Day 1033: The Miller’s Dance

Cover for The Miller's DanceThe Miller’s Dance is the ninth Poldark novel in a series of 12. Perhaps 12 books is too many for a series, or perhaps the shift of focus more to the activities of Ross and Demelza’s children is a problem for me. I just feel a winding down of interest fighting with the feeling that, having read so far, I should finish the series.

It is 1812, so there are important historical events on the horizon, but they only receive a modicum of attention. Instead, we are focused on the love affairs of the two oldest Poldark children, Jeremy and Clowance.

In the last book, Jeremy proposed to Cubie Trevanion and was not accepted. He assumed it was because his lineage wasn’t good enough, but when he confronts her brother, he finds that what he needs is money.

Jeremy doesn’t have money, although he seems to have a future as an engineer. The person who has money is George Warleggan, and he sets about arranging a marriage between Cubie and his son Valentine.

Clowance betroths herself to Stephen Carrington, who for my money is not to be trusted for a minute. Ross and Demelza do not interfere but insist on a long engagement.

Although the novel contains brief accounts of the wars in Europe and with America, as I said before, it concentrates on Jeremy and Clowance. They are not the vivid characters their parents make, and I’m not that interested in their romances or in Jeremy’s steam engines, which we hear about in great detail. Three more books to go, but I probably wouldn’t read them if I didn’t want to know what happens to the family and if I hadn’t already bought the books.

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Day 1014: The Stranger from the Sea

Cover for Stranger from the SeaThis eighth Poldark novel begins in 1810, ten or eleven years after the last one. Ross and Demelza’s oldest two children are a young man and woman, and to some extent the novel focuses on their futures.

The Stranger from the Sea begins with George III descending yet again into madness. This situation creates a problem for the country. Wellington is recently in charge of the British army in the Peninsular wars, but the Tories fear that if George’s son is made regent, the Whigs will come into power and make peace with France. Some of Ross’s friends in Parliament ask him to go to Portugal and observe Wellington.

While Ross is away, his son Jeremy pulls a drowning man from the sea. This man is Stephen Carrington, who first says that his own ship went under in a storm but later admits to being a common sailor. Demelza is not altogether sure he can be trusted. Unfortunately, her daughter Clemence is greatly attracted to him.

On an expediction to reclaim the lugger Carrington says is his prize, Jeremy runs afoul of revenue officers and is hidden by the intervention of Cuby Trevanion. Jeremy is smitten, but her family makes it clear that he is not worthy enough.

George Warleggan has also been smitten, 10 years after the death of his wife, Elizabeth. The woman who has attracted him is a widow, Lady Harriet Carter. Although she herself is impoverished by her husband’s debts, she comes from a much higher social strata than George, so he makes some risky investments in an attempt to impress her brother.

Ross and Demelza are still very present in this novel, but the focus seems to be moving to their children. Since we don’t know them well yet, this novel feels transitional. Still, I was interested as ever to see how things would work out.

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Day 991: The Angry Tide

angry-tideAt the beginning of The Angry Tide, the seventh novel in the Poldark saga, Ross Poldark is taking his place for his first term in Parliament. George Warleggan is so jealous about what he sees as having his seat stolen that he is buying property so that he can represent a pocket borough, a borough with few or no inhabitants. What is more serious to Ross, though, is that the Warleggans are again plotting to bring down Pascoe’s bank.

When the threat comes to Pascoes, Demelza is left to deal with it, as Ross is away in London. She does what she thinks Ross would do, which is to try to support Ross’s friend Pascoe.

While the Poldark’s marriage is still shadowed by Ross’s knowledge that Demelza was unfaithful to him, the Warleggans are getting along better. George has finally accepted the idea that Valentine is his own child.

Poor Morwenna Whitworth feels herself to be close to losing her mind. Although her husband Ossie has been told that having another child could kill Morwenna, he begins insisting on his marital rights again. But twice a week isn’t enough for him, so he begins a dangerous liaison. Soon, he gets what he deserves.

