The Poldark Perusal - Book 7, The Angry Tide
Life was such a gamble, and the safest, sturdiest man existed on such a tightrope of circumstance that the merest vibration could throw him. We lived, belonged, felt solidly based, important in the world—and then, flick, and we were nothing.
-WINSTON GRAHAM, Poldark: The Angry Tide
So the Poldark saga continues, and I couldn't be more excited to dive into book seven. Is it just me, or do these books keep getting better and better? Or perhaps I'm just falling deeper and deeper in love with my beloved Nampara Poldarks, late 18th Century Cornwall, and Winston Graham's writing.
If you're new here, The Poldark Perusal is my monthly update here on the blog documenting my journey through Winston Graham's 12-book Poldark saga. You can find last month's Perusal on Book 6 here!
Without further ado, let's unpack Book 7.
Book 7: The Angry Tide
*This review contains spoilers. If you're familiar with the Poldark series on BBC / PBS Masterpiece Theater, these spoilers won't be new to you, as the series ties in quite closely with the books. Book 7 corresponds with Series 4 episodes 3-8.
Ross Poldark is now a Member of Parliament, his home torn between Cornwall and the novelties of London, and his heart towards Demelza, who he suspects still grieves for the lost love of the late Hugh Armitage. Meanwhile, George Warleggan won't stop at anything to reclaim his own seat as an M.P., no matter the cost. Ossie Whitworth is still the lascivious monster we always knew he was, and Morwenna's existence is a painful nightmare from which there is no waking. Sam and Demelza want happiness for Drake, who grows more depressed in his doomed love for Morwenna by the day. Dwight and Caroline bring a daughter into the world, but the blessing brings tragedy in its wake.
When Book 6 ended, Ross and Demelza's marriage was in a turbulent state. Hugh Armitage having just departed, Ross finds a poem written to his wife and realizes there was more to that doomed relationship than he thought. Book 7 opens with Ross returning back home after his first term at Westminster. He can't know for certain what took place between Demelza and Hugh, but the existence of the threat, now extinguished by Armitage's death, belays a ghost between them that determines to keep them at arms' length. Ross is aware that their marriage has been an imperfect one, full of grave errors made on his side—but this first error of Demelza's blows the bitterest storm his way. For all the hurt he's caused her, should we feel too sorry for him going through a bit of what her own struggles have been these years? Remember Elizabeth, Ross!
As he explains to Verity—
“But one or two things have happened, Verity. Oh, I know they are small things—small to set beside the great—and they are best forgot on both sides, and indeed many times are forgot. But now and then you do not have all the control of your feelings that you should have—and then thoughts and feelings surge up in you like—like an angry tide. And it is hard, sometimes it is hard to control the tide.”
-Part Two, Chapter Two
As for Demelza, she's left to process the grief left in Hugh's wake.
Sometimes Demelza took out Hugh Armitage’s poems and read them over. Had she inspired such passion? An educated young man, a lieutenant in the navy, who claimed he had known many women in his short life and loved only one…Well, that was gone for ever, and she did not want it back, with its pulling at her heartstrings, the agony of divided loyalties. But so much waste, to die so young. She had heard people say they didn’t want a future life, didn’t want to live again. This she could not understand. So far she had done so little, seen so little. She wanted an age, an aeon of life to plumb it and savor it to the last drop.
-Part Three, Chapter One
Speaking of distressing marital plights, Ossie Whitworth seems pretty well determined to ruin Morwenna's life, and at the moment he's succeeding.
Oh, that hideous pig of a man. Have you ever hated a fictional villain more? I, for one, think he ranks supreme on that score. Ossie's enmity towards Morwenna knows no bounds apparently, and having removed her from their son John Conan through a succession of grim governesses, the next step is committing her to a mental asylum! As if you needed a reason to hate him more. It's thanks to our beloved dear Dr. Enys that Morwenna is made safe from that threat, and his parting words to Ossie are worth a highlight.
