Hello again, fellow Poldarkians! I have had such fun discussing the beautiful and hotly debated Elizabeth Poldark with all of you. Part I and Part II of this series have led to some wonderful conversations and I'm so excited to share this final post about her with you! (Spoiler alert! Thorough spoilers from Seasons 1 and 2 and books 1-4 ahead!)
Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark in BBC's "Poldark" (Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site)

We left off last time with Francis's tragic early death, the resulting effects on Elizabeth, her marriage to George Warleggan, and her part in her eventual affair with Ross. By this point in the series, she is not the same person she was at the beginning of it. Years' worth of disappointment, loss, and hiding her real feelings have turned her into a very cynical and hardened person. It's sad to me more than it's anything else. Many fans dismiss her contemptuously as a villain by this time because, after all, her choices have gotten her here. Well, yes and no. Many of the choices were hers, but in most of the circumstances in which she found herself, she felt she didn't have another choice. I'd argue that both of her marriages fall into this category. On the other hand, her choices where Ross is concerned are indeed less admirable. And yet, I can't deny that I've found myself far more frustrated with Ross than Elizabeth for much of the show and the books. Here is where the remainder of my thoughts on the subject will focus. After the first three considerations I've laid out in the previous posts, here is one more long one I'd offer. 

Consideration 4: Ross is equally to blame, if not more so, for the problems involving Elizabeth 

Yes, I’ll argue it. Elizabeth was undeniably guilty in the adultery, but I think there’s a strong case to be made for Ross being more responsible for the grand and complicated architecture of all the problems between them. I love him and truly believe he’s a good man at heart, but he’s also probably the most emotionally incompetent human being in all of fiction. He’s written that way purposely and I think it’s partly why he’s such a great character to watch and read about. He’s both maddening and endearing in many ways, and his relationship with Elizabeth is where I (and many others, no doubt) find him most maddening. He practically turns to putty at the sight of her and his reason leaves far too often when she’s around. There’s no doubt in my head that he’s deeply in love with Demelza, but he slips into fantasizing about Elizabeth far too easily when marriage gets tough. 

Heida Reed and Aidan Turner as Elizabeth and Ross in BBC's "Poldark" (Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site)

And that’s the rub about Elizabeth for Ross. She’s a fantasy, similar to how he is for her, and he way too easily idealizes her when reality isn’t going well. He knows intellectually that Demelza is better for him in every way. He and Elizabeth are far too different for them to have worked out (even Elizabeth says that to him in the show!), and he and Demelza fit into each other’s lives so well that marriage was natural. Nothing huge changed once they got married because they were already working together so well, and Ross knows that. But Elizabeth has always been just out of reach, and he doesn’t take enough active steps to guard against the effect she has on him. He immaturely idealizes her, wondering if perhaps he missed the best he could have had. In book 5, The Black Moon, Ross tells Demelza’s brother that although falling in love with Demelza certainly helped him move on from Elizabeth, it was still years before he believed that she wasn’t second best. And at the end of season 2 of the show, Ross’s apology exchange with Demelza expresses his problem well: 

Demelza: I am fierce and proud and steadfast and true and I’ll not settle for second best! 
Ross: Why would you be? 
Demelza: Because you love Elizabeth! Because you will always love Elizabeth! Because you cannot conceal your pain that George now possesses her body and soul! Do you deny it? 
Ross: I do not deny that I loved her. Long before I set eyes on you, she was my first, perfect, untouchable love. 
Demelza: Whereas I am dull, imperfect, and ordinary. 
Ross: Not ordinary, but yes, imperfect! Human. Real. What that night with Elizabeth taught me – and God knows there should have been other ways for me to come to my senses, but my arrogance, my idiocy, has been spectacular. All I can say is after that night – because of it – I came to see that if you take an idealized love and bring it down to the level of an imperfect one, it isn’t the imperfect one which suffers. My true, real, and abiding love is not for her. It’s for you. 

And there’s the rub – the realness of Demelza versus the idealization of Elizabeth. The audience sees it, but Ross can’t get it through his thick head till way later. Elizabeth certainly contributes to the adultery, but if Ross had actively pursued and nurtured his marriage to Demelza from its beginning, he already would have had a strong guard against the baits Elizabeth threw after Francis’s death. Many fans seem to think that everything is Elizabeth's fault because she was baiting him in the first place. Sure, she was wrong to do that, but what about the fact that Ross, you know... RESPONDED to them? And pretty eagerly. If he had kept his cool, maybe prioritized his own wife above Elizabeth, and accepted that Elizabeth is a just a woman, not a goddess, I'd say a lot could have been avoided. If he hadn't taken her baits, she would have eventually stopped throwing them.

Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site

Of course, Ross's enmity with George also plays a part in the affair, but again, Ross's overall immaturity in that sequence is truly disgusting. Though he and Elizabeth were deep in emotional unfaithfulness by then, he’d still given her no indication that he would be leaving Demelza, so I don’t know how he gets off thinking that he can dictate what Elizabeth does with her life. If she feels that marriage to the vilest person in Cornwall is her only option, then he should wish her well. How is it his business? It’s not, period. So to burst into her room, try to talk her out of the engagement without offering another viable suggestion, sleep with her, and then leave her high and dry is beyond reprehensible. Whether you like Elizabeth or not, she’s one thousand percent correct when she fumes in the show, 

How can he treat me so? How can he leave things so up in the air?! … He tried to stop this marriage, but offered nothing in return! He has taken what was not rightly his and walked away from the consequences!
 
