Search This Blog

"Then came word that you were dead." (Elizabeth: A Love for Ross Poldark -Pt2)

Elizabeth Poldark speaks to Ross Poldark in tense conversation at her wedding

Hopeless not faithless?

When considering the issue of whether Elizabeth ever had a true and real love for Ross Poldark her own admission that she had not 'kept the faith' with him is relevant and her falling at this first hurdle in their love story was thrashed out in 'A Love for Ross: Elizabeth in keeping the faith' blog. Ultimately her love (if any) did not demonstrate itself as steadfast, enduring and therefore true. This is particularly when compared against some of the other major female characters who did keep the faith with their men. This includes Caroline in respect of Dwight, Verity in respect of Captain Blamey and Morwenna in respect of Drake. All of those couples faced some sort of obstacle and separation which they eventually overcame by remaining in love, showing no interest in directing their love elsewhere and eventually fighting for and staying true to their love. This included separation due to going to war, negative family intervention and being coerced into a marriage with someone else. However while these other femal characters in the book all remained faithful to their love, there is a theory that Elizabeth's failure to do so herself was due to more unique circumstances. That would be that she had no choice or that she faced tougher constraints than these other women of her time. For this blog however, we will look at the theory that she was misled by false information and that wrongly believing Ross to be dead was the only or otherwise the significant reason that she did not wait for him and instead agreed to marry Francis. If true it would be fair to believe that maybe Elizabeth's love for Ross was indeed true and enduring, but that she simply turned to another man not through being faithless but instead through being hopeless. Hopeless that Ross was alive and so in feeling this, one can then believe that she just settled for Francis as the 'Plan B' option. Understanding her mindset on what had happened to Ross is key to assessing her love for him.

Shock Reaction- Ross is back!

When Ross unintentionally gate-crashed the Elizabeth and Francis engagement party there is no doubt that the book narration shows she was affected somehow. It is described that her knuckles went whiter than her face and so it is tempting to assume that Elizabeth's reaction was due to regret that through believing him to be dead she had not waited for Ross long enough before agreeing to marry Francis. His cousin! On the flip side of that, her reaction could easily have been down to shock, guilt, sadness and maybe a shame for having been caught red handed betraying her promise before she had told him herself. Of course, if she was feeling regret, that suggests that upon seeing Ross she no longer wanted to marry Francis and wished to be with Ross; her true love instead. That is apparently. But it really is not possible to say what Elizabeth's reaction is based on for certain because the narrator does not exactly say what she is feeling and why. Still, on a sharper look there is information here during this scene and later in the book to suggest that regret about not marrying Ross and misinformation about his death was not necessarily at the heart of her reaction.

A Rumour Beyond Belief

Many of the TV viewers are deliberately enticed into believing that Elizabeth thought Ross was dead when she got engaged to Francis and even some book readers will fall into the belief that the prologue of Ross Poldark hints at Elizabeth being duped by Uncle Charles Poldark about this. He had been told by his brother, Ross's father Joshua Poldark, on his death bed, that Ross would be returning from war soon. Charles, father of Francis appeared to be evasive in regards to Joshua's enquires about the 'Chynoweth girl' (Elizabeth) who he hoped would marry Ross. Supposedly this was because by that time Francis was courting her himself. So a theory could be that Charles may not have told Elizabeth and anyone of Ross's imminent return in order not to throw a spanner in the works of the Francis-Elizabeth romance and the possible plans for them to marry. It is also a theory that he may have gone one step further and started the rumour himself that Ross was dead. The truth of the matter and whether Elizabeth believe Ross was dead no matter the source is revealed slowly through the saga and not in a confirmatory way until the fourth book!

