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Keeping the Faith (Elizabeth: A Love for Ross Poldark- An introduction Pt1)

" very sorry that I'd not been able to -keep faith with you."
                                                                                                                            Elizabeth Chynoweth

This is the beginning of a series of blogs that will explore the issue of Elizabeth Warleggan's love for Ross Poldark since there is actually quite a lot to unpick when considering this. However this is just the introduction and an acknowledgement of the concept of 'Keeping the faith'. This is something which is quite a theme for many of the couplings in Poldark and but it is a major consideration to the idea of a real and true love from Elizabeth to Ross. This post will look at the main themes that arise when exploring Elizabeth love or lack of Love For Ross Poldark. Another key issue is the differing narratives in respect of this matter provided by the television adaptions and the narrative in the original stories of the book. 

Certainly the beginning of the Poldark saga might have someone think that it is to be a story of love between Ross and Elizabeth. That is if the reader was to give up before a quarter of the way through it. Of course, the introduction then of the street urchin, Demelza, ensures that the story goes off down another route and it indeed becomes a love story between Ross and Demelza instead. However, in the first instance it is the aftertaste of the Elizabeth/Ross love story that is not shared with the reader in great detail (as it predates the period the book covers), but which nevertheless fuels a love triangle. First this is with Francis (Ross-Elizabeth-Francis) and then also one with Demelza. Both of these triangles endure from book one (Ross Poldark) to book 4 (Warleggan). However it is really the Elizabeth-Ross-Demelza triangle that is the most active and in featuring the two protagonists it is the one the reader is most likely to be invested in. The end of Warleggan brings an end to this triangle and Winston Graham said "I wanted to do a love story with a 'happy ending' and that was it." (1). He had also intended for the saga to end there until twenty years later when he decided to resume it with a fifth book.

"It Was Always Ross" - Was it Really?

The indelible mark from the Elizabeth/Ross back love story tempts this notion that a key sentiment behind this story is the frustrated love between Elizabeth and Ross. Of course, it is frustrated because they ended up separated and had a love that never worked out and never did thrive. This could sit nicely with the notion that Elizabeth's true love was Ross, that he was 'the one' and that therefore her 'mistake' in choosing Francis over Ross meant that Ross was 'the one that got away'. Certainly the 2015-2019 BBC Tv adaption would have you believe that 'it was always Ross' that Elizabeth loved. An invented flashback scene created for the show sees a young Francis and George looking on at Elizabeth and Ross in the throws of their romance and dancing together in their own world at a party. The words 'it was always Ross' are then muttered over this visual simultaneously. Really, this is quite a liberty, albeit it a subtle one which goes against the spirit of the books. This is because apart from Elizabeth's declaration that actually she had thought she loved Francis better, and this then meaning that it was indeed not at all 'always Ross', neither Francis or George even knew Elizabeth before Ross went to war and when he had enjoyed his short romance with her. They met her for the first time when Ross was away at war. Hence the power of just one scene in tweaking a narrative can be quite considerable.

An Adaption With a Tweaked Story

So the TV shows may have just led some viewers to determine that unequivocally the real story from the books had it that Elizabeth was in love with Ross and no other from start to finish. Here caution is to be exercised in separating the story presented on the TV and the story in the book. It is so important to bear in mind that the screen adaptor's vision is not necessarily the vision of the since deceased writer of the original/source material. This was even more the case with the first series of the 1970's TV adaption which did include a scene of Elizabeth declaring to Ross that she loved him, that she wanted to be with him and would leave Francis for him. In fact in that adaption she made these plans but did not quite say and do these things in the book. Whilst alive and as corroborated in his memoirs, Winston Graham admitted himself that he disliked much of that first series (season one) of that adaption. The complaint was that it did not follow the books in the initial episodes in terms of dialogue, story line and characterisation. His initial reaction was to seek legal advice about having the whole show cancelled. Fortunately changes were made and this was resolved ahead of the second season. The point however is that the current TV show is also just a vision of how the particular scriptwriter (Debbie Horsefield) saw the story, or how she preferred to present it. Sometimes minor changes made in line with her view might have nevertheless made key differences to change a narrative or concept of the original author. This is why in these blogs when looking at Elizabeth's love for Ross, it must be the books that are relied on and provide the guidance.

The Search for Words and Thoughts of Love?