Heida Reed and Jack Farthing as Elizabeth and George Warleggan in BBC's "Poldark" (Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site)

As already mentioned, if two unmarried people slept together in the 1700s, the next step was to get married as fast as possible. So it may seem ridiculous to us that Elizabeth appears to expect Ross to drop everything for her, but it was normal and right for her to expect something from him. He had wronged her as well as Demelza and an apology would have been in order for both of them. He knows it too. The book says as much as he reflects on both of their parts in the affair: 

But there had been other – and later – sins on his part. Over and over again during those first weeks following he had known he should go and see her and thrash the whole thing out in the light of day. It was unthinkable to leave the situation as he had left it, but that was precisely what he had done. He had behaved abominably first in going, then in not going; but he did not know what to say, and the impossibility of explaining himself had stopped him. If the history of the last ten years had been the tragedy of a woman unable to make up her mind, the last six months was the history of a man in a similar case. (Warleggan; Book 4, Chapter 6) 

 So there you have it. Elizabeth is certainly a mass of contradictions and has created many problems for every major character in the Poldark saga, but I can’t side with the haters. She makes many regrettable decisions and causes pain to an undue number of people, but I don’t see a villain when I look at her. I see a woman desperate for just a little bit of happiness, trapped by her upbringing, wronged by men she deeply trusted, and very embittered by harsh circumstances. She wants nothing but good for those she loves, but her need to please is consuming and she becomes so very hard. It’s tragic. Really, really tragic. 

Photo Credit: Far Far Away Site

“When you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” –Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail (1998 film) 

I agree, Kathleen, I agree. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time, you know I’m a strong believer in reading and in its power to teach us deep lessons about ourselves, others, and the world we live in. I’ve been thinking about this above quote from You’ve Got Mail lately (if you haven’t seen this movie, please stop right now and go do yourself the favor of watching it) and am realizing just how true it is. The books and characters I connected with when I was young have stayed with me in profound ways through adulthood and I find that I’m still learning from them. 

These musings have even more particularly gotten me thinking about the literary heroines that have shaped me (Carrot Top Paper Shop and Lucy in the Sky over at Etsy have also had hands in this). Which ones made an impact on me as a young person? Which heroines taught me about life and girlhood then and now continue to teach me about womanhood? Why do I love them and what keeps me coming back to them? Here are some primary favorite heroines who have come to mind over the past few days and the characteristics that I think drive my love for them. 

Anne Shirley – Joy 
Lucy Maud Montgomery surely had no notion of the treasure she was giving the world in Anne Shirley when she first wrote Anne of Green Gables. Anne’s fascination with the world and zest for life inspire everyone she meets, whether they’re in the story with her or reading it from the outside. She lives fully, dreams big, and wants everyone to see the beauty in both the big and small things. I need more of all of that, so thanks, Anne.


“Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It makes me feel glad to be alive – it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it?” –Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables 

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March – Love 
The March sisters of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott are fairly ordinary, and I think that’s why so many people love them. They’re a normal family of sisters doing their best with the hands dealt them. They struggle with the same things we do today – family quarrels, growing up, romance woes, friends’ betrayals, finding life callings, and so much more. But at the end of the day, they love well. The sisters are quite different, but all of them love boldly and wholeheartedly, and that makes me value this story deeply. They love each other, their parents, their friends, and their eventual spouses with unswerving devotion, and they do their best to be faithful in whatever life sets before them. 

“My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, and when well used, a noble thing, but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for. I’d rather see you poor men’s wives, if you were happy, beloved, contented, than queens on thrones, without self-respect and peace.” –Mrs. March, Little Women 

Jane Eyre – Truth 
Few characters I’ve encountered cling to truth and morals with the tenacity that Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre does. She prizes honesty and loves her hero counterpart with all the vigor her tender heart possesses. But when it comes to choosing between what is right and what is most desirable, she takes the path less traveled at great cost to herself. Jane is a gentle soul, yet she is full of quiet strength that never compromises on what is right. I think we could all stand to learn from her in that regard.

“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour… If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth – so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane – quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.” –Jane Eyre 

Elizabeth Bennet – Wit 
Who doesn’t love Lizzy Bennet? Even her creator Jane Austen confessed that she found Elizabeth “as delightful a creature as ever appeared in print.” Delightful is right – she laughs easily, diffuses tension with her playfulness, and always has a quick and witty comeback. She certainly learns the folly of judging too quickly, but throughout Pride and Prejudice, her insight always contributes substance to a conversation and her presence is a joy to those who know her well.


“Elizabeth, having rather expected to affront him, was amazed at his gallantry; but there was a mixture of sweetness and archness in her manner which made it difficult for her to affront anybody; and Darcy had never been so bewitched by any woman as he was by her.” –Pride and Prejudice 

Sara Crewe – Courage
From riches to rags and back to riches, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s little Sara Crewe of A Little Princess is forced to grow up far too quickly, but she handles it with bravery and grace that few adults could muster. Though poverty-stricken for much of the story, she valiantly looks outside herself and never loses hope that there is goodness in the world. She befriends the outcasts at her London boarding school, turns to daydreams for comfort, and endures cruelty without retaliation. 