"Sir," [Dwight] said to Ossie, “I can’t help you. Nor would I if I could in this respect. Perhaps I come of a different persuasion, but my view is that if a husband cannot win his wife by kindness, sympathy, little attentions and a show of love, then he should go without her.”
Say it louder for our friends in the back, Dwight!
But poor Dwight has problems of his own. He and Caroline are blessed with a daughter, Sarah Caroline Anne Enys, but she is born with a heart defect and Dwight knows she can't live for long. He can't bear to tell Caroline the news until it's almost too late, and the first infection comes to take Sarah away from them.
Caroline doesn't really have time to process the death of their daughter and grieve the way Dwight was prepared to by knowing before-hand of their sealed doom. The shock proves too much, and she must slip away to London by herself to flee from her grief. In a way, both parties are at fault in their handling of the situations: Dwight, by keeping the terrible secret from his wife, and Caroline, by abandoning Dwight when they should have mourned the loss of Sarah together. But oh, how sorry we feel for them! *The Heartbreak!*
Caroline leaving Dwight for London could be looked at two ways, and neither would be necessarily incorrect. One, it's a tragedy that she cannot allow herself to mourn her loss, and nobody can blame her for the shock she faced, as well as the feelings of betrayal for Dwight keeping it from her while he knew. Or you could look at it as a selfish move considering Dwight and their shared loss. I know a lot of fans of the series were pretty divided about their relationship's ability to stand after surviving this storm in their marriage. As Ross looks at it:
[Dwight] had suffered in fact two losses—of his child and his wife; and though the latter might be temporary it hit him nearly as hard. He was a dedicated man, one not given to wearing his heart on his sleeve; but his sympathy for the plight of others did not detract from his personal affections, and Ross wondered if Caroline realized what her leaving him so long was doing to him.
Part Two, Chapter Thirteen
And what of our beloved, tragic, puppy-like Drake Carne? Now, let me be the first to say, I adore Drake. He's so loyal, kind, gentle, hard-working and—good. He's still loyal to his lost love for Morwenna, and seems doomed to so be for eternity if Demelza doesn't do something about it.
So Drake's case was hopeless, and for nearly three years he had known it to be, and for nearly three years he had lived in a state of utter depression and had never looked at another woman.
And so, with Drake's best interest at heart, Demelza tries to pair him up with Rosina Hoblyn, who has experienced her own share of heartbreak already. When it's finally announced that Rosina and Drake are engaged to marry, I feel like there's a conflict between—no, don't let him marry! Think of Morwenna, Drake! with the nobler feelings of: Finally, yes, be happy, Drake! Happiness and love will finally come! And poor Rosina! We can't hate her—we can't even dislike her for her interest in Drake. Will anything turn out right?!
But wait, Drake. Fate hangs in the balance for his lost Morwenna! Alas, the vile Ossie Whitworth resumes his illicit sexual relationship with his sister-in-law, Rowella, little knowing that his own life is at stake! Rowella's librarian husband, Arthur Solway, secretly discovers the horrific truth—and does the greatest deed ever done in this entire thrilling saga thus far—
He kills Ossie.
Ding-dong, Whitworth's dead! Which old Whitworth? The wicked Whitworth!
Ding-dong, the wicked Whitworth's dead!
Can we express our great joy at this triumph?!? The vile pig is gone! The monstrous man is dead! Morwenna is free! Drake is free! The wicked Whitworth is dead!
But alas! Morwenna is not yet free from the trauma her abuser afflicted, though he is now finally gone. Lady Whitworth, Ossie's overbearing mother, comes to control the little spirit left of poor Morwenna. To her, Morwenna is nothing but a "faceless non-entity who’d been no good to anybody, except that by some fortunate chance she had produced a handsome vigorous lusty son to carry on the name." Poor Morwenna! so I've moaned the last two books. And I'm still moaning it.
They are talking about me as if I were a parcel; as if I didn’t exist. And really it’s true. I don’t exist any longer. Nothing of me—it’s all gone—mind, body, soul, even; I am an envelope, a useless sack of clothes from which has been squeezed all feeling, all reasons, all sentiment, all goodness, all faith. I don’t need to be buried, for I am dead already, there is nothing left.”
