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The Death of Julia Poldark -A Marital Storm (9 Big Deaths Of Poldark)

Julia Poldark was not the first death in the saga, but she was the first of nine significant deaths that really rocked the world of the lead characters Ross and Demelza. 

As addressed in the previous post 'Nine Lives Nine Deaths' there are two main purposeful and strategic reasons for an author to write a character's death and to essentially ‘kill them off’. The first is a 'literary plot device'. The second is for 'literary poetic justice'. This is a concept that most authors including Winston Graham acknowledge and embed in their stories.

This post explores if there are elements of 'poetic justice' to Julia's death as well how this death may have served as a 
'plot device'. As all the 9 deaths in the series will do, this invites a consideration of the impact of Julia's death on Ross and Demelza's relationship. In this case there is also Elizabeth's opportunism in taking advantage of this death. This was in her antagonistic role to renew Ross's interest in her. This might help with understanding an underlying and aggravating purpose for this death and therefore the point Winston Graham was making with this literary device. This would be a point all about the nature of the Ross and Demelza's bond. Through this it can be seen why Graham decided this fate for such an innocent character. 

What Julia Poldark Died off

Born in May 1788 Julia Poldark's tenure in the story was just nineteen months. She died on 3rd January 1790 of what was then known as 'putrid throat' disease. Today it is known as 'diphtheria'. Julia was born and died all in the same book. This was the second book 'Demelza'. 

A Death Unwritten

What stands out about Julia's death is that it was not actually written. Instead, when Demelza woke up from her sickness of the putrid throat on 4th January 1790, Graham narrated retrospectively that Julia had not survived her own infection of this disease and had been lost to them the night before. It was therefore a death event that was not really given any fanfare. So Julia seemed to slip away and depart from the story almost uneventfully. Perhaps this was because Graham decided to focus the significance of her death elsewhere on other characters and in the aftermath. Therefore this already has all the hallmarks of a plot device. This also does mean that unlike some of the other upcoming posts on the nine big deaths of Poldark, this one cannot focus on the detail of the actual death scene. This is simply because there were no details. 

No Death Scene -No Poetry 

Whilst not definitive, t
he absence of a written death scene, can be that major indicator that poetic justice was not the author's primary intention with this particular death. This is especially if there were no details given of it even retrospectively. That is something that might at least be done for more minor characters dying due to poetic justice

To really deliver and shine a light on the poetic justice in the death of a particular character the author would normally give the reader a front row seat to it including all the sometimes gory details. It would be the author's opportunity to flex their literary skills in sharing the details with poetic justice stamped all over the scene and perhaps on reflection and in a literal sense a feeling of 'justice' being 'served' in the story too. For instance, in the thoughts of the character at the time of death and the circumstances of it. Also in details like their appearance, their condition, emotions and any pain they felt. Then their final words or actions could be loaded with meaning that somehow added to the poetic irony or degradation of it all. 
With Julia's death, a key question about the 'poetic justice' is 'Where was it?'. Where is it conveyed? Julia's passing away without an actual death scene written meant there really was no front row seat to the fanfare that would normally come with a death by poetic justice. In addition there were also no details to perhaps convey this concept retrospectively. For instance, no impression was given of whether it was a peaceful and calm death (such as slipping away in her sleep), or if it was horrendous and agonising. Yet in this case, with just the narrator's passing announcement that Julia had died the night before, Graham gave the impression of a 'slipping away' and did not seem to do anything at all to push the idea that this literary death had even a whiff of poetic justice about it. 

Poetic Justice For An Unspotted Character?

One can be pretty confident in concluding that Julia's death was more likely a plot device rather than a device to exact some kind of 'poetic justice' on her. But in any case applying poetic justice to Julia's death would have contradicted the very essence of the concept of it. Julia was an unspotted character. A child character who barely spoke a full sentence
all throughout the whole of the book that she appeared in. Julia obviously did nothing requiring retribution. 