“If I am a princess in rags and tatters, I can be a princess inside. It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in a cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.” –Sara Crewe, A Little Princess 

Mary Lennox – Perseverance 
Bless her, Frances Hodgson Burnett gave me two childhood heroines, and Mary Lennox of The Secret Garden was actually the first. Mary begins the story as quite a spoiled brat, but she slowly learns to think of other people and to take new interests, namely, resurrecting an abandoned garden on the estate of her new home in Yorkshire, England. Her determination to bring new life to the garden mirrors her own growth and her efforts to help her sickly cousin find purpose again. None of these processes happen easily, but Mary’s optimism grows as she does, and perseverance becomes one of her strongest suits.


“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” –The Secret Garden
 


If you don't have the pleasure of knowing these ladies, I cannot recommend them highly enough :) What are your favorite books from childhood? What characters shaped you? I'd love to hear in comments!
Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark in BBC's Poldark
Photo Credit: Fansided
Hello friends! I must say, I was SO encouraged by the response to Part I of this post series! Thank you all so much for reading and discussing. It does my Poldark fan heart good :) That said, I'm excited to share Part II with you! Check out the first post linked above or here if you missed it.

As I mentioned before, when I began writing about the complicated character arc of Elizabeth Poldark, I quickly realized the content would be better suited to multiple posts. Like her or not, you can't deny that she's quite layered and discussable! My first post focused on the earlier days of Poldark – Elizabeth's decision to marry Francis, their ensuing unhappy marriage, and Elizabeth's resilience through it. She certainly isn't faultless in these early years, but I contend that she deserved better from the beginning. Francis thoroughly failed her in his role as husband and I don't blame her for feeling unhappy, trapped, and frustrated. She's a poster girl for her time period – always polite, mannerly, and betraying no strong emotion even when her mind is whirling. It was what she was raised to do and also what her practical nature demanded.

But now we come to when Elizabeth takes a less admirable turn. A change begins to unfold in her throughout the middle books and in Season 2 of the show. Circumstances and poor decisions both gradually chip away at her positive attributes and she becomes hard and resentful. And personally, I find it very tragic to watch. So, after Considerations 1 and 2 of the last post, here is a lengthy third consideration for reflection. (Warning: Thorough spoilers from books 3-4 and Season 2 are ahead!) 

Consideration 3: Elizabeth is never totally honest with herself and she lets bitterness into her heart, so very bad decisions and attitudes ensue
Photo Credit: Anibundel
As previously established, Elizabeth is almost always putting on a show. Unlike the free-spirited and passionate Demelza, Elizabeth keeps her true emotions under wraps and hardly ever says what's really on her mind. As I’m sure we all know, constantly putting on a show is exhausting. And if you do it long enough, you’ll almost certainly become a very confused and resentful human being. That’s what we see happen to Elizabeth, and it’s at the crux of why I find her such a tragic character. Her society and upbringing literally taught her that she needed to put on that show all the time, and she handles it with admirable forbearance at first. But in the process, she forgets how to be honest with herself and many others, and bitterness blooms in her heart at the same time. 

Elizabeth’s failing in the early days is that she holds onto whatever emotional intimacy she can get with Ross without seeming to accept that they shouldn’t interact in such a manner. It feels natural for her to go to him with sensitive things because her husband is such a loser, but she isn’t honest enough with herself to accept that what she’s doing is unfair to everyone. But the show emphasizes that things are changing when Ross makes an uncharacteristically emotional display of his love for Demelza as she lies near death of putrid throat. Seeing that, Elizabeth realizes that she no longer holds his heart like she used to and that doesn’t sit well with her, even if she can’t verbalize it right away. That’s certainly the moment in the show that her character slowly begins to shift, and while it’s not as obvious in the books, the putrid throat scare and little Julia’s death are still contributing factors. 

Elizabeth is undeniably grateful to Demelza for saving Geoffrey Charles from the illness and I think she also initially harbors deep guilt over Julia's death. Her desire for reconciliation with Demelza and Ross is sincere, but she also liked knowing that she had a place in Ross’s heart and doesn’t want to let go of that. I think that’s partly because Francis had so thoroughly failed as a husband up to that point and partly because resentment is starting to build in Elizabeth since she’s taken so much grief so far. Julia’s death puts a strain on Ross and Demelza’s marriage, so it’s easy for Elizabeth to start trying to win back Ross’s infatuation. I’m not even convinced she’s aware of it at first, but the dinner Ray Penvenen’s house is where it takes a serious turn. It’s there that she tells Ross that she had always loved him, even after marrying Francis. This of course throws Ross into confusion that he doesn’t easily shake. But even so, I’m not convinced these seeds would have grown significant if not for the tragic turn of events in the middle of season 2 and partway through book 4, Warleggan

