Poldark, Episode Five: A baby changes everything

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Unlike most period dramas (or most TV shows, period), “Poldark” got the hero married off very early.  By the end of the third episode, Ross and Demelza were already at the altar.  This flies right in the face of the classic will-they-or-won’t-they tension that usually keeps viewers tuning in week after week.  Think of how long it took Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley to end up together, or Elizabeth and Darcy, or Sam Malone and Diane Chambers (I guess that last one shows my age).

So it says something that the story of Poldark ends up being so gripping even though the romantic leads have already gotten hitched.  Part of this is due to the little hints that maybe Ross still sees Elizabeth in a fond light, which makes me wonder where, if anywhere, these not-quite-buried feelings will go (I’ve read the first three novels in the series but I have no idea what happens after that).  I will say that if he does ANYthing to disrespect Demelza, he will suffer a swiftly dramatic fall from grace in my eyes that will make Francis’ steep downward plunge look like kids’ stuff.   Not even your great hair will save you, Ross!  You have been warned.

More thoughts:

*Aww, little baby fingers and toes!  I love seeing Demelza slip into a new mom-role and I adored the conversation she and Ross had at the end, where he talks about how everything bad that happens around them seems even worse now that he has a child.  Parenthood does that.

Also, how adorable was it when he had baby Julia in a sling and was walking along the cliffs with her? Forget the scything scene,  it’s moments like these that make  women melt.  Throw in a golden retriever and no woman on earth would be immune.

*It cracked me up when Demelza’s dad, who has apparently Found Religion, comes in and starts dissing Mean Girl Ruth for having such a low-cut neckline.  What a very satisfying taste of her own rude medicine.  And I love how she had to poke her husband to make him say, “Sir, I’m offended!”, which he did in a most unconvincing fashion.  Ha ha ha!

*Francis, Francis: did anyone ever tell you that gambling is a really  bad idea?  Giving jewelry to prostitutes is not such a good move either.   Alienating your wife won’t end well.  At least you got to show off your Latin by writing a classy epitaph on your mine.  And I love how Demelza asked Ross what “Resurgam” meant, because while I was pretty sure I knew, it was good to get confirmation.  (True confession: I don’t actually know Latin.  I am Catholic, which means I am good at faking it.)

*Can I get girly  for a moment and say that I really love all the curls these ladies have?

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I always wanted hair that curls like this.  And I guess Demelza’s lice never returned after Episode One.  That’s a good thing, because with Poldark’s flowing locks, he would be very vulnerable.

He's just asking for crawlers.

He’s just asking for crawlers.

*Speaking of hair: if we know George is bad because of his ugly ‘do, this new Matthew Sansome guy (the one who played Francis at cards and cleaned his clock) must be Satan in a waistcoat.  I have never seen such weirdly unattractive hair on a man.  Let’s all keep him on our radar.

*So Demelza manages to get Verity and her guy back together!  (or so it seems). I think the moral of the story is that if a girl does not want to get together with you, hire some rioting miners to thunder towards her, and then pull her dramatically  out of harm’s way.  You will a) look like a totally awesome manly hero and b) be able to say your piece without her running off.  A few minutes should do it.

Do you think Demelza was right to try to get them back together?  Would you have done the same, or left it alone?  And aren’t you excited for next week?

Mom-thought for the day

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Poldark, Episode Four: Demelza, the female Tom Branson

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We’re now at the halfway mark in this season of eight episodes.  And a lot has happened, hasn’t it?  But even though every episode prior to this one has been a rollercoaster of action,  Episode Four was really focused on one theme: How To Win Friends and Not Be Utterly Terrified When You Marry Above Your Social Class.

In the novel, right after Demelza and Ross are married, the narrator says this:

[Ross] realized with a sense of half-bitter amusement that this marriage would finally damn him in the eyes of his own class.  For while the man who slept with his kitchenmaid only aroused sly gossip, the man who married her made himself personally unacceptable in their sight.