As covered in the 'Nine Lives Nine Deaths' post, 'poetic justice' for literary purposes was a phrase coined in the 18th century which linked with the character's morality. Indeed it is also important to note here that the very definition and purpose of  'poetic justice' is related to the character's 'own' conduct and Julia had no established conduct or even any established personality within the story. At her death Julia was too young to have been able to lay any sort of a moral footprint in the story independently that could warrant or somehow justify poetic justice on her. 

VERDICT: Julia Death's A Plot Device Not a Punishment 

Therefore in light of all this, it does seem quite clear that Julia's death was not poetic justice against her but instead the other option which was a plot device.
Of course one could wonder if Julia’s death had been a punishment or poetic justice or karma to those she left behind. Ross and Demelza. A punishment for what though? The upcoming post 'The Injustice in the Loss of Julia' explores this including looking at the actions and virtues of Ross and Demelza. This is particularly of Demelza in the lead up to Julia's death. However, it is apparent in the way that Ross and Demelza overcome this plot device, as addressed below that it could not really have been for the sake of a punishment. 

"And though, for the whole, luck has been against us, sometimes it has moved for us...if there was Julia, there is also Jeremy." 
(Demelza to Ross 'Warleggan' Book 2 Chapter 1)

"We've lost Julia. Nothing irreparably."
 (Ross to Demelza- 'Warleggan'  Book 4 Chapter7)

Ross and Demelza's way of combating this experience in their lives and their life beyond this dark time of losing Julia presents Julia's death as a plot device which was essentially about overcoming rather than bowing and crumbling under a difficult life episode. Indeed the overall theme is one of triumph over adversity which would mean that if this death was a poetic justice against Ross and Demelza then they did a good job of defeating and overcoming the author's own attempt to punish them and instead still going on to blossom and to bear more fruits, joy and success in their lives together. Instead one could see that Winston Graham used this trauma to commend them. 

The Plot Device-A Prophecy Of A Stormy Purpose 

'There could have been prophecy in the storm that blew up at the time of Julia's birth.' 

These were Graham's opening words of the second book 'Demelza' and so they were the words which announced Julia's birth at the same time. Indeed there was prophecy in the storm at Julia’s birth. Of course in writing this foreboding text Graham knew that by the end of the book he would also be writing Julia's death. And it so happened that Julia's death along with her birth was also during a storm too. 

The Personification of The Storm of Julia 

The Storm At Birth

Certainly Graham seemed to want to highlight Julia's connection with a storm both
in birth and death. At her birth he wrote of the Nampara shuddering from the gust of wind. He referred to it as a ‘wild day’. He described fallen elm branches and apple trees taken down by the force on the wind. In this wind Ross lost his hat and tore his coat on his way to get Dr Choake to deliver Julia. Riding back with him Dr Choake he too also lost his hat due to the wind and Ross happened to catch his wig which was also blown off. Graham wrote that loud knocking at the Nampara door could hardly be heard over the 'thunder of the wind' and that ‘It was not so much a gale as a sudden storm, as if the forces of a gathering anger had been bottled up for a month and must be spent in an hour.’ 

Julia's Stormy Departure- Against the Demelza's Calm and Sunny revival

Graham’s insistence of connecting Julia specifically to the storm was even to the point that as was typical with Graham's characterisation of Demelza he narrated and paired Demelza waking up after Julia's death with the sun coming out. So the storm which accompanied Julia's death the night before while Demelza slept had stopped. In contrast as Demelza woke Graham pointed out that '..the wind broke and it began to snow....' 'The hush everywhere was profound. After the fanatic ravings of the gale it was as if a blanket had fallen on the world......The roar of the sea was there but had somehow become lost in the silence.....Then at two the clouds broke up and the sun came out dazzlingly brilliant ...and a robin,..began to sing to the sun.' 