Francis’s death is perhaps the cruelest blow for Elizabeth thus far. Earlier on, his failed suicide made him realize that he could turn his life around if he made the effort, so he does. He becomes the husband and father he wanted to be, reconciles with Ross, and apologizes to Demelza in one of the most moving scenes in the books and show alike. So then, his accidental death is unquestionably “the bitterest irony,” as the author so eloquently notes. Grief weighs Elizabeth down even more, and her resentment grows deeper. Even after the dinner at Mr. Penvenen’s, Francis was doing an admirable job of repairing their relationship. But after his death, she feels helpless, confused, and alone, and despite the genuineness of those feelings, she uses them to her advantage where Ross is concerned.
Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers
Ross is maddeningly weak-willed when it comes to Elizabeth (more on that later), and when she’s free to marry again, his fantasies over her gain new traction. I think Elizabeth finds satisfaction in that because she’s weathered so many past disappointments and now grief that she never expected. She justifies his attentions with her difficult circumstances (and they certainly are difficult) even though she inwardly knows they’re wrong. But she rationalizes them anyway with thoughts along the lines of, “Well don’t I deserve something that I want after all I’ve been through?” And I believe that line of thinking contributes heavily to the awful night at Trenwith after she writes to Ross that she’s going to marry George Warleggan. Both of these plot lines are obviously closely tied, so one at a time. 

First, George. My initial reaction, like that of many others, was something like this: 

“DON’T DO IT, ELIZABETH! DO ANYTHING BUT MARRY EVIL GEORGE!” 

And she should have known better because she knows how he’s tried to ruin Ross’s life despite her attempts to deny it to herself. Desperation has simply driven her to thinking that she can maybe fix the things about George that are less admirable. And her confusing feelings toward Ross also contributed to the decision. At first, Elizabeth knew it would set Ross off and likely make him protest, which he certainly did with disastrous results. But then later, when Ross didn’t return after the night at Trenwith, anger and resentment toward him fueled her to go ahead after some hesitation. All of these are obviously terrible reasons to marry someone. 

And yet. There are complexities. I hate it but I love it. Let’s be clear – George Warleggan is probably one of the most despicable people in all of fiction. But his feelings for Elizabeth are incredibly well-written in the books. For all his evil, his love for her is genuine. It’s almost a redeeming quality for him in the books, and in the show, he does demonstrate true care for her even though his attentions initially may seem awkward and no more than empty flattery. But he's doing what he knows how to do, and we do get occasional glimpses of maybe a hint of a soul in him (serious props to Jack Farthing's performance of him, for reals). So in Elizabeth’s situation, it would be a relief to have someone like George showing concern. And when he proposes, Ross aside, Elizabeth sees a nearly immediate solution to all her problems. She’s an impoverished widow in her late twenties, so she’s lost much of her eligibility for future marriage prospects (again, think 1700s marriages...social standing and money are more important than love). Plus, she has a sick mother to care for, and apart from a miracle, her son would have nothing to live on when he grew up. Enter George Warleggan. Literally an overnight fix to everything, as the book describes so well: 

“He was offering her all this as the price of marriage: her son lacking for nothing, all her problems solved… Upstairs was her mother, crippled and fretful, and her father, indecisive and endlessly complaining. She had ridden over in the rain and tonight or tomorrow she must ride back to Trenwith, which would greet her unlighted and unheated and with all its problems still to solve. And years of loneliness and sick-nursing lay ahead. And on the other side was light and warmth and companionship and care.” (Warleggan; Book 3, Chapter 2) 

George and Elizabeth (Jack Farthing and Heida Reed) in Poldark Season 3
Photo Credit: Poldark on Facebook
Beneath all the confusion and wrong motivations, Elizabeth still feels backed into a corner, as any woman would have in her situation back then. So objectively, she would have been a fool to turn down someone with George’s resources, but subjectively, there were reasons that should have perhaps made her pause. 

And of course, all of her complicated feelings toward Ross encompass a big reason that Elizabeth should have paused. She rightly supposes that he will loudly object to the marriage and cherishes some hope that it could lead to something more between them. And of course he does object, but she’s hardly prepared for just how loudly. Upon reading her letter with the news, Ross reacts somewhat like this, practically transforming into some fiendish alien. And a truly outrageous display of temper, selfishness, and vulgarity on his part ensues. Elizabeth is certainly not to blame for Ross’s utter desertion of reason and control on the night of their affair. There’s no doubt that he was the instigator of that night – he kicked in a window (door in the show), pushed into her room, picked the argument like a petty schoolboy, and ultimately used physical force with her in his anger. But it’s still clear that Elizabeth had wanted a reaction and some declaration of love from him. Ross of course just childishly takes the bait and then leaves a far larger problem than she’d pictured in her fantasies. 

Elizabeth and Ross (Heida Reed and Aidan Turner) in Season 1. I've heard it said that everything starts with a thought, and there were certainly way too many entertained thoughts in both of them for a long time.
Photo Credit: Chapter 1-Take 1
This infamous scene at Trenwith always raises questions and debates, so to be plain, no, I do not think it was rape. I reached this part in the show before I'd read it in the book, and due to media hype before the fateful episode aired, I was prepared for a scene that echoed the heartbreaking rape storyline in Downton Abbey involving Anna Bates. But this sequence in Poldark was drastically different. In Downton Abbey, Anna screamed and struggled and was cut and bleeding afterwards. But in Poldark, Elizabeth gave in after minimal resistance and was sleeping peacefully the next morning, indicating that she was not displeased and she had let Ross stay all night. Was Ross to blame? No question. But was Elizabeth also at fault? Absolutely. This plot line is a difficult one, but I think we need look no further than the book itself for the best explanation of it. The scene itself is purposely ambiguous, but to fully understand it, the entirety of the books is necessary, and this passage at the end of Warleggan is telling: 

