Thursday, August 15, 2013

Demelza Takes a Chance

Lately I've been sharing excerpts from the Poldark series of historical fiction by Winston Graham. I'm currently re-reading all twelve Poldark novels, which are set in the English county of Cornwall in the years 1783-1820. Last night I finished the tenth Poldark novel, The Loving Cup. Number eleven, The Twisted Sword is on order from my local library. I hope to pick it up in the next day or two!

I must say I'm greatly enjoying re-visiting the Poldark novels. I first read most of them as a teenager and young man in my twenties. It's been interesting to re-read them now that I'm in my forties. I definitely appreciate aspects of them in both new and deeper ways. One thing that remains the same, however, is my great appreciation and enjoyment of Winston Graham's writing. He is, without doubt, a master storyteller. And while I certainly don't consider my writing abilities to be anywhere near the caliber of Graham's, I nevertheless believe that it was my reading of his Poldark novels as a teenager that began – and for many years influenced – my own development as a writer. And for that I'm very grateful.

Something else that remains the same is my affinity with many of the series' multi-dimensional – and thus very believably human – characters. One such character is Demelza. In the hugely successful Poldark television series of 1975-77, Demelza was wonderfully brought to life by Angharad Rees (left).

Introduced in the first novel as a feisty urchin child of fourteen, Demelza (and her dog Garrick) is rescued from bullies at a country fair by the series' protagonist, Ross Poldark. Bringing her back to his country estate, Nampara, Ross employs Demelza as his kitchen maid. Four years later he scandalizes many of his fellow gentry-folk by marrying her. The ever-evolving, ever-deepening relationship of Ross and Demelza  provides the heart and soul of the twelve-volume Poldark series. It is also undoubtedly one of the great literary depictions of that special and complex type of relationship grounded in both desire and companionship. (For more on this, see the previous Wild Reed post, Passion, Time and Tide.)

In another previous post I shared something of the story of Verity Poldark, Ross' cousin. As an unmarried woman in her late twenties, Verity is considered to be fast approaching spinsterhood. She had hoped to marry Captain James Blamey (right), a man with a violent past yet who has reformed and truly loves and cares for her. Their budding romance is quashed, however, by Verity's father, Charles, and brother, Francis. They view Captain Blamey as dangerous and as an unsuitable match for Verity. Ross, to his credit, isn't so sure and had been quietly allowing the couple to meet at Nampara. When Charles and Francis catch wind of these meetings a violent confrontation ensues. In its aftermath, Captain Blamey informs Verity that their relationship is over and rides off back to his lodgings in Falmouth. Verity returns with her father and brother to Trenwith, the Poldark ancestral home, and resigns herself to a bleak, lonely future.

A number of people, after reading the excerpt I shared about Verity, have asked me if she and Captain Blamey ever get back together again. Well . . . let's just say that Verity's story is far from over. The excerpt I share below is from Demelza, book two in the Poldark saga. Here's the context of this particular excerpt: Three years have passed since Verity's sad contemplations in her room at Trenwith. The miner's daughter and kitchen maid Demelza is now Mrs. Ross Poldark, Mistress of Nampara. She and Verity have become close friends and, after hearing the details from Ross about Verity's unhappy separation from the man she loves, Demelza decides to take a chance and intervene. This intervention takes the form of a visit to Captain Blamey in Falmouth, twenty miles away. Accompanying her is Jud, longtime (though not very reliable) servant of the Poldarks of Nampara.

Following is the first part of the excerpt I share from Winston Graham's second Poldark novel that vividly brings to life Demelza's visit to Captain Blamey.

They trekked up a long narrow lane, mainly squalid huts and courtyards with here and there a house or a tiny shop, the land climbing steeply away among tress and scrub to the right. The harbour held two or three dozen ships in an almost closed hand: she had seen nothing like it in her life, accustomed as she was to the sight of the occasional brig or cutter beating away from the land on the dangerous north coast.

They were directed to one of the better houses with a room built out over the front door to form a pillared porch. This was more imposing than she had expected. She got down stiffly and told Jud to hold her horse. Her [riding] habit was thick with dust, but she knew of no place to go and tidy herself.

"I'll not be long," she said. "Don't go away an' don't get drunk or I'll ride home wi'out you."

"Drunk," said Jud, wiping his head. "No one 'as the call to leave that at my door. Many's the week as passes an' never a drop of liquor. Many's the time I ain't gotten the spittle for a fair good spit. That dry. An' you says drunk. You says drunk. Why, I mind the time when you was tiddley on account of finding a bottle of grog, an twas —"

"Stay here," said Demelza, turning her back. "I'll not be gone long."

