Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, by Winston Graham – A Review

Ross Poldark A Novel of Cornwall, 1783 to1787 2015 x 200From the desk of Tracy Hickman:

Never having watched the original series on Masterpiece Theatre in the 1970s, I was unfamiliar with Ross Poldark and a little curious about the buzz surrounding the new BBC/PBS series starring Aidan Turner. I wondered whether there was more to Ross Poldark than his good looks. When Laurel Ann Nattress assured Austenprose readers that Ross was a hero every bit as worthy of their warm regard as Mr. Darcy, John Thornton or Mr. Rochester, I decided to read the first novel in Winston Graham’s saga and decide for myself.

Ross Poldark is subtitled “A Novel of Cornwall 1783-1787” and is strongly rooted in the geography, people, and events of the Cornish countryside. The wind and the sea figure as characters in their own right. In the book’s prologue, six months before Ross returns from fighting in America, his father Joshua is close to death.

He felt he would like one more look at the sea, which even now was licking at the rocks behind the house. He had no sentimental notions about the sea; he had no regard for its dangers or its beauties; to him it was a close acquaintance whose every virtue and failing, every smile and tantrum he had come to understand. (10)

Ross returns to find his inherited home at Nampara grossly neglected by gin-swilling servants Jud and Prudie Paynter and the tin mine on his father’s property shut down. Worse still his arrival coincides with the engagement of his cousin Francis to Elizabeth Chynoweth, the woman Ross has been in love with for years. With Elizabeth married to another man, Ross throws himself into repairing his house and tending to the concerns of his tenants. Impulsively he hires a rough young girl named Demelza Carne as kitchenmaid. Her feisty, independent spirit invigorates Poldark’s bleak existence as he struggles to rebuild his life.

The story provides plenty of action: brawls, a cockfight, a duel with pistols, and a shipwreck are among the highlights. But more surprising were the social and emotional aspects of the narrative. Early in the story, Graham portrays the grim life of the local working people:

It was the mine around which the varying fortunes of the main Poldark family centered. On its vagaries depended not merely the prosperity of Charles Poldark and his family but the subsistence level of some three hundred miners and their families scattered in huts and cottages about the parish. To them the mine was a benevolent Moloch to whom they fed their children at an early age and from whom they took their daily bread. (32)

Ross Poldark is a man of action, but also one of compassion, though he strives to hide his feelings from others. Unable to ignore suffering or injustice, he is often allied with the local laborers rather than the interests of his own people.

In two years Ross had seen little of his own family and class. What he had overheard in the library on the day of Geoffrey Charles’ christening had filled him with contempt for them… He was not as concerned as they about the return of Maria Fitzherbert from the Continent or the scandal of the queen of France’s necklace. There were families in the district without enough bread and potatoes to keep them alive, and he wanted the families to be given gifts in kind, so that the epidemics of December and January should not have such easy prey. (221)

He also takes a perverse pleasure in tweaking the noses of local gossips and busybodies. In these scenes, Graham’s dialog crackles.

“Ross, I know you are not uninterested in the sport. Perhaps you will instruct me in its finer points.”

Ross smiled back. “I feel convinced, ma’am, that there are no subtleties of combat on which I can offer you any useful advice.” (64)

Ross’s wit is matched, if not exceeded by Demelza’s. As loyal to Ross as she is to her beloved dog Garrick, she does not hesitate to cross swords with the wife of one of Ross’s wealthy neighbors.

“Oh yes,” agreed Demelza. “Ross is so kind he could charm the sourest of us into a show o’ manners.”

Ruth patted her arm. She had the opening she wanted. “I don’t think you are quite the best judge of that yet, my dear.”

Demelza looked at her and nodded. “No. Mebbe I should have said all but the sourest.” (368)

Some of the most memorable passages deal with insights into human nature that readers of Jane Austen will appreciate. Ross attends a funeral where the “beautiful” sermon preached describes a different man than the one who is to be buried that day. Ross’s cousin Verity chooses duty to her family over happiness with an “unsuitable” seafaring man, though she knows her choice will mean a bitter and regret-filled life. Married to Elizabeth, Francis Poldark suspects that his wife continues to have feelings for his cousin when the true rival for his wife’s affection is their infant son.