The bitterness of Elizabeth’s tones and looks had only surprised Ross in their degree. He had expected her enmity… but after the initial resistance that night there had been no particular indication that she hated him. Her attitude towards him during a number of years, and particularly the last two, was more than anything else responsible for what had happened, and she must have known it. Her behavior that night had shown that she knew it. (Warleggan; Book 4, Chapter 6) 

In other words, Elizabeth knew by the end of that night that she had wanted this, and it was her last-ditch effort at getting something she wanted after so much disappointment. It was the explosion of years’ worth of pent-up frustration and unsatisfied feelings. But her perfected art of putting on a show had also made her forget how to be honest with herself, so both before and after that night, I think she was chasing the fantasy of being with Ross and not thinking rationally at all. What does she want? Well, maybe for Ross to come to her and suggest they go away together, for Demelza to wish them happily ever after, for all her problems to magically disappear, etc. So, nothing realistic. And if it were to come down to it, I don’t think Elizabeth would ever actually go away with Ross – she’s too much of a pragmatist. But happiness has always been elusive for Elizabeth and she can’t help hoping something will change, and after she and Ross sleep together, it’s natural for her to expect something from him. Some clarification, some apology, some next step. He left her in the morning with nothing but a weak “I’ll be in touch” adieu, after all. If Ross had been single, the appropriate thing to do in that time period would have been to marry Elizabeth, so it makes sense for her to expect something. But Ross gives no such thing, thereby grossly insulting everyone affected by the affair. 

And here we come to the crowning tension. As much as Elizabeth is to blame, I've still found myself frustrated with Ross far more often than I am with her. For whatever reason, he always goes weak at the knees around her and it's positively galling after the first several books. He and Demelza have been to the edge of the cliff and back again after losing Julia, Demelza's struggles in becoming proper Mistress Poldark, Ross's many scrapes with the law... and on and on. But he still can't seem to get it through his thick head that Demelza is better for him in every way. This is where we'll pick up next time – Ross's undeniable part in all the problems involving Elizabeth. Many fans lay all the blame at Elizabeth's feet, but I think that does gross injustice to her. 

Photo Credit: Adrian Rogers
So stay tuned! What are your thoughts on the events discussed in this post? How did your opinion of Elizabeth change once the drama of the middle books and Season 2 began? I'd love to hear! 
You may have noticed a bit of internet excitement lately over the new, live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I jest. That’s putting it lightly, as we all know. It’s made over a billion dollars (yes, billion) in theaters and I can only assume the DVDs are now flying off store shelves. And I suspect it won’t be long before my resolve gives way and I’m one of those DVD buyers… :) 

So, if you care to read a 7,000th opinion on this movie, I’m attempting one here. I’d been eagerly awaiting the film ever since it was a confirmed project over two years ago – I squealed with excitement when the lovely Emma Watson was cast as Belle and dashing Dan Stevens as the Beast (To all who have just now realized how wonderful Dan Stevens is because of Beauty and the Beast – welcome, we’re so glad you’re here. But always remember that we Downton Abbey fans had him first). That was the beginning, and my excitement grew as the cast did and as the opening day drew near. Beauty and the Beast is my favorite animated Disney film, so my hopes for this reimagining were high. I’ve now seen it three times (and counting!) and have been thoroughly enchanted during each viewing. And per usual, I have many thoughts.
Photo Credit: Alpha Coders

Translating animation into real life is obviously a challenge technologically and aesthetically, but also on an emotional level. That’s probably what has struck me most deeply about this film. The movie is beautiful – the color and vibrancy and fantastical elements are all striking to behold – but human actors and new story depths have done truly moving things for this classic tale. Belle’s kind and brave heart, Maurice’s grief for his late wife and sweet protectiveness of Belle, Gaston’s self-obsession, and the Beast’s deep despair and blossoming tenderness toward Belle all come to life with new force that I wasn’t wholly prepared for. Even the enchanted objects became more relatable through the voices of so many well-known talents and some amazing feats of technology. In no particular order, here are some aspects of the film that I found especially memorable, lovely, impressive, touching, or anything else in between. 

The Beast
Much scrutiny has been directed at Emma Watson’s performance of Belle, and it’s understandable since Belle is the story’s center. But I’d argue that not nearly enough attention has been paid to Dan Stevens’s masterful performance of the Beast. Because yes, he did perform the role, not just lend it his voice. In fact, he really had to perform everything twice – once on the set opposite the other actors and once in a sound booth where he reenacted everything with only his face. This video sheds light on the process he went through for the character and it’s incredible to imagine. Just standing around in the Lycra muscle suit he had to wear would be a feat in itself, let alone giving a convincing romantic hero performance.
Photo Credit: Insider

But Dan Stevens did that very thing and much more. Though the Beast is obviously animal-like, I was struck anew by the fact that this character was a tormented, human prince who sees no way out of his despair. And as Belle begins to break through his cynicism and hopelessness, his heart and humanity come to the forefront more than ever. He has a humorous dry wit that the animated version of him lacked, and his bond with Belle deepens as they realize shared loves for reading and traveling. Belle also helps him rediscover the beauty of the world he lives in and it’s lovely to see him learning to look outside himself again. This reaches its height when he realizes loving Belle means the sacrifice of letting her go, and his new song “Evermore” expounds on his feelings there in weighty, heartbreaking rhythm. 

