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For other uses, see Poldark (disambiguation).
Ross Poldark first edition
(Ward Lock & Co)

Poldark is a series of historical novels by Winston Graham, published from 1945 to 1953 and continued from 1973 to 2002. The series comprises 12 novels: the first seven are set in the 18th century, concluding in Christmas 1799; the remaining five are concerned with the early years of the 19th century and the lives of the descendants of the previous novels' main characters. Graham wrote the first four Poldark books during the 1940s and 1950s. Following a long hiatus, he decided to resume the series and published The Black Moon in 1973.

The main character, Ross Poldark, is a British Army officer who returns to his home in Cornwall from the American Revolutionary War only to find that his fiancée Elizabeth Chynoweth believed him dead and is about to marry his cousin Francis Poldark. Ross attempts to restore his own fortunes by reopening one of the family's derelict tin mines. After several years, he marries Demelza Carne, a poor servant girl, and is gradually reconciled to the loss of Elizabeth's love.

The BBC has adapted the series for television twice: Poldark, which aired in 1975 and 1977, and a new version, Poldark, which premiered in 2015.

The Poldark novels[edit]

All of the novels are subtitled A Novel of Cornwall.[1] In a preface to The Black Moon, Graham explained his decision to revive the series after a two-decade hiatus.[citation needed]

Sequence Title Years Included First Published
1 Ross Poldark 1783–87 1945
2 Demelza 1788–90 1946[2]
3 Jeremy Poldark 1790–91 1950[2]
4 Warleggan 1792–93 1953
5 The Black Moon 1794–95 1973
6 The Four Swans 1795–97 1976
7 The Angry Tide 1798–99 1977
8 The Stranger from the Sea 1810–11 1981
9 The Miller's Dance 1812–13 1982
10 The Loving Cup 1813–15 1984
11 The Twisted Sword 1815 1990
12 Bella Poldark 1818–20 2002

Main characters[edit]

Ross Poldark[edit]

Ross Poldark is the protagonist of the series. In his autobiography, Graham states that the character of Ross was, in part, based upon a fighter pilot he met on a train during World War II. In the first novel in the series, Ross Poldark, he returns home from the American Revolutionary War only to learn that his fiancée, Elizabeth, has given him up for dead and promised to marry his cousin, Francis. Life becomes bleak for Ross. A brooding and introspective character, he assumes his late father's estate, which includes a failing copper mine. Having lost Elizabeth to Francis, he marries Demelza, the girl he originally hired as his scullery maid, and they soon have a baby called Julia. Over the next 20 years, four more children follow: Jeremy, Clowance, Isabella-Rose and Henry.

Demelza Poldark, née Carne[edit]

Taken home from Redruth Fair by Ross, miner's daughter Demelza and her dog Garrick have an unpromising start. However, she soon develops into a charming, amusing, and lovely young woman, eventually winning the affection of Ross. Dark and earthy, she is the total opposite of the fragile Elizabeth. The two women are wary but polite towards each other. Demelza shows courage and fierce loyalty to Ross, but she is somewhat impulsive, causing trouble for both of them.

Dwight Enys[edit]

A young doctor who arrives in Cornwall after training in London. He strikes up a firm friendship with Ross, which proves to be strong and enduring. He is a very conscientious doctor, and generous, often not charging his poorest patients for his services. He becomes involved with a young miner's wife, with tragic results. He eventually marries a young heiress, Caroline Penvenen.

Caroline Enys, née Penvenen[edit]

Caroline is an orphan, taken in and raised by her rich uncle Ray. Strong-willed and independent, she begins a romance with Dwight Enys against her uncle's wishes, culminating in a disastrous plan to elope. They eventually marry several years later after Dwight is rescued from a prison camp in France. Caroline and Dwight's first daughter, Sarah, has a congenital heart defect and dies in infancy. They go on to have two more daughters, named Sophie and Meliora.

Elizabeth (Poldark) Warleggan, née Chynoweth[edit]

She was Ross Poldark's first love and he was probably hers, but thinking him dead in America, she marries Ross's cousin Francis. Elizabeth is delicate and beautiful. She tries to be a good wife to Francis but has to watch her marriage fail due to Francis's alcoholism, insecurity and unfaithfulness. After Francis's death Elizabeth struggles with poverty and loneliness. She thus accepts the proposal of George Warleggan.

