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Elizabeth And The Analogy Of The Key (To Unlock Ross's Love And Desire)

Ross Poldark and Elizabeth dancing

This post is a follow up to the previous one titled 'That Mysterious Unlocking Key-Demelza' which is inspired and framed around a particular passage in the second book 'Demelza'. This is where Graham wrote Ross's thoughts of gratitude for having Demelza as his wife. He was thinking of how she had a ‘mysterious way’ about her that like a key unlocked his attention and desire and love. That post looked at where the mystery arose from and how it was a unique blend of personality traits which made Demelza 'that key' for Ross. It also considered how Winston Graham set Demelza apart from other women as being able to fully command Ross's heart in this way. For instance, it addressed that, though Ross was quite taken by women such as Caroline Enys and Harriet Warleggan, they still did not have the elements to be ‘that key’ for him. While that previous post also hinted at Elizabeth’s potential to be an 'unlocking key' for Ross, it was promised that this should be explored more thoroughly. Therefore, this is the purpose of this post. However, this will say that despite Ross's self confessed ten year devotion for her, Elizabeth also did not have this ability of Demelza’s to be an 'unlocking key' for Ross in the long term and as the woman she had become.

Another Unlocking Key: Elizabeth?

'He was struck by the mystery of her personality ...that this hair and head and person of the young woman below it....meant more to him than any other because it made up in some mysterious way just that key which unlocked his attention and desire and love."
Narration of Ross's thoughts on Demelza 'Demelza' (internal book 1 chapter 10)

This is ‘the key passage’ that this post and the last one is based around. It is from chapter 10 of the first internal book of 'Demelza'. This invokes the imagery of a key that unlocks something special, as it confirmed that Demelza did this for Ross. However, since many keys are not designed to open one lock, the imagery of a key is also synonymous with being ‘The One’. The emphasis being on the word 'one' in 'one key'. So that is 'one key' out of many that is unique, as the key serves as 'the only key' that can open a particular padlock, front door, treasure chest or in this case Ross’s full heart and soul. That 'one' key is designed to be perfectly in tune and fitted to that one lock. Ross’s lock. 

Generally suspecting Elizabeth of having an interest and a sneaky pursuit of Ross’s attentions, Demelza never had the heart to actively compete with Elizabeth for him. It should be acknowledged that 'the Key passage' serves as a foretelling that gives Demelza the status of a secret weapon and the surprising underdog front runner. However, considering Ross's four book devotion to Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's one sided competition with Demelza for ascendancy in Ross's mind, this really does beg a proper consideration of whether Elizabeth was also a key that also unlocked Ross's attention, desire and love, in addition to Demelza. This is especially because at the time that Ross had this thought of Demelza (which then was over a year into his marriage with her), it was still in the years when he thought he loved Elizabeth. Can it be true that in the story only Demelza was the key that could unlock Ross as described? Could Elizabeth not do so as well? 

Indeed, based on the imagery of the key, if Elizabeth was another one that could unlock Ross this would therefore smash the 'one key only'  theory. It would suggest that the analogy Ross thought of for what Demelza was to him, was actually the wrong one to use. But on the other hand, by his wording, when saying that Demelza ‘made up in some mysterious way, just that key..’ which enabled her to unlock Ross, it appears that Winston Graham was singling out Demelza as ‘that one person’ or in this case, as stated above, ‘the one key’. That implies that Demelza being able to be this to Ross, was to the exclusion of any other person. That would include Elizabeth! Therefore this starting point does not bode well for Elizabeth. 

The Problem With Idealisation As An Authentic Key For Unlocking Real Love

There is more that does not bode well for Elizabeth when considering her as a special key to fully unlock Ross’s love and desire for her. This is because, in the very first instance, and as another starting point, the idea that Elizabeth also unlocked Ross's love will always be undermined by the later discovery that his desire for Elizabeth was a sham. 

Ross came to realise that over the years he had fostered an idealisation of Elizabeth rather than a 'real' and 'true' love for her. All along Ross had instead felt himself to be in love with a woman who did not really exist in reality as he thought her to be. He did not love the real Elizabeth but instead an ideal he had created for her in his mind. This was built up from the girl he had fallen in love with and left behind to join the American war. He specifically admitted to Demelza that he had relied on an ‘idealised relationship’ with Elizabeth. Of course that would likely have been rosier than reality. Although, having said this, Ross on the other hand did seem to have moments of rational thought that queried this. It were these thoughts of Ross’s that suggest quite obviously that Elizabeth was not quite ‘that key’ for him in the wonderful way he thought Demelza was.

