The Poldark Perusal - Book 6, The Four Swans
“Love is not a possession to hoard. You give it away. It's a blessing and a balm.”
-WINSTON GRAHAM, Poldark: The Four Swans
I don't know about you, but I've missed these books—and I've only been apart from them for a month! The more I read Poldark, the deeper I fall in love with Winston Graham's legendary saga. Last week I finally delved into Book 6, and let me just say first and foremost—it might be my favorite one yet. I know, I know, I say that about every Poldark I read, but they do get better and better!
If you're new here, I keep a monthly update here on the blog documenting my journey through the 12-book Poldark saga, called (you guessed it!) The Poldark Perusal. You can find last month's Perusal on Book 5 here!
Without further ado, let's unpack Book 6.
Book 6: The Four Swans
*This review is pretty much non-spoiler if you're a fan of the series on BBC / PBS Masterpiece, as the show ties in quite closely with the books. Book 6 largely corresponds with Series 3 episodes 8-9 and Series 4 episodes 1-2.
A lot is going down this time 'round. Ross Poldark feels that his marriage is threatened by Hugh Armitage's growing affection for Demelza. The desolate Morwenna Whitworth is faced with her sister's debauchery by her husband, Ossie Whitworth. Broken-hearted Drake Carne is persecuted by George Warleggan. Sam Carne is torn in love with Emma Tregirls. Caroline and Dwight Enys grow back together. George and Elizabeth Warleggan's marriage reaches a boiling point on the parentage of their son, Valentine...
Book 5 ended with Agatha's all-terrible hint to George Warleggan that Valentine isn't really his son. And so, Winston Graham makes a masterly move in the first chapter of this book; from the get-go it begins with George questioning Dr. Behenna about the birth, as well as bribing the old Trenwith servants to give him information about Elizabeth's whereabouts during the time in which a betrayal could have been made before his marriage. In a way, it's satisfying to see George finally suffer, after how many people he has caused to suffer through the previous books already; with that said, you can't help but feel a tad sorry for him. After all, all this pent-up jealousy and suspicion is only going to be used to hurt other people again—especially his wife and Valentine.
Combating the worm within himself, the worm of suspicion, hatred and jealousy, was the awareness that he wanted to see her again. If the evil suspicion was wholly without foundation, then he was ruining his life — and hers and the child’s — for nothing . . . On the other hand, if the evil suspicion were wholly true, what had he left? A child that was not his and a woman whom he still consummately desired . . .
-Book Two, Chapter Three
When George and Elizabeth finally confront the suspicion that's lurking in their marriage, it's an incredibly powerful, gripping scene that throws everything in the balance. Elizabeth swears on the Bible that she's never given herself to another man. . . And in way—well, she's right. George likewise swears never to harbor his suspicions again...but really, he knows they'll always haunt him. It's a ghost he can't quite put away. . .
Speaking of George, he's found a new target to pester for the sake of a connection to Ross Poldark—Ross's brother-in-law, Drake Carne. When Ross purchases a smithy for Drake to begin his trade, George persecutes his business, diverting his water supply, tearing down his fences, sabotaging his work—all through the brutish Tom Harry, who finishes off the job by rendering Drake unconscious, bruised, and partially disfigured.
Drake has hardly had a break, grieving still over the loss of the love of his life, the tragic Morwenna. He's still loyal to that love, especially as he knows it was taken from both of them so cruelly. What so many around him used to think of as a puppy-love romance has proved itself to be a real, raw, heart-aching tragedy. As Drake tells Sam in one of my favorite scenes of the book . . .
“If twas said as Morwenna had passed away and I knew I should never see her the more it would be hard. . . But I could face ’n. Others have lost their loved ones. But what I cann’t face up to and never shall. . .is she being wed to that man! For I know she don’t like him, Sam. I know she can’t abide him! [. . .] She said little, but she showed much. She couldn’t lie to me over a thing like that! And her face could not lie! That is what I cann't bear. Understand me, do you?”
Sam walked up and stood beside his brother. They were both near tears [. . .] “Mebbe I don’t understand it all, Drake . . . But tis not hard to see how you d’feel. I can only pray for you as I’ve done ever since this first ever happened.”
“Pray for she,” said Drake. “Pray for Morwenna.”
(Book One, Chapter 3)
Honestly, I adore the Carne brothers so much. They've been my favorite characters of the last two books. They are so sincere and earnest in their feelings. Ah, these Carnes! <3
Sam himself is tragically crossed in love, having fallen swiftly for the loud, brazen, enigmatic Emma Tregirls, daughter of Tholly. Let me admit: watching the series, I never felt too keen on the Emma/Sam storyline...but reading it was an entirely different matter! I was agreeably surprised by how realistic Emma is, especially in the representation of the lost sinner who feels the tug of conviction in their soul. The godliness of Sam truly affects her, so much so that she becomes frustrated and angry because she can't feel free anymore—to sin, knowing now of Sam and his message. She wants to love Sam, but it's the rebellion against the message of salvation that tears her away from him in the end. . . Pretty profound stuff, really.
