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Demelza's Blue dress seduction night explored!

In episode three of the 5th series of Poldark Demelza made a comment which raised my eyebrows about how 'Romelza' came to be. When attacked by Tess for apparently being lucky enough to have sold her body to her master for the price of a wedding ring, Demelza did not get upset and deny this claim. Instead she said  

"She's right, I knew what I was doing when I went to Ross's room that night. He was an honourable man and I took advantage in his time of weakness."

All this was said with a wry smile on her face to Morwenna, Rosina and Kitty. Of course book Demelza would never have discussed such matters with her best friend let alone the younger locals.

Apart from that, on the TV show the more modern Demelza speaks as if 'that night' or her popping into Ross' room to seduce him is somehow common knowledge and she was just providing more context and flesh to the bones of the story. It could be that the writer thought this was a great comeback for Demelza against Tess and a way for Demelza to come across as getting one up on Tess' attempts to embarrass her. However that does not seem to be the case since Tess left the scene after making her remark and so the comment was not even directed at her but her friends who with her being married into the gentry were technically lower in status than her. So did Debbie Horsefield seek to reframe Demelza's Blue dress seduction night as a callous act of manipulation and make Demelza 'look bad'? That was initially my thought but on reflection I do not think that is necessarily the case. 

Demelza's response to Tess' accusation suggests that she was indeed after a wedding ring when she attempted to seduced Ross. That is not a motive that appears to me to be the case and I am considering this matter mainly with reference to the scene as set out in the first edition print of Ross Poldark (book 1) since though slightly altered, I see the TV show adaption in essence is a condensation of the book scene.

By the time of this blue dress seduction night Demelza is now 17 years old and had been living at Nampara for 4 years. Though she loved him she had never considered seducing her master before or that she could even have a chance with him. She knew he had been interested in marrying a fine lady in the gentry (Elizabeth) and a scullery maid like her thinking she could be a suitable replacement was laughable. So she loved him from a distance. However the turning point and the trigger to this seduction plan and to then bringing on the birth of Ross and Demelza as romantic couple was the visit she received from her father earlier that day on 30th May 1787. He was claiming to be a reformed man and wanting to speak to Ross of his plan to take Demelza back home to Illuggan. This was despite knowing that Demelza objected to this. Whether he was truly reformed Demelza could not know for sure and she thought;

'....but there she would be working in a home where no kindness had ever been shown her.'

She speculated that if she returned home she would have to stay and if not the 'leather strap' (presumably the instrument used by her father to beat her), then the ruling force would be his 'religious zeal'. So it is clear that Demelza did not want to go home as he thought she wouldn't be happy there or blossom there and would be subjected to abuse from her father either physically or mentally.

In contrast to her feelings about her old home, Demelza had strong feelings about staying at Nampara, a place she now considered home.
'She was fiercely attached to it. And of course to Ross... Not until she came here had she lived at all.'

We are told that;

'Here, for all her ties, she was free; and she worked with people she had grown to like and for a man she adored. Her way of seeing things had changed; there were happinesses in her life she had not understood until they were on her. Her soul had blossomed under them.'

The above puts up a strong case for why she wanted to stay at Nampara and does make me wonder how remaining at Illuggan would have shaped the person she eventually became. It clearly sets out her motive for wanting to stay at Nampara with no mention of a wedding ring or aspirations to be mistress of Nampara. I therefore rule out this motive for the seduction and this is consistent with their excahnge in Twisted Sword (Book 11) when Ross suggests to Demelza that at the time of their first meeting he was not a good catch for her she tells him "I didn't know I was making any catch." 

How did Demelza get from this thought to a plan of seducing Ross?

Demelza's father stated that he needed to speak to Ross about his plan to take her back and that Ross would 'understand'. Even though Ross had fought Demelza's father off on the last occasion, the circumstances were different this time. Ross was still sulking and bruised from his chat with Elizabeth where she repeatedly told him 'I don't love you' and that she loved Francis instead. He had pent up anger and was looking for a fight to release his tension. Fending off a drunken unrepentant abusive father that appeared keen to take his daughter to continue using her as a punching bag was a worthy and just cause for him. Only on this occasion, her father was well dressed and swearing blind that he had repented and was a new man. So as to his belief that Ross would understand and allow him to take his daughter back Demelza thought;

'That was true. Ross would not stop her going. He might even expect it of her.'

It actually seems that it was her father that put the idea of seducing Ross in Demelza's mind. He had questioned her about whether she was living in sin with her master and spoke off such rumours. On reflection Demelza thought that a silly speculation and that surely if there was anything between her and Ross she would not have had to listen to her father for an instant and would have just told him point blank that she was not coming back and she belonged there at Nampara. Still she rejected any chance that Ross might refuse to let her go because;

'...there was no proper feeling for her on his part, not beyond a kindly interest.. That was not enough, not near enough...'

And so then the plan was born. She needed to get him to have a proper feeling for her. She needed to seduce him.

