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A Judgment on Rape (A Case of Rape or not for Ross Poldark)

⚠ Content and moving images reference sexual violence.

On 9th May 1793 in the fourth book 'Warleggan' (Internal Book 3 Chapter 5), an incident between Ross Poldark and Elizabeth would end up being a significant life changing event in their lives and also in the lives of their respective spouses; Demelza, and Spouse-to-be George Warleggan. As covered in the previous essay 'Ross Poldark's Fall From Grace (A Thin Line Between Lust And Hate For Elizabeth), during the throws of an argument about Elizabeth's decision to marry George, Ross ignored Elizabeth's protests at his anger driven sexual advances and carried her to the bed. Graham did not write what happened thereafter. This means that though the reader is made aware that sexual intercourse did take place, with Winston's perceived silence on whether this was consensual or otherwise a rape, this has since been a controversial topic and much questioned incident in the saga. 

Setting aside the natural desire not to potentially think ill of the romantic hero, Ross Poldark, this post will serve as a judgment with a finding on that key question: 'Did Ross Poldark rape Elizabeth on the night of the ninth of May 1793?' To come to a finding which is non emotive and objective, the assessment for this will be split in four parts. Part 1 covers the  criteria and understanding of rape by Winston Graham and Ross. Part 2 and 3 cover respectively the evidence from Ross as the accused in this case, and from Elizabeth as the potential victim. This will be through their thoughts, statements and actions, as recorded in the relevant books of the saga. To conclude, part 4 will at the last set this against the evidence of which there is some from the two impartial witnesses being Winston Graham, the impartial narrator and Winston Graham, the author

Ross Poldark's Fall From Grace (A Thin Line Between Lust And Hate for Elizabeth)

Ross Poldark grabs Elizabeth's face with anger and another image of Elizabeth staring ahead looking scared
Content and moving images reference sexual violence.

 'In lust there is always conquest and destruction.'
Ross Poldark Internal Book 1 Chapter 18 Part 2

Of the two of them it was Ross Poldark who was the first to be unfaithful to Demelza on ninth May 1793. This was six years into their marriage and three years before Demelza did the same. The previous essay A Fall From Grace in a Fall For Hugh explored what Demelza thought were the reasons behind her infidelity with Hugh Armitage and set out over a number of pages her extensive self reflection and examination in the aftermath. But there were no pages of this of any such by Ross in respect of his infidelity. Perhaps it was because Ross was confused by his actions. After all he did deem it to be 'unexplainable'.  However in the penultimate book of the saga Ross thought of '...the few minutes of anger and lust and overpowering frustration from which Valentine could have been born.' ('The Twisted Sword' Internal book 3 chapter 8 part 5) In any case, from the outside looking in and with Graham's narration to provide aid, it is possible to understand what Ross found was unexplainable to himself. Therefore, whilst this specific essay does not seek to consider whether this 'May incident' was a matter of rape or not, it will focus primarily on 'the scene' just before where Ross 'took' Elizabeth and how the reasons and factors for Ross's own fall from grace are surprisingly similar to Demelza's. But, it will also explore how on the other hand the presence of a separate most triggering and a wholly negative emotion is where there is the difference and in turn makes Ross's fall a more sordid and ugly affair because in the moment Ross was directed by a hate that was destructive.

Just Like Demelza's Reasons

'It had happened, cut off from the rest of the world...opportunity, which had settled on them like a strange bird, making unreality out of isolation and giving her the feeling that she was no one, except a name-less woman to be taken by a nameless man.'
Demelza's reflection on her infidelity  'The Four Swans' (internal book 3 Chapter 1 part 2)

Ross Poldark is angry at elizabeth and barges into her bedroom
Like Demelza, as set out in the A Fall From Grace in a Fall For Hugh post, the factors in place which coaxed Ross's infidelity were 'attraction', 'opportunity' and the 'unreality out of isolation'. Indeed, just as there is no dispute that Demelza was attracted to Hugh Armitage, there is no doubt that Ross was attracted to Elizabeth. Just like Demelza ended up on a deserted beach with Hugh and this provided an opportunity and a venue for her infidelity to take place, a perfect opportunity and venue was provided for Ross to sleep with Elizabeth. After barging in to Trenwith and then following Elizabeth into her bedroom out of fear that she might be going to call for help, whether he had plans for one or not Ross found himself in the ideal place for a tryst with her. There was no other person present and so this served to similarly provide the isolation that the deserted beach provided for Demelza with Hugh. 

