*Warning: This post contains spoilers about Poldark, both the books and the television series. Read at your own risk.
There is something to be said about a well written, human character. They leap off the page and speak to us as if they were right in front us, as flesh and blood human beings, instead of fictional creations.
In this series of weekly blog posts, I will examine character using Winston Graham’s series of novels, Poldark and the subsequent television series to explore how writers can create fully dimensional, human characters that audiences and readers can relate to.
Last week I wrote about the titular hero, Ross Poldark. This week I will be focusing on Ross’s wife, Demelza Poldark (nee Carne).
Demelza, unlike her husband, was not born with the privileges of the upper class. The daughter of a widower miner whose parenting abilities were limited, Demelza was forced to learned, strength, resilience and independence early on. Both Ross and the audience meet Demelza early in book 1 and series 1 when he mistakes her for a boy, saving her and her dog from an angry mob. Offering Demelza a job as his scullery maid, their relationship starts off as the normal master and servant relationship for the era.
Then things take a pleasant, if predictable turn.
In creating Demelza, Winston Graham not only updated the romantic heroine, but also updated the Cinderella story of the class divide between the wealthy landowner and his maid. He also smartly created a foil to Ross’s first love and cousin by marriage, Elizabeth (who will be discussed at a later date). Though she is a woman of her time, Demelza is not a fragile damsel in distress who is in need of rescue. Earthy, strong and resilient, Demelza is what Ross needs in a wife.
When Ross’s previously dormant feelings for Elizabeth come back to the surface after Francis dies in book four and series 2, Demelza must contend with jealousy and her fears that she is loosing her husband.
To sum it up: Demelza is very much a heroine and a woman of the 18th century. But by virtue of being a strong, capable woman who is dealing with the problems that women have faced with for centuries, she feels like a woman of the 21st century.
When a writer is creating a period piece, he or she is straddling a fine line. On one hand, the character must feel like they are a part of the world and the era they live in. But, at the same time, if modern audiences cannot relate to this character, they are likely to walk away from the book. It’s not easy to create a character who straddles both worlds successfully, but Winston Graham certainly has.