Well done, Dan Stevens. I suppose I sort of forgive you for leaving Downton now… maybe. He did make quite a prince in that blue coat at the end, I must say. 

Gaston – the Song and the Character
Photo Credit: Fanpop
I’d not heard of Luke Evans before he was cast as Gaston, but I soon learned that he’s a singer and theater performer by training, so I was expecting to be impressed. But WOW. I came out of my first viewing well and truly gobsmacked by his performance. He and Josh Gad seemed uniquely made to play Gaston and LeFou and they just might have stolen the whole show during the “Gaston” song in the tavern. It’s so much fun and will make you want to dance with them. Luke Evans hits some impressive notes and makes you laugh at Gaston for about the first half of the movie, skillfully revealing his villain status a bit more subtly in this version. At the beginning, I wanted to playfully cuff Gaston and tell him to chill out, but by the end, I was feeling rather frightened of him and was thoroughly repulsed by his obsession with himself and his disregard for others. His contrast to the Beast is clear by the end – one has the good looks on the outside and beastliness within while the other, while he appears beastly, has far more goodness inside.

Belle and Maurice
Kevin Kline as Maurice was probably the most pleasant of surprises to me about this movie. Maurice is a rather eccentric, comic relief character in the animated version, but in this one, he’s thoughtful, gentle, and carrying past pain that makes him both quietly adoring and deeply protective of Belle. From their first scene together, their uniquely close connection is obvious – Belle is his whole world and she knows his everyday needs before he even asks. In many ways, their love for each other drives both of them throughout the entire movie. It’s clear that Belle’s capacity to love so selflessly and purely stems from him. One of the film’s first poignant moments occurs when she takes Maurice’s place in the Beast’s prison – he encourages her to live her life and forget him, but she tearfully replies, “How can you say that? Everything I am is because of you!” And then she willingly shuts the cell door on herself as he goes free. I might have definitely cried.
Photo Credit: Extra.ie

And interestingly, this daughter who Maurice has brought up so lovingly then ends up teaching him a few important things by the end. The back-story on Belle’s mother was an addition to this retelling that I really appreciated. We discover that when Belle was a baby, her mother died of the plague very suddenly, forcing Maurice take Belle and abandon his wife before the illness spread. This explains his pensive, sometimes sad nature and deep concern with safety. But by the end, Belle has helped him see the value in taking risks, letting go of guilt, and loving boldly. It’s a beautiful and touching arc for this classic father-daughter duo. 

The Waltz
Sigh. The iconic ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast is perhaps the most romantic sequence in any Disney movie, so I was excitedly anticipating it in this new version. And each time I’ve watched it, I’m pretty sure I held my breath for much of the scene. It’s simple and lovely and pure. Belle and the Beast look at each other as if for the first time, but also as if they’re seeing into each other’s hearts more deeply than ever before. Their conflicting emotions shine through beautifully as they spin and sway – their affection for one another is growing, yet they’re also uncertain and realizing they’re vulnerable where the other is concerned. And Emma Thompson’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast” frames the scene exquisitely. She does the song beautiful justice and much, much more.
Photo Credit: Alpha Coders

The Redemptive End
Even in the animated version, Belle’s shuddering weeping over the Beast has made me cry with her. But I was truly a mess as I watched Emma Watson acting this scene. Her sobs are desperate and truly heart-wrenching as she pleads for him to come back and then kisses his unconscious face. Her pain is palpable as you see her realize before your eyes how much she loves him. And this version added an interesting facet to this scene through the enchanted objects – as the Beast fades, they follow suit, seizing up and becoming completely inanimate. Their fear and regret add important depth to the scene, making even the most seasoned Disney fan wonder if maybe this time it’s too late. 

But oh, just wait, my friend! The transformation could not be more glorious. Belle and her newly restored prince gaze, smile, laugh, and kiss with a joy and wonder that gladdened my heart. The objects become people again, families are reunited, and the prince sees with new eyes what a gift he has in his kingdom and subjects. And what a feast for the eyes that finale is! Belle’s dress took my breath away. I also appreciated how in the midst of the joy and festivities, we get a glimpse of the fun in store for our happy couple. As they dance, the prince questions an odd look Belle is giving him, and she coyly quips, “How would you feel about growing a beard?” In response, he gives a playful growl and smile. I’m liking the pictures I have in my mind of their future life together.
Photo Credit: Pinterest

How’s that for thoughts? I warned you there were lots of them :) I’m thankful for the lovely nostalgic feelings this retelling evoked, as well as the new life and depth it breathed into the classic story. All in all, I was struck anew by the purity, sacrifice, and tenderness of this tale – a tormented prince and despairing servants are trapped without hope, but the selfless love of one person from the outside changes everything and redeems them all. It pointed me to the greatest, most selfless Love of all that I need to be reminded of every day, and as always, I’m grateful for a story that can do that.

 



*I do not own the rights to these photos*
Heida Reed as Elizabeth Poldark in BBC's new TV adaptation of Poldark
Photo Credit: The Culture Concept
She’s poised and elegant and reminds many of porcelain. She’s beautiful, ladylike, and always ready with a polite remark. Yet, beneath her buttoned-up manners lays a tangle of conflicting emotions, frustrations, regrets, and uncertainties. 

