tragically, but then, oh, what's this? All of these characters we have come to love and sympathize with are loving and sympathizing the guy who killed his wife! To quite an extraordinary degree. Because the fancy lass had it coming, I guess? Um.
So no, I didn't like that bit either, but such has been the way of the world. If there's one thing a reader of novels learns over and over again, it sure do suck to be a girl. But then again, it mostly seems to suck to be a guy, too, though the old saw about being laughed at versus being murdered still comes to mind. Or at least until everybody is up against bigger problems, like rampant deadly disease, economic ruin and shipwrecks with pickings for all to fight over!
ALL THE MELODRAMA.