Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall by Winston Graham, A Review
A review by Laura Hartness, the Calico Critic.
In the first novel in Winston Graham’s hit series, a weary Ross Poldark returns to England from war, looking forward to a joyful homecoming with his beloved Elizabeth. But instead he discovers his father has died, his home is overrun by livestock and drunken servants, and Elizabeth—believing Ross to be dead—is now engaged to his cousin. Ross has no choice but to start his life anew. Thus begins the Poldark series, a heartwarming, gripping saga set in the windswept landscape of Cornwall. With an unforgettable cast of characters that spans loves, lives, and generations, this extraordinary masterwork from Winston Graham is a story you will never forget.
In recent years I’d heard voices in the Austenesque community raving about how much they loved the old Poldark television series, originally broadcast from 1975-1977. Discussions of the program became more frequent when news of the latest visual version was released. As my local public library had DVD copies of the two seasons of the old show, I decided to bring them home and give them a try. At first I was surprised at the low production values, and the somewhat soap-ish style of acting from some of the performers, but the more I watched, the more I was pulled into the series.
The 18th-century story of Captain Ross Poldark, Demelza Carne and the myriad characters created by author Winston Graham was simply a delight. I practically binge-watched all 29 episodes, and lamented the series’ conclusion. To know that a new version was in production was exciting, and I hoped that the material would be handled just as well, if not better than it had been in the 70’s. As of now I’ve only viewed one episode of the new Poldark starring Aidan Turner, and while it has a much different feel this time around, I’m enjoying it.
Like many movie fans, I enjoy reading the source material for many of the films that I watch. Not long after I started watching the old Poldark, I added the Winston Graham novels to my vast TBR list. I honestly didn’t know when I’d get around to reading these titles, and were it not for a recent book tour, it might have been years before I would have accomplished that. So I am grateful for the opportunity to not only review Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, but to also get around to one of the many titles waiting to be devoured on my list. As with many novels taken to the big screen, the original text is far more rich and developed than any two-hour movie or multi-episode miniseries. Such is the case with Winston Graham’s Ross Poldark, the first in a 12-volume collection. Within this riveting narrative, we are introduced to Graham’s Cornwall in the late 18th century.
Captain Poldark is returning from the war in America to find that much of what he left behind has changed. He must learn to adjust to these changes, as well as survive on his own as a landowner and employer. Thrust into his life is a streetwise imp named Demelza Carne, who escapes domestic abuse to become Ross’ kitchen maid. His decision to take her in will alter his life’s quality forever. I cannot express how much I enjoyed Ross Poldark. Winston Graham’s writing was exquisite, the perfect balance of scene-setting (without too much detail), character development and diverting plot. Moments of humor are sprinkled throughout the story, popping up when they aren’t expected, somehow becoming more humorous due to their placement.
Graham frequently captures the local dialects and accents within his often-phonetic writing, sometimes making the language a bit tricky to understand, but this illustrates his ability to write as people truly speak. He also includes inner dialogue, revealing the thoughts of his characters in a very unique way. The manner in which he sets his scenes is also quite delightful, as he artistically paints a picture of the environment and social atmosphere in a way that was compelling, but never crossing over into the realm of purple prose.
The character development seen in Ross Poldark was particularly interesting. Virtually all of his characters go through some sort of transformation: From his titular character, to the kitchen maid, to secondary characters, right down to even the family dog. Some go through physical changes, but most mature and grow in ways that are quite remarkable. There were multiple scenes that nearly brought me to tears, they were so poignant in their revelation. Several of the characters must navigate the maze that includes social convention, family tradition, old relationships, financial issues, religion, old wounds and rivalries.
To see the manner in which these issues are deftly (and not so deftly) handled was fascinating. As Ross Poldark is the first in the series, the novel does have a conclusion, but it also leaves several loose ends that will easily carry the story on to the next set of episodes.
I have the next novel, Demelza standing ready to take in, and I am thoroughly looking forward to continuing my exploration of the world that Winston Graham has created. The original television series was lovely and I enjoyed it very much, but I simply loved the novel even more, and plan to keep it in my library for many years to come.
About the Author Winston Graham (1908-2003) is the author of forty novels. His books have been widely translated and the Poldark series has been developed into two television series, shown in 22 countries. Six of Winston Graham's books have been filmed for the big screen, the most notable being Marnie, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Winston Graham is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and in 1983 was awarded the O.B.E.
Laura Hartness is the writer at The Calico Critic. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two sons and three cats. In addition to her review work, she is also employed with PDgo.com and enjoys playing the French Horn in local ensembles. This review originally appeared on The Calico Critic as part of a virtual book tour. It is used here with permission.