“JUDGING ELIZABETH POLDARK”
To this day, I am amazed at the level of hostility directed at the Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark character in the two BBC series titled, “POLDARK”. Quite frankly, I find this hostility to be bordered on the level of a psychotic.
Then it finally occurred to me.
Perhaps the real reason why so many fans dislike Elizabeth – and I am making a major assumption here – is that they see her as an obstacle in the road to Ross Poldark and Demelza Carne Poldark’s “twu luv” or “perfect” relationship. As far as these fans are concerned, Ross and Demelza should spend their entire marriage, projecting the image of perfect love, with nothing or no one – including themselves – posing a threat to their relationship. But there is a problem. Ross continued to harbor feelings for Elizabeth, his first love, even after his marriage to Demelza, his former kitchen maid. Even Elizabeth continued to have feelings for Ross, despite her marriage to his cousin, Francis Poldark.
However, Elizabeth has tried her best to keep her feelings toward Ross to herself. She has tried her best to work at making her marriage to Francis work – despite his insecurities and screw ups. Yet, since Francis’ loss of his fortune and mine at a card game, Elizabeth may have reached a breaking point in trying to maintain some semblance of affection toward her husband. Ross, on the other hand, seemed less disciplined in keeping his feelings for Elizabeth in check. He is in love with his wife, Demelza. There is no doubt. Unfortunately, Ross seemed incapable of moving past Elizabeth’s rejection of him. There have been moments when he has either expressed his feelings or come dangerously close to openly expressing his feelings for her. The 1975-1977 version of “POLDARK” featured one episode in which Ross managed to convince Elizabeth to leave Francis and run away with him. Even after he had sex with Demelza in the previous episode. One episode in the current adaptation made it clear that Ross was in love with both his wife and Elizabeth, when he had admitted it to his cousin Verity.
Many fans of the current series had reacted with disgust or dismay over the idea that Ross loved both Demelza and Elizabeth. In fact, many fans – either forty years ago or today – seemed incapable of understanding Ross’ ability to love two women. It sees as if they wanted Ross to move past his feelings for Elizabeth and focus his love on Demelza. I understand why they would feel this way. With Ross focusing his love solely on Demelza, the viewers would be presented with a simpler and cleaner romance with no pesky little issues to cloud their relationship. But thanks to Winston Graham, Ross refused to do so. And instead of blaming Ross, many want to blame Elizabeth, because it was and still is easier to do. Graham provided his readers with an emotionally complicated relationship between Ross, Demelza, Elizabeth, Francis and even local banker George Warleggan that proved to be emotionally complicated. But these fans do not want complicated relationships or stories. They want their characters and the latter’s relationships to be simple – at the level of a “romance novel for 16 year-olds”. However, that is NOT what Winston Graham had written in his novels.
I am also beginning to wonder if Graham’s portrayal of his protagonist as a man in love with two women had led many fans of the saga to harbor an unnatural and deep-seated hatred of Elizabeth. Not only do they seemed to be upset over Ross’ continuing love for her, these fans seem to regard her as unworthy of Ross’ affection, due to her rejection of him, following his return from the American Revolutionary War. For some reason, these fans seem incapable or unwilling to view Elizabeth as a complex woman with both virtues and flaws. And due to their excessive worship of Ross and Demelza’s relationship, they seem incapable of viewing those two as complex people with flaws … especially Demelza.
I never understood why so many have described Elizabeth as some fragile, delicate woman, who was too weak to be her own woman, let alone stand on her own two feet. Yes, Elizabeth could be rather conservative in the manner in which she had chosen to live her life. I believe that this conservative streak had developed from her penchant for practicality. In fact, I believe that at times, she was too practical for her own good. This practical streak led her to desire financial stability just a bit too much – to the point that led her to engage in two questionable marriages. Elizabeth has also been accused of being cold and emotionally closed off from others. Hmmm . . . sounds like the typical complaints many have made about reserved or introverted individuals. As an introverted person myself, I speak from personal experience. I suspect that many would have admired her if she had been more like her cousin-in-law, Demelza Carne. Fans seemed to have gone into a tizzy over the former kitchen maid with a fiery temper, sharp tongue and even sharper wit. Demelza seemed to be the epiphany of the ideal woman – openly emotional, beautiful, earthy, and witty. Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark may not have been some female walking ball of fire, but she was certainly not some refrigerated hothouse flower, frigid bitch or limpid Stepford Wife. She was a living, breathing woman with her own passions, virtues and flaws. The thing with Elizabeth is that she was a reserved and private woman who believed in keeping her emotions to herself, due to 18th century society’s demands for women and her own quiet nature.
I realize some might respond that Elizabeth should have been more open with her emotions . . . a trait that many seemed to regard as ideal for a woman. I would disagree. Elizabeth had to be her own woman. And if that meant being a reserved or private one, so be it. Besides, when did it become a crime for a woman – any woman – to be shy or reserved? Why is it so terrible to keep one’s feelings to oneself, especially if one is a woman? Why does a woman, especially a woman character, have to be outgoing, witty, sharp-tongued or “feisty” in order to be considered worthy of society? Am I supposed to regard myself as unworthy, because I am a reserved woman?
I do get tired of the public either idealizing female characters that they like/love and castigating other female characters who do not live up to their ideal of what a woman should be. Especially a woman character like Elizabeth Poldark who was created by a 20th century writer or early 21st century woman character … even if said character is from a story set in a different time period. Male characters are not subjected to such narrow-minded thinking. They are allowed to be complex. It is amazing that despite the fact that we are now in the second decade of the 21st century, this society is still held back by some rampant patriarchy that refuses to leave – even among many women of all ages. And that is pretty damn sad.
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