Ross’s Own Doubts On Elizabeth As An Unlocking Key For Him 

'We're they slaves of our characters: would I have been happier, or she? Perhaps there are elements in her (Elizabeth's) nature and mine which would have made our life together difficult.'
Narration on Ross's thoughts on marriage to Elizabeth 'Jeremy Poldark' (Internal book 2 Chapter 4)

Naturally the significance of Ross’s discovery of preference and the newly understood idealisation of Elizabeth, is that this creates a fundamental flaw in the argument that Elizabeth was also a key that unlocked Ross's ‘real’ love.  How could she be if his thought of who she really was, was not real? Ross had thoughts in the third book 'Jeremy Poldark' that perhaps he thought he loved Elizabeth because he ‘knew her less’. Of course, not knowing someone fully is hardly a solid basis for a ‘real’ love. Of relevance, 
in moments of rational thinking across the books and particularly the first four, Ross seemed to acknowledge on occasions, aspects of Elizabeth that did not appeal to him. These thoughts were revealing and suggestive of  a marriage between them not going as smooth for Ross and Elizabeth had they got together, compared against his with Demelza. This is essentially based on compatibility and will be addressed more fully in another post about Ross and his soul mate. However for now, one example of a rational and doubting thought of Ross was when he thought that if he and Elizabeth had gotten together then perhaps elements of their characters would make their life together difficult. This was in 'Jeremy Poldark' (internal book 2 Chapter 4). The concept of 'that key' does not typically align with this. Life is not supposed to be difficult with that very person who is supposed to be the key to your heart. Also, further to that, in the long term that would likely eventually cause desire to turn into irritation and avoidance. Just as it did with Francis! 

A Dud Key For Francis & Ross? But Not For George

Moving away from compatibility, the key point and clarification is that, the idealisation that Ross discovers he had of Elizabeth is problematic because it suggests that any love and desire unlocked by Elizabeth would have in any case been on false grounds. Elizabeth had not unlocked Ross’s love. The idea of the other woman that he thought she was had done this! So as a kind of dupe, in the similar way that Keren Daniels (
nee’ Smith) 'acted' a role of a woman that Dwight Enys fell for, like Keren of Dwight Elizabeth could not get the credit for unlocking Ross based on a woman she appeared to be but was not. Naturally once Ross 'got to know her more', this false credit would be apparent and Elizabeth as the real version of herself would have likely shown up as this dud key. 

The fact that Ross's love of Elizabeth was in any event untested once he returned from the American war increases the chances of her key showing up as a dud. Of course, so does 
Winston Graham's commentary as an author, where in interview he said that Elizabeth 'was not a very nice person'. Both George and Francis as Elizabeth’s husbands had their own blend of character traits which helped them eventually form their own differing views of Elizabeth’s niceness. Naturally Francis married Elizabeth believing her to be 'nice', but in his experience of married life with her he eventually found that Elizabeth spent and therefore closed up his attention, love and desire for her. She proved a dud key for him. While George might have found that coming to know Elizabeth well in marriage, she remained a key that continued to unlock his love and desire, it is likely that in time Ross may have gone the same way as Francis. Like Francis he may have gone on to form negative judgements on Elizabeth’s attitude and outlook on life which differed to his on certain matters of principle that meant a lot to him. In turn, over time, in the long term, Ross’s experience of Elizabeth as a wife may also have then subdued or eliminated his desire for her as well.

Old Key -New Lock (A Girl Ross Used To Love)

"He might have been back in Trenwith thirteen years ago, looking at the girl who had meant everything in life to him and whose word his whole future hung."
Ross with Elizabeth at Sawle Chuch Graveyard three years after 'The May Incident 'The Four Swans' ( Internal book 1   chapter 11)

Ross's meeting with Elizabeth 
at Sawle Church Graveyard three years after 'That May Incident' with her continues to undermine the idea of her being a key to unlock him. The reason for this is hinted in the narration of his mindset at the meeting. This extract is above and references Ross thinking of Elizabeth as the girl he loved before he went to war. Graham wrote respectively in the last book 'Bella Poldark' of how Ross's nostalgic feelings of love for Elizabeth had 'welled up afresh in him' at this meeting. Based on the context Graham provided, this rush of nostalgic love related to the girl he had known and loved before he left for the war. Again this relates to Ross’s idealisation as this girl was not the woman Elizabeth had become. And this was a woman that Ross had eventually admitted to himself that he knew less. 