TV show Demelza talks about pouncing on Ross in his 'time of weakness'. It is true that Ross returned home that night having drunk alcohol, though he was not drunk. He was also feeling distraught about the outcome of Jim Carter's trial earlier that day. These are things that Demelza would not have foreseen though it is true she did not cancel her plans when she became aware of them. Still it cannot be said that she purposefully chose for him to be in this condition at the time she wanted to execute her plan. Demelza's father's return could have been the next day and so indeed that built in the need for an urgent execution of the plan.

Even after dressing up in Ross' mother's fine blue dress found in a trunk in his library Demelza was quite the unconfident seductress. To a degree she was almost completely passive in her seduction. There is my case that she did not even do any seduction before Ross initiated the first sexual contact. Demelza did  not actually even initiate the confrontation with Ross in either the book or the show. Instead she tip toed round the room and waited for Ross to notice her in the blue dress. A bumbling and poor start to this manipulative task if ever there was one and it then opened with was Ross rebuking her for taking liberties wearing his mother's dress.  

Ross had been set off in anger and annoyance at Demelza and this led to her challenging him like a child declaring that she's been seventeen years old for weeks and would asking if he would continue to treat her like a child. Her obvious lack of sophistication and having to make this case in the first instance and Ross eventually rapping her knuckles with a wooden poker does not suggest the work of an A class seductress manipulating her target with the finest skill. There was no seduction here. Yet. Winston Graham tells us that;

'From the first desperately shy beginning she had succeeded in working up a feeling of grievance against him;...' and later that 

'Her attempt at coquetry had been a painful failure'. However curiously Winston Graham tells us that  'nature was coming to her help'. 

I take that to mean that given the shambolic and failed attempt at seduction thus far what proceeded thereafter can be set aside from her seduction efforts and her intended manipulations as other forces were at work to bring her the outcome she wanted. 

What occurred in the next part of Demelza's mission to seduce Ross was a scene where it seems she actually abandoned her mission, admitted defeat and declared that she would leave in the morning before throwing herself at his feet in distress. In his efforts to console Demelza (by wiping her eyes, kissing her cheek and trying to pat her arm paternally) and her responses of appreciation he challenged her about the rumours about them and that if she acted this way 'what they say of you will become true'. A strange choice of words if we acknowledge that Demelza's seduction did not get off the ground and turned into something else. Prior to that when trying to pat her arm paternally in we are told that 'His authority was gone' and 'That didn't matter'. His comment to her here then curiously suggests that Demelza's battle was in fact not actually lost and that the validation of the rumours of there being something sexual between them was indeed in Demelza's hands if she continued to act that way. Or at least Ross was saying it was up to her to validate them or not. That is presuming that how he acted was not in the equation. He was not determined to ensure that the rumours remained untrue. Though Demelza had more or less admitted defeat to her mission, so too had Ross admitted defeat to resist it.

It's clear from the text that in Demelza's pathetic state of sobbing having apparently abandoned her seduction, something had changed in how Ross saw her. Nature had indeed come to help her. His initial thought on first seeing her in the dress was that she looked 'adult' and that he felt like he had adopted a tiger cub without knowing what it would grow into. At this point with her now at his feet he is noticing the tumble of her dark hair 'at the gleam of her neck'. He touches 'her hair with its light and dark shadows' and from the 1st edition text notices 'the glitter of her tear-filled eyes and the warm ivory swell of her breasts.' Demelza had managed to seduce Ross when she was not even trying and had considered her attempt a failure.

"I live only for you Ross".
This was Demelza's simple but most likely genuine reply to Ross's comment about making the rumours true. in fact we are told that she said this 'without fear' and 'without coquetry'. So she was indeed being factual with Ross rather than flirtatious. She was not in seduction mode yet this moved him to make the first sexual move and to kiss her on the lips. Winston Graham keeps the drama going by seeing to it that by some 'mischance' Ross has a sudden reaction to a gesture by Demelza in sweeping her hair back. He appears to have a change of heart and releases her from his lap. He thinks it would degrade her to be turned into his strumpet and  takes himself off to bed bidding her "Good night, my dear". Still we readers are told that 'a raging desire moved through his pulses.' and that he now tried but failed to remember her as the thin little urchin trailing across the fields with Garrick behind her. 'The urchin was gone forever'.

In the TV show when reflecting on this night and Demelza's comments that she had known her place as his maid except for the night she came to his room, Ross says 

"I think if you had not I'd have come out and fetched you." 

Again I initially did not think this was an accurate comment and fair reflection of that night. Although it was a comment which seemed to sit alongside Demelza's earlier suggestion of having taken advantage of Ross and suggested that in fact that seduction was not such a callous affair, that it was not almost imposed on him with him trying to resist but instead very much welcomed by him too. When I consider the next scene from the book I do feel that actually Ross' comment gives a fair impression after all.

