The Poldark Perusal - Book 9, The Miller's Dance
"You don’t live to be safe, Ross. You live to be alive, to take a deep breath of the air and to know your heart is beating!"
-WINSTON GRAHAM, Poldark: The Miller's Dance
Welcome back to The Poldark Perusal, a series here on the blog documenting my journey through Winston Graham's 12-book Poldark saga. If you're new here, you might as well know that over the last few years, I've come to practically live and breathe Poldark—it's something of a lifestyle at this point! Having first watched the absolutely marvelous BBC / PBS Masterpiece series several times over, I then began my trek through the books—which are every bit as compelling and addictive as the series, I can attest! Documenting that experience through these Perusals has been a real treat—and if you've just finished reading one of the books or other and need a bit of confirmation that yes, someone else felt that way, too!—then I hope you find that here. :)
Last time, I unpacked Book 8, The Stranger From the Sea, which I'll frankly say has been my least favorite of the saga so far. However, I've heard from other readers that Book 8 really acted as an "introduction" of sorts to the second portion of the saga, and its purpose was really to lay the groundwork for things to come in the next books. Book 9: The Miller's Dance looked more promising, as such—and I'm very, very pleased to say: it lived up to that promise!
Book 9: The Miller's Dance
DISCLAIMER: This review contains in-depth spoilers!
Directly following where we left off in Book 8, Clowance returns home from her London-trip to find that her relationship with Stephen Carrington carries a greater influence with her than she thought, and she agrees to marry him. Ross and Demelza expect another child; George Warleggan approaches a second marriage. Jeremy still faces heartache after being scorned by his first attatchment, Miss Cuby Trevanion. Wheal Leisure is finally reopened.
I knew from the first thirty pages alone that The Miller's Dance was going to be a five-star book for me. I've come to expect nothing less from Winston Graham, and every time I finish one of these books, I'm left yearning for more until I finally pick up the next one. I'm terribly sad to be nearing the end, but the end is looking altogether more and more promising!
Book 9 was gripping from start to finish. All of my qualms with the prior book, The Stranger From the Sea, were smoothed out almost straightaway. Stephen Carrington, who was my biggest reason alone for disliking Book 8, was actually a huge factor in moving the plot along this time, and though I still hate him with a passion, I couldn't help but find all of his scenes the most gripping. I will say one thing for him, loathe him as I do—he is awfully dramatic, and drama is what Winston Graham does best!! ;)
There wasn't a single dull or slow portion of the book, and again I'm left in awe of Graham's writing prowess, as these Poldark books are pretty hefty—some of them being more than 600 pages in length—and yet there's never a slow moment or an easy place to stop! Highlights for Book 9 were definitely Clowance's drama with Stephen (which was ironically my least favorite part of the previous book), as well as George's rather amusing marriage to Lady Harriet. Seeing Ross and Demelza so content was a true gift, and after all the decades of their lives that we have spent with them, it feels so rewarding to see them so close, so genuine with each other—and still in love.
That Dratted Stephen Carrington
Now, to get a little more in-depth. Stephen...oh, what a loathsome character! He's on a different level of villainy than the monstrous Ossie Whitworth or even Monk Adderly—because he actually managed to successfully worm his way into the Poldark household and tamper with their feelings and well-being—most especially Clowance's. He's vile, but he's perversely very exciting to read about. He's such a loose cannon, you never know what horrible thing he'll come up with next. Worst of all, he actually believes his intentions are good, or that he's doing what he thinks is the "right thing." Hating a villain who is constantly wallowing in their evil deeds is one thing, but one who actually thinks of himself as the hero is entirely different. It's so twisted, but so masterfully compelling because it's human.
That's the most interesting thing about Stephen's character, really. It's clear that he's highly manipulative, violent, domineering and possessive—but he exhibits so much human nature. You know someone like that. It goes back to what makes Winston Graham's writing so undeniably addictive and real: he understood people. Stephen's mad desire for Clowance isn't so "mad," which makes the situation worse when you look at it and realize his abominable feelings aren't even close to being unusual. I never trusted him for a minute, and felt nothing could really shock me to find out about him. I was actually surprised that he hadn't been messing around with Violet Kellow (until of course, he did.) He's overbearingly masculine, charismatic and passionate, and I do see why Clowance was fooled to falling in love with him in the first place—but goodness, her naivety was so frustrating.
I love Clowance, really—because even when she frustrated me beyond measure, it was always because she was (in true Demelza fashion) too generous for her own good. She pitied Stephen and was persuaded (well, manipulated by him) into feeling she was to blame for keeping their relationship more chaste than Stephen wished. I can't tell you how glad I am that she didn't give into him! She was always taking his side out of loyalty and sympathy, and she really was very young after all to have known better—as well as very naive. Even George Warleggan couldn't escape sight of Clowance without being taken aback at her innocence and unassuming nature.
I had a feeling the engagement would come to nothing after all—but I was afraid it would break under terrible circumstances that would leave a nasty scar. And it did, in a way—but not as badly as I expected. Stephen's ugly fist-fight with Ben was not the turning-point I expected, but it was enough, at least, to make Clowance see things for what they are. I'm only relieved that she didn't give way to his desires as she might have! My only hope now is that we've seen the last of Stephen's advances...which only the next few books may tell us!