This novel is another worthy continuation of the Poldark series. Although I don’t always like the directions Graham takes, the story is always interesting.

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Day 973: The Lie

Cover for The LieBest Book of the Week!
Helen Dunmore has this thing she does. I’ll be reading along, moderately interested, and then at the end of the novel she’ll do something that makes me realize the novel is much better than I first supposed. She does this again with The Lie.

Daniel Branwell has returned to his home town in Cornwall from World War I. A dying old lady took him in when he arrived home, and he cared for her until her death. He doesn’t want to mix much with other people, though. He is traumatized from the war and particularly by the death of his friend Frederick, who is haunting him.

As Daniel struggles to make a living, his memories alternate between those of the war and of his childhood friendship with Frederick. Although Daniel was bright and did well in class with an eidetic memory for poetry, he was forced to drop out of school at the age of 11. Frederick, as the son of a wealthy man, was being prepared for better things. Still, even as young men, when Frederick was home they were nearly inseparable.

Daniel meets Frederick’s sister Felicia, now a widow with a young daughter. Their mutual grief brings them together, and they begin spending time with each other, he helping her around the house or both of them visiting the sites of his adventures with Frederick.

But Daniel has told a lie about something. Because of it, he is aware he’s being misunderstood by the village.

This is a powerful novel that I may not have looked for were it not for my Walter Scott Prize project. Although I have not enjoyed all of the short listed books, this one sneaked up on me.

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Day 971: Basil

Cover for BasilSuch a deal. Last spring I purchased the collected works of several writers from Delphi Classics in e-book form. I made my choices from authors whose works I thought may not all be available in hardcover, which I prefer. Wilkie Collins was one of them, although I already own copies of several of his novels.

I also decided to tackle these works in the order in which they appear in each collection, which is often in order of publication. That may not have been the best idea, because in some cases, although not all, it subjects me first to the novels that are, shall we say, less polished. In the case of Collins, I found his first novel, Antonina, unreadable. It is his only historical novel, set in Roman times, and it features turgid prose and overblown pseudo-archaic dialogue.

Basil is his second novel, and here he gets right into the sensationalist fiction for which he was known. The first thing I want to say about it is that usually I try not to judge an older book by modern standards, especially in regard to customs or mores. But I am going to have to address this subject a bit later on. First, I’ll tell you what the book is about.

Basil is the younger son of a very proud, wealthy upper-class man. Basil has always striven to please rather than to disappoint his father, unlike his older brother. But one day Basil decides on a whim to take an omnibus home. Such daring! On the bus, he sees a beautiful young woman and falls madly in love with her. To his dismay, he learns she is the daughter of a linen draper named Sherwin. Even though Basil knows his father will never approve, he enters into a secret marriage with Margaret. However, he agrees with her father’s demand that he live apart from her for a year, never to see her alone during that time.

Although any child could see through the cupidity behind this demand and understand that it was suspicious, Basil goes through with it. He marries Margaret when he has known her about a week and spoken to her only a handful of times.

Already, before the plot even thickened, I was close to putting the book down. I don’t like femme fatale plots, and it was clear this was going to be one. Collins does not even attempt to fool us that this is going to come out well, because Basil says at the beginning that he is writing the manuscript while living alone and in disgrace.

But here is where I might be judging the book based on modern ethos. What occurs between Margaret and Basil gives me the creeps. He follows her home from the bus and bribes her servant to tell him when she is going out. He ambushes her on her walk. Then after one conversation, he arranges the marriage with her father. If you’re thinking that marriages at that time were all arranged, it is clear by Mr. Sherwin’s reaction that this was a very unusual situation. That he leaps to take advantage only shows his greed. Basically, I had a hard time not thinking of Basil as a stalker, when I believe we’re supposed to be impressed by his virtue in offering marriage rather than something else. A stalker and an idiot.

Then Mr. Mannion returns and things get a little more interesting. Mr. Mannion is Mr. Sherwin’s confidential secretary, who has been doing business for him in France. Mr. Mannion is described as a handsome man with a wooden face. He seems to be a person originally from a higher class. It is clear to the reader that something is going on among Mannion, Margaret, and Mrs. Sherwin that Basil doesn’t notice.