Yes, it’s Elizabeth Poldark of whom I speak. With my newfound love for the Poldark stories has also come an odd fascination with Elizabeth. The iconic hero, Ross Poldark, swept me off my feet in an instant, and I was similarly captivated by the female lead, Demelza Carne Poldark. In fact, if any character delighted me and stole my heart completely, it was Demelza (read more on that here). And on the other side, I easily hated Ross’s arch nemesis, George Warleggan. Malicious, greedy, manipulative, conceited, and obsessed with winning even if it means hurting others, George continues to enrage me in nearly every one of his scenes in the show and books. 

But the supporting yet crucial role of Elizabeth has provoked a lot of thought. I don’t love her like I do Ross and Demelza, but I don’t hate her like I do George, so where does she fit? She might be the most debated character of the series. Is she sympathetic, villainous, or somewhere in between? Is she to blame for the many terrible hands life has dealt her, or was it all beyond her control? Is she a good person at heart like Ross and Demelza both are, or have her motives always been tainted with self-interest and resentment? Was she a victim, an instigator, or a yielding participant in THE horrible, disillusioning plot twist near the end of book 4, Warleggan

All of these questions and more surround Elizabeth’s character arc. Though she’s not the most likable character in the story by any stretch, I do think she’s one of the most complex and has certainly been the one I’ve changed my mind about the most often. After watching these first two seasons of the show and reading the first six books, one word stands out in my head with glaring clarity whenever I think of Elizabeth. Tragic. Other apt descriptions might include manipulative, weak, selfish, people-pleasing, confused, or unlucky. But more than anything else, I think “tragic” sums up the mass of contradictions that is Elizabeth Poldark, and this series of posts will attempt to explain why I think that word fits her and why I'd argue that she deserves a bit more sympathy than many give her. As I became absorbed in writing about her, I quickly realized I'd need more than one post, so this is the first of three! In this one, we'll take a look at the early years of the Poldark story, primarily Season 1 of the new TV series and books 1 and 2, Ross Poldark and Demelza. Be forewarned: thorough spoilers from aforementioned material ahead!

Loveliest Elizabeth, how complicated you are
Photo Credit: Poldark Wikia
Consideration 1: It's impossible for us as a modern audience to understand how controlled Elizabeth is by her society and upbringing in 1780s England

Mark this down as the number one aspect that so many fans of at least the show just don’t seem to get. Because I’m a nerd, I like to occasionally scroll through fan comments on the show’s social media posts, and I sometimes wonder if people consider that since the story is set in the 1780s and not the 2010s, the characters will likely think differently than we do. The first thing Elizabeth always gets grief about is marrying Ross’s cousin Francis even though she still has feelings for Ross. Everyone had thought Ross was dead, but he miraculously returns from war only to gate-crash Elizabeth and Francis’s engagement party. Awkward. Though everyone is thrilled he’s alive, they immediately wonder what his return means for the family. Elizabeth and Francis appear to be on the brink of wedded bliss, but as soon as Ross walks in the door, Elizabeth’s feelings for him clearly come rushing back. But she marries Francis anyway. And I’ve read so many fan comments along these lines: 

“She’s awful breaking Ross’s heart like that! Who cares what people think?” 

“Well it’s her fault if she’s unhappy in her marriage. She chose to marry Francis even though she knew she loved Ross.” 

“I’d have gladly ditched Francis and married Ross and not cared what society said!” 

Well, no, actually you wouldn’t have. Sorry to break it to you, but that line of thinking is clearly a product of modern preconceptions, not 18th century ones. Love was not a factor in the vast majority of marriage decisions in 1783. Money, position, social influence, and titles were. It’s hard for us to get our heads around that because we now understand marriage as something for personal fulfillment. But in the 1700s, marriages were social arrangements for optimal influence and wealth. And for a woman, marriage was literally the key to survival. Women had no rights to property or money; everything they owned was their father’s and then their husband’s when they married. And if you weren’t married by your early twenties, you were virtually “shelved” and would be doomed to live off the goodwill of your male relatives until who knew when. Verity Poldark, Francis’s kindhearted older sister, is the perfect example of this. At the beginning, she’s 25 and without marriage prospects, so she’s basically become a voluntary extra housekeeper in her own home. 

Ross (Aidan Turner) and Elizabeth (Heida Reed) before Ross left for war
Photo Credit: The Joyful Molly
So Elizabeth feels realistically torn when Ross suddenly returns. She and Ross had been in the impassioned throes of young love before he went to war, but who can blame her for moving on after hearing nothing from him for three years and hearing that he’s dead? And Francis was undoubtedly the most eligible bachelor in their Cornwall community. He’s wealthy, he’s the heir to property and a beautiful home, he’s a respected leader in their area, and he has an ancient family name. Elizabeth also comes from a distinguished aristocratic family, so the marriage is perfect on 18th century paper. Ross’s return changes none of those facts, even if it does bring back the old butterfly feelings. The wedding is very soon too. Even in a modern setting, that would be a serious pickle. But Ross is also poverty-stricken upon his return, so he could have offered Elizabeth barely anything beyond a leaky roof over her head. Plus, engagements were almost as good as marriage at that time. To break off an engagement was unheard of, and if it had been attempted, Elizabeth, Francis, and their families would have all faced serious public shaming and exclusion (the modern equivalent to the level of embarrassment and notoriety would probably be online or tabloid shaming). 

