Book review: Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
As the BBC’s lavish new production of Poldark wins the hearts and headlines of a nation, why not top up all that drama by reading the original novels?
Ross Poldark and Demelza, published in paperback by Pan to tie in with the new production, are the first two of Winston Graham’s groundbreaking 12-book series which began in 1945 and ended in the 1970s. The first seven books were adapted by the BBC in a series broadcast between 1975 and 1977.
Graham, who died in 2003, was the author of more than forty novels, including Marnie, a nail-biting psychological thriller which was brought to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1964.
But it was the thrilling and romantic Poldark family series, set in the rugged wilds of Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which won him acclaim and fame across the world.
It was a time of huge social change as revolutions in America and France caused the British working classes to question their extreme poverty, and the aristocracy to fear the loss of their wealth and privilege.
In the first book, British Army officer Ross Poldark returns to his land and his family in Cornwall in 1783 after fighting in the American Revolution. But the joyful homecoming he has anticipated turns sour.
His family and friends thought he was dead. Elizabeth Chynoweth, the woman he hoped to marry, is now engaged to his cousin Francis Poldark. His father is dead and the property he has inherited has been allowed to deteriorate.
But his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district leads him to rescue Demelza Carne, a half-starved urchin girl, from a fairground brawl and take her home, an act which alters the whole course of his life…
In the second book, Demelza is now his wife but the events of these turbulent years – tin and copper mines closing down as prices slump, a dearth of fish, high food and rent costs – test their marriage and their love.
Demelza’s efforts to adapt to the ways of the gentry, and to her husband, bring her confusion and heartache despite her joy in the birth of their first child.
Ross, meanwhile, begins a bitter struggle for the rights of the mining communities and sows the seed of an enduring enmity with powerful George Warleggan…
Steeped in humour, romance, passion and tragedy, the Poldark books are as exciting and fresh as they are timeless and memorable. Don’t miss them!
(Pan, paperback, £7.99)