Tied in with the many other suggestions in the saga of Demelza’s warmth and light, this presents quite beautifully powerful imagery of nature brightly and peacefully reflecting Demelza's reawakening and return to full life after near death. Imagery that visually would not be lost on the viewer in a cinematic depiction. But what is interesting and also consistent was Graham’s stubborn characterisation of what Julia represented. Something quite different. Therefore, as if to further reinforce
 Julia's stormy purpose, he wrote that on the day of Julia's funeral 'That night the gale blew up again from the north....'. 

An Unforgettable Storm

Demelza and Ross went on in the saga to have individual but matching recollections about the storms at the beginning and end of Julia's life. In 'Jeremy Poldark', after Demelza confessed to Ross that she was pregnant with Jeremy, Graham wrote Ross considering this development 'And all the memories of Julia it revived. The storm at her birth.....-and the storm at her death. It had come in a cycle, had conformed to a pattern, like a Greek tragedy prepared by a cynic.' Also in 'Black Moon'just after telling Ross she was pregnant with Clowance, Demela said to him "D'you remember the storm that blew up at the time of Julia's birth? I think it is the fiercest storm I ever saw." 

Graham made it clear on reflection that coming full circle in a storm, Julia's death was a device to both create and reflect a personification of a marital storm in the Ross and Demelza marriage. 

A Device to Test Ross and Demelza 

As a marriage that readers would see be constantly tested and beat the odds against them each time, before the upcoming tests such as their individual infidelities, (and besides the test of Demelza becoming part of Ross's family and standing up to comparison against his beautiful ex girlfriend Elizabeth), the storm of Julia’s death would be a first major and tough test of the strength of Ross and Demelza's marriage. In particular their love for each other. That essentially was the plot device element of this death. A marital test!

The Hardest Mortal Blow, The Hardest Mortal Test 

This marital test was not an easy one. Graham made it known to the reader that the impact of Julia's death was significant. In one long paragraph in Chapter two of 
'Jeremy Poldark', Graham narrated all of Ross's woes from the year or two before Julia's death. He cited Francis’s betrayal, the failure of the Carnemore Copper Company, the criminal charges which put him at risk of sentencing to death or life transportation, the threat of imminent bankruptcy and then from that the likely imprisonment for debt. But he wrote that 'It was Julia's death which still hit him the hardest.' To double down on this and reinforce just how hard this period was for both of them, in the eleventh book ('Twisted Sword') Demelza reflected that this death had been a 'mortal blow from which she could hardly recover.'

So if as the reader is told Julia's death is what hit Ross the hardest, it should take little persuasion to appreciate that the additional aggravating factor of believing Demelza might have been responsible for Julia's death might have caused some serious damage to their love and marriage. Some marriages struggle to survive the loss of a child, let alone where one of the couple may be thought to be responsible for it. In that case this would add to the backstory of this loss for them making it one of the biggest blows, upsets and tests to their marriage. Then with all the other gloomy troubles that they were facing (as purposely and listlessly cited by Graham), that is where the heart and the layers of this plot device death lay. 

A Marital Test Passed (No Blame, Just Love)

As explored in the post 'The Mystery of Blame in the Death of Julia Poldark' there is quite a case to suppose that Demelza may not necessarily have contracted the 'putrid throat' disease at Trenwith and then passed this on to Julia. Like a modern day Covid virus, instead it could have been through no fault of her own and contracted with Julia in the district. Or it could have been from one or more of that 'ill looking Christmas choir' that visited days before she and Julia contracted the disease. This is the choir which Graham suspiciously mentioned so much in later books after Julia death's and in relation to it. Whatever the case it is in any case not so important how Demelza became infected and if she was really to blame. Perhaps this is why Graham as narrator did not ever even confirm in narration that the source of infection definitely was from Trenwith. Instead he just let the reader assume this. The important thing for the plot device was that like the reader Ross too made this assumption. He believed that Demelza caught the putrid throat disease specifically at Trenwith during her life saving care there and that she passed this to Julia. This belief of Ross's was confirmed in his statement to Dwight that "Demelza saved Geoffrey Charles and gave Julia in his place."

