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September 23, 2015

Cornwall and Coal, Mining for Romance in the 18th Century

by Kathleen Barker

English: Wheal Prosper near Rinsey. Prosper wa...

Wallowing in 'tween-season of "Downton Abbey" and the aptly dubbed "Droughtlander", I stumbled across the PBS Masterpiece Theater gem,"Poldark".  Unlike the decadent binge-watching that usually follows my discovery of a long-overlooked television series, I was limited to a single season, since that's all that has been produced to date.

My compulsive tendencies, aided and abetted by Google, revealed that the series is based upon a treasure trove of novels by Winston Graham, first published in 1945.

Cover image from
The main character, Ross Poldark, was born in the 1700's.  His youth was rather unremarkable before he joined the British Army and spent several years fighting in colonial America.  Poldark finally returns home to Nampara in Cornwall, anxious to claim the beautiful young Lady Elizabeth Chynoweth.  Although not formally engaged before he left for his stint at soldiering, they had a youthful understanding that they would be so, upon his return.  Rumors of Ross's death as well as the actual death of his father, Charles, have preceded his return, and Poldark arrives to find his beloved engaged to his cousin.  His home at Nampara has been sorely neglected, overrun with the remaining livestock as well as two drunken servants.  With little money and even less hope, he sets out to repair and rebuild both his life and the remnants of his country property.

cover DemelzaWhile visiting the country market to purchase meager supplies, he comes across a lamentably dirty child being punched and kicked by a group of rowdy boys.  When no one intervenes, Ross steps forward and rescues her.  He takes her back to his home with the intention of returning her to her family in the morning, but she begs him to let her stay on as a kitchen maid.  The bruises and strap marks across her back bear testimony to her father's abuse, so Ross agrees with reluctance.  Gossip and rumors fly about as young Demelza stays on, gaining the novelty of enough to eat and new clothing sans beatings.  As she blossoms into a young woman, her gratitude develops into a desperate desire for Ross's affection, despite their difference in class.

Torn between his lingering desire for the gentile Elizabeth and the fiery Demelza, Ross finds himself at a crossroad as he works to revitalize his family's old, closed copper mine.  Should he follow the manners and conventions of polite society of the 18th century or seek the happiness that may ostracize him from everyone he knows?

Top image: English: Wheal Prosper near Rinsey. Prosper was a common name for Cornish Mines. This one worked only in the 1860s. It gained rather more fame in the 20th century when it was used as a set for the television programme "Poldark". (Photo credit: Wikipedia). 
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