Perhaps the girl that he had left behind may have been an unlocking key for Ross. However, even Elizabeth had told Ross on his return from the American war that she had changed when she explained to him that while he was away she found she was more compatible with Francis and that
 “I had grown up.” So in keeping with Ross’s idealisation, even she alluded to the idea that the girl that he had fallen for and who might have been his unlocking key, was no longer that person any more. At the Trevanaunce dinner party in ‘Warleggan’, before Elizabeth had made her ‘vague confession of love’ to him, even Ross had been telling her that she was changed ‘inwardly’ and that she was a "different Elizabeth". Also as an aside Graham narrated in ‘Black moon’ that Ross’s time in America fighting for the war had been his formative years and that ‘He had gone out a wild youth and came back a mature man.’ (Internal book 1 Chapter 5)  So Ross too had changed, and for them it was probably a case of ‘old key-new lock' or just 'different key-different lock' than they were before. On both sides there was change so that with the passage of time and their changes, their lock and key had become a misfit for each other.

Frustrated Love Means A Frustrated 'Unlocking' 

'Valentine’s death had shaken open a whole raft of memories in Ross.....such as their encounter in the churchyard when his frustrated love for her (Elizabeth) had welled up afresh.'
Narration of Ross  thinking about the late Elizabeth 'Bella Poldark' (Internal book 5  chapter 9)

Still staying with the Graveyard scene but thinking back on this in 'Bella Poldark', Graham narrated nostalgically on Ross's love for Elizabeth being a 
'frustrated' one. As referenced above, his mind at this meeting had diverted back to the girl he had left behind to go to war. Therefore the description of his love as ‘frustrated’ perfectly describes his love specifically for Elizabeth. It had indeed been a love that was 'frustrated' by having been cut short by Elizabeth's decision to marry someone else. Through doing this Elizabeth had prevented Ross from properly living out his love for her within the confines of a proper relationship and with the now changed and 'different Elizabeth'. This would be where the quality and the unchanging nature of this unlocked love would be determined by his experience of Elizabeth as the grown and new woman and person that she had become. This experience with her being his life partner would have been the true test as to whether Elizabeth could unlock Ross’s love and desire on an ongoing basis as his wife. After all, Francis's tale was one where he started off as Elizabeth's 'Loving and Besotted FiancĂ©' and then as a 'Good Husband In The Beginning'. But thereafter Francis's experience of marriage with Elizabeth was one where she ended up unlocking his disappointment and depression rather than a love for her. In 'Warleggan', at the Trevanaunce dinner where Ross sat with Elizabeth, Ross had realised that Francis no longer cared about Elizabeth flirting with him because by then his love for Elizabeth had been 'spent'. The suggestion was that Francis had eventually fallen out of love with Elizabeth.

Off Key-A Subtle Antagoniser Instead

Elizabeth as Ross’s Antagonist In Disguise

Reflecting on Francis's experience and Dwight Enys's speculation of the real Elizabeth as '..the loved but unloving, the Galatea that never woke', stirs that speculation that it is indeed quite possible that Ross's idealised based love for Elizabeth really would have gone the same way as Francis's if they had gotten together. This is especially considering that even without them being together, on many of their handful of meetings, Elizabeth still managed to antagonise, irritate, frustrate and even anger Ross following some of them. It was the nature of her responses to him at critical points. It was her stance and composure. Graham once wrote in the first book that Ross had an urge to smash this. It is unlikely that alongside this Ross would on the other hand have had the thought that she too made up in a some mysterious way, just that key unlocking his love and desire when there was much that frustrated him about her too. Hence, this is why Elizabeth was the initial object of Ross’s love but at the same time as being from the start of the story, an antagonist in disguise to him too. 