Ross Poldark is rich with memorable characters and vivid scenes of Cornwall life in the late 18th-century. I have touched on only a handful of my favorite passages from this exceptional work of historical fiction. I frequently highlighted and re-read the direct, expressive language; Winston Graham’s love of Cornwall infuses his writing. Just as we all have a favorite film or television adaptation of a Jane Austen work, many have praised the latest BBC production for being true to the Poldark novels. But if the hero is compelling on-screen, wait until you meet him on the pages of Ross Poldark.

5 out of 5 Stars

Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, 1783-1787, by Winston Graham
Sourcebooks Landmark (2015) reprint
Trade paperback and eBook (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1492622079

Amazon | Barnes & Nobel | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads


Cover image courtesy of Sourcebooks Landmark © 2015; text Tracy Hickman © 2015,

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

75 thoughts on “Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, by Winston Graham – A Review

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    1. My library didn’t have them either. :( Hopefully this new release by Sourcebooks will be picked up by some libraries.


    2. But there are libraries that do still have them–either bold copies or the new editions. Ask if your local library offers Interlibrary Loan service; your local library will borrow it from another library & have it shipped in.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I have been fascinated by the show and have the books on my TBR list. I love historical fiction, especially ones set in England. Your review was great as it intriques me even more to read the books but doesnt give away the plot. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it, Theresa. It was challenging to convey the drama of the story without giving away too many spoilers.


  2. I have watched several of the episodes on Masterpiece, but was unable to be consistent due to conflicts on our schedule. The review I just read helps to establish the plot in my understanding. Now I want to watch . . . and read! it also leaves me wanting to know and learn more about my own ancestors during that time period.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Anna, I hope you enjoy watching and reading as much as I have! I love learning about people and places from the past, too.


  3. I have been watching the series on Masterpiece and would love copies of the books. Looks like a great window into that time period!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed your review and comments about the characters, especially the Austenesque social tensions. Verity’s story in particular touched me and reminded me of Austen too–those tough choices! I also liked all the action–there is never a dull moment in Poldark land!

    Great review–thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Really enjoying all the stops on this tour! I’ve missed one or two. Will have to visit them too. Thanks for this awesome giveaway opportunity! Love your tweets, btw, especially during Downton Abbey watching season! :-)


    1. Yes, I must admit that I found that quality of his quite charming! And he gives the locals quite a bit to talk about!


  6. Thanks so much for this review! I do admit I’d never heard of Poldark till the new Masterpiece series premiered, but I have been loving it! It’s made me interested in going back and reading the books, and your review has inspired me more now. I love the excerpts you shared! :)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. My mother had loved Poldark on Masterpiece Theatre in the 70s, but I was never interested until after she passed away and I saw one of the books in a secondhand shop. I now have all the books and have seen the original series AND am watching the new series. Thanks for the post. I live in Canada but often use my sister’s address in Wisconsin for mail, but I guess I’m not eligible for the giveaway because of the residency restriction.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I’d never heard of Poldark until I saw PBS advertisements for it last year. I’ve only watched the first episode (it’s been a busy summer!!) but look forward to catching up later this month and beginning reading the series later in the fall. :)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I am sorry to have missed the original series but enjoying this one, even though it is moving very quickly. I plan to some day read the books but have a number on my kindle unread and have to complete the Outlander series before I start a long one like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tracy, thanks for your well-written review. I am reading “Ross Poldark, a novel of Cornwall” for the first time and am now over half way through. Almost all of the historical fiction I’ve read is by women and I’m finding Winston Graham’s style to be fresh and different. What popped into my head was Jane Austen’s description of her nephew’s writing: “…strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow”. I feel those words could also describe Winston Graham’s style.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Masterpiece Classic PBS has done it again – I am hooked. It is going to be a Poldark summer for me.
    I enjoyed your review Tracy. You inspired me to do a little research on Winston Graham. Surprised to learn he also wrote Marnie (1961), the Alfred Hitchcock thriller.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kathleen, finding out that Winston Graham was a prolific writer was a pleasant surprise for me as well. I’m planning to read several non-Poldark novels in the near future. I’m glad you enjoyed the review!