Love Rules Over Resentment

Thinking Demelza to be responsible for Julia's death the expectation then would be a bitterness and growing resentment by Ross towards his wife. Together with other mounting stresses at the time all this would understandably be expected to impact their marriage and their love for each other negatively. It is really these circumstances and the assumption around Demelza being responsible for Julia's death that serve the purpose of her death as a plot device. This is to highlight the ardent perhaps forgiving element of Ross's love for Demelza. As referenced in the post
'Love to Cherish, Forgive & Forget' Ross himself supposed that "Perhaps in the end one measures the quality of one's forgiveness by the quality of one's love." That says a lot about how he seemed unable to resent Demelza in any way.

Indeed it was not until nearly twenty five years later in the tenth book 'The Loving Cup' that in a melancholic and drunken stupor Demelza put to Ross suspicions she must have held all along that he had always blamed her for Julia's death. Replying that her comments were 'nonsense' Graham had indeed not made it apparent that Ross had held on to this blame long after he made his comment to Dwight in the immediate aftermath of their loss. Instead what would be seen during the remainder of the saga was Ross's love towards Demelza was consistent in always overpowering any contrasting emotion such as anger or resentment towards her.

So whether Ross rightly or wrongly blamed Demelza for Julia’s death this was still a matter that was incapable of breaking down and eating away at his love for her. It might easily have done for another couple whose love was not as solid but Ross did not, would not hold Julia's death against Demelza or resent her in anyway. In fact for a time he directed his bitterness towards Francis and Elizabeth and instead Graham narrated that Ross was happy with Demelza's easier way of managing her grief and that he 'Thanked God for it'. This was despite him personally struggling more due to his less 'pliant' nature. His attitude to it all only demonstrates his love matching quite closely the biblical definition of love referred to in the previous post 'Happy You're Not Happy Ross'. This is of true love being about seeking the best for the other person over one's self. Also explored in the 'Love and Loss' post, rather than pushing each other away they were still always a comfort to each other in many ways, just as they were when they lost Jeremy. They got through it together and so the plot device served in testing the strength of Ross and Demelza's love and marriage and showing it to be stronger than the average.

Opportunism Of The First Love (Elizabeth Takes Advantage)

'That had been the first breach between Demelza and Ross. An estrangement...had grown from that day out of Ross's grief, and Elizabeth had made the most of it.'
Warleggan (Book three  -Chapter six)

Aside from blame for Julia's death being a test to Ross and Demelza's marriage, it was in 'Warleggan' that Graham revealed another element of plot device from Julia’s death. Elizabeth!

At this stage in the Ross and Demelza marriage it was ever more vulnerable to attack. Elizabeth would use Julia's death to sneak in and test the marriage too. This was in order for her self gratification of regaining ascendancy over Ross and the admiration from him that she found hard to be without. It is probably not coincidental that like mother, like son, Valentine in the later books would do the same thing. Indeed Valentine too would take advantage of Ross’s grief for the loss of Jeremy in order to get closer to him.

Distasteful Intentions: Elizabeth's Timing with Ross's Grief

The connection between Elizabeth's dishonourable intentions and the timing of Ross’s grief is made clear when Graham wrote Demelza musing on her marriage with Ross some years later in
'Warleggan’ and thinking that 'Elizabeth had done her best to ill-wish the first years of their marriage.' However more independently Graham appeared to corroborate and confirm this in his own voice as narrator. This was when he added 'That had been the first breach between Demelza and Ross. An estrangement...had grown from that day out of Ross's grief, and Elizabeth had made the most of it.' So if Julia's death and Ross not outwardly but internally thinking Demelza was to blame for this, could not provide a deadly storm in their marriage, here Graham lined up Elizabeth to try her hand at this instead. Ross's first love! And so she would eagerly try to position herself in order to actively take advantage and frustrate the marriage by an emotional temptation of Ross.