Francis And Elizabeth: Reformed Gracious Husband, Content Wife

“Elizabeth blooms like a painting; she has had a better year... She doesn't love Francis, but she's more content.”
Demezla’s observation and thoughts on Elizabeth in ’Jeremy Poldark’ (internal book 2 Chapter 14)

Whilst posts such as ‘A Charming and Generous Heart' indicate that at his core Francis was a man with a good heart, he did have his vices which went against him. The last two blogs on his marriage depict him as a husband filled with promise since it was early on that Winston Graham first narrated his credentials of being handsome, charming and wealthy. Added to that he was besotted with Elizabeth as a fiancé and presented as a good and loving husband in the first year of marriage. However the middle period of the marriage draws Francis criticism as a husband until, as covered in this post, and despite the lack of love from Elizabeth, he seemed to turn this around and present as quite the reformed and gracious husband to her in the end. In this re-emergence of Francis as a decent husband he should be recognised for at least bringing Elizabeth back to a place of 'contentment' in those last years of the marriage, just as Demelza observed (and is quoted above). This post confirms and explores how Francis managed to do this. 

A Kinder Husband And Wife Relationship

 'The relationship between them had been kinder these last two years,...'
Narrative in 'Warleggan' (internal book 1 Chapter 2)

If there is any question about a genuine and positive change in the marriage of Francis and Elizabeth in those last couple of years before Francis passed away, then Winston Graham confirmed this in the narration. Quite significantly, after Francis’s suicide attempt, Graham reported that although never warm 'The relationship between them had been kinder these last two years,...' ('Warleggan' Book 1  Chapter 2)  That serves as confirmation that things had moved on with improvement from earlier in the story when things went wrong from a year into the marriage. On that day of Geoffrey Charles's Christening they had had a marriage altering argument which saw their marriage disintegrate and after the two year time jump in that first book readers learnt through Elizabeth's visit to Nampara and Verity's account to Ross, that they had not got on well since Geoffrey Charles was born. However, the key to the kinder relationship between Francis and Elizabeth points to a change and a reformation with Francis and not Elizabeth.

Elizabeth And The Analogy Of The Key (To Unlock Ross's Love And Desire)

Ross Poldark and Elizabeth dancing

This post is a follow up to the previous one titled 'That Mysterious Unlocking Key-Demelza' which is inspired and framed around a particular passage in the second book 'Demelza'. This is where Graham wrote Ross's thoughts of gratitude for having Demelza as his wife. He was thinking of how she had a ‘mysterious way’ about her that like a key unlocked his attention and desire and love. That post looked at where the mystery arose from and how it was a unique blend of personality traits which made Demelza 'that key' for Ross. It also considered how Winston Graham set Demelza apart from other women as being able to fully command Ross's heart in this way. For instance, it addressed that, though Ross was quite taken by women such as Caroline Enys and Harriet Warleggan, they still did not have the elements to be ‘that key’ for him. While that previous post also hinted at Elizabeth’s potential to be an 'unlocking key' for Ross, it was promised that this should be explored more thoroughly. Therefore, this is the purpose of this post. However, this will say that despite Ross's self confessed ten year devotion for her, Elizabeth also did not have this ability of Demelza’s to be an 'unlocking key' for Ross in the long term and as the woman she had become.

Another Unlocking Key: Elizabeth?