Are you saying it with me? Poor Morwenna!!
And poor Drake! Alas, he hears the news of Ossie's death on the day before his wedding to Rosina. Overcome, he has no choice but to tell Rosina he must go back to his prior love, and he goes to Morwenna in a sorry state of exhaustion and despair. For all his hopefulness that the life of his love is at last his to claim, Morwenna turns him away. This was a hard scene, if ever there has been one! Drake believes she's changed, that she doesn't love him anymore, that she never loved him—that the years of mourning the loss of her were for naught. But he doesn't have any idea how Morwenna has suffered—still suffers! How broken and fragile and frightened she is!
If you weren't saying it before, you're saying it now. Poor Morwenna!!!!! So close to freedom...but so far from the healing and understanding she so desperately needs.
Meanwhile, Ross takes Demelza to London with him for his next Parliamentary session. What's this? Our Cornish couple dazzling the cream of London society? Well, it's a shock for Demelza, too. Her visit is not remotely successful, though it started out so happily. The odious dandy, Monk Adderley, arrives upon the scene! George Warleggan takes a bet with Adderley that he won't be able to *get far* with Demelza. Why, oh why, does every evil in the Poldark's lives start with George?!? Ross is pretty miffed by Monk's attentions to Demelza, and Demelza, thinking it must be the way of London society, gives Ross the (vastly incorrect) notion that she's encouraging it! (Well, Ross, didn't you know what suspicion and betrayal could do to a marriage? Just look at George and Elizabeth!)
Ross and Monk reach a boiling point, and Monk has the audacity to suggest they duel. And Ross has the complete foolishness to accept! That's right! And what's more, to keep it a secret from Demelza!
*shaking my head furiously*
Honestly, of all the ridiculous, reckless risks Ross has ever taken, this is the most foolish. Risking his life, risking taking another, risking Demelza's happiness—he would risk losing everything over this worthless fop? Well, he goes through with it, despite all the sense our loyal Dr. Enys tries to instill in him. So, Ross and Monk Adderley duel. Result? Monk is mortally wounded, and Ross is shot in the arm. Demelza is beside herself with anger and shame. Anger, for Ross's recklessness of course, but shame, for she knows she was the reason they dueled, and fears it's her own doing that one man is now dead, and Ross's own wound is so grim as to make Dwight consider amputating it. (He doesn't though.)
To make matters worse, there's the ever-present fear that the authorities will suspect Ross or hear tale of his involvement and snatch him away. Despite all counsel offered to him by his betters, Ross is stubborn and determined to stay in London. Was he always this infuriating???!?! Well, yes, but we'd forgotten that for the last book or two.
So, unable to bear another day of the anxiety, Demelza goes back to Cornwall with Dwight. Phew.
But that's not the only drama going down in London! Meanwhile, Geoffrey Charles pays Elizabeth (now with child again!) and George a visit. Innocent so far! But lo! Valentine plays on his rocking horse quietly to himself...and Geoffrey Charles makes an amusing observation!
“It’s—it’s Valentine!” Geoffrey Charles choked with amusement. “Just look at him! Ecod! Is he not the very split and living image of Uncle Ross!”
The pure horror I'd like to imagine was on Elizabeth's face in that moment! Well, I don't really have to strain to imagine it after all, since the series adapted this scene to perfection and that look on her face really did say it all. Oh, dear, do we feel a tad sorry for this woman after all the misery her marriage has faced on account of the fear and suspicion of Valentine's parentage?
It was as if it were a curse rather than a comment. As if the words spoken by Francis’s son had been those of a Poldark recognizing another Poldark. Something out of the grave. Of course this was wholly untrue—and would have been seen as such in a rational situation. But this was not a rational situation and never had been.”
-Part Three, Chapter Nine
George's animosity knows no bounds. Valentine is resented, neglected, hated! Is there any way out of this terrible predicament? For Elizabeth, her son, and her unborn child, all that could save her and seal George's trust once more is for her coming child to be born prematurely, as Valentine "supposedly" was. She pays Dr. Anselm a visit, and comes away with an herbal distillment of syrup that will, when taken, cause her to go into labor at the time she desires. Though there's risk to herself and the child, is there any other choice?