George Warleggan[edit]

Ross's archenemy George is one of a new class of industrialists and bankers. Although regarded as an upstart by the aristocracy, through ruthlessness and cunning, he becomes increasingly powerful. Always impeccably dressed and elegantly behaved, he constantly schemes to increase his own wealth at the expense of others, including the Poldarks. He becomes enamored of Elizabeth, eventually marrying her after she is widowed by Francis' death.

Francis Poldark[edit]

Ross's cousin Francis has a tendency to be flippant, but his feelings are strong and he can be very obstinate. The two cousins were friends as boys, but their relationship is tested severely when Francis marries Elizabeth, which has lasting repercussions for them all.

Verity Blamey, née Poldark[edit]

Francis's sister and Ross's cousin, Verity is described as plain, with fluffy hair and a mobile mouth. She has been a dutiful unmarried daughter who looks after the affairs of her father, Charles Poldark, and his estate. She meets and falls in love with Andrew Blamey, a sea captain. Unfortunately he has a terrible secret that is soon revealed, and she seems to lose her chance of happiness.

The Reverend Osborne Whitworth[edit]

Osborne Whitworth appears briefly in the first Poldark series of novels, but comes to be featured prominently in the second series when he marries Morwenna Chynoweth. Whitworth's main preoccupations are money and women. He is loud and arrogant, and delivers sermons that do more to intimidate his parishioners than to inspire them. When deprived of his wife's sexual companionship during her pregnancy, he begins an affair with her fifteen-year-old sister, Rowella, which proves to be his undoing.

Themes in the novels[edit]

Love lost and found[edit]

Ross Poldark never really recovers from losing Elizabeth while away in America, although he finds himself liking her less over the years. Elizabeth eventually grows to almost dislike Ross. The prominent scar running down his face, caused by a wound suffered in the American war, is emblematic of how his going to America, and thereby losing Elizabeth, has scarred him for life.

Elizabeth admits to Ross years later that she made the wrong choice when she married Francis. Their suppressed mutual attraction continues over the years. When Francis dies, the widowed Elizabeth promises to marry George Warleggan, which leads to an action by Ross that triggers a sequence of events that will ultimately destroy her.

By contrast, Demelza is never less than sure about her feelings for Ross, even when his own impulsive actions test her loyalties to the limit. She develops feelings for another man later in the sixth novel, and this relationship almost destroys what she has with Ross. Verity and Andrew are brought together by Demelza after a long separation, though Ross must pay dearly for that happy ending.

The theme of enduring love is a recurrent one throughout the novels. Demelza's brother Drake endures a tragic love affair with Elizabeth's cousin Morwenna (which, after incredible misery, culminates in marriage). Dwight and Caroline separate because of a misunderstanding, but find each other when Dwight is near death after being imprisoned in France. They separate again several times during the course of the series but always find each other again.


The rivalry between George and Ross is a recurring theme throughout the entire series of novels. The two men can be seen as opposites; and it is not just a case of good versus evil. Ross is a landowner with an ancient name; even in penury he associates easily with the aristocracy. Indeed, on one occasion he is asked to give advice to the future King George IV on the progress of the war. He has a strong moral code and a philanthropic tendency, helping his poorer neighbours and employees, earning the respect and affection of members of the local community. However Ross has a wild and lawless side, and he often finds himself performing criminal acts, breaking and entering being one of his favourites. He also tends to drink too much alcohol.

By comparison, George is almost abstinent; he wants to stay in control. More than money, George is driven by power. He has the ability to ruin people; and at one point he would have bankrupted Ross and Demelza, were it not for the assistance they receive from a mysterious friend (whose identity is revealed later). George is very sensitive about his origins, being the grandson of an illiterate blacksmith. On more than one occasion Ross and George have an altercation, and their feuding extends to their children, particularly the unlucky Valentine (whose parentage is often questioned).

Class struggle[edit]

Much of the drama is about the friction between the wealthy upper classes and the working poor. The revolutions in America and France cause the British working classes to question their extreme poverty, and the aristocracy to fear the loss of their wealth and privilege. England is struggling to recover from recent unsuccessful wars of empire, and economic conditions foster food riots, smuggling, poaching, and child labour among the miners. In sharp contrast, the author details the hours-long, lavish meals considered normal among the wealthy.