There can be no doubt that Elizabeth had 'feelings' for Ross but the quest is to define what those were and if they were feelings of true love without being swayed by the TV adaptions which no doubt had an invested interest to spice up the love triangle for more dramatic effect. In doing that it should not be ignored that Winston Graham chose not to insert any independent narration or internal thought of Elizabeth to confirm she really was genuinely in love with Ross at any point during the period covered by the books. That includes narration and thoughts from her that she felt herself to be in love with him. There is none of this in the books. That of course differs from what she may have once said to him about her mistake with choosing Francis. That is bearing in mind her motives at the time which will be explored in a later blog. It is a curious thing that this notion of her actually being 'in love' with Ross was clearly not so much a key part of Graham's vision to convey to his readers so as to cause him to make this undoubtedly clear in the story in the ways that a writer could do with even just one sentence. Instead the lack of confirmation leaves some readers having to interpret between the lines that she did love him and others thinking that she did not. It is also another curious thing that other than refer to her in interviews as a character which 'divided the families' and was a 'point of conflict' (2), Winston Graham never did speak of Elizabeth as being in love with Ross and he was clear that " the writing the Ross-Demelza relationship had become far more than any other,..." (3). Winston Graham in interview also told Woman magazine in 1977 that by the end of Warleggan 'The results of Elizabeth's mistaken choice had by now worked itself out, not only in the lives of Ross and Francis but in her own.' (3). It is a reasonable assumption that he would not consider her relationship status to have 'worked itself out' if in fact she was very much in love with Ross and that as the last TV adaption suggested for her that 'it was always Ross' right to the very end. 

Love only for Ross Poldark?

So did Elizabeth love Ross and only Ross?

Elizabeth had three love interests. Besides Ross this included Francis and George. It is helpful to use these other relationships as a benchmark when considering her understanding of love or lack of love for them and comparing this to hers for Ross. In respect of George, we have it easy as the narrator tells us in Warleggan 'She did not love him: she was not even sure that he loved her;...' As narrator Graham never reports a development with this in later books. So we can only assumes she did not ever come to love him.

In respect of Francis and after her marriage to him in 1783, Elizabeth did tell Ross that she loved Francis and that was why she had married him. She was very clear in affirming this with reasons. She told him "You went away and I met Francis. I loved him. I had grown up...With Francis it was different. We were not children but grown people. Our tastes were the same and we loved each other." Later she said, "Try to understand...I love Francis and married him." However despite this it was over nine years later in Warleggan when she told Ross that actually on reflection she had just thought she loved Francis 'better' than him. From then it was two years later that she went beyond that by telling Morwenna that she had married Francis for what she had "thought was love". So in a sense there was an evolution over the years of Elizabeth's own account and understanding of her love for Francis until she was essentially declaring that really she realised she had not loved him at all. In Warleggan, Graham as the narrator said '...whether she loved Francis in the ordinary sense or not, he was her husband..' So it is indeed a consideration whether one should have faith in Elizabeth's own declarations of love lest she was to find in years to come and after experiencing the realities of loving that person (such as within a marital union), that she was mistaken and that what she had thought was love, was not after all.

A Woman Who Couldn't Make Up Her Mind

Elizabeth's propensity to change her mind does indeed add to the complexity in taking a firm position on who she loved and whether Ross was really her one true love. Or it could in fact be that this is the perfect evidence of a lack of true love. That is if we are to believe that such a true and real love is not something one is ever really unsure of for very long.

Elizabeth had obviously led Ross to believe that she loved him before he went to war when she made her promise to marry him. On his return and when explaining why she had married Francis, not only did she say she loved Francis, but Ross later remembers that in no uncertain terms she had denied loving him (Ross). 'I don't love you.' Elizabeth had said: Well, that was straight: discarded like a rusty ornament: thrown aside;....' is how a rejected Ross thought back to this exchange. Yet in Warleggan it was nearly ten years after her decision to reject Ross for Francis, and whilst George was attempting to persuade her of Ross's bad character, that the narrator reports  'Her feeling for Ross had never quite been definable to herself,...'  Therefore all this does not then inspire confidence that he was most certainly and unequivocally her great and true love. 

But changeability is undoubtedly one of the key features of Elizabeth's character. Ross himself in Warleggan referred to '...the tragedy of one woman who couldn't make up her mind.' In that same book Elizabeth admitted her own changeability when she said to Ross "Is it such an astonishment that a women who changed her mind once could change it twice?" In exploring Elizabeth's love for Ross her own admission of changing her mind twice certainly does beg questions as to whether her confession of loving him more than Francis can really be relied upon at all.

Telling Ross that "I thought I loved Francis better." is actually the closest that Elizabeth came to saying she loved Ross. These words as her confession to him will be explored in their own right in a later blog but for now it is fair to say that even when accepting this as a declaration it is still rather vague and much less committed than the sacred three special words "I love you."  In any case, given her changeability and her evolving accounts of her love for Francis, and the same too now also in respect of Ross over the years, the old cliche of 'actions speak louder than words' might suggest a more reliable way to assess Elizabeth and if she truly loved Ross.

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

She didn't wait- she didnt 'keep the faith'

Elizabeth's time in the Poldark saga covers seven books which span seventeen years before her gruesome death. There are plenty of key scenes, events and stages of her life during which her behaviour and actions can be looked on to see if they scream out that she was genuinely in love with Ross despite her never saying this definitely or thinking this. This includes her wedding day, early married life with Francis, attempts to reach out to Ross, her reaction to his marriage, her quest to regain her ascendancy over him, her confession about her 'mistake' in marrying Francis and then also her so called betrayal in deciding to marry his greatest enemy George Warleggan. These will be explored in separate blog articles but to begin the journey, the start of the story is her failure to jump the first hurdle and 'keep the faith' with Ross by waiting for him to return home from war.