“You love him, do you, Emma?”
She shrugged impatiently. “Love? I don’t know what love d’mean. But I can’t be free the way I used to be! I can take my two-three pints with the best, laugh and joke, and nobody d’see the difference in Emma. […] I’m not so loose as folk say but…What I done I don’t regret. But since I seen Sam, since we talked, I’ve lost the pleasure of it! I wish to God I never met him!”
After a moment, Drake said: “Is it the conviction of sin that’s growing on you, Emma?” […] I cann’t answer all for Sam. But truly if you come to God in the way he has come, you have first to feel the conviction of sin, then you feel the forgiveness, the deliverance, then the joy of Salvation. The joy you d’feel at the end is far in excess of any joy you may have felt afore. That is what he preaches. That is what he tries to bring folk to understand! He wants you to be happy, but happy in the right way, happier than you ever have been in the past!”
(Book Two, Chapter 4)
The most heartbreaking storyline in this entire book—nay, perhaps the whole saga thus far!—has undoubtedly been the tragedy of Morwenna Chynoweth. It was my favorite storyline watching the series, and one which I looked forward to reading about for a while...and Graham doesn't let down. The way Morwenna's depression slowly spirals downward is gutting. She's incredibly gentle and sweet and shy, and to have someone so good go through anything so vile is unbelievably tragic. The constant physical and sexual abuse she suffers from her husband—the over-stuffed, over-dressed, loud-mouthed, lascivious vicar, Ossie Whitworth—is heart-wrenching. I don't know that I've ever pitied a character so much. I constantly kept moaning aloud, "Poor Morwenna!" in between paragraphs. She still loves Drake Carne after all she's been through, too. In a way, it's the one sweet memory in her life that can never be tainted or spoiled, and it's all she has left to cling to. . .
“I still love Drake Carne,” she said, aloud now, in her soft gentle voice. “I love Drake Carne, I love Drake Carne, I love Drake Carne.” Sometimes after an hour or two this repetition lulled her into sleep. Sometimes she wondered if Ossie would wake and hear her. But he never did. Perhaps only Drake Carne awoke and heard her, many miles away.
-Book One, Chapter 2
(I'm not crying, you're crying!)
Oh, and speaking of Morwenna, there's a situation with her sister Rowella and Ossie that's quite interesting. I think the less said on that one...the better? Well, a few notes... I'm still not quite sure why Rowella would carry on with Ossie in the first place. One, the betrayal to her sister...?? Two, the actual audacity of this fifteen-year-old...?? and Three, was she actually wanting to marry the poor librarian?—was it all a scheme to get Ossie to pay off her wedding?? Did she genuinely think she was pregnant or was that a scheme, too? I still want to know. If you've got thoughts on that, I want to hear them!
Oof. . . now we come to it. Demelza and Hugh Armitage. I knew this was coming, obviously, having seen it all go down in the series, but still—it's a bit of a shock, isn't it? Let me say, I didn't really mind Hugh that much on-screen—for one, because he's incredibly handsome and it's hard not to see where Demelza's struggles lay. Reading about it though, I found him to be incredibly manipulative and blind (not a mixed metaphor!). I mean, what does he think he's doing, messing with the happiness of a wife and mother of two—especially when her husband is the man he owes his life to for saving him from the French prison camp. This guy just doesn't know when to stop. . . and Demelza sure did tell him to stop several, several times. Hugh's dogged persistence is pretty selfish for a woman he claims to love, isn't it?
And what of Demelza's betrayal to Ross? It all happened so quickly. I genuinely felt sorry for her, actually. I don't know, maybe I should've been angry with her, but I really did feel the pain and guilt that she suffered through after the ordeal. Graham is clever not to let our love for Demelza seal her away as a standard of goodness—because we none of us are. I applaud Graham for making her that much more real. She made a mistake that nearly cost her everything. . . and in the end, she learned from it and grew stronger than ever before. A lesson for you somewhere in there!
To her Ross had always been one step more than just a husband. He had [. . .] almost created her out of the nothing that she had once been, a starving brat barely able to see or think beyond the horizons of her immediate needs, illiterate, uncouth, lice-ridden. [. . .] More than that, he had married her, given her his love—most of the time—his loving care—all the time—his trust, his confidence, a fine home, servants to do any work she did not want to do, and three beautiful children, two of whom survived. And she had betrayed all that in a sudden unexpected quirk of pity and love and passion for a man she scarcely knew who happened to call and ask.