*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, Ross’s cousin, Francis and Francis’s wife, Elizabeth. In this post, I will be writing about Poldark’s resident villain, George Warleggan.
Any good hero needs a villain. Without that villain and the challenge that the villain presents to the hero, the hero is denied the chance to face up to that challenge.
George Warleggan represents both the standard villain and the overall change that was starting to affect England in the late 18th century. At that time, the middle class was rising and opportunities for societal and financial growth were ripe for the taking, if one was bold enough. The grandson of a blacksmith, George has risen well above his familial roots to run the local bank.While he is well dressed and speaks like a gentleman, the George that is presented in polite society is not the George who takes off the mask in private.
He is not above breaking the moral code or using his financial assets to bribe someone to reach his goals, whether those goals would be to knock Ross down or marry Elizabeth.
No one person is wholly good or wholly bad. We all have the tendencies already inside of us to be good and bad. It is what we do with them that defines our character and the path we take in life. One could say that due to the very rigid class structure in England at the time, the reader and the audience understands George, especially from an American perspective. In that world at that time, the super wealthy and the aristocrats ruled England. While there was some acceptance of these self-made men who inherited neither titles, exorbitant fortunes or large tracts of property from their forebears, there was still a barrier to overall acceptance. George Warleggan is new money and new money is not quite as welcome as old money. At the end of the day, George is fighting for that acceptance. This is the crux of George Warleggan.
To sum it up: Every hero needs a villain and visa versa. But to keep the audience and the reader interested, the villain needs to be interesting. Instead of creating the early regency version of Snidley Whiplash, Winston Graham created a multi faceted villain whose actions, while not entirely honorable or ethical, keep both the hero and the audience on their feet.