I think we can all agree that’s pretty messed up.  Yay for Ross for swimming against the current!

Different show, same problem.

Different show, same problem.

I can’t help seeing parallels between Demelza and   Tom Branson of Downton Abbey.  Both married above their station.  As a result, both had to navigate the tricky, shark-and-snark-infested waters of the rich snobby types, who don’t take kindly to having young upstarts infiltrate their circle, even if said upstarts have hearts of gold.

So whose situation was tougher, Tom’s or Demelza’s?  It’s an intriguing question. Here are my thoughts, because it’s summer vacation and I don’t have to teach tomorrow, which means I have time to ponder these extremely important topics.

*On the one hand, a woman marrying above her social class was probably far more common (relatively speaking) than a man doing the same.  Maybe this is due to power dynamics between men and women, or the fact that it would have been emasculating for men to marry someone wealthier than they are, etc.  So in that sense, there is a bit more of a precedent to Demelza’s relationship than Tom’s.  She’s living the Cinderella story, after all (did they have the Cinderella story in 18th century Cornwall?).

On the other hand, women are always WAY harder on other women than they are on men.  I think we had Exhibit A of that with poisonous debutante Ruth,  who couldn’t help making barbed comments to Demelza across the festive dinner table.  Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a Mean Girl shooting daggers at you with her eyes.  And Demelza now has to go to tea and balls with these people!

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Demelza, we feel your pain.

Or not.  I liked the conversation between Ross and George, where Ross basically says that he’s indifferent to social convention; I guess we don’t have to expect him to be making Demelza endure all the visits and calls and things that would be expected of a lady of the time.  (By the way, have you noticed that Ross always seems to have the same expression when George is trying to bait him?  It’s a quizzical yet knowing little smile, as if to say I see exactly what you’re trying to do here and why do you care so much about trying to rattle me?  I like it.)

More thoughts:

*Elizabeth does not have an enviable situation.  Francis continues plummeting as swiftly as a stone dropped off a Cornish cliff, and now Ross is married, which probably hurts a lot.  I think it was one of the Bridget Jones novels where the narrator said that ex-boyfriends should never marry; they should remain forever single so as to provide us with a mental fallback position. Elizabeth does not have that with Ross anymore.  At least she has the baby, and her purple lipstick, and that blue dress she wore at the end which was really very lovely.  And she has the satisfaction of knowing she was honestly kind to Demelza.  Catgirl Ruth should take a page from her book.

*Mid-plummet, Francis surprised me by saying something sort of wise.  Looking at their wives talking, Francis says to Ross , “We envy a man for something he has.  Yet the truth may be he hasn’t got it after all, and we have.”  I’m not entirely sure what he was referring to there — is he thinking that maybe he doesn’t need to fear the Ross/Elizabeth connection anymore, now that Ross is apparently happily married?  I don’t actually know.  I just know it sounded very profound, which is not a trait I have come to associate with Francis.

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Let’s give this lady something to smile about.

*Verity: she’s a jewel.  Truly.  I loved the conversation between her and Demelza, where Verity talks about how glad she is that Demelza and Ross are married.  (Also loved the quick little shocked look on her face when Demelza alluded to sex — that was priceless.)  That girl deserves love in her life!  Bring the captain back and don’t tell Francis!  (and hide the pistols just in case).

*I was wondering if there would be a little line in the credits: “No Fish Were Harmed in the Making of this Epsiode.”  That looked like a LOT of fish.  Glad the miners won’t be starving this winter.  And the scene where they go out in boats for the pilchards is one of my favorite scenes in the novel; it’s beautifully-written and becomes a turning point in the Ross/Demelza marriage.

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*Speaking of the marriage, what’s fascinating about these two is that so much of what normally happens before you get married (like saying you love each other) happens AFTER they get married.  There is still much for each of them to discover about the other.  It’s a pretty unconventional relationship, which keeps it so interesting.

* And copper is king!

