Sunday, May 31, 2015

Winston Graham's WARLEGGAN: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL


Lordy, I do love me some tempestuous, romantic historical fiction now and then, and it doesn't get much more tempestuous, romantic or historical than Winston Graham's wonderful Poldark novels, of which Warleggan is the fourth. And possibly the most tempestuous, if not the most romantic.

Though it's quite the soap opera, is Warleggan. The title, of course, referring to the family name of those dastardly anti-Poldarks, the gotten-up and unscrupulous nouveau riche Warleggans, whose scion, George, grew up with the cousins Poldark but never quite gained their acceptance because his family was so very, very declasse.

But here he is, getting a novel named for him! Do the Poldarks finally admit him to their charmed-not-really-charmed circle? Do they finally see that he's not the villain of their tale but merely a different kind of hero? Does he get a happy ending?

Well. Sort of. Yes and no. Um.

This most soap-operatic yet of Graham's wonderful Novels of Cornwall doesn't feature George Warleggan all that much (though certainly more than did the prior novel, Jeremy Poldark, feature that boy, who spent almost all of that book in his mommy's tummy). He looms over events somewhat, yes, and it is certainly a carefully executed action of his that is the most important development in the overall Poldark plot, but...

But it is the affairs of yet another pair of star-crossed lovers that hog most of the reader's attention. Lovers and the Poldark who abets them, but this time it is mostly Ross playing cupid rather than Demelza, for one of the lovers is his friend Dr. Dwight Enys (he of the prior tragic live affair in assign earlier novel).

Meanwhile, Ross and Demelza are not themselves the picture of wedded bliss, because Ross's first love, Elizabeth, who jilted him while he was away in America getting his rakish facial scar, is still a big part of their lives. She jilted Ross to marry his cousin Francis, meaning she is both family and neighbor, and then [REDACTED TRAGEDY] strikes and suddenly she becomes an even bigger problem...

And then there is Warleggan. Remember Warleggan? This is a book named for Warleggan. When I watched the original BBC adaptation as a  tween, I gnashed my teeth at him, I bit my thumb at him, I spit at the mention of his name. As an adult better attuned to problems of class and economics, though, I kind of feel for him. His family's success has thrown him into social circles that his family's background has not prepared him to navigate well. He has decent enough instincts for how to behave, has learned what fork to use and all that rot, but he is not to the classy (and somewhat impoverished but still one has FORBEARS) manor born. If the cousins Poldark had been nicer to him as young'uns they might all have been friends, or at least business partners. But nope.

But so, can we blame him for seizing the opportunity he does? Sure, he's kind of a jerk about it, but he has feelings, too, and he didn't just one day decide a chip on his shoulder would set off his slightly coarse good looks, right?

And anyway, he might not entirely be getting what he wants. Hur hur hur. He might only have given his NAME to his son, IYKWIM.

The first four Poldark books are often regarded as a quartet, and to a degree things are decently enough rapped up here, but I find there are eight more "novels of Cornwall", some yet with Poldark in the title, so I'll keep on reading them.

And yes, I had a cheeky peek at the first episode of the new adaptation, but promised my mom I'd wait and watch the rest with her when it airs on PBS here in the states later this year. I see it's got a more lavish budget than the original, and lots more scenery pork, but I don't find the cast to be any improvement on Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees et al. But they might grow on me, these new actors, and I know Ellis has a small part in NuPoldark. We shall see.

2 comments:

  1. Elizabeth became engaged to Francis, when all of them thought Ross was dead. After his return to Cornwall, she insisted on going through with her marriage to Francis. She did not JILT Ross, while he was in America and everyone thought he was still alive.

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