'He was struck by the mystery of her personality ...that this hair and head and person of the young woman below it....meant more to him than any other because it made up in some mysterious way just that key which unlocked his attention and desire and love."
Narration of Ross's thoughts on Demelza 'Demelza' (internal book 1 chapter 10)

This is ‘the key passage’ that this post and the last one is based around. It is from chapter 10 of the first internal book of 'Demelza'. This invokes the imagery of a key that unlocks something special, as it confirmed that Demelza did this for Ross. However, since many keys are not designed to open one lock, the imagery of a key is also synonymous with being ‘The One’. The emphasis being on the word 'one' in 'one key'. So that is 'one key' out of many that is unique, as the key serves as 'the only key' that can open a particular padlock, front door, treasure chest or in this case Ross’s full heart and soul. That 'one' key is designed to be perfectly in tune and fitted to that one lock. Ross’s lock. 

That Mysterious Unlocking Key-Demelza

Ross and Demelza with their forehead together in contemplative loving thought

Despite Ross's self confessed devotion to Elizabeth of several years, Winston Graham included narrative into the early story of Ross and Demelza's marriage which contradicted that he had a stronger attachment and yearning for Elizabeth of substance, than he had for Demelza. This post will look at one of these nuggets which gave the game away well before the final showdown as to which of the women would truly command his heart and why. This is the analogy that Graham set down for Demelza as being 'that key' that unlocked Ross's attention, desire and love.

Demelza: The Mysterious Unlocking Key 

'He was struck by the mystery of her personality ...that this hair and head and person of the young woman below it....meant more to him than any other because it made up in some mysterious way just that key which unlocked his attention and desire and love."
Narration of Ross's thoughts on Demelza 'Demelza' (internal book 1 chapter 10)

Graham wrote many scenes in the book as if to enhance and reinforce the notion of Demelza as Ross's greatest most meaningful love above any other. Of course this was over a period of time but it was actually not that long after they were married. This was at the beginning, during the course of the marriage and at the end of the saga where he reminded her that for him she was comparable to no other woman. However, much earlier, Graham includes a scene at the start of the second book ‘Demelza’ that followed an exchange of flirty banter between Ross and Demelza on their way back into their house. Inside Ross bent his head against Demelza’s hair and had private thoughts of gratitude that this ‘vibrantly alive woman’ whose personality he was struck by, was all his. It was here that Graham then wrote that Demelza ‘...meant more to him than any other because it (she) made up in some mysterious way just that key which unlocked his attention and desire and love.’ 

Foretellings: Demelza - The Surprising Underdog Frontrunner Over Elizabeth

Demelza Poldark stuns at Trenwith before a crowd of Elizabeth's friends at Christmas

Ross Poldark confront Demelza at Nampara and telling her that he loves her and not Elizabeth
Following 'A Discovery Of Preference' 'Reassurances of First Choice' and third in the series so far ‘Poldark True Story Vs Adaption Fiction’ this is the fourth post in the series exploring whether Ross settled for Demelza while his heart, or half of it, may have been with Elizabeth after 'That May Incident'This post will look at how there were early indications in Graham's narrative from soon after Ross married Demelza, that so far as who would dominate Ross's heart and be first choice above the other, that it was Demelza who was the front runner over Elizabeth. However the particular point is that this was from the start of their head to heads, soon after Ross married Demelza. This post will reference the many different ways this was indicated and therefore how these indications served as a foretelling for the inevitable head to head where Ross would finally have to make a choice between the two women and decide who he really loved and wanted. 

