*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.
In the previous posts, I wrote about the title character, Ross Poldark , his wife, Demelza and Ross’s cousin, Francis. In this post, I will be examining Elizabeth Warleggan (nee Chynoweth), Ross’s first love who first marries his cousin Francis and then after Francis’s death, marries George Warleggan.
We are told that Elizabeth is born to be admired. The daughter of the upper classes, Elizabeth is very much a woman of her age. From birth, she knows what her path in life will be. At the age when she is old enough to be married, she will marry a man whose status and income is appropriate. She will bring children into the world (i.e. sons) and spend the rest of her days in the lap of luxury.
But life, as we all know, is never that simple. While she is dutiful wife to Francis and a good mother to their son, Elizabeth still carries the torch for Ross. In series 2 and books 3 and 4, the flame of Ross and Elizabeth’s former relationship flicks back to life after appearing to be dormant. It grows stronger after Francis’s death. Relying on on Ross for both emotional support and financial support, their bond becomes too close for comfort for Demelza.
Knowing that she needs to marry, if only to provide a comfortable home for her son, Elizabeth agrees to marry George Warleggan. Upon hearing the news, Ross makes a beeline for Elizabeth, nearly destroying his own marriage in the process. In the end, Elizabeth does what she believes is the right thing by marrying George. But is it?
Elizabeth is very much a woman of her era and her class. On one hand, looking back at the period and how women were viewed, her journey and the choices she makes along the way feel appropriate. But, if we look at her from a modern perspective, it’s not hard to see a woman who is making choices that a modern woman today might not have to make.
To sum it up: Characters like Elizabeth are meant to make us think. A good book makes the reader think. Whether it is about the choices we make because of the world we live in or because of the opportunities that was not available to previous generations, we all have choices. It’s what we do with those choices that has the final say on how we will end up living our lives.