Your thoughts?

My great-grandmother’s poems

My great-grandmother, far right, with her children, 1944.  Left to right: Baxter (my grandfather); Walt; Bob; Helen; Carol Ann.

My great-grandmother (far right)  with her children, 1944. Left to right: Baxter (my grandfather); Walt; Bob; Helen; Carol Ann.

In her 1929 essay “Women and Fiction,” author Virginia Woolf observed that   “Often nothing tangible remains of a woman’s day.  The food that has been cooked is  eaten; the children that have been nursed have gone out into the world … [A woman's] life has an anonymous character which is baffling and puzzling in the extreme.”

It is certainly true that history tends to be written by and about men.  They have traditionally done the kinds of things that get written down for the ages … and the same, alas, has not always been true of women.

But some women leave behind written records of themselves.  I suppose blogging is that, for many of us; anyone trying to figure out the life of a modern woman needs only to visit her website or read her blog posts to have a glimpse into her interior life.  Many women keep diaries or journals that serve as a record of their inner lives.

And some women – like my great-grandmother — write poems.

My great-grandmother, Helen Cary Keyt Wolf, is someone I never had the pleasure to meet; she died in 1963.  But she was a prolific poet, and throughout her adult life she wrote poems by hand, all of which are collected in a little box she called her “Button Box” of poems.  Some are undated; the earliest dated ones are from the 1930s, the latest from the 1960s.

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My great-aunt Carol has transcribed them all, and my uncle Ken,  the family geneaologist, has compiled them on the family website.  They are a window into Great-Grandma Helen’s life: they focus on her five children, her struggles with money during the Great Depression, her optimism and the spirituality that guided her throughout her life.

This is one that really struck me:

Where God Is

by Helen Cary Keyt Wolf

Across the country far and wide
I see God on every side.
In mountain tops and cloudless skies
Or in another traveler’s eyes
In deserts vast and lovely place
Or cities’ myriads of faces.
I see God and feel Him near,
While winging high upon the land
Or on the beaches clean, white sand.
In deep blue lakes of mammoth size
And in a laughing baby’s eyes,
In forest green and peaks snow bound
Where e’er I look, he can be found.

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God can be found in all things, said St. Ignatius hundreds of years ago, and that idea is echoed here.   I love this poem.  And though I never knew my great-grandmother, reading this makes her feel that much more real to me.

I’ll share more of the poems in future posts.  I’m glad we have them.  There is a big something to be said for recording ourselves in writing for our great-grandchildren and beyond, so they can know something of who we are, and of where they came from.

Poldark, Episode Three: Oh yes they did

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I’d like to start off this week’s recap by saying that it almost did not happen.  At 8:58 last night I settled in happily with my cup of tea  and turned on PBS, only to be met with a sinister black screen and an even more sinister message from Tivo saying that it could not tune the channel.

I am not sure exactly what I said next, but I know it was panicked and incoherent, and my techie husband leapt into action. He did a few things with the remote and something to the back of the TV (I really need to learn what it was for future reference) and at 9:03, we had “Poldark.”  Scott is amazing.  Is it any wonder I married him thirteen years ago today, or that I write blog posts about his fabulousness?

So I got my “Poldark” fix for the week (I should say we got our “Poldark” fix –Scott is hooked on it now too).  And oh, it was an episode I would not have wanted to miss.  As always, spoilers ahead — if you DVR’d it, watch it first, then come back here.

Thoughts:

1) Biggest thing first: Ross and Demelza!  Did you see that coming?  Scott did.   I guess there were plenty of hints dropped in this episode in particular: the meaningful glances, the rumors other people were spreading about them, the fact that she had her hair pinned up for this episode when she never has before (an updo being hairdressing code for “no longer a kid/urchin” and “ready for romance.”)