Faith fallen at the first hurdle

Even Elizabeth admits to Ross in Ross Poldark that she had let him down by becoming engaged to Francis. She told him she was "So very sorry that I'd not been able to -to keep the faith with you. If they'd been anyway of making it up to you I'd gladly have done it." Her reference to 'making it up' to him rather underplays the promise made and broken by her. Especially after he has relied on it for two years at war and this had kept him going through it together with her letters which led him to believe she was keeping this promise. It is also bearing in mind that this was supposed to be a promise based on a great love of him. However on his return she later explains her feelings for him differently. Instead of as a great and enduring love she refers to her feelings for him as a mere fondness when she goes on to tells him of their childish 'boy-girl attachment' and specifically says she was "very very fond" of him.

Whilst there is no doubt that Elizabeth had strong and mixed feelings for Ross, Graham provides no text to document that she was lying to him, that she did feel love for him and that she had wanted to retract her engagement to Francis and cancel the wedding.

Even if one was to give Elizabeth the benefit of the doubt by supposing that she really did love Ross, it would be fair to say that this love was rather flaky, without substance and one that was clearly liable to being bent or set aside according to circumstances. Quite early at seventeen years old she agreed to await Ross's return from war and to marry him. Within eighteen months and six months before Ross returned she allowed another man to court her and accepted his offer of marriage. Therefore in doing so she fell at the first hurdle in her love story with Ross. He in turn was left with a broken heart and a love that had been frustrated by Elizabeth herself in her decision to go with another man. This 'love' fares poorly compared with the more ardent and steadfast love demonstrated by other female characters in the books.

It cannot be said that Elizabeth's young age between seventeen and nineteen when she finally did marry made her a special case on account of her age. Morwenna maintained her love for Drake when Elizabeth and George coerced her to marry Reverend Osborne Whitworth. At seventeen she was two years younger than Elizabeth who married at nineteen. Despite the separation, marital abuse and years that passed, Morwenna's story had continual reaffirmations of love for Drake and at times she even chanted her love as she said 'I love Drake' whilst lying next to her monster of a husband. But even before then when she believed it was not possible for them to be together due to family objections her love for him was never denied or something she was unsure of. The strength of Caroline's love for Dwight at age nineteen was tested too. For instance, it was strong enough for her to decide quite shockingly to marry below her station against the wishes of her uncle as her guardian and to make that promise to him before he went to war instead of waiting to see if and in what condition he returned in. It was strong enough for her to tirelessly fight for his release from French captivity and to keep the faith during their eighteen month separation when at times she too did not know if he was alive. She kept the faith by keeping her promise and insisting on marrying him upon hs return despite him presenting as a shell of his former self. Equally Verity also 'kept the faith' in respect of her forbidden love of Captain Blamey. She took a chance on him and sacrificed her family to elope with him. As a consequence she was estranged from her brother Francis and unable to visit Trenwith for some time until they eventually reconciled.

In comparison to these few examples of ardent and faithful love, despite their separation Ross's absence did not make Elizabeth's heart grow fonder. As well as a lack of faith Elizabeth's so called love for Ross at this stage so far was laced with rejection, disloyalty and betrayal because not only did she not wait for him, but to add to the injury she married his cousin instead! If as Graham said it was the case that she did not love Francis in the ordinary sense, the same or less should apply to her love of Ross. This is since at the time she felt herself to be more in love with Francis than with Ross.

At this stage in the examination of Elizabeth's love for Ross she did not at all demonstrate either in words or actions (by waiting for him), a love that was ever present, enduring, steadfast, faithful and true. Still it has been said that there are other factors at play for why Elizabeth chose Francis and at this early stage it is necessary to also look at those in order to understand whether choosing Francis really does show a lack of love for Ross. For instance, was Francis just a default option because she thought Ross was dead or had she just lost interest in him and genuinely found Francis more appealing? Then there is this notion of her possibly being subject to parental pressure and this influencing her to reject Ross. These are looked at in the next articles referred to below and in other blogs which look at here feelings towards Ross at different stages in the story.

A Love for Ross Poldark (Part2): Elizabeth-"Then came word that you were dead."
A Love for Ross Poldark (Part 3): Elizabeth- Her own mind or her parent's mind
Did Elizabeth ever love Francis Poldark?
Demelza Poldark: A fall from grace in a fall for Hugh

(1) Print interview for Evening Argos Weekend January 2001 - 'Master of Poldark'
(2)  Radio interview for The John Dunn Show, BBC Radio 2, June 1991
(3) Print interview -Woman, 10th December 1977- 'How it all Happened'

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