The eighth Poldark novel by Winston Graham, The Stranger from the Sea was published in 1981. It begins in 1810, ten years after the previous novel, The Angry Tide (published in 1977).
Tide ended on a philosophical note from Ross Poldark’s
wife Demelza, debating on the inevitable end we all must face: ‘The past is
over, gone. What is to come doesn’t exist yet. That’s tomorrow. It’s only now
that can ever be… We can’t ask more…’ (p612) [In a way, it’s echoing Margaret Mitchell’s
Scarlett in Gone With the Wind – ‘Tomorrow
is another day’]. So I thought it seemed a good place to leave the Poldark saga
for a while, even though I had the rest of the series on my shelf.
Now, some many years later I’ve taken up the saga again from where I left off with The Stranger from the Sea.
Even after such a long absence, I soon became familiar with the characters again, though they have naturally aged, including their children: Jeremy is now nineteen and Clowance is sixteen. Bella was born in 1802, after the previous book ended. George Warleggan is an MP, as is Ross, but their paths have rarely crossed in the last ten years. George’s son Valentine is sixteen. Ross’s cousin Geoffrey Charles is twenty-six and serving with Wellington in Portugal. Ross is presently in Portugal as well, on a fact-finding mission to observe the progress against Bonaparte. Here, he meets Geoffrey Charles and reminiscences: ‘... he was loath to move, to wrench at the ribbon of memories that were running through his brain.’ (p40)
Jud and Prudie Paynter are in their
seventies now, no longer in the Poldark household, and still at loggerheads. Jud’s
still saying ‘Tedn right. Tedn proper.’ This time his displeasure concerns a
duck and her newly hatched ducklings making a mess on their floor. As it
happens, there were too many eggs for the mother to cover to hatch, so Prudie
stuck three eggs in her cleavage to help them along, which meant Jud had to
keep his distance for fear of cracking the eggs. Maybe that’s why he was
Both Jeremy and Clowance are at that age where their hearts are being tested by attachments. Demelza can recall being ‘in the grip of the same overpowering emotion. Perhaps it was just stirring in them, a sea dragon moving as yet sluggishly in the depths of the pool. But once roused it would not sleep again. It would not sleep until old age – sometimes, from what she’d heard people say, not altogether even then. But in youth an over-mastering impulse which knew no barrier of reason. An emotion causing half the trouble of the world, and half the joy.’ (p280)
Clowance has at least two suitors. Ben is a local lad, the second is Stephen Carrington, mysteriously washed ashore almost dead, rescued by Jeremy. Dr Dwight Enys brought to mind a Cornish saying: ‘Save a stranger from the sea/And he will turn your enemee.’ (p429) The love complications will not be settled in this book, however.
At this time King George is having fewer and fewer bouts of lucidity and Westminster is in turmoil as the king is incapable of signing anything. Moves are afoot to put the Prince of Wales in the monarch’s stead. Ross is vouchsafed an audience with the prince to report on the state of war in Portugal. ‘The Prince of Wales at last rose from his chair. It was a major upheaval and peculiarly uncoordinated, large areas of bulk levering themselves up in unrelated effort. One could even imagine all the joints jutting out, the utter indignity of a fall. But presently it was achieved and he was upright, heavily breathing, began to pace the room, his thin shoes slip-slop, slip-slop.’ (p133)
Occasionally, an interesting historical snippet is dropped in: ‘A steeplechase… is a form of obstacle race. Over hedges, streams, gates… always keeping the church steeple in view.’ (p63)
At other times there’ll be an amusing observation: ‘The older footman, who always seemed to have wrinkled stockings, let him in.’ (p345)
Or a fanciful description that works: ‘… a fire declared its will to live by sending up thin spirals of smoke.’ (p345)
As ever, Ross doesn’t hold back on his opinions. ‘People who brag of their ancestors are like root vegetables. All their importance is underground.’ (p361)
At this time new inventions were arising. ‘In Ayrshire there is a man called Macadam using new methods.’ (p423) And one of the landed gentry is extolling the near-future that will transform the country. Steam engines and other inventions will create prosperity: ‘… the ordinary man, the working man, the farm boy who has left home to work in the factories – they will all have some share in this prosperity… the level will rise. Not only the level to which people live but the level at which people expert to live. We are on the brink of a new world.’ (p481) In short, in time, the industrial revolution will improve the lot of man- and womankind throughout the world.
It’s good to be transported back to this time, to this family and to Cornwall.