I read this book after watching the first season of BBC’s modern adaptation, so I knew everything that was going to happen. However, that didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying the book and also note the differences that always make a book superior (in my respect) to a film’s adaptation of it. But that’s beside the point. Let’s get into why I loved this book so much…
Just… Ross. He is one of the most captivating male heroes in fiction. Not because he’s perfect, far from it. He has his faults, a short temper being one of them, and a feisty disposition towards everything antagonistic in his life being another. But his virtues, at least in this first book of the series, far outweigh his faults.
Ross Poldark is a gentleman who cares about justice and the lower classes, without losing the distinctiveness of nobility that characterizes all gentlemen. He always knows what’s the right thing to do at any given time (even if he lets his temper get ahead of him sometimes) and he acts with the decisiveness necessary for serious undertakings. He is eloquent and refined in his speech and manner, proud of himself but not sinfully so, and generous to everyone he cares for and even those he doesn’t know.
The first half of this book covers the romantic fallout between Ross and his previous fiancée, Elizabeth. The modern BBC adaptation makes it look like Elizabeth had second thoughts regarding breaking off her engagement to Ross (on account that she thought he was dead), but in the book this is hardly what happens. Book Elizabeth never seems to give Ross a second thought after he comes back, and proceeds with her engagement and marriage to Ross’s cousin Francis seemingly with no remorse.
This makes Ross angry, but doesn’t diminish or cushion any of the subsequent heartbreak he suffers on Elizabeth’s account. He pines for her and for the union he realizes he will never have, and thrusts himself to work as a means to get over Elizabeth. But he never truly does, and all their interactions are charged with romantic tension. In a way, you can’t help but feeling that Ross and Elizabeth would have made an excellent couple. Ross would have given Elizabeth more sturdiness of heart, a stronger disposition towards life, and Elizabeth would have refined Ross’s environment to an even greater degree, something that Demelza, with all her heartfelt love and charm, cannot do.
The second half of the book focuses on Ross’s business and Demelza’s evolution from a ragamuffin kitchen maid to the beginnings of becoming a lady. Demelza is my second favorite character in the book, after Ross. Her heart is so big, and her love for Ross so overwhelming. Her devotion towards him, unlike Elizabeth’s, is unwavering. She feels deeply, and acts out of her feelings. But unlike Elizabeth, she is not refined. And who can blame her with the upbringing she had? Ross, however, slowly influences her to refinement. And her love for him slowly heals his broken heart, until he begins to fall in love with her. His love for Elizabeth, however, always remains in the background. Poldarks feel so strongly, they can hardly ever get over any former passion.
Ross and Demelza, however, find happiness in each other, against all odds. And society starts accepting Demelza, however injuriously they felt towards her at the beginning.
This book is captivating on so many levels. Not only is the romance complicated and real, but Ross’s business struggles feel real as well. The story has appeal for both men and women. I can only conclude by saying I will definitely continue with the rest of the books of this series. I already know too much about the story in general to expect a happy ending, but I do expect more magical moments between the two protagonists, more tension between Ross and his enemies, and more pining for a love that can never be. And all this, quite honestly, makes for fabulous fiction.