Crumbs of Foretelling 

Ross Poldark sheepishly leaving Elizabeth in bed after sleeping with her to a scene of Ross returning home and embracing Demelza
Of course with Ross being rejected by the beautiful and much coveted Elizabeth at the start of the story, and with him in turn deciding before he loved her (Demelza), that he would marry his kitchen maid who was a miner's daughter, the natural presumption for most readers would be that Demelza was a more inferior second rate choice. However, in actual fact, readers had the opportunity to get a hint of Demelza as a frontrunner well before Ross’s realisation after his night with Elizabeth. Indeed, Graham’s writing should have prepared the reader quite far ahead of time before this relationship crisis. How so? Well, this was through Graham laying crumbs that Demelza had taken Ross’s heart in a way that subconsciously for Ross she was ahead of Elizabeth. As stated, and as of significance, this was at a very early stage before Ross’s infidelity with Elizabeth that May night. It is just that this was not, and would not be clear for Ross as a conscious belief until after his experience with Elizabeth jolted him to this. More importantly these crumbs pointed to Ross’s inner feelings, meaning that as evidenced throughout the story, being a man that went with his feelings rather than expectation and common sense, his eventual choice of Demelza would indeed be based on his feeling rather than convenience and practicalities.

Poldark True Story Vs Adaption Fiction (Pt3 -Did Ross Settle For Second Best Choosing Demelza Over Elizabeth?)

Blended image of Poldark Adaption fiction with Ross Poldark standing in Trenwith with Elizabeth and Valentine Warleggan and a blend of a stern faced Demelza Poldark looking in their direction.

There is no requirement that an adaption of a book to a movie or to a series must be 100% faithful to that book. In the case of the true story of Poldark written by Winston Graham, it is indeed noticeable that 
a different slant was given to the love story of Ross and Demelza and to Elizabeth's position within that in the most recent television adaption of Poldark (which commenced in 2015 and stopped in 2019). This was even after the climax where Ross quite unromantically took Elizabeth to bed by force. But as this series of posts considers whether Ross Poldark 'settled' for Demelza, it should be noted that in contrast to the adaption fiction, Winston Graham was clear in clarifying a narrative that can be distinguished from the narrative that was taken up in the latest adaption. This is his statement in his capacity as the story’s author that it was this experience, 'That May Incident' with Elizabeth that caused Ross to 'discover' that it was Demelza that he 'really' loved. (See image below: Article  Winston Graham Goes A Second Round, 'Opelousas- Daily World' newspaper dated 25th June 1978)  The differing stance of the adaption, how this was done and the impact this has on the perception of whether Ross settled for less with Demelza, is the focus of this particular post.

A Subliminal Narrative Revision

Elizabeth gives Ross Poldark as cold stare as she turns and walks into Trenwith with George Warleggan
Adaption fiction not based on the true Poldark Story
The post to follow this one will focus on Ross subconsciously feeling that Demelza was the woman he wanted and loved more than any other woman. Hence more than Elizabeth! This is because 
there are bits of the story which serve as a foretelling that Ross would always choose Demelza over Elizabeth. This is because he loved her more authentically. However the discussion here is on how the Poldark series adaption did not necessarily support those foretellings in the books, but instead may have purposefully or inadvertently steered some viewers to think that, save for the unfinished business of Valentine, that there was also unfinished business in Ross's mind of an ongoing and romantic longing for Elizabeth after 'That May Incident'. This then can feed the idea for those viewers that contrary to Winston Graham’s statement there was indeed a loss to Ross in all this and that in his mind Demelza was and still remained his second best love even after this incident. 

The Good Husband In The Beginning Pt4 (The Real Francis Poldark)

Francis Poldark Good Husband in the beginning blog banner

To know the real Francis requires an understanding of both the good and bad aspects of his character and therefore this includes recognising the side of him that was a good husband as well as the times where he seemed to fail as a husband. Indeed Francis may often be wrongly given the sole blame for his and Elizabeth's unhappy years of marriage. The second post in 'The Real Francis Poldark' series called 'A bad and Unfaithful Husband' did document Francis's bad husbandry of Elizabeth during the middle period of this marriage where he wallowed in disappointment of it. Because of this disappointment he leant more excessively into his vices and into unfaithfulness too. No doubt for a period this established a kind of catch 22 scenario of ensuring a stalemate and no positive progress in the marriage for a while. However the blame is not necessarily one sided and therefore not solely resting on Francis's shoulders. In fact it is arguable that outside of the period of disillusionment Francis was probably more invested and put in more effort than Elizabeth did for the chance of an amicable married life. 