So understanding all of that, there was basically no chance that someone in Elizabeth’s shoes would have made any other choice but the choice that she made – go ahead with the marriage to Francis. In the show, Elizabeth’s mother pressures her a bit, but only for the benefit of the modern audience. In the book, it’s hardly even a question because of course she would still marry Francis. There was no other choice. The heart-pounding, sweaty-palmed feelings aren’t there, but they both certainly want to do right by each other at the outset and are well-placed to be the picture-perfect aristocratic family that leads their little 18th century English community. And that’s part of what makes their unhappy marriage so sad to watch in the chapters/episodes that follow.

Consideration 2: Many of Elizabeth's disappointments are legitimate and worthy of sympathy, and she bears many of them with grace

Yes, she changes, but I will unashamedly defend the Elizabeth of the earlier books and the first season-and-a-half or so of the show. I think it’s clear that she married Francis with good intentions, even though she continues to struggle with feelings for Ross. She wanted to be a worthy wife to Francis and a worthy mistress of his home, so it’s not her fault that he spirals into insecurity and delinquency. Let it be known that I have a good bit of sympathy for Francis too – despite his long friendship with Ross, Ross is still Elizabeth’s first love and it’s understandable that doubt would raise its ugly head. But he takes it out on Elizabeth as well as Verity in a most vindictive and unhelpful manner. 

So yes, Elizabeth did choose to marry Francis, but she chose that in the belief that he loved her and would try his utmost to be a good husband. It’s not her fault that he turns out to be a cowardly, incompetent, gambling alcoholic and adulterer who loses his whole livelihood. Wouldn’t that be disappointing and painful for any woman, no matter what era she lived in? Not to mention that she also watches Ross marry Demelza and live in marital bliss in the meantime. Is it any wonder that she’s unhappy and maybe fantasizing about what life might have been like if she’d had a proper chance with Ross? It makes sense to me. No, it’s still not right for her to entertain romantic thoughts about Ross or to initiate some of the emotionally charged conversations with him that she does. But I understand mentally how she gets there because literally any woman would do or be tempted to do the same in her situation. 

Happier days for Elizabeth and Francis (Heida Reed and Kyle Soller)
Photo Credit: Aidan Turner Company Poland
But in the midst of all that, Elizabeth remains tight-lipped and throws herself into raising her son, Geoffrey Charles. She isn’t blameless in the early days, but overall, I do admire the resilience she shows as Francis becomes ever more neglectful and continually ignores and berates her. When he loses his copper mine, the TV show includes a tense scene in which she stands by him at the closing and bravely faces the less prosperous future. Her exchange with Ross is telling: 

Ross: Elizabeth. What can I do? 
Elizabeth: (ironic laugh) Not once has Francis asked me that question. 
Ross: He’s afraid to. You must know this is never what he intended for you. 
Elizabeth: And yet it is how it is. And we shall weather it – retrench, make economies. There are many worse off than we. But Francis feels sorry for himself; I will not do so. 

That last line particularly stood out to me when I first watched the show. I think it’s one of the biggest contrasts between her and Francis. Francis whines and drowns in self-pity; Elizabeth quietly submits to the difficulties and does her best to love her son, Verity, and Aunt Agatha. And despite her failings where Ross is concerned, I still think she puts in a determined effort to make things normal with him and is at least cordial to Demelza. 

Many fans seem to accuse Elizabeth of having ulterior motives even early on, but I don’t really agree. What specifically is she trying to do other than keep a stiff upper lip and be the good neighbor and cousin to Ross and Demelza that she’s supposed to be? Indeed, Ross actually observes Elizabeth and Demelza in conversation with satisfaction at one point in the second book and reflects that he’d been hoping for friendship to develop between them. The show makes the two women friendlier towards each other in the early days than the books do, but I think that’s partially in an effort to bring Francis and Elizabeth into the forefront of the story from its beginning. But even so, as previously discussed, marriage was a locked-in deal back then, even if you were discontent. Elizabeth entertains inappropriate conversations with Ross plenty of times, but I think it’s overreaction to accuse her of purposely scheming to split up Ross and Demelza from the start of their marriage or of trying to lure Ross into a full-out affair with herself. That would reek of scandal, the very last thing a woman like Elizabeth would have wanted, despite her deeply buried jealousy and hurt. 

Photo Credit: Austenprose
So, it makes perfect sense to me that Elizabeth was simply trying to make the best of her situation in the earlier days, no matter how unhappy she was underneath. It’s my belief that Elizabeth is extremely unhappy for almost her entire marriage to Francis, so if she comes off as less than genuine, is it not understandable? She’s constantly putting on a show, after all – doing her best to make things alright while never saying what’s really on her mind. It’s just what was expected of her and every other woman like her in that time period. She’s the norm for that setting; Demelza is the delightful exception.

To be continued! Next we'll come to all the drama that hits the fan in Season 2/books 3-4 and how Elizabeth deals with it. Partial spoiler: not too well... but... well, I'll save it for then! :) Let me know what you think of the points made so far! How did you interpret Elizabeth in these early books and episodes? Did your opinion change or flip-flop at any point? I'd love to hear!