Meanwhile, poor Morwenna pays poor Drake an impromptu visit...
Hope is in the air! Morwenna comes to explain to Drake the reason for her behavior to him after Ossie's death—explains a little of the depths of abuse she suffered, her great need for healing, her self-confessed sickness, dementedness as a result. It's the first time they've sat together, face-to-face, in four years. Drake listens and understands, sensing Morwenna's reluctance to touch him, patiently hearing of the terrible abuse she went through all those years they were apart. He still loves her, every bit as much as ever—and asks to marry her, knowing that it would only be "half" a marriage, accepting her need for healing and sympathy, and offering it in open arms which he can't expect will ever embrace her. Oh, Drake! Honestly, if half of the literature-loving community was familiar with him, they'd forget all about Mr. Darcy, I'm sure!
However, Morwenna's hesitant. She doesn't know if she can ask so much of him, or trust that he fully understands the dire situation she has been through. In my favorite scene of the whole book—nay, the saga!!—
“There’s more to life than carnal love, isn’t there?”
“Yes…oh, yes, but—“
“Be honest. Do you not really want to be with me? With me more than anyone else in the world?”
She hesitated a long moment, then nodded again.
“Then be that not the most important thing of all? Being together. Working together. Talking together. Walking together. There’s so much to love—even if it be not the love you mean. The sunrise, and the rain and the wind and the cloud, and the roaring of the sea and the cry of birds and the—the lowing of cows and the glow of corn and the smells of spring. And food and fresh water. New-laid eggs, warm milk, fresh dug- potatoes, bluebells, a warm fire…I could go on and on and on. But if you enjoy with wi’ the one you love, then it is enjoyment fourfold! D’you think I would not give all my life to see ye sitting smiling in that chair? What is life if you live it alone?”
-Part Three, Chapther Ten
And so, Drake and Morwenna are married. I can't begin to express my joy for these two tragic lovers who have been through so much pain and heartbreak, to be together at last. They deserve all the happiness in the world.
WARNING: Major Character Death Ahead!!!
Oh, dear, did you think we were paving the way to a happy ending? Well, not quite...
Elizabeth still has to face George—and her secret plan awaits to be carried out. Their marriage reaches a boiling point, and George confesses that it was Aunt Agatha who put the poison in their marriage. But still, suspicion is rank! So Elizabeth does the fatal deed...and goes into labor, seven months forward.
Ursula Warleggan is born at a price. Elizabeth's plan has worked! George sees at last the final seal upon his suspicion, embracing now a future of gladness and freedom from the jealousies that plagued his marriage for so many years.... But that future cannot hold Elizabeth beside him. When Ross hears of her sudden illness, he rides to Trenwith to inquire...
But he's too late.
Elizabeth is already dead.
The S H O C K!!!
And so, Book Seven ends with a tragedy that brings Ross and Demelza pain, but with a little hope left looking forward. They must face the future's uncertainty while they still live, mourning for those whose lives have been lost along the way—Hugh...and Elizabeth—and go forward knowing:
The past is over, gone. What is to come doesn't exist yet. That's tomorrow! It's only now than can ever be, at any one moment. And at this moment, now, we are alive—and together. We can't ask more. There isn't any more to ask.
Well, this was an emotional rollercoaster of a conclusion...
Book Seven sealed the happiness of those most deserving, while it doomed the heartless into a mourning which would prove that he, too, had a heart to reckon with. Do we feel for George, or do we think it's about time he went through a little pain, after causing so much for others...? Feel free to ponder that one awhile!
So the 18th Century closes, and a new era begins. . .
I hope you've enjoyed this month's Poldark Perusal! Next month we get to dive into Book Eight, The Stranger from the Sea, which I'm incredibly excited to read—particularly because I won't know what happens, now that the tv series has completed its run! We'll get to discover the new era of Poldark together... I can't wait!
Until next time,