The novel becomes darker and more complicated than I anticipated. Does this save it? Well, it kept me reading, but no, not really. Collins hasn’t yet figured out how to structure a narrative. He includes pages of fretting that are supposed to make us sympathize with Basil but instead are annoying. For example, after the main action ends in the wilds of Cornwall, he includes several letters. This technique allows him a bit of a cliffhanger (in more ways than one) while also leaving room to tie up loose ends. But the last three or four pages are almost entirely unnecessary, and they seem to go on and on.

My conclusion? Read some Wilkie Collins but not this one.

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Day 970: The Four Swans

Cover for The Four SwansThe sixth book in the Poldark series finds George Warleggan unable to dismiss the allegations that Aunt Agatha made about his son Valentine’s parentage before she died. He has been treating the baby Valentine with some distance and has been having Elizabeth followed. But he finds no evidence in support of his suspicions.

Ross Poldark has been offered a seat in Parliament, but he refuses to run, thinking that such a job will not suit his disposition. He is not happy to learn, however, that George Warleggan gets the position instead.

Demelza hears of a meeting between Ross and Elizabeth Warleggan, so she fears that Ross may be seeing Elizabeth again. When a young naval officer that Ross rescued from prison in France is attracted to her, Demelza is in the mood to pay him more heed than she ordinarily would be.

The economy is shaky during the wars with France. At first, the French seem to be foundering, but then everyone begins hearing of the victories of a new general, Bonaparte. Ross becomes impatient of having no more role to play than as leader of a group of Volunteers.

With the latest two novels, the scope is branching out to include more characters. This novel goes into the fate of Elizabeth’s cousin, Morwenna, who George Warleggan forced into an unhappy marriage when she fell in love with Demelza’s brother, Drake Carne. Morwenna’s repellent husband, Reverend Osborne Whitworth, has used the excuse of Morwenna’s illness after the birth of her child to molest her younger sister Rowella, who is the children’s nursemaid. We also hear more about the difficulties of the Carne brothers.

After six books, this series has not palled. From a mildly interesting start, it gets more and more compelling as it goes on. I have already bought the other six novels in the series.

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Day 956: The Black Moon

Cover for The Black MoonThe Black Moon is the fifth book in Winston Graham’s Poldark Saga. It is now 1794.

Ross and Demelza Poldark have weathered the difficulties of their marital breach, and the result is that Demelza is again pregnant. The feud between Ross and George Warleggan has been in abeyance, but in this novel George shows that he is even more of a villain.

The difficulty begins with a friendship. George Warleggan thinks that Geoffrey Charles Poldark, his stepson, is spoiled from spending too much time with his mother. He wants to send Geoffrey Charles to school or failing that, get him a tutor, but he compromises with Elizabeth by allowing her to hire her cousin, Morwenna Chynoweth, as Geoffrey Charles’s governess. While Geoffrey Charles and Morwenna are out on the beach, they meet Drake Carne, one of two of Demelza’s brothers who have come to the area looking for work.

Although there is quite a distance in their stations, Drake being the son of a miner and Morwenna the daughter of a vicar, Drake and Morwenna’s friendship gradually turns to love. Morwenna has no idea that George has been plotting an advantageous marriage for her—at least one that allies him with an established family of the area.

In the meantime, others are interested in the news from France. Ross hears that Dwight Enys’s ship has been sunk after a naval battle. He goes to some trouble to find out if Dwight is alive, both for his own sake and that of Dwight’s fiancée, Caroline Penvenen. Eventually, Dwight’s plight leads Ross into an even more hazardous venture.

Some foreshadowing of future events, possibly, comes with the birth of George Warleggan’s son Valentine. He is born under a black moon (an eclipse), which the local people believe is an ill omen. And perhaps there are small indications that he will not be a normal child. I don’t know, but I am interested to find out.

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