The following being a thoughtful commentary regarding Poldark
Okay empowered women who follow PBS Masterpiece Theatre’s famed and quite Exceptional series “Poldark,” Stand Down!
I’m here today to delve into the character of Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark Warleggan. Yeah, I bet you women who have stumbled upon “the Corner” picture yourselves as a Demalza or a Caroline. I prefer to see myself that way too. But, let’s give Ross’s first love a minute of our time before we condemn her. She’s been through a lot. Yet during the three seasons I’ve watched this acclaimed historical fiction, I’ve heard very little in praise of her, excepting that she’s beautiful. Sadly, she’s the object of disgust, disdain and dislike.
But is that fair?
Sure, we relate to the fighter Demalza. She raised herself out of the dirt quite literally and now holds the key to Ross Poldark’s heart. Well, most of it at any rate. Delmalza has a fiery spirit that matches her fiery red hair. She’s been through a lot and we love her for it. She’s strong and creative and resourceful and she’s quite fiesty too.
If not Demalza, we want to be Caroline. Wealthy, beautiful, spoiled, exceptionally well-dressed — love the hats — and very clear about what she wants, Caroline seems to have it all. Well, at this point in the series we hope she does what with the love of her life Dwight Enys, M.D. emprisoned in France. (Um, is it too late to say “spoiler alert” for those of you not caught up to episode 3, season 3? Sorry.)
But it was Elizabeth who first captured our imagination in the opening moments of the series, before she broke Ross’s heart and we got mad at her. She was the picture of the ideal romantic heroine. Lovely long brown hair. Sweet smile. Naive. Charming. Bred like a true lady of 1783.
Yep, and there’s the rub. Elizabeth was raised to be exactly the way she is. Lovely. Elegant. Eye Candy. The Trophy Wife. She was raised to smile and grace the arm of her husband. To have babies and be dressed by staff in fine gowns. Whereas Demalza can milk the cow, make the cheese and prepare a nice meal, Elizabeth can only sit down and charm the table with a nod of her head and gentle smile.
Let’s take a field trip to Season 1/Episode 1, shall we? Do you recall the scene of her discovery that Ross — her childhood sweetheart who been shipped off to the Colonies to fight in the American Revolution because he was kind of a despicable, rabble rouser — was Not dead as she had been informed. He was alive and well. And his timing in letting her know was impeccable. He showed up at her family engagement dinner where they were celebrating her engagement to cousin-not-as-handsome-not-as-dynamic-but-not-as-difficult-either Francis.
Well, at that first moment Elizabeth was very much ready to throw it all out and go off with Ross. But Ross learned that he was penniless with no resources save a messed up estate. What could he offer the gently-bred Elizabeth? Pretty much nothin’ but his undying love. And as wonderful as that might be, it wouldn’t feed or shelter them. Yet Elizabeth was aware of his situation and would have gone away with him anyway. If he asked, that is, which he did not. She waited to see if he would come a calling. She sat prettily in the garden, expecting him to declare his love and take her away. But her mother told her to grow up and realize that Ross had nothing to offer but debt, leaving Elizabeth confused. Hopeful … yet confused.
And, then burn of all burns, Ross didn’t come to her.
Okay, those of you out there who think she should have gone racing after her man, I am totally in agreement. But we are talking 1783. And women like Elizabeth were bred to wait. They weren’t bred to tear across the estate and throw themselves into the arms of their great love.
Strike One against Elizabeth. And it was her upbringing and mother that guided the day.
Now we fast forward to Season 2/Episode 6 and look at Elizabeth home-wrecker. We all remember that tumultuous bedroom scene. Elizabeth had been struggling since Francis’ death. And Ross had been helping her. Yeah, I know all you liberated ladies are saying, she needed to take care of herself. Again … duh! upbringing. Elizabeth wasn’t raised to run a mine or plan to support an estate. She was raised to look good on the arm of the guy who did.
And don’t tell me you didn’t want them to have their moment. The sexual tension since Episode 1 had taken us there. Oh, we were conflicted. We love Ross and Demalza. But this thing between Ross and Elizabeth had been simmering for years. And so “it” happened. They wanted it. But … guilt and regret hit Ross. So he bailed on Elizabeth. Not even a morning after phone call or a thanks but I’m thinking we made a mistake and should go our separate ways/it’s not you, it’s me conversation. He just slunk away and left her hanging.
And, unfortunately, Elizabeth wasn’t raised to live on her own. So don’t blame her for turning to the only guy who seemed to care a damn about her. Sure, she probably knew George Warleggan was a first rate jerk. But, he could pay the bills when she couldn’t. She was trapped. He gave her an out.
Strike Two. Attempted home-wrecking and the marriage to George pretty much took her out of our favor.
Now here we are at Season 3/Episode 3. Elizabeth, who we have to accept was not raised like Caroline to think and act independently, is convinced that Ross has abandoned her. She doesn’t comprehend the notion that Ross is acting to protect everyone by stepping away. Her mind is not positioned to think past her own needs. George uses that to manipulate her further, dragging her away to watch him “serve” the bench.
Elizabeth watches, hopeful at first. But, she is not naive enough to miss his abuse of power. And it clearly disgusts her. She’s trapped and has no one to help her. And she’s struggling already with the knowledge that her new baby is probably Ross’ kid. Something Ross and Demalza already know but somehow George has missed — which is best for the poor boy. And her spirit, what little there was of it, is now officially shattered.
Enter the doctor with the tincture. I figure it was probably laudanum. In the same way Cersei Lannister drinks wine to dull the senses in Game of Thrones, Elizabeth turns to laudanum and sinks away into a blissful medicinal peace she cannot find in her self.
Now, I’m not advocating wine, drink or drugs here. And I’m not saying Elizabeth and Cersie have anything else in common, saving a need to escape their self-created prisons. This medication was prescribed to help Elizabeth take the edge off. She’s probably going to abuse it. We will most likely see that going forward.
Strike Three. Poor weak Elizabeth.
We hold her in disdain. We want her to be wiser and stronger and more resilient. We want her to dismiss George and tell him he’s a jerk. But, she wasn’t raised that way. She was raised to be exactly who she is. And it shattered her. And that’s sad.
So, as we watch her fall apart, have a care. Be kind. And give her a break.