She pulled at the bell. Jud was a spectre of old times. Forget him. Face this. What would Ross say if he could see her now? And Verity? Base treason. She wished she had never come. She wished . . .

The door opened and Jud's grumblings died away.

"I wish to see Captain Blamey, please."

"He bain't in, ma'am. He did say he'd be back afore noon. Would ye wait?"

"Yes," said Demelza, swallowing and going in.

She was shown conversationally into a pleasant square room on the first floor. It was panelled with cream-painted wood and there was a model ship among the littered papers on the desk.

"What name sh'll I tell him?" asked the old woman, coming to the end of her chatter.

At the last moment Demelza withheld the vital word. "I'd better prefer to tell him that myself. Just say a—er—someone . . ."

"Very well, ma'am."

The door closed. Demelza's heart was thumping in her breast. She listened to the woman's self-important footsteps receding down the stairs. The documents on the desk took her curiosity, but she was afraid to go over and peer at them and her reading was still so slow.

A miniature by the window. Not Verity. His first wife whom he had knocked down to die? Little framed silhouettes of two children. She had forgotten his children. A painting of another ship, it looked like a man-of-war. From here she found she could see the lane outside.

She edged nearer the window. Jud's shiny head. A woman selling oranges. He was swearing at her. Now she was swearing back. Jud seemed scandalized that anyone could match his own words. "Captain Blamey," she would say, "I have come to see ee—to see you about my cousin." No, first she'd best make sure he was not married again to someone else. "Captain Blamey," she would begin. "Are you married again?" Well, she couldn't say that. What did she hope to do?

"Leave it alone," Ross had warned. "It's dangerous to tamper with other people's lives." That was what she was doing against all orders, all advice.

There was a map on the desk. Lines were traced across it in red ink. She was about to go and look when another noise in the street drew her notice again.

Under a tree a hundred yards back were a group of seamen. A rough lot, bearded and pigtailed and ragged, but in the middle of them was a man in a cocked hat talking to them in some annoyance. They pressed around him, angry and gesticulating, and for a moment he seemed to disappear among them. Then his hat showed again. The men stepped back to let him through, but several still shouted and shook their fists. The group closed up behind and they stood together staring after him. One picked up a stone but another grasped his arm and stopped him from throwing it. The man in the cocked hat walked on without glancing behind.

As he came nearer the house Demelza felt as if the lining of her stomach was giving away. She knew by instinct that this was the person she had plotted and schemed and ridden twenty miles to see.

But for all Ross' warnings she had not imagined he would be like this. Did he never do anything but quarrel with people, and was this the man for loss of whom Verity was sere and yellow before her time? In a flash Demelza saw the other side of the picture, which up till now had evaded her, that Francis and Old Charles and Ross might be right and Verity's instinct at fault, not theirs.

In panic she looked at the door to gauge her chance of escape; but the outer door slammed and she knew it was too late. There was no drawing back now.

She stood rigidly by the windows and listened to the voices below in the hall. Then she heard a tread on the stairs.

He came in, his face still set in hard lines from his quarrel with the seamen. Her first thought was that he was old. He had taken off his cocked hat and he wore his own hair: it was grey at the temples and specked with grey on the crown. He must be over forty. His eyes were blue and fierce and the skin was drawn up around them from peering into the sun. They were the eyes of a man who might have been holding himself ready for the first leap of a race.

He came across to the desk and put his hat on it, looked directly at his visitor.

"My name is Blamey, ma'am," he said in a hard clear voice. "Can I be of service to you?"

For Part 2, click here

For previous Poldark-related posts, see:
Passion, Time and Tide
A "Useful Marriage" for Morwenna
A Sea Dragon of an Emotion . . . "Causing Half the Trouble of the World, and Half the Joy"
"Hers Would Be the Perpetual Ache of Loss and Loneliness"
Into the Greenwood

Recommended Off-site Links:
Winston Graham's Demelza: A Novel of Cornwall – Kate Sherrod (Kate of Mind, May 3, 2013).
Winston Graham’s Demelza: Mistress Poldark, Herstory – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, July 18, 2010).
Winston Graham’s Demelza: A Young Woman’s Entrance Into the World – Ellen Moody (Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, May 7, 2011).

Images: Angharad Rees as Demelza, Norma Streader as Verity, and Jonathan Newt as Captain Blamey in the BBC television series Poldark (1975-1977).

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