Of all twelve of the Poldark novels, this seventh book is one of my favourites. Although it has deaths, much mourned and life changing, it also has obsession, some sense of justice, and throughout it marks characters reassessing their lives. It is significant as the end point of the second series of the original 1970s tv favourite; the last episodes to be filmed featuring Angharad Rees and Robin Ellis. It was originally published in 1977, whereas the next in the series did not appear until 1981. It was also the end of the fourth series of the current tv success. Significantly for the series of novels it represents the end of the first block of the saga with the end of 1799; the next book will come back to the characters ten years on. The narrative therefore marks a significant point for many of the characters at the end of a century, when huge events occur.
The novel opens in a way very similar to the first in the series, as travellers are depicted in a coach travelling into Cornwall. Again it emerges that one of them is Ross Poldark, this time returning from London. There are small hints as to why he is travelling earlier than expected, a fact that momentarily confuses his wife Demelza when she finally catches sight of him later. Another traveller is the young, deeply unpleasant clergyman Osbourne Whitworth, whose story and marriage to the unwilling Morwenna is soon described. Both men reveal much of their characters in the brief exchange they have on the journey. Osbourne is keen to enlist Ross in his quest for a third church living. He already claims an allowance of money for two parishes, but his greed for clothes and the good things of life means that he would like another source of income. Ross has been elected to Parliament by a local nobleman’s interest, but he seeks to retain his independence. He promptly refuses to use his influence to help Osbourne’s quest, mainly because the curate of Sawle who does the work is so badly paid. There is a swift contrast with George Warleggan, self made man who uses his power and influence for his own purposes. Despite being married to Elizabeth and being undoubtedly rich, he is unhappy in his suspicions and loss of his seat in Parliament. He will go on to try and wipe out his commercial opposition, repeat his suspicions about Elizabeth, and unwittingly contribute to the greatest loss of his life. The feud with Ross will also dominate not only the lives of the two protagonists but so many others in the area. Ross is forced to reconsider their lives, until one character comments on life “And at this moment, now, we are alive …We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask.”
Compared with some of the books in this long series, this book is dramatic and full of incident. Most of the characters are true to the types established in the earlier books, and this book marks a natural ending to their stories for the time being. The next book will have much to do with the next generation, but this novel ties up many loose ends. Despite this there are characters going forward into a new century with all the challenges that will bring, of new technology, new battles and new people affected by old feuds. This is an important novel in the Poldark series and well worth reading.
I appreciate that this book review appears out of order with other books in the series, but when I picked up my copy I realised how significant it was in the series as a whole, and indeed how enjoyable it is. Many of the lines have great significance, especially at the end. It also makes a change from “Testament of Youth”! Many book reviews are to come.