Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"Poldark" Returns to Print and TV

Like many fans, I was introduced to "Poldark" by Masterpiece Theater, which aired the original BBC TV version in the late 1970s. Made me want to read the books as well as visit Cornwall -- and over the the succeeding years I have done both. Much more recently I was able to re-watch the first season of the original series.

Cornish countryside: Review of "Poldark" and "Demelza" by Winston Graham
My photo of the Cornish countryside, taken in the mid-1980s

Re-watching made me want to re-read the books as well, so I dug out my old collection of yellowing paperbacks -- yes, also dating from the late 1970s. To be honest, these days I much prefer reading e-books to paperback books. The contrast is better, and I can adjust the font and size of the print to suit. Much to my disappointment, at time I was looking (about a year and a half ago or so) the Poldark books weren't available in e-book form, and were apparently out of print even as paperbacks -- 2d hand books were selling for pretty steep prices.

Cornish coast: Review of "Poldark" and "Demelza" by Winston Graham
Cornish coast

Fast forward to 2015, and the BBC has remade the books into a new TV series. In the U.S., we'll be able to watch the new "Poldark" on Masterpiece Theater, starting next Sunday, June 21, 2015. In company with the show, special editions of author Graham Winston's first two books in the series, "Poldark" and "Demelza" are being re-released in a number of forms, including (yay!) Kindle e-books.

If you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read "Poldark" for free. If you do, be forewarned that there is a total of 12 books in the series -- all of which have been re-released. Once hooked, you'll be there for the entire investment in books (whether e or paper) and reading time.

Falmouth Harbor: Review of "Poldark" and "Demelza" by Winston Graham
Falmouth harbor
The basic story of the initial books is that Captain Ross Poldark has been away from his home in Cornwall -- fighting for the British Army in the American Revolution. He's been out of touch with family and friends for so long that many presumed him dead. In 1783 he returns home to find his father has died, his property has been neglected into ruin, and the woman he'd planned to marry is engaged to his cousin.

I think these books will appeal to a wide variety of readers. The character of Ross Poldark is dark and impetuous, as well as kindly and fiercely loyal to those who have earned his regard -- in other words, he's a classic romantic hero. Demelza is every bit his match in intelligence and nobility of character, with the added pleasure that we get to watch her grow and bloom over the course of the stories.

As a re-reader, I'm finding myself much more interested in the politics and historical setting than the romantic content. Ross is not alone in wondering what the point was in fighting a lost war against the Colonials' desire for independence from the crown. Ross, however, soon becomes much more concerned with economic and social conditions at home. He sips a drink at a local market fair, and ponders the state of the working people passing by:

For the most part they were weakly, stinking, rachitic, pockmarked, in rags -- far less well found than the farm animals that were being bought and sold. Was it surprising that the upper classes looked on themselves as a race apart? Yet the signs he had seen of a new way of life in America made him impatient of those distinctions.
Tin and copper mining were long time mainstays of Cornwall's economy, but in the post-war period price-fixing by smelting interests had crashed the value of ore. Banking monopolies further worked to concentrate wealth into the hands of a new monied class, undermining the traditional relationships between land/mine owners and working people. It all starts to sound disturbingly familiar.

A miner contracts lung disease as a result of his hazardous work. Unable to work, he resorts to crimes such as poaching and smuggling in order to feed his family. Arrest results in lengthy incarceration, if not transportation to Australia or hanging.

A member of the minor landed gentry, Ross is the owner of a couple of out-of-production mines. With mixed success, Ross takes a leadership role in organizing his peers against the undue influence of big money -- trying to restore the balance that has sustained the area for generations. His efforts have mixed success, while earning him powerful and vindictive enemies.

It's worth remembering that author Winston Graham started writing the series at the end of WWII. "Poldark" and "Demelza" were first published in 1945 and 1946, respectively. One wonders what connections he might have felt between changes and conditions in Britain at the end of that war, as compared to the times he was writing about.

Cornish countryside: Review of "Poldark" and "Demelza" by Winston Graham
Farm in Cornwall

I was able to score review copies of "Poldark" and "Demelza" courtesy of NetGalley; NetGalley asks, but does not require, a review in return for copies of books. The program provides honest feedback for publishers -- that is, there is no expectation that reviews must be positive.


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