Although I make the case to say that Demelza's earlier attempt to seduce Ross really did not take off and became a scene of her going from being rebuked, to her pathetically apologising to Ross for her behaviour, at this point when Demelza comes to Ross' room and asks him to undo the hooks of her dress at the back, save for her having been in the dress and having styled her hair from beforehand,  her active seduction commences.
But this is only after Ross had already initiated a sexual act on her by him kissing her on the lips earlier. Again Demelza does not initiate the sexual contact. Ross takes the bait and whilst undoing the hooks slips his hand into the opening of her dress and onto her waist. What is interesting however is that even with success looming and Ross following her lead without resistance, Demelza proves herself yet again to be far from the master seductress and manipulator. 'At the last moment when all was won...' her conscience hits her and she confesses her deceit to Ross in lying that she could not do up the hooks herself when in fact she could. So her seduction attempt comes to a halt again and she repeatedly states whilst crying that she lied and that he should not take her if her hates her for this. Ross technically free to do the 'honourable thing' and left to decide the way forward ignores her and decides to proceed lighting an extra candle beforehand.

So we can say that Demelza's active seduction in offering Ross the back of her dress to unhook was too far down the line for him to withdraw and her seduction had worked. But it was before Demelza even came into Ross' room, probably before he dismissed her and made for bed that Demelza's failed attempts at seduction had nevertheless fulfilled the intended aim. In his room now he wrestled in his mind about not pursuing his desire for Demelza. He thought of it as a 'fair desire'. It was a 'raging desire'. His reasoning with himself led him to thoughts that it was nothing unusual for a young man like him from the gentry to 'tumble' his kitchen maid and that she was off age now and knew her own mind. He questioned what was the matter with him and had thoughts of lightening up and enjoying life more. All these thought were just before Demelza came into the room and the fact that he no longer saw her as that urchin any more, that he recognised her as a sexual possibility and had a desire for her does support the notion that if he had not fetched her that night, it would not have been long before he eventually did if she did not come herself. Certainly if Ross would have back peddled on his reasoning to more honourable thoughts of restraint, we were not yet shown this happening.  

It now seems clear to me that it was Ross that generally had the control above Demelza in this blue dress seduction night. It was not seduction that won Ross over but as the narrator tells us 'the magic appeal of youth, which was beauty in its own right.' He recognised her 'flowering maidenhood' and as Ross in the TV show stated he was already fond of her. They had already had kind of companionship and one that would bring him to even begin to share his woes with her about the Jim Carter trial. When reminiscing on it in 'The Stranger From the Sea' (Book 8), Ross teased Demelza about how she had seduced him this night. She told him that by the end of the night it did not feel like it and reminded him that he had lit and extra candle. He did not challenge this suggestion but seemed to agree explaining "I meant to know you better by morning." 

It is undoubtedly clear that Demelza did not plan this seduction of Ross for a wedding ring but rather for the chance to stay at her sanctuary in Nampara away from her abusive father. Also because she adored Ross. She felt she needed Ross to have more than an kindly interest in her and this would have to be achieved through sex in order to motivate him to fend off her father. There was an intention by Demelza to take advantage of Ross. This was not necessarily in his time of weakness. That was a coincidence but she managed to entice him to her whilst failing or at least retreating from following through with acts of seduction since nature had taken its cause to stir a desire in Ross beforehand. Demelza had the intent but failed in the execution. Nature took its course and gave her the result she wanted anyway.
Given Demelza's moral compass and conscience it is understandable that she would nevertheless view her act more harshly than the average seductress and also see it as 'taking advantage'. However regardless of whether there is disagreement on this and if it should be seen as more of a successful and manipulative seduction, Ross was a free agent. He was a single and older man by 10 years who could chose whether or not to embrace or reject an attempt at seducing him. Of course, Demelza without the detail was aware that he was in love with another woman but given that this other woman had rejected him in favour of another man (his cousin Francis), she, Elizabeth had no claim on Ross. She had relinquised this and in any event was not at this point seeking to cash in any claim. Ross had wanted to move on with his life. It was 4 years since Elizabeth had rejected him and marred another and it was him who decided at his own liberty to make vows of marriage to Demelza. Of course this was her risk to take but I do reject the suggestion that therefore Demelza should have expected Ross to cheat on her with his ex girlfriend 7 years later and that there should be no sympathy for her in this. It is of course expected that in making those marriage vows Ross made the decision to put aside his feelings for the other woman and commit and be faithful to Demelza.

Finally I think it is worth noting the significance of the blue dress. This being Ross' mother's dress we are told (1st edition-Ross Poldark novel) that the 'old stiff silk dress' was 'part of an older love' for Ross. In his bedroom he thinks of Demelza's young body inside it and it should then be clear to us readers that this is a foreboding that she would replace this older love who wore this dress or in her wearing this dress she at least has become a figure of his soon to be new love. I therefore also do not think it coincidental in addition to that, that whilst Ross' Mother representing his older love died in 1770, Demelza, his new love was also born that year in 1770 too!     

Poldark Series 5 continues on BBC at 9pm on Sundays (UK)

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