Book Review

Book Review: The Poldark series by Winston Graham

The past is over, gone. What is to come doesn’t exist yet. That’s tomorrow! It’s only now that can ever be, at any moment. And at this moment, now, we are alive–and together. We can’t ask more. There isn’t any more to ask.

Over the past three months, my COVID-19 pandemic book of choice has been the Poldark series by Winston Graham. During this time I have read all 12 books in the series. (That’s one a week!)

First published in 1945 Poldark is most recently made popular by the BBC One television series starring Aidan Turner. OK, so Aidan’s brooding good looks might have been what led me to the series in the first place, and I do love an English period drama. Not surprisingly, the books are so much better because of the detail that just can’t be included in a television series.

Aidan

The saga commences in 1783 with Ross Poldark’s return from the American War of Independence and continues until 1820. Based in Cornwall, the books explore politics, war, English society, mining, the development of the steam engine, food and fashion. But what most captured my attention was the medical issues faced by the main characters and their neighbours.

Often told through the experiences of Dr Dwight Enys, an unconventional medical practitioner for his time in his avoidance of the use of leeches, the series covers a range of medical issues faced during the period. Of particular interest for me these past few months was the various diseases, their treatments and the impact on society.

…. Geoffrey Charles came home from Harrow, returning two weeks before the prescribed end of term because of an epidemic of scarlet fever at the school.

The Poldark family themselves we not immune to the suffering.

Julia was sick. She (Demelza) had been watching by her bed all night. Francis was sick too, and Elizabeth was sick if she would only admit it. There was a horrible taste of copper in her mouth. It was those herbs they were burning.

The impact on families and how they lived their lives; avoiding going to certain villages and towns that were known to have an epidemic, taking children to mix with others so they would catch certain diseases, was fascinating given what we are all experiencing now.

What struck me most was the thought that if I had read this just 12 months ago I would have thought of this experience as being in the dim distant past, not the reality we are all living now.

Caroline Peneven: Your cure is worse than my malady.

Dr Dwight Enys: We often use one fire to put out another.

Please don’t think the series is all about the various illnesses suffered by the people of Cornwall. It is so much more than that.

There is food and wine;

Food and drink were waiting for them: hot pasties, cakes and jellies, syllabubs and fruits, punch and wines, tea and coffee. People quickly settled down to place whist and backgammon and faro….

Fashion;

She was wearing a brocaded dress of crimson velvet, with broad ribbons round the waist and tiers of lace on the sleeves.

Politics;

‘Nothing of which detracts from Napoleon’s greatness,’ said George. ‘He bestrides the world like no other man. Our own politicians, our own generals, the petty kings and emperors who oppose him, are pygmies by comparison.’

And quite a bit of romance;

The greatest thing is to have someone who loves you and—and to love in return.

Poldark: Ross Poldark, Winston Graham, London, PanMacmillan, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4472-0725-2

 

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