In the original story of the books not only is there narrative of Francis as set out in t
he last post in this series, whereby he was 'The Loving And Besotted Fiancé', but as was even recognised by Elizabeth there is also narrative of Francis as a good and loving husband in the first year of his marriage and a good and amiable one in the last couple years of it too. 

This post looks at the initial period at the start of Francis and Elizabeth's marriage. And so this is before that dark middle period where it deteriorated. Whilst it was in this first year where Francis showed promise as a 'good husband' and that because of this he was appealing to Elizabeth, a follow up post called 'The Good Husband In The End' will explore how after the deterioration and the unhappy times that came with that middle period of their marriage, Francis did remerge once again in the final years of the marriage to fulfil his initial promise. 

The Loving And Besotted Fiancé Pt3 (The Real Francis Poldark)

The second post (being the last one in this series) that addressed 'The Real Francis Poldark' explored Francis's position in the story as a bad and unfaithful husband but essentially how this was for a time and was rooted in his disappointment of expectation in his marriage with Elizabeth. In a sense it was this disappointment that fed most of Francis's vices which surfaced in the middle of his story arc. However, it would be wrong to completely write off Francis as a bad romantic partner and husband for Elizabeth throughout his courtship and marriage with her. W
hilst the saga narrative of Francis seems to lull the reader to give him this general unfavourable label, as shown in that last post, below the surface there is more to this and there were certainly periods where he had the makings of a good husband for Elizabeth and did actually demonstrate this. Since the previous posts have focused on his failings, this post focuses on the positive indications of Francis before his marriage and as a fiancé. The next will focus on the same, but during the marriage. Therefore this would be in the early period of  the marriage and some years before his death brought the marriage to an end. 

It Started With Infatuation And Love 

There is no doubt that to begin with Winston Graham wrote Francis as a character that was initially in love with Elizabeth both before and after 
he was engaged to her. Readers can assume that despite the more functional attitude toward marriage of that day, that it is more than likely that Francis entered into marriage with Elizabeth in good faith and with the intent to be a 'good husband'. That intention therefore included to be faithful and devoted to her, and naturally he wished to have a happy married life where she would equally be loving and faithful to him too. That would include being faithful and loving to him in spirit as well as in deed. Readers eventually find that in respect of Elizabeth she failed to do this in spirit just as much as he had failed as a consequence to do this in deed. However before Elizabeth became 'the loved but the unloving, the Galatea who never woke..' (as Dwight had deduced from a suicidal Francis in the third book

A Bad And Unfaithful Husband? (Pt 2 The Real Francis Poldark).

Although the storyline of Francis cheating is not fully fleshed out by Graham in the books, it is however a story line which many define and judge his character by. Francis's infidelity can overshadow his whole story arc in the saga or at least the perception of him as a husband. Therefore he is often labelled a 'bad husband' as well as an 'unfaithful' one. This is irrespective of anything else, the changes he later made, how his story ended and whether Elizabeth herself was a good and faithful wife to him. The question here is whether that is entirely fair and whether the many factors to be considered when labelling Francis as a 'bad husband' make this a black and white matter.

Francis's infidelity was with the harlot 
that Ross had also slept with one night early on in the first book. This was Margaret, also known as Margaret Cartland and then Margaret Vosper. Whilst most readers will automatically (and rightly so) write this behaviour of Francis off as 'unforgivable', often the judgement on him lies simply in the fact that he did cheat but without also exploring much of the reason why he did this and what this says about 'the real Francis Poldark'. So in exploring this concept of the real Francis over a series of posts, that idea and Francis's general persona as a 'bad husband' is the focus for this post. The next post on this series 'Francis: A Good Husband' will explore the other side and perhaps highlight the choice to define him as a 'bad husband' might be rooted in the hanging on to the middle part of his story, rather than the end of it which could be thought of as redeeming.

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