Indeed Elizabeth initially leads Ross to believe that she did truly think him dead. Firstly when he gate-crashed her engagement dinner she told him that she 'feared' him dead. She consolidates this idea a little later in the book when Elizabeth has now been married to Francis for 6 months. Ross visited Trenwith to get advice of a legal nature from Uncle Charles about keeping the young street urchin Demelza that he had picked up the day before and brought home to work as is maid. He instead meets Elizabeth and this is his second encounter with her after the engagement party. Finally as Elizabeth had been dismissive about her broken promise to him at her wedding, it is here that they had a proper talk about her betrayal. Elizabeth gives Ross an explanation for this and in doing so this is where she does imply that she had thought he was dead. In her explanation and as Elizabeth proves more and more as the books progress, she chooses her words very carefully so that technically she is not lying. So after admitting that she and Francis met and fell in love while he was away, she added "Then came the word that you were dead." As this is quite a defining moment of confrontation and seemingly delivered by a demure Elizabeth who appears to be sorrowful, sincere and almost distressed, it is therefore understandable that many readers, but particularly television viewers would fall into this belief that Elizabeth's words were honest and that she did truly believed Ross to be dead. However the clever wording employed by Elizabeth still does not confirm that in addition to hearing of his death that she actually believed this was indeed the case. There are actually three ways in which she later demonstrated quite the opposite. In doing so Elizabeth herself therefore debunked the very theory which was explicitly implied by her to give her some credit. This being a theory which she probably insinuated to Ross in the first instance to avoid being thought of quite badly by him as more guilty of outright disloyalty or betrayal.

Debunking excuses

"I must explain"

Firstly, when looking at whether Elizabeth really believed that Ross was dead, her initial words to Ross at the engagement dinner are revealing. Through them she actually indirectly lets it slip to him straightaway that she did not accept Francis's proposal believing him to be dead. When Ross approached her in an excited manner unaware of the purpose of the dinner but surprised to see her there, he started conveying how he had actually planned to visit her in the morning. Before he could go on in his excitement at their reunion she interrupts him saying "I must explain, I must explain. I wrote you, but..." Unfortunately she herself was interrupted by Aunt Agatha but those words already indicate that Elizabeth had most likely made the decision to marry another man believing Ross to be alive and having attempted to explain this to him in writing beforehand. Therefore if she had wanted to write to him, she at least at that point thought him to be alive. It is just not clear what happened to the letter. Was it ever finished? Did she chicken out? Or did she post it and he not receive it? She may well have written it but after hearing the rumours decided not to bother posting.
"We feared for your life."

Secondly, in the first edition of Ross Poldark, Francis said to Ross at the engagement party "Why, it is like old times seeing you back again! We feared for your life, did we not, Elizabeth?" Elizabeth agreed but also said herself "I had feared, we all had feared..." It is clear this was not the reaction of a person who had just seen a man who she firmly believed was dead. If so the reaction would more likely have been one of happy amazement, even if this followed the white knuckles of shame, regret or shock. Instead the reaction seemed one that was stilted and awkward. Most likely this was due to some underlying guilt which over-rid any happy relief. Again the TV adaption did show Elizabeth experiencing a happy relief privately. For instance, when asked to get her mother's shawl she leaves the room and is shown smiling to herself and appearing a little excited. Those private smiles are however not documented in the book. They were inserted for the show and thus not an emotional expression that the author sought to include of her for his story. Also in the book Graham writes that after Ross had left, Francis commented to his father but half to himself that "Elizabeth was upset by his arrival."

A Reliable Word of Death?

Certainly fearing Ross dead in any event is not quite the same as believing with certainty that he was dead. Thinking back to Caroline Enys; over an eighteen month period she received only one letter from Dwight whilst he was away at war and then imprisoned by the French. For much of that time she too feared that he was dead. However it was never confirmed for a long while. Yet she still kept that faith. All that time Caroline's heart remained fully invested with Dwight, wishing he was alive, never giving up hope and never looking to find a life elsewhere without him. Similarly during that time she too received an offer of marriage. For the second time she rejected this from Unwin Trevanaunce. Although Caroline had not been tempted to marry Unwin before then, as a wealthy heiress she was hot property and could have eventually given up waiting for Dwight and gradually returned to society and courted attention from other reputable men. She however with no good and solid word that Dwight was dead was totally devoted to him, did not give up and so throw in the towel but instead kept hope alive.

There can surely be no doubt that if Elizabeth had really believed Ross was dead at war, that this is exactly what she would have said to him immediately. With more interest and a will to plead some innocence in the matter, Elizabeth would probably have made it known in no uncertain terms that she had honestly thought he was dead. 'I thought you were dead' along with the explanation for her believing this and some disbelief that he was standing in their presence proving that very much wrong, is the most likely natural reaction. She did not say all this. And so it is not quite convincing to believe she thought he was or was very likely dead. Her comment that she had just 'feared' him dead, has a much weaker conviction to it and based on what is touched on in the next paragraph, it is probable that her comment that followed; "What can you think of me?" was rooted in guilt that she never really believed this at all. Of course if there had been a firm and true belief that he was dead and she was hugely shocked to see him still alive, she probably would not have made such a comment implying guilt and wrong doing on her side. Instead she would have been eager to say things that supported that she too was the victim of terrible misinformation and misunderstanding.

The idea of misinformation and misunderstanding should lead us to wonder exactly why did Elizabeth fear or believe Ross was dead. When she told him that 'word came' of his death, where did this word come from? From who? When Ross later asked his servants Jud and Prudie if they had told people he was dead they denied this and Prudie answered that "T'was common belief.". So it would appear that this belief that he was dead was not based on any official word but accepted on the basis of local gossip. One must also wonder what efforts were made to establish the cogency of this rumour before readily accepting that it was indeed true. However, moving on to the next point, it would appear that the truth of the matter is that Elizabeth did not necessarily accept this as the truth at all.

"I never really believed you were dead."

If there is any continued confusion about whether Elizabeth knew Ross to be alive when deciding to marry Francis, then again in this third point she unequivocally clears this up herself when making a frank admission to Ross three books later in Warleggan. This is ten years later. Elizabeth tells Ross at the Trevanaunce's party "I never really believed you were dead." An explanation for the slight but key change of position from her is that fresh from Ross's return from war and therefore the betrayal of her promise, Elizabeth was probably more urgently pressed to swerve harsh accusations of disloyalty whilst the wound of her betrayal to Ross was still ripe and his disappointment and anger was liable to flare up right before her and leave her in a guilty uncomfortable confrontation with him. Ten years later with them both married with children, friends over that time and the betrayal so long ago and now seemingly water under the bridge, she surely would have felt more comfortable and relaxed to tell the truth in casual conversation without much fear that Ross would explode at her.

The significance of Elizabeth's admission that she did not really think Ross was dead together with the other points above is that we can now be clear that the idea of her only agreeing to marry Francis in the mistaken belief that Ross was dead is quite a myth. Thus her decision to marry Francis before she felt certain that Ross was dead suggests that either she did not truly love Ross or if she did she simply chose to betray that love by going with Francis. That on it's own speaks to the nature of her love for Ross and gives the impression of one that if it existed then blew with the wind according to her interests at any given time and was not strong enough to resist other potential options for herself.

A Slackening Interest

Elizabeth's decision to marry Francis was one she clearly owned as her own and was one she was emotionally invested in. As Francis gave a toast to her at the engagement dinner before Ross's arrival, we are told that 'Elizabeth smiled brilliantly up at her lover.' She was happy with Francis and was engaged to a man she considered herself as her own love. Later, back at Nampara and in his depression about this betrayal the narrator writes that Ross is looking over Elizabeth's old letters sent to him six months before he returned from the war. Here we are told that 'Reading with the knowledge he now had, there were hints of a slackening interest' in those letters from Elizabeth. Ross rationalises that perhaps she had written to him later to tell him the truth and the letters had been lost or missed. Either way the 'slackening interest' from six months before is another indication of pre-meditation from Elizabeth in terms of breaking her promise to Ross. It's also an indication that any love Elizabeth had had for Ross had been waning a long time before he returned home. More significantly though, is the fact that it indicates it had waned at a time when she believed him to still be alive. Therefore this dismantles the idea that she simply chose Francis by default and as the only option left to her in light of a belief in the death of the person she had truly hoped to marry. Instead Francis was chosen in a choice between two men Elizabeth knew to both be alive.

Mourning a Love and Courting a New Love?

Elizabeth's slackening interest in Ross and her lack of faithful behaviour to him is also relevant to how she allowed Francis to court her in the first place. The reader is told that they met at a party in the spring. With spring starting in mid March and Ross returning to Cornwall in October, this meeting could have been six months before Ross's return. Incidentally this time range would roughly coincide with Elizabeth's letters indicating her waning interest in Ross. But also Verity disclosed to Ross that she had told Francis that he had been friendly with Elizabeth but that ".....she (Elizabeth) had already told him that." She also went on to suggest that Francis and Elizabeth connected so well that "It came from outside of them." and in relation to that "You do not argue with the clouds or the rain or the lightening." Indeed the suggestion is that there was very little resistance by either Elizabeth or Francis on account of Elizabeth's disclosure that she had been 'friendly' with Ross. Instead it would appear that Elizabeth and Francis simply could not help themselves but to court each other and fall in love. This presents a picture that any interest in Ross was not a significant emotional stumbling block for Elizabeth and was quickly dismissed for something that seemed to strongly over power whatever she felt for Ross.

Not only does Elizabeth's openness and willingness to be courted and become engaged to another man seriously knock the theory that she had a true and steadfast love for Ross but one might wonder exactly how distressed Elizabeth was at all about the fact that Ross may have died in the war. Her lack of happy excitement and relief upon his return should raise an eyebrow too. Truly if anyone is to think Elizabeth believed Ross to be dead, then the next and often forgotten question is just 'how much did that distress and upset her?' It is to be noted that the book is completely devoid of any text which alludes to Elizabeth having been so distressed or even for any period being in a state of morning for the death or even suspected death of a boyfriend (or special someone) at war. Winston Graham did not choose to convey this, to enhance and sentimentalise their love story and to therefore really convey this notion of Elizabeth having truly and really loved Ross. He did not include a narrative or even a thought processing from Elizabeth that other factors were at play such as her not believing she would get a better offer elsewhere and worrying about this. Still very young at nineteen years old with stories of how she met Francis and how she smiled up at her lover, she instead presented in the book's account as a woman who was in love and genuinely happy to be with Francis at the time. It would appear that this lack of emotional distress and concern for Ross while he was away or that he might be dead, and therefore this lack of steadfast love is the very reason why she was not averse to being courted by Francis in the first place and why she did not put up a resistance to forming this new relationship.

A Heart That Often Strays

In the books we are not told that Elizabeth's courtship with Francis was because she lost hope in Ross being alive but instead all the indicators imply it was because she lost interest in him. Indeed as we go on in the books we see that there is much consistency with Elizabeth's behaviour. In the same way she did not apparently mourn Ross's (suspected) death and courted another man (Francis), ten years later she did the exact same thing with other men. When her one year mourning period in respect of Francis's death was not even half way through she allowed herself to be courted by George and married him too! This being seven months after Francis's death. It is arguable that Elizabeth allowed George to unofficially court her attention even before Francis died prompting Francis to warn her about this in the face of her hesitant reluctance to heed his advice. In Warleggan and after another one of George's visits to see Elizabeth, Francis tells her "We may disagree, but I think his coming today has a plain enough reason...If by befriending us he can put a new division between us and Ross, he will certainly have gained his object. Do you want him to do that? Elizabeth was silent for a moment then she said: 'No.'

For the various reasons above the idea that Elizabeth was genuinely in love with Ross Poldark continues to remain doubtful. Still there is still much more to consider. This includes the idea that she only agreed to marry Francis Poldark because she was under duress from heavy parental pressure. That naturally sets up the next blog in this journey of exploring Elizabeth's love for Ross Poldark and whether she married Francis due to parental pressure or because she genuinely wanted to in the blog 'Her Own Mind Or Her Parent's Mind.'

This site is an amazon associate and therefore will earn
from qualifying purchases.

Previous posts