The Old, Familiar Faces
My biggest fear heading into Book 9 was that the focus would be predominately on the children, as Book 8 was. I was very, very pleased to find this was not the case, and that the older Poldark generation were still very present! Dr. Enys in particular was actively involved, and as one of my absolute favorite characters of the saga, I was so happy to see more of him and Caroline. Ross and Demelza play a far bigger role in this book as well, and I very much enjoyed seeing them navigate another addition to the family after so many years. Demelza's embarrassment of being pregnant in front of her "grown-up" children was so realistic and genuine, and I was happy to see Ross share his feelings about the news with our old beloved Verity, who has been absent for far too many books.
We still haven't had a scene with (my beloved) Drake and Morwenna, but I do hope we'll have at least a word more from them than a chance remark from Geoffrey Charles stating that "he hears they are very happy." It was nice to see Sam and Rosina for a short while, as well. It's interesting seeing people like Mrs. Whitworth show up again, every bit as loathsome as ever—and always heartbreaking to see Morwenna's son, Conan Whitworth, who has every promise of growing up to be just like his monstrous, lascivious father.
Lady Harriet Warleggan
In Book 8, I really wasn't too keen on George's new attachment with Lady Harriet—but ironically, it was one of my favorite parts of Book 9. When George finally secures Harriet's hand and brings her to Cardew as his wife, he's in for a real surprise in finding out her true nature! Harriet is quite a lot more than he bargained for, and rather more independent and rude than complacent, submissive Elizabeth ever dared to be! She spends George's money, orders everything about the house, organizes events without telling him, insults and even mocks George!—and most amusing of all, has a strange fascination with animals and keeps many about the house. One rather large dog in particular growls at George whenever he approaches Harriet and jumps up on him to keep him away—and at one point, actually knocks him over on the ground! Ha! The idea of stately Sir George Warleggan being pinned to the floor by a slobbering dog!
Ursula is not easy to decipher just yet, being only a child still and a very spoiled one at that—but Valentine is rather an interesting character, to say the least. He's ostentatious and lazy and does nothing but flirt with the women, even kissing "Aunt" Demelza on the lips when he sees her—but he's hard to hate just now. I hear very unpromising things about his character as the next few books unfold, but as of Book 9, I can't help but enjoy reading about him.
I'm surprised to find that I like Jeremy far less this time 'round than I did in Book 8. For one, I never took to his attachment to Cuby Trevanion, and felt it was the weakest storyline of the plot thus far. There were times I really did love Jeremy—especially his loyalty to Clowance when she breaks her engagement to Stephen, and his love for his mother, telling her about all his qualms and hopes and aspirations. But he really, really down-spiraled by the end of the book. When he finds out that George Warleggan has arranged a marriage between Valentine and Cuby, he goes off the rails completely. He actually arranges to rob a stage-coach with Stephen Carrington and Paul Kellow, and they go through with it!!
It felt so out of character...unless, of course, this is Jeremy's character, which I hope it isn't. We've watched his father mess up plenty of things and do reckless, law-breaking deeds—but deliberate robbery without gain to anyone but himself? That's below even Ross at his worst moments. Oh wait!! But wasn't...wasn't Ross robbing something of Elizabeth that night to gain something for himself that didn't belong to him? Yikes. Fun as it is to see the parents' natures coming down through the children, this is not one I want to see.
A Happy Ending???
Jeremy's robbery antics actually conclude mere pages from the ending, which was pretty heart-accelerating to say the least. The final chapter finds Ross and Demelza home together with their children, and Jeremy returns from his crime so far unsuspected by law. But will that last? Surely Book 10 will tie this one up rather dramatically... The real happy ending seems to come to Geoffrey Charles, who writes home to Nampara to announce that he has gotten married and intends to return to Trenwith very soon! The final words of Book 9: "They went in to dinner all together, laughing and joking, a cheerful and united family," feel foreboding and ironic. Clowance is heart-sore over her entanglement with Stephen, and Jeremy is in dire straits with the law! Where will we find them in Book 10: The Loving Cup?
Dare I say, The Miller's Dance has been one of the best books of the saga, and that's saying quite a lot. I'm constantly baffled by Winston Graham, and how the ninth book in a saga of twelve, which was written over a period of 60 years, can be every bit as gripping and masterfully written (if not more, actually) than the first books of the series!! I don't know how he did it, truly.
I hope you've enjoyed this edition of The Poldark Perusal! Next time we get to dive into Book 10, The Loving Cup! From what I hear from other readers, we're in for quite a wild ride with the last three books of the saga ahead of us! As always, I would love to hear what you thought of The Miller's Dance and whether you felt as passionate in your hatred for Stephen Carrington as I did!! Do leave a comment below if you fancy; I'd love to hear from you!
If you're anywhere near as fond of Demelza Poldark as I am, do take a look at the above 4x6" art print, which is available for purchase on the shop! :)
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Until next time,