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What is Poldark?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2016
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Poldark refers to a series of twelve historical fiction novels written by Winston Graham. The novels chronicle the rise and fall in fortunes of Ross Poldark, a sometimes insolvent mine owner who lives in Cornwall during the early 19th century. Masterpiece Theater and the BBC made the books into several extremely popular series. In fact some suggest that the series was the most popular production ever produced by the BBC.

Poldark is a semi-tragic character, often torn between the thoughts of the upper class and his own sympathies for the suffering of the miners he employs. His contemporaries often view him as a radical, and though he is less concerned about the mixing of classes, and marries a miner’s daughter, Demelza, his deep seated hatred of George Warleggan, the nouveau riche upstart, drives many of his actions.

He is similarly torn by his love for Demelza and his passion for his cousin’s wife Elizabeth. The first novel begins with Ross returning home from the American Revolution. He has been considered dead by his fiancé, Elizabeth, so she has agreed to marry Ross’s cousin Frances.

Though he tries to be faithful to his wife, he frequently cannot appreciate her because of this obsessive love. In fact, his actions, after Frances’ death, cause Elizabeth to quickly marry Warleggan.

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While such grand themes occur, the Poldark novels are marked by many incidents involving the miners and their increasing poverty. In some cases, Ross goes out of his way to support the poor and finds himself arrested for inciting a riot at one point.

The novels seemed to hold a particular resonance for both its readers and for its television audience. Graham had previously best been known for his novel Marnie, which became a successful Hitchcock film. After the novels rose in popularity, however, Graham was known for little else.

The novels are written over a significant period of time. The first four novels, Ross Poldark, Demelza, Jeremy Poldark, and Warleggan were written between 1945 and 1953.

Audiences clamored for more, but didn’t receive a fresh installment until 1973. The second television series was based largely on Books five through seven, The Black Moon, The Four Swans and The Angry Tide.

Readers often criticize the final television series since it lacked many of the original actors, like Robin Ellis as Ross Poldark. It also dealt more with the fortunes of Ross and Demelza’s children, than with Ross and Demelza, who had become beloved characters. It was difficult to duplicate the strengths of the first two series.

However, many readers enjoy the full series of books. The last novel, Bella Poldark was written in 2002, over fifty years after the writing and publication of the first novel in the series. Some find, that the novels following The Angry Tide lack the tang and tension of the first seven works.

What viewers have praised particularly about the first two television series is the faithfulness to the books. The first series chronicles the first four books with 16 hour-long episodes. The second series gave 13 episodes to the treatment of three books. Viewers also enjoyed the outdoor shots of Cornwall, which were frequent. Many also praise Graham for his historical accuracy in his treatment of Cornwall and his deftly woven allusions to world history in which the Poldarks are often entangled.

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