  12. My local library (Los Angeles) has the first three books, luckily, amd I inhaled them! I know it is cliched but I genuinely prefer the books to the new series. Except of course the books don’t have swimming Aidan Turner, so I can’t say they are that much better! But the books are well worth reading and I consider myself a fairly picky reader. Highly recommend!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heather, the books may not have Aidan Turner swimming about, but it’s quite lovely imagining him as Ross as you read. The best of both worlds!


  13. I just started using the hashtag #iamgoingtohavetostartreadingthis while live tweeting the TV series. This giveaway comes at a perfect time. Thanks for having it!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. A very insightful review, my sentiments exactly. I’m a hugh fan of Aidan’s so when I found out he was starring in this adaptation I sought the novels out. This was over a year ago so they were not easy to find. I got them at libraries, online and even found old copies at used bookstores and thrift stores! All 12 novels! They were well worth the effort, they’re addictive. You’re right, Ross is such a complex and rich character (as is Demelza)! I do feel that truly that Aidan is the perfect Ross (Eleanor is amazing also). A must read and a must see!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Enjoying the PBS series, and I just read the first book. The series covered a whole lot of story in the first four episodes! It was interesting to see how scenes are different from the book. Especially The Dress…

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Loving the series on PBS and would so like to read the books. Wonderful giveaway!

    Your blog is so wonderful. I’m instantly transported to Jane Austen’s world when I visit and it’s delightful!


  17. Loving this Poldark! Have read the first two books on my Kindle but would love to have printed copies! Thank you for the giveaway opportunity!


  18. POLDARK series by Winston Graham is interesting at best… What makes me want to try the series again is the PBS 2015 filming with Aidan Turner. The character Demelza is most fascinating in Graham’s description and dialogue. Will she be abandoned by Ross if his first love is free again?
    I completely am enchanted with Jane Austen’s books for their narrative of life passed, but the characters appeal so modern. What is funny-strange to me concerning Austen’s writing, PBS 1970’s series JEWEL IN THE CROWN, has a character wanting to go back to a quiet place, sit in a comfortable chair and read Jane Austen. I want to buy all of the different directors’ films of Austen’s work. What an escape to hear Elizabeth and her sister’s dialogue in PRIDE AND PREJUDICE. The Books and film are worth the study, after all two other favorite English writers-Tolkien and Lewis both admired Austen’s writings.
    So POLDARK and my share of (Austenitus-made up by me) historical romance really make me a hypocrite, since I usually only read non fiction…Perhaps the high school and junior college instructors are at fault for my rehashing old fiction reading. Also, the struggle for the heroine to be taken seriously is in every book in this set of authors. Thomas Hardy appears more of a modernist fiction writer-since female heroines act independently of social constrictions of the periods the novels present. Austen-emancipation by love??? Marriage???


  19. I’m obsessed with the the Masterpiece Series show. It is too late for me on Sundays, so my Monday evenings are happy as I can watch the recording. I would love to read the books and get more nuance into the characters thoughts.


  20. The show has me hooked–love Ross and Demelza! The books seem so good from what excerpts I’ve read! Thanks for posting this great giveaway opportunity!


  21. I’m just finishing Poldark now on my DVR and I don’t want it to end! I think the perfect remedy is to start reading the Saga! What a lovely giveaway -thank you so much for the opportunity!

    ruthannon at gmail dot com


  22. Masterpiece has outdone themselves with this series. I am glued to the TV watching and re watching Poldark.Can’t wait to read the books.


  23. my daughter & I love Sunday nights watching PBS, this show is amazing and we look forward to next season-it can’t come soon enough!


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