Elizabeth's ‘Love’ Confession Unlocked Ross Liking Her Less

She wasn’t at all less attractive to him-much the reverse. But he found himself liking her (Elizabeth) less.”
Narrative of Ross's thoughts on Elizabeth ‘Warleggan’ (Internal book 1 Chapter 4) 

If Elizabeth was not being blunt and insensitive about Ross's disappointment over her betrayal of their marriage promise, asking him to spy on Francis, stoking up conflicting feelings in him by flirting and challenging him, and then also consorting with his greatest enemy George, then there was still his feeling of 'liking her less' as evidence of her rubbing him up the wrong way. This is just as one would expect that the key to his heart would not do so frequently. In that last scenario he had had this reaction after she inappropriately implied to him nine years after the event, that she had realised after a time that she loved him better than Francis after all. Ross's love was not unlocked after those encounters, and if so, then they also came along side some counteracting and sometimes overpoweringly negative emotions. It is significant that in contrast, a look at Ross's moments of anger against Demelza across the saga shows that this was generally followed by calm and measured reflections. They often included loving responses to Demelza precisely because of his overwhelming love for her which therefore managed to counteract against the anger. It was the reverse with Elizabeth and that was the power of Demelza’s key and what she unlocked in Ross. This differed in Elizabeth’s case, and one can imagine that if as initially promised he had had the chance of an actual romantic relationship with Elizabeth by way of marriage, that Ross may then have experienced her unlocking more negative responses to her than his eventual beloved wife, Demelza.

Indeed in comparison to Elizabeth, Ross once wondered about him and Demelza and '....if there had ever been a couple who got less on each other's nerves than they did.' ('The Angry Tide' Internal Book 1 Chapter 8 pt2) Many would speculate that this would not have been the case if Ross had married Elizabeth. Here, Ross's own contrasting rational thought mentioned just above about a clash of personalities with Elizabeth and this most likely making their lives 'difficult' together, sets them apart in terms of each women’s long term potential to primarily unlock his romantic feelings. Therefore the odds on Elizabeth consistently unlocking Ross's love (like she failed to do for Francis) are pretty low. All this together with Ross's speculations doesn't suggest that Elizabeth was, or that she would have been a ‘special unlocking key’ for Ross as described in the relevant key passage.

Battle Of The Keys? (Elizabeth losing battle For ascendancy over Ross)

Setting aside the fact that after his marriage and for much of the story of the first four books, Ross was in love, not with Elizabeth but the woman he thought she was, Elizabeth still did not always show herself to greatly command and unlock Ross's attention. Nor even his desire as much as Demelza did. On reflection Ross had 
not melted or cracked because of Elizabeth when he debuted Demelza as his new wife at six months after they were married. This was despite Elizabeth eyeing Ross ‘like a she-cat’ for most of the evening, as observed by Demelza. 

It was Ross’s lack of response to Elizabeth’s subtle flirting that resulted in Demelza being buoyed up with confidence
 at that first Christmas at Trenwith. Despite the ‘she-cat’ eyes from Elizabeth and Ross spending much time talking to Elizabeth that evening, he was still focused on Demelza and still seemed to desire her instead. That night Graham corroborated Demelza’s observations when he wrote that when she was not in the room it was the thought of Demelza that warmed Ross’s mind, that he was pleased and stimulated by her and that he felt moments of 'unspoiled satisfaction' with her. Graham provided a contrast when writing that Ross felt that their relationship was 'flawless' against Ross’s suspicions that one with Elizabeth would not be. Certainly Graham did not build a case there that the several hours Ross had spent with Elizabeth as his self created dream woman, had unsettled him greatly with renewed and unlocked feelings of desire and love for Elizabeth and a newly deflated feeling for Demelza.

Such was Elizabeth's lost grip of Ross's attention and overt desire that Graham wrote she was 'piqued' by Demelza's success and she felt that she needed to 'regain' ascendancy in Ross's mind. And so she sought this out. Thus, even Elizabeth recognised that Ross had found someone who was 'that key' that had managed to unlock his love, attention and desire more than she. In fact whilst Demelza did not kill Ross’s desire and love for Elizabeth, she succeeded in keeping his attention away from Elizabeth and to her instead. This is what Elizabeth was threatened by. Of course, as the narrative goes, Ross would eventually weakene towards Elizabeth and his attention in her, and her appeal and desire to him would upturn in 'Jeremy Poldark' through to a point in 'Warleggan'. However, this was only because of a number of traumas he experienced around from the time of Julia's death together with a cooling off with Demelza who was hiding her pregnancy from him. Thus Elizabeth, or even the ideal of Elizabeth, had not been able to command Ross's attention, her ascendancy in his mind and his all consuming desire with certainty and constancy after he married Demelza. This is except for those two and a half years later when conditions meant that Ross was more vulnerable. Of course ‘that May incident’ between Ross and Elizabeth lends itself to a discussion as to whether Elizabeth’s letter confirming her plan to marry George actually ‘unlocked’ Ross’s love for Elizabeth or whether his act against her that night was dictated by some other emotion like anger and control.

