Book review: Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham

Jeremy Poldark byWinston Graham
Jeremy Poldark byWinston Graham
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As the BBC’s lavish production of Poldark hits our screens for the much-anticipated new series, why not enjoy a second helping of this dazzling Cornish drama by reading the original novels?

Jeremy Poldark and Warleggan, published in paperback by Pan to tie in with the sizzling TV production, are the third and fourth novels of Winston Graham’s groundbreaking 12-book series which began in 1945 and ended in the 1970s. The first seven books were adapted by the BBC in a series broadcast between 1975 and 1977.

Graham, who died in 2003, was the author of more than forty novels, including Marnie, a nail-biting psychological thriller which was brought to the big screen by Alfred Hitchcock in 1964.

But it was the gripping and romantic Poldark family series, set in the rugged wilds of Cornwall in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, which won him acclaim and fame across the world.

It was a time of huge social change as revolutions in America and France caused the British working classes to question their extreme poverty, and the aristocracy to fear the loss of their wealth and privilege.

The first two books in the series, also available from Pan, introduced us to British Army officer Ross Poldark who returned to his land and his family in Cornwall in 1783 after fighting in the American Revolution. But the joyful homecoming he had anticipated turned sour when he discovered that Elizabeth Chynoweth, the woman he hoped to marry, was to wed his cousin Francis Poldark.

Ross’s father died while he was away and the property he inherited had been allowed to deteriorate. But his sympathy for the destitute miners and farmers of the district led him to rescue Demelza Carne, a half-starved urchin girl, and marry her. However, turbulent events have tested both their marriage and their love.

In the newly published third book, Jeremy Poldark, set in Cornwall in 1790, Ross Poldark faces the darkest hour of his life. Accused of wrecking two ships, he is to stand trial at the Bodmin Assizes.

Despite their stormy married life, Demelza has tried to rally support for her husband. But there are enemies aplenty who would be happy to see Ross convicted, not least George Warleggan, the powerful banker, whose personal rivalry with Ross grows ever more intense.

Warleggan, the fourth book of Graham’s remarkable series, picks up the story in 1792 as Ross plunges into a highly speculative mining venture which threatens not only his family’s financial security but also his turbulent marriage to Demelza.

When Ross and Elizabeth’s old attraction rekindles itself, Demelza retaliates by becoming dangerously involved with a handsome Scottish cavalry officer. With bankruptcy an increasingly real possibility, the Poldarks seem to be facing disaster on all fronts.

Steeped in humour, romance, passion, tragedy and the stunning Cornish landscape, the Poldark books are as exciting and fresh as they are timeless and memorable. The perfect accompaniment to the thrilling TV series!

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)