Poldark, Episode Four: Demelza, the female Tom Branson


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!


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.


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.


*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?

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