A Night That Killed The Love- 'The May Incident'

Indeed, putting aside the debate on whether Ross’s act in ‘that May incident’ was loving and by consent or not, the final demonstration that Elizabeth was not 'that key' or 'a key' in respect of Ross
is in the outcome of this incident and how Ross 
felt afterwards. Whatever emotion motivated it, instead of the act of the ‘lovemaking’ or ‘sex’ confirming, unlocking and inflaming Ross’s love for Elizabeth, his sexual experience with her served to do the reverse. It seemed to be the inoculant to extinguish his love for Elizabeth that Ross had initially thought Demelza would be when he dared to take her to Trenwith to meet Francis and Elizabeth for the first time. Instead it was that May night that was (the inoculant). It was this occurrence that essentially extinguished his love for either the real and idealised Elizabeth. As set out in the previous post 'A Discovery Of Preference' this inoculation had come about through the blunt opportunity that this sexual experience brought for comparison of experience and feelings for both women, against each other. Elizabeth just did not serve as another 'key' for Ross and if anything that incident had the opposite affect on Ross by shutting and closing down his attention, desire and love for her, rather than unlocking it. Left behind was a kind of sentimental nostalgic but platonic love and fondness for a woman he had had a love affair in his youth with, and who until then he had longed for.

The ‘Ultimate’ Flame Or A Key That Stands The Test Of Time

“It is not just looks, it is what is behind ‘em…’s the total commitment of personality, it’s the ultimate spark between two people that lights the flame…I want you.”
Ross toDemelza ‘The Angry Tide’ (Internal book 1-Chapter 3)

Elizabeth: A Christmas Spark and Flame that Failed it’s Promise

Ross's comment to Demelza in ‘The Angry Tide’ about a spark from a person which lights a flame in another, was essentially about that chemistry between people that has durability. 

If there was any uncertainty as to whether Ross’s spark and flame for Elizabeth really did go out after ‘that May incident’, readers may think of the the spark he once experienced from the touch of Elizabeth's arm on his second Christmas visit to Trenwith. If it lit a flame representing his love and desire for Elizabeth, it proved not to be a long lasting 'raging' one. This is evident since Ross had thought Elizabeth had spent at least two years challenging him romantically. As well as not capitulating in that time, during it he still questioned his love of her and as stated above, at a point liked he her less. Certainly Ross's spark with Elizabeth and the flame it may have lit from long before he married Demelza was extinguished. This is as his desire was indeed exposed as a sham after 'That May Incident' with her. 

Elizabeth & Ross: A Dead Spark

Not only did Ross’s Christmas spark with Elizabeth not live up to its suggested promise, there was nothing further to resemble it. Notably there was no further spark when Graham pointedly wrote that once again Ross touched Elizabeth arm when removing a July bug from it three years later at their Sawle Graveyard meeting. By then Ross's desire for Elizabeth was spent. Graham then narrated that Ross had tried during that meeting to make Elizabeth think he still loved her. But perhaps it, and that inner flame did not stand the test of time between Ross and Elizabeth because as he had supposed himself (in 'Jeremy Poldark'), he had 'known her less' and the spark went out after he knew her more and knew more of his own feelings on her after he had slept with her. It is a cringeworthy expression but one can assume that though the act was pleasurable to him, it did not light his flame. This is just as some aspects of Elizabeth's personality and some of her comments and behaviour also did not light his flame but had the opposite effect on Ross. Together with his newly informed feelings and how he described Elizabeth coming ‘down into the arena’ following their night together, all the ingredients were not quite in place for Elizabeth be to be a key that 'fully' unlocked him and did not do so ultimately and ongoingly.

A Greater And More 'Enduring’ Key To Happiness, Love And Desire

Indeed despite the possibility that many readers may have feared that, put up against Elizabeth, Ross may have immediately or eventually had his head, interest, heart, attention and desire so overwhelmingly turned back to Elizabeth, this did not prove to be the case. After his first visit with Demelza to Trenwith Graham reported that Ross left there almost as if he was floating on an air of incredulity. This was due to  his feeling of love for, and his experience of the ‘greatest of happiness’ with Demelza (as expressed in the last pages of the first edition of 'Ross Poldark')Graham narrated that this was ‘-in a new and less ephemeral way than before.’ As that means less temporary this foretelling provides the contrast to his thoughts that life with Elizabeth would have become ‘difficult’. With Demelza as that carefully curated ‘Key’ for Ross, he felt his happiness had more staying power with her. And it did!

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