Elizabeth: A Realer Threat In Grief

It would be flippant to think that Elizabeth was always a very strong threat to Ross and Demelza’s marriage and that the death of Julia did not greatly add to that and make much difference. The narrative of the story documented that after Ross was first married to Demelza and fell in love with her, it was then that Elizabeth had less power over him. Although he didn't quite feel that Demelza had been the ('immediate') inoculant that he expected to extinguish all his feeling for Elizabeth, he was still filled with a 'queer sense of enlightenment' in his love with Demelza. He found his happiness with Demelza was the 'greatest of all'. He still considered Demelza in his private reflections to be the woman that 'meant more to him than any other'. It is easy not to notice that he did not think romantically of Elizabeth or show temptation and longing towards her from after his marriage in the first book right through the second book until the middle of the third. This then accounts for the first three years of his marriage.

Elizabeth: The Demoted Rival Seeking Ascendancy

As explored in the 'Greatest Love Above Any Other' post, soon after marriage to Demelza in Ross in thoughts pitting the two women against each other considered Demelza favourably. At their first meeting post marriage he considered Demelza rivalled Elizabeth. Elizabeth was somewhat demoted in Ross's heart and mind. In fact it was for this reason that Graham wrote that 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.'

Ross on the other hand had spoken to Elizabeth for hours with her making 'She-cat eyes' at him but instead was warmed by thoughts of Demelza. At the start of the second book, Graham informed the reader of a major turn in the certainty of Ross's feeling for Elizabeth. When pressed on the matter by Demelza Ross privately thought that he was not even sure if he still loved Elizabeth. Instead that book focused on his deepening love of more substance for Demelza and her success. In fact, despite seeing Elizabeth on a number occasions in that book, (including the Truro ball where Demelza was such a success and as set out in the post 'Elizabeth: A Green-Eyed Jealousy of Demelza Poldark' Elizabeth's jealousy of her peaked), Ross did not have any thoughts of yearning for Elizabeth then. Regardless of the spectre of Elizabeth and her dress up and she cat eyes for him, over those first three years he was very happy in love with Demelza and it was not until the third book 'Jeremy Poldark' which coincidentally coincided with his grieving of Julia's death, that Ross had moments and thoughts falling back into yearning for Elizabeth, that still fight against.

Elizabeth- Playing A Refreshing Escape

The difference in Ross's resistance to Elizabeth pre and immediately post Julia’s death makes it clear that Julia's death as a plot device was incredibly powerful in its impact of the 'Demelza-Ross-Elizabeth' love triangle and in really loosening Ross's armour against the draw of his extremely beautiful first love. Strategically Elizabeth was right to choose this time of weakness as the best time to tease an emotional unrest in Ross. It is also telling that she was much less successful in this strategy when too long after his grieving period she told him in 'Warleggan' that she loved him and he reacted with some internal annoyance and criticism of her rather than temptation.

Ross: A Point of Vunerablity

But in the thick of Ross's grief over Julia's death and all the other problems he was facing in his life at that time, Ross was at a point of vulnerability. The slight distance between him and Demelza made him even more so. This was on account of Demelza holding back from him and keeping secret the pregnancy she thought he didn't want. At that point his thoughts were that she was cold and detached and possibly had met someone else in Bodmin during his trial. It meant that Elizabeth surely represented a refreshing escape and contrast from that. The ethereal, angelic Elizabeth presented as a breath of fresh air from the doom and gloom of his life and as his first love with whom business was unfinished, Elizabeth had significant appeal. It was the allure of the first and frustrated love that had never achieved a bloom and that in his desolation of grief stricken spirit became tempting to Ross. Elizabeth in her way then played her role to tempt him.

A Method To Tempt And Tease

If there was still doubt Graham made sure to connect Elizabeth's renewed pursuit of Ross with the death of his child. In poor taste she gave this reason to Dwight as to why on her behalf he should invite Demelza with Ross for dinner at Trenwith for Christmas a second time. She said it was to thank Demelza for saving her child Geoffrey Charles and losing her own child in return. Despite Ross once telling Demelza that there was no need to get 'fligged up' for family dinner parties, in poor taste Elizabeth did just that and just as she had done for Julia's Christening party and dressed up with what an observer described a 'flamboyant' and excessive glamour for this small family dinner. Expressing her pleasure that Ross had come, it occurred to Demelza then that 'She's still interested in Ross..’ Then not appearing to show Demelza any real gratitude for saving Geoffrey Charles’s life the reader would see Elizabeth’s delight and read of her cool half smiles to Ross as he complimented her dress and she flirted with him in the kitchen later that evening. Again Graham made it clear that what was going on and also Elizabeth's attitude towards Ross was different from what had occurred since his marriage to Demelza prior to Julia's death and their grieving. Any previous move by Elizabeth had been tame and passive and ineffective on Ross. But now, after Julia's death Ross reflected how he noticed for himself that Elizabeth's behaviour towards him was a 'change' and that he also found she was exhibiting 'challenging' behaviour.

As set out in the blog Elizabeth Poldark: A Touch of Red Dress Seduction, attempts by Elizabeth to trade off Ross's low spirits and desolation had some points of success but ultimately failed for her. During his period of grief he fell to some temptation and in a moment in the kitchen with her she backed into him and she allowed him as he did to put his arm around her. However in comparison Ross did still later think of his devoted and flawless love with Demelza. He again queried the basis of his love for Elizabeth and whether it was because he did not know her so well. As referred above, when in the fourth book Ross was out of the deepest grieving period Elizabeth's move of vaguely but flirtatiously 'seeming to' confess her love for him  this actually had an adverse reaction where Graham reported that Ross '..found himself liking her less'. 

Ultimately, in terms of a marital test, Julia's death exposed that even in grief stricken desolation, with a slight detachment from each other and a kernel of blame that Demelza caused Julia's death, that their love for each other was unbreakable. But also, in respect of Ross the very important point it raised was that both in ordinary circumstances and at his lowest in spirits he still would not turn away and fall for Elizabeth. His love for Demelza was greater. However the upcoming post 'Ross Poldark: A Fall From Grace In A Fall With Elizabeth' will explore that 'unreason' and a spirit of vengeance might be the one exception and that therefore love for Elizabeth was still not the leading emotion that would be responsible for bringing about his infidelity with her.  

Climbing Out Of Despair Together

For now a reference from 'Twisted Sword' where Demelza had thought of the 'mortal blow' of Julia's death best describes what this plot device achieved in this story. Graham wrote there that '...after all the despair, which had included Ross's trial for his life and near bankruptcy, they had somehow climbed together out of a pit, which had never seemed so deep since.'  And so it seems that as well as showing that they could weather this extremely tough time, the reader is given an indication and preparation that they might be able to weather future storms such as their separate infidelities. 

"In eleven years we have survived many storms-most of them, perhaps, of my making. Now we must try to survive one of hers." Ross Poldark to Dwight 'The Angry Tide'  (Book One-Chpt 6)

In the ‘The Four Swans’ Ross assured Dwight that of his marriage "It has had its storms." Rocked by Demelza's almost defection to Hugh Armitage in 'The Angry Tide' he spoke of the latest one. Knowing that Ross and Demelza did indeed try, and were indeed successful in surviving the storms caused by him and the storms caused by Demelza, the message in the story is clear. Julia's death was the first real storm of a handful that they would overcome. The message went beyond that though. As Demelza and Ross agreed at the end of 'The Angry Tide' no matter the weather they were a couple that would always go on doing just as they said with Demelza starting that 
"...we must go on living - and learning, Ross" 
"And loving," said Ross. 
"That most of all."
In doing so Ross and Demelza proved themselves to be rock solid. 

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