Top Ten Favorite Movies Set in the 1860s

Below is my current list of favorite movies set in the 1860s: 

TOP TEN FAVORITE MOVIES SET IN THE 1860s

1. “Lincoln” (2012) – Steven Spielberg directed this highly acclaimed film about President Abraham Lincoln’s last four months in office and his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment to end slavery. Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis, Oscar nominee Sally Field and Oscar nominee Tommy Lee Jones starred.

2. “Shenandoah”(1965) – James Stewart starred in this bittersweet tale about how a Virginia farmer’s efforts to keep his family out of the Civil War failed when his youngest son is mistaken as a Confederate soldier by Union troops and taken prisoner. Andrew V. McLaglen directed.

3. “Angels & Insects” (1995) – