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Elizabeth Poldark: A Touch of Red Dress Seduction (A Love for Ross Poldark ? Pt9)

Elizabeth Poldark or Warleggan red dress seduction of Ross

It is one thing to have established in the last blog 'Not Happy You're happy Ross', that Elizabeth was not genuinely happy in Ross's newly wedded bliss to Demelza, and it is another to establish that she sought to inadvertently sabotage his happiness with this because of her own needs. 
In this ninth blog looking at Elizabeth's love or lack of real love for Ross Poldark, six years into her own marriage with Francis, the start of her mission to 'rebuild her ascendancy over Ross' and how she went about this is the focus. Demelza's blue dress seduction has been covered in previous blogs including 'Seduction, a Blue Dress and a Spirit of Love'. However though not faithfully or at all documented in either of the television adaptions a contrast Winston Graham provided in his story sees Elizabeth attempt to do the same thing in her own way and to seduce Ross, but with a red dress. Although this is on a much more muted and subtle scale Elizabeth definitely seeks to seduce Ross Poldark with her choice of dress and has a scene where she more actively employs what in her own subtle way was a 'touch of red dress seduction' of him. Whilst this could be overlooked, in terms of their frustrated love story her use of the dress on two occasions are significant scene and so too is Elizabeth's mindset in driving their flirtatious exchange on the second and the impact on Ross's peace of mind.

A Mission Formed And A Red Dress For Ascendancy Over Ross

Initial thoughts could lead one to wonder why after five years or so of marriage did Elizabeth first decide she needed to get back to the forefront of Ross's mind. Especially when in the first four years she did not even visit him. The timing is probably relevant and despite Verity's likely reports of Ross and Demelza's newly wedded bliss
, as set out in the Blog The Greatest Love Above Any Otherwhen Ross finally introduced Demelza to the family for the Christmas gathering at Trenwith six months after they married, Elizabeth would have seen for herself just how happy they seemed. Not surprisingly it was only then that Elizabeth's mission to reclaim Ross's primary attention was born. Graham did not confirm this to the reader until a further six months later in the next book, book two (Demelza). By then Demelza had given birth to their first child Julia, and Graham revealed that ahead of Julia's Christening party Elizabeth '..had taken pains to see if she could rebuild her ascendancy over Ross, a matter that was becoming more important to her than it had once been.' In doing so, for the Christening she chose to wear a 'brocaded dress of crimson velvet, with broad ribbons round the waist and tiers of lace on the sleeves.' Therefore since crimson is a rich and deep shade of red, red was her colour of choice. Graham added that 'To anyone with a sense of colour the rich crimson made her fairness mesmeric.' Here, it was therefore clear that just as Demelza had once sought Ross's romantic investment in her by dressing up for him in his mother's blue dress, Elizabeth did the same by dressing up for him in her mesmeric red one. However with 'ascendancy' meaning to rise above to a position of dominance, Elizabeth's aim was to have a hold over Ross and for Ross to desire and place her above another woman. His own wife! 

A First Attempt- Don't You Wish Demelza Was Refined Like Me

One could be mistaken for thinking that Elizabeth's attempt to entice Ross simply by wearing her red dress came to nothing on the first occasion at Julia's Christening event. Graham wrote no actual dialogue between her and Ross and at this point in their love story Ross and Demelza were still thoroughly happy and absorbed in their love and new baby. Contrary to a new scene created for the last TV adaption where at the event Ross was shown with Verity looking at and wishing that perhaps he could have both Demelza and Elizabeth, Ross in the book story did not say this. However in accordance with Elizabeth's wish Ross did compare both women against each other. In this way Elizabeth made some achievement. This is reflected in Demelza's thoughts as she had been suspicious of Elizabeth. Glamorously dressed she was an aloof figure. When Demelza's father made a scene she stood back and said nothing. She acted the dignified lady and Demelza realised that Elizabeth 
'...had been content to be there...just her as a contrast, as an example of all Ross's wife was not.' Demelza's suspicions were quite in sync with Elizabeth's ascendancy mission. 

So as Elizabeth had wanted Ross to compare Demelza unfavourably against her then she was in part successful in her mission. Graham wrote that Ross noted Elizabeth was '..the loveliness of gracious, aristocratic womanhood...bred to refinement.' Whilst on the other hand he considered that in comparison 'Against her Demelza was the upstart; bred in drunkenness and filth,...a waif in a parlour....lusty, crude, unsubtle....' At this stage that still was not enough and Ross still thought that '..each of them had something the other lacked'. However where was not successful is that at this point in the story he still did not show himself to be very vulnerable to Elizabeth's charms. Demelza had marvelled at how Ross had spent seven hours in Elizabeth's company at Christmas with Elizabeth making 'she-cat' eyes at him throughout, but that Ross had still wanted her (Demelza). Graham went on to write that Ross was more tolerant of her father's disruptive behaviour at the party '..because of the content and happiness he found with Demelza.' Later Graham would write in that second book Ross's thoughts that it was Demelza that was the woman that meant more to him than any other. 

It would not be until Elizabeth's second attempt with the same dress in the next book and under very different circumstances, that she would experience some signs of success in her attempt to entice Ross with her dress as an aid.  


A 2nd invite for Christmas at Trenwith -A mission of gratitude or a mission to disrupt?

Elizabeth's second attempt with her red dress was in book three (Jeremy Poldark) when Ross and Demelza were experiencing a time of great strife. Julia had died, Ross had gone through a harrowing court trial and he and Demelza were near financial ruin following the collapse of the Carnemore Copper company. In addition to being on bad terms with Francis, Demelza and Ross had become distant from each other through miscommunication and her hiding her pregnancy of Jeremy due to that. Having previously prodded Ross at the first Christmas at Trenwith about whether he was happy with Demelza, and now in the midst of all their known misfortune, a suspiciously curious Elizabeth checked in a second time about Ross's happiness with Demelza. This was when she asked Dwight 
"Would you think that they were happy together?" With no direct answer and as if to see for herself, she pushed him to take a message to Demelza inviting her and Ross to visit Trenwith again. Seemingly this was under a ruse of gratitude to Demelza for saving Geoffrey Charles from death, but she told Dwight that he should "..impress it on her, would you, that we really want them, need them?" The source of that 'need' and the genuineness of this invitation is immediately suspicious and arguably distasteful because having worn this particular red dress originally intended to aid her goal of ascendancy over Ross at his child's christening, she now specifically chose to wear it again for this new invitation but following that child's death. So she was pursuing her mission for Ross's attentions whilst Ross and Demelza were still mourning for Julia. 

No Gratitude To Demelza- Just Ross

Any belief that Elizabeth had invited Demelza with Ross to Trenwith primarily to show her gratitude to Demelza for saving Geoffrey Charles is seriously questioned immediately on their arrival. This is by Demelza's observations of Elizabeth's behaviour and the first words that Graham had her say to Demelza. Demelza observed Elizabeth welcome her 'graciously'. However this was 'Too graciously, she at once thought. It didn't ring true, like the sick Elizabeth of twelve months ago.' If Demelza did recognise that Elizabeth had once shown genuine gratitude it's probable she could also fairly recognise when this was not the case too. And so it is likely that with the passage of time and with her dire and desperate straits long behind her the year before, any gratitude Elizabeth had had to Demelza had waned and was a feeling very much of the past. In fact thereafter she is not recorded at all by Graham as ever thinking of Demelza as the woman who saved her son. The next revealing thing is that Elizabeth's first quoted dialogue to Demelza after greeting her was to speak of Ross. Elizabeth said ' ...linking Demelza's arm, "I was afraid you would never bring him." That certainly does not accord with her suggestion to Dwight that the motive behind her invitation was to treat and show gratitude towards Demelza. It becomes apparent that as per her ascendancy mission her main wish was to find a way to get Ross back before her and to look stunning for him in this opportunity.   

Sly manoeuvres for a Home Advantage 

Having believed Elizabeth's invite was well intentioned Demelza's own suspicion did arise only and immediately upon seeing Elizabeth dressed up as she was. Graham said that 'Demelza was surprised to see her wearing the frock of startling crimson velvet with the cascades of fine lace, which she had worn at Julia's christening.' Of course, in light of Julia's death and that she and Ross were still grieving this, Graham continued that 'There had been no suggestion that this was to be a party, and Demelza, feeling that any display in the present circumstances would be looked on as bad form by these well-bred people, had come in her afternoon dress.' No doubt it was a crafty manoeuvre by Elizabeth to outshine and gain the upper hand over her competitor, Demelza, and with a 'sharp twinge' Demelza just sporting a basic dress thought of Elizabeth 'So she's still interested in Ross..' Of course, we know Demelza had her own reasons to be suspicious of Elizabeth long before. For instance in light of Elizabeth's 'she-cat' eye-ing of Ross when Demelza first attended Trenwith with him as his wife. Graham went on to note that contrary to the fancy meal served on that first visit to Trenwith, on this second occasion it '...wasn't the sort of meal they'd had before...' The scaled down extravagance of the meal in comparison was referenced and it naturally reflected the downturn in Elizabeth and Francis's financial position at this stage in their marriage following the closure of their mine and high debts. However this only emphasised not just how inappropriate Elizabeth's attire was when hosting a couple mourning their first child, but also how out of place it was for what was not a very fancy dinner. It supports Graham's inference of Elizabeth's determination and that she had indeed 'taken pains' in her goal to entice and 'rebuild her ascendancy over Ross'. 

Blue Dress Demelza Vs Red Dress Elizabeth 

So we have Demelza's blue dress and Elizabeth's red dress. Two different dresses both worn by the women with the aim of enticing Ross. Just as Ross once considered the women to be like 'earthenware and porcelain', t
he differences between them could not be further apart. This is exactly reflected in the dresses chosen by Graham on their behalf to seduce Ross with. Blue is known to represent concepts stemming mainly from water themes such as life, purity and calmness, but also stability and loyalty. It is not coincidental that this really does capture the overall essence of Demelza even with her indiscretions along the way. On the other hand red dresses are often thought of as a woman's choice for grabbing attention and male desire. It is therefore also no coincidence that Graham made red Elizabeth's colour of choice and often emphasised its colour when referring to the dress. Red does represent femininity, temptation, danger, seduction, provocation and sexual appeal. Elizabeth did happen to represent many of these concepts to men or certainly would do in her mesmeric red dress. If not sexual appeal then certainly her beauty was often referenced as a feature which completely captivated men. Even Dwight!

A Red Dress of Flamboyant

Besides Demelza's blue seduction dress Graham makes more of an effort to describe Elizabeth's red dress than any other in his saga. Such particular detail is given by him on both occasions where Elizabeth wears it. This definitely implies that Graham himself as narrator and author placed a significant level of importance on this dress. Even if the reader did not. Nevertheless there is no doubt he wanted the reader to know it was an outstanding mesmerising dress and one Elizabeth just so happened to choose for her ascendancy mission for that very reason. On both occasions he referenced it's features and it's colour whilst highlighting its effect to make her look 'mesmeric' or its 'startling' allure. It therefore appeared that despite her beautiful looks the dress had an additional transforming impact for her and that in his description of 'rich' crimson in colour and fabric of 'velvet' and cascades of 'fine lace', Graham builds an impression that the dress truly exuded decadence and was simply stunning. To further emphasise this Graham had included an observation from Demelza's step mother at Julia's christening when writing that 'Aunt Chegwidden's mouth pinched itself in like a darned buttonhole as she took in Elizabeth's flamboyant crimson,...' In taking her pains it is clear Elizabeth meant business with regards to her choice of dress and her desire to be noticed for it. Specifically by Ross!

A Red Dress That 'Troubled' Ross 

And so just as Graham left us in no doubt about the mesmeric appeal of Elizabeth's red dress, so too did he document the significant effect on Ross on its second outing. Where Ross had not seemed distracted by her dress the first time, on the second occasion and now browbeaten by life and a little distant from his wife, it did now distract him. He noticed! Graham specified that this time for Ross "Her looks had been troubling him all evening." Finally the dress and her look in it had worked! Of course with going through a rough patch in life including marital tensions and this therefore making the idealised vision Ross had of Elizabeth more appealing as an escapism from this, Graham went on to emphasise that Ross noticing now was also in part due to Elizabeth's particular choice of dress. He did so as he pointed out that from Ross's perspective 'Rich crimson flared about the unsubdued whiteness of her arm and throat....' This then served to set Ross's mind so that he was charged up. The flame for Elizabeth which had not died but had dwindled in comparison against his great love and early wedded bliss for Demelza, was re-lit. This was just  ahead of a flirty exchange led by Elizabeth in the kitchen after the family dinner. 

A Red Dress Ross Liked, A Flame Re-lit,  A Mission Accomplished 

Unlike with Demelza's seduction involving two unattached individuals, Elizabeth's in this scene from the story did not. With both she and Ross being married there was only so far her seduction of Ross could go without it being particularly scandalous. In any event offering her body to Ross was not only too far outside of Elizabeth's conservative character but also not required for her particular goal. This is because Elizabeth's goal was simply to reignite Ross's romantic interest in her. Just to reclaim her ascendancy over him. Hence she had known that she had lost this to Demelza. Graham ensured that readers knew that beyond 'troubling' Ross, Elizabeth's red dress had done it's job as 
Ross told her in their kitchen conversation "I like that dress." So Elizabeth's underhand manoeuvre had indeed paid off. This was also evident later when Ross tried to placate Demelza that even without the memo of the dress code, and in her afternoon dress she still looked 'very nice'.

But then Graham also shared Ross's private thought which was 'But she (Elizabeth) looked nicer.' So indeed it was not only a cunning smart move from Elizabeth but a successful one too. This is because with a level playing field and advance notice for Demelza, 
on that previous Christmas gathering Ross had thought that Demelza looked so good and that she had actually rivalled Elizabeth. Elizabeth was probably conscious of this as the text states that Elizabeth's 'ascendancy mission' was inspired in the first place because 'At Christmas she had been a little piqued by the young Demelza's success,..' Demelza's beauty as the blossoming flower was surely part of what Elizabeth had considered made her a 'success' that night. On this occasion Elizabeth made sure she was one step ahead.

Not Just A Dress But An Attitude Of Intent

Even if one thought little of Elizabeth's ascendancy mission on the basis that it just hinged on a dress and was therefore not so threatening, Graham's narration that Elizabeth's looks were troubling contradicts that. Also Ross's compliment on the dress suggests that the reason it troubled him was because he liked it so much. And her in it! Of course, as a man married to another woman this thinking was dangerous. Ross (before he married Demelza) had warned Elizabeth of a danger relation to his friendship with Francis and said '..but friendships have a fraility when a woman comes between. So sometimes have marriage vows....I love you, Elizabeth, and that is dangerous.". (*)  Bearing that in mind, if Elizabeth's aim was to disorientate Ross and re-light his interest in her, this as he warned was 'dangerous'. Now it was that this was not just dangerous to Ross's relationship with Francis but also with his new wife Demelza. If Ross was troubled by Elizabeth's looks as was intended for his approval and admiration, this danger had been purposefully stoked up by Elizabeth for her own gain.

But to dismiss the impact of a mesmeric red dress just because it was a mere dress means that one can dismiss the significance of t
he blue dress Demelza wore for Ross. Yet as set out in the blog Seduction, a Blue Dress and a Spirit of Love' the impact of that blue dress was to make Ross no longer see Demelza as a street urchin. That person was 'gone forever' for him. But also Graham wrote how it had had a haunting and provoking impact on him in his bedroom even before Demelza came in to see him again. It had left him so tempted and had helped to light a 'raging desire' for her. So, what if Elizabeth's dress had helped to stir up a raging desire for her too?  As it troubled Ross, but due to him liking it too, it clearly also had both the element of provocation and temptation for him. Graham was also sure to document Elizabeth's pleasure in Ross's compliment about her dress. He recorded that her immediate response was that 'Her lips moved in a half smile.' This was surely in recognition of her 'bingo' moment in her mission and reassurance to her that her effort to entice him had paid off.

A 'Cool Cultured' Flirtation 

In accordance with Elizabeth's more subtle flirtation style, setting the dress aside and the reader privately being informed by narration that she did indeed wear it to a provoke a feeling in Ross, 
just before she flirted with him in the kitchen Ross in his naivety thought that 'She had made no provocative move at all..'  However he did still think that ' in her cool cultured way her manner was not without challenge.' And as if obsessed with his marriage with Demelza, for the THIRD time on this matter Elizabeth again said 'Your marriage with Demelza has been so happy.' By now it should be clear to the reader that she was pushing Ross for a response and it was unlikely that she really wanted to hear him sing praises about his happy married life. Most likely this was one of Elizabeth's clear 'challenges' that Ross had indeed noted himself. Even if it was a subtle one. After all Graham wrote that in saying this to Ross 'He realised she had turned the conversation.' He had had the same reaction when she had said the same thing to him the Christmas before. But in this kitchen conversation there were other challenges from her too. She initiated the flirtation by seemingly fishing for compliments when she complained that she felt old. In reply to Ross's suggestion that she did not need reassurances that this was not the case, she teased that "Oh your reassurance isn't unwelcome." 

She Stepped Back Into Him 

With the red dress and some flirty talk working its magic on Ross, Elizabeth also subtly taunted Ross physically in the kitchen as she stepped back into him while he was opening a kitchen cupboard. While this could have been an unintended clash, as Graham wrote that 'her hair brushed his face' he did not write that she immediately move away as if it was unintended. She stayed there. Why? Again this was another rather 'cool and cultured challenge' and it simply was Elizabeth's way of subtle seduction of Ross. She was enticing him. It is like a slight parallel with Demelza coming into Ross's room on that blue dress seduction night and turning her back to him to undo her blue dress. Both acts were an invitation or sorts. Perhaps for some physical reciprocation or otherwise. Both women then waited for Ross to make the next move. Ross here had clearly been provoked and tempted by Elizabeth. With Demelza his next move was to slip his hand into the dress onto her waist. Here, as he lingered some moments his next move was to put his arm around Elizabeth '..against the velvet of her other arm.' It was a highly charged moment of sexual tension as Graham wrote that 'Time briefly ceased to have progression and became an intimate perception of a single emotion breathed by them both-...' T
he impact on Ross should not be underplayed. Later in the story as he found it pleasurable to clasp Demelza's arm, he thought that 'His clasp of another arm at Christmas had had electricity in the touch.' And he wondered then 'Was it because he loved Elizabeth more-or because her knew her less?' Clearly this was electricity and feeling stemmed from 'lust' but Graham went on to write that this moment in the kitchen lasted until 'HE (Ross) stepped away'. It is significant that Elizabeth did not move forward and away from Ross. Perhaps with a gracious 'excuse me.' or ,'sorry', and that she did not express any alarm in him putting his arm around her given that it was not quite appropriate. Instead this moment to her would have been a significant reaffirming breakthrough that Ross was indeed still attracted and interested in her after all. As if her mission had been accomplished, it is fitting that it was just after this that she said to him "You go on, Ross. I don't need you any more." 

A Seduction, Red Dress and a Spirit of Doubt 

It is interesting that even if the reader did not notice anything untoward with Elizabeth's behaviour, Ross did. Later that night, when reflecting on Elizabeth's behaviour, Ross considered  '(But) it's a change towards me.' However it is also interesting that he did not at that point assume this was because she loved him but instead because he thought she had become fed up that her life was slipping away living in an ancient house with a bankrupt husband. So even Ross's thoughts supported the conclusion that Elizabeth's renewed interest in him (for whatever reason six years into her marriage with Francis) was not born out of a true love for him but rather a disappointing change in her circumstances. As for a later blog Ross did not actually think of Elizabeth loving him until a couple of years later when she surprised and shocked him with a 'confession' at a dinner event implying that she did love him. It is likely that together with this, and on reflection, Ross later came to see Elizabeth's behaviour in this scene and later scenes as not just 'challenging' but indeed quite provocative and goading. After the highly charged and controversial incident of sleeping with her on 9th May, Ross did have thoughts that 'Her attitude towards him during a number of years, and particularly the last two, was more than anything responsible for what had happened, and she must have known it.' 
Still at this stage Ross ended the night reminding himself that he had loved his wife devotedly for four years and that he still did. He also thought of Demelza that 'She had given him more than perhaps Elizabeth ever could:...' 

A Harmless Flirtation?

Of course since nothing seriously sexual came out of this kitchen scene and Elizabeth did not suggest a sexual affair or just a single romp with Ross, her flirtation along with the dress could be dismissed as 'harmless'. However the impact on Ross and his peace of mind makes it clear it was not completely a harmless flirtation. Not when he was thinking back on the 'electricity' he felt from touching her arm. Also, as the story transpires it was after Ross had sex with Elizabeth that he came to the realisation that his "true and real love was not for her" but for Demelza. Yet until then and as Demelza said to Ross in book Seven (The Angry Tide) she had felt that in the years before she had had to compete with Elizabeth. The allure of Elizabeth, which was an idea Elizabeth herself perpetuated in this mesmeric dress,  her veneer always of sweetness, and with her 'cool cultured', provocative manner, had actually been more damaging to Ross's peace of mind and conflict over her, over years, than if she had encouraged and he engaged in a sexual romp with her. If so he may have come to the realisation 
a whole lot earlier that his vision of her was just an ideal rather than a reality. Hence Elizabeth fanning his flames through mild goading over a number of years ended up being more threatening than the one off sex proved to be in the end. That is because at the cost to his marriage it kept him in a state of confusion about where his true and greater love lay for longer. 

Elizabeth's Need Of Ross- Was It Love?

There is no doubt of Elizabeth's sophisticated flirting in this kitchen scene and those lingering moments of Ross putting his arm round her and that 'electricity' was surely a pleasing outcome for her. That is in accordance with her statement that she did not need him 'any more'. Or when Ross replied "Not anymore?" (presumably in relation to further help with clearing up). Her reply then was "Well not that way." 
It is not so cryptic because of course she did not really 'need' or want him for domestic help. We know that was not the way she 'needed' him. Graham was purposeful in all of Elizabeth's choice of words and her comment here does link back to her comment to Dwight that he should press Demelza to come with Ross because "..we really want them, need them." Satisfied with Ross's response to her flirting, it is clear that her need of him had then been satisfied. Not by help with clearing away but simply by him putting his arm around her and in that lustful moment of 'electricity', appearing to desire her after all. Her need for revalidation as a woman he still fancied was met. That is for the time being. 

A Mission To Ascend Or A Mission To Love?

Using the definitions of the nature of love from Aquinas and Lahay as referenced in the blog 'Not Happy You Are Happy Ross' it could not be clearer that Elizabeth's seduction of Ross was not motivated by love. It is apparent that her mission to ascend in Ross's mind was not suddenly important to her after five/six years due to a love of him but due to external factors such as her failing marriage and the blossoming and success of Demelza. This means her mission was self indulgent and self motivated. We learnt in the previous blog that this is the opposite of love. Ross's happiness and good pairing with Demelza is clear to most readers, and was also clear to Verity, to Francis and those that were in their lives. Elizabeth did not care to uphold, protect or even just support and honour Ross's happiness with Demelza by not tampering with Ross's peace of mind and pushing his buttons to draw him back to her. Her ascendancy mission and attempt to reignite Ross's passion and emotional interest in her, with her red dress here as an aid, and also her flirtatious and challenging talk, would only disrupt and unsettle his happiness if she had been successful. She did not care about this as she was thinking of herself. Though this might have been in her interest it would not have been in Ross's. Elizabeth's inability to sacrifice or simply put aside her own ego and to leave Ross to be happy with Demelza was not a demonstration of a real and true love for him. 

As Elizabeth's ascendancy mission was first inspired by Elizabeth being 'piqued' at Demelza's success, the next/upcoming blog in this series 'Green-eyed Jealousy of Demelza' will explore the idea that a source of Elizabeth's reason in pressing for Ross's attention and ascendancy in his mind over Demelza, was a definite jealousy of her. Thereafter 'Goading for Ross's love will explore how she continued her mission of ascendancy in later parts of the story and therefore in unsettling Ross's peace of mind. 

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