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In the book, it’s very clear through the omniscient third-person narration that Demelza deliberately sets out to seduce Ross as a way of being able to stay with him.  She gets the idea, it terrifies her, but she goes for it anyway. The TV show made it look more like a sort of accident — she was tiptoeing around hoping he wouldn’t see her in the dress, while in the book she deliberately makes a big entrance.

I think I like the book’s version better.  That’s not to say that seducing your boss is a good idea, but I love how she is actively trying to decide her fate, and the narration makes it all so believable.   And in the book, her attempts at being seductive sort of fall apart and her natural charm and honesty come through, and those are the things that actually land her in Ross’s arms.  I think the show did a pretty decent job of conveying that as well, even though her initial approach to the whole thing was quite different.

I had to smile when she comes to Ross and asks him to help her because the big fancy dress she is  wearing fastens in the back, and she can’t get it off by herself.  My husband, sitting on the couch next to me, said to the TV, “But you got it ON by yourself!”  I am now trying to recall if at any point in our lives together I have used that line on him?  He certainly caught onto it right away.

By the way, in the book, she immediately fesses up and tells Ross that the fastening thing was just a line, but he is so far into it he doesn’t care.  I wish they’d kept that in the script– it’s such a great example of her inability to lie and get anything under false pretenses.  That is one of her most lovable qualities.

Anyhow, it was all very romantic, and she is certainly a better choice for a lasting relationship than the prostitute from Episode Two (especially because she is now apparently getting chummy with his cousin Francis.  Ick.).  And props to Ross for recognizing that she’s quite a catch, and worth taking to the altar and not just to bed.

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2) I think this episode should be subtitled “Francis’ Downward Spiral.”   How exactly is everything falling apart for him so quickly? Is it all due to his core of insecurity where his wife is concerned?  It certainly seems responsible for the gambling and for the animosity toward Ross; one could even argue that his dumb dumb duel last week was more about asserting his ego than about concern for his sister.  So maybe he’s a good example of the importance of marrying someone who is crazy about you, not lukewarm, so you never have to worry about your much-better-looking cousin sitting next to her and talking about mining.  Part of me feels sympathy for him.

But golly, he’s sure getting unpleasant, isn’t he?  And Verity does NOT deserve your caustic words, Mister.  It’s not her fault you went out in a field with a pistol and now have to keep a scarf forever tied around your neck to hide a bullethole. She even tried to STOP you, but you wouldn’t listen.

3)  Add “mining” to the list of jobs I could never ever do.  Every time I see the characters in that dark, cramped mine, I feel slightly panicked.  I don’t even like being in parking garages, so how people actually descend into the bowels of the earth and stay there is beyond me.  Pay those men a good wage!  ( Of course, Poldark does.  That’s why he’s the hero.)

4) Did you notice that we have had a dancing scene two episodes in a row?  Last week’s was the Assembly Ball, where the upper classes danced very formal dances that are all about sharp angles and bypassing each other and coming together only to part again.  The miners’ wedding dance was a bunch of people in a ring with their arms around each other, a circle with no end.  Is there a symbolism to the contrast between these two dances? Methinks there is.

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5) One of my favorite bits of the episode is when Francis’ dad is schooling him about getting more involved in the mine.  He tells him that he needs to be more like Ross, and be there at the mine, working alongside the miners, getting to know them and their work from the ground up.

I’m not a huge fan of Francis’ dad, but he’s spot-on here.  Managers are more effective when they actually see what their employees are doing firsthand and when they gain their employees’ trust, not when they simply issue orders from on-high. I’ve worked with a whole lot of different administrators since I started teaching in 1997, and the best ones know this.  Whether it’s 1787 or  2015, some management principles never change.

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6) But luckily, childbirth does.  Did you catch the huge metal foreceps the doctor put rather ominously down next to Elizabeth’s bedside when she was in labor? Oh, ouch;   I can’t even think of it without wincing.   The doctor could at least hide that until it has to make an appearance.  (And do you think Elizabeth made a birth plan in advance? Did he honor it?)

What did you think of Episode Three?