Ross is often more comfortable with his impoverished tenants and employees than he is among his aristocratic peers. The two women he loves, Demelza and Elizabeth, symbolize the differences between the social classes from which they come. George Warleggan rises from humble roots to become wealthy and powerful, and he resents Ross for caring so little for the class privilege into which he was born.

Comic element[edit]

To a large extent, comic touches are added by Ross Poldark's irascible old servant, Jud Paynter. Lazy, shifty and frequently drunk, he and his awful common-law "wife" Prudie are comic perennials. Jud speaks in an almost incomprehensible Cornish dialect, using certain phrases repeatedly (for instance "ted'n right, ted'n proper"). He is an old rogue who Ross should have dismissed years ago but cannot bring himself to do so (although he does eventually). Another comic element is often provided by the exchanges between the young Demelza and her teacher/husband Ross.

In the first five books, elderly relative Aunt Agatha lives at Trenwith, the home of Francis Poldark. As she is almost completely deaf, she often commits faux pas by commenting rudely about people while within their hearing. She does this repeatedly regarding George Warleggan, to the extent that it may be deliberate.

Television adaptations of the novels[edit]

  • The BBC adapted the first seven books of the novel sequence as Poldark, a television series first broadcast in 1975 and again in 1977. Robin Ellis portrayed Ross and Angharad Rees was featured as Demelza.
  • In 1996, HTV produced a pilot episode of The Stranger from the Sea which became a controversial adaptation with fans, using a new cast featuring John Bowe as Ross Poldark and Mel Martin as Demelza. Fans protested, and over 50 members of the Poldark Appreciation Society picketed HTV's headquarters in Bristol wearing 18th century costumes.[3] The pilot was unsuccessful, and no further episodes were made.[citation needed]
  • The BBC broadcast a new adaptation of the novels in 2015, again titled Poldark, with Aidan Turner in the title role and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza.[4] Like the original 1975 BBC adaptation, this new series has been taken up by the PBS network for broadcast in the United States.

People who inspired the characters[edit]

  • Graham mentions in his autobiography Memoirs of a Private Man that the character of Demelza is based on his own Cornish wife Jeann, at least in part.[5]
  • Graham states in Poldark's Cornwall that the first real-life child named Demelza (after his character) was the daughter of British writer Denys Val Baker.
  • In Poldark's Cornwall, Graham reveals that the name "Poldark" is a product of his imagination. He initially named the character after his friend, a chemist named Polgreen. However, Polgreen did not sound strong or mysterious enough for the character, so Graham changed Polgreen to Poldark.[citation needed]
  • Ross Poldark's physical characteristics are based upon those of an injured flying officer whom Graham met on a train during the Second World War.[citation needed]

Allusions to historical events[edit]

Graham's novels were researched minutely, and many of the events of the books were factual.[citation needed] Examples based on fact include:

Publication history[edit]

  • The first novel Ross Poldark, was published in the UK in 1945. Upon re-publication in the US in 1951, it was retitled The Renegade, and significantly shortened by approximately 12%, with most editions since then using the shorter, revised text.[6]
  • The second novel, Demelza, was published in the UK in 1946. Upon re-publication in the US in 1953, it was also significantly shortened, by approximately 14%, with most editions since then using the shorter text.[7]


  1. ^ "Poldark Novels". Cornwall Calling. 
  2. ^ a b Jack Adrian Obituary: Winston Graham,[dead link] The Independent, 11 July 2003
  3. ^ "Obituary: Winston Graham". Daily Telegraph. 11 July 2003. 
  4. ^ "BBC One announces Aidan Turner to star as Poldark in new series". BBC Media Centre. 28 February 2014. 
  5. ^ Graham, Winston (1 October 2004). Memoirs of a Private Man. Macmillan UK (first published 1 September 2003). ISBN 9781405033749. 
  6. ^ "In Profile ~ A Winston Graham Reader". Yolasite.com. 
  7. ^ "In Profile ~ A Winston Graham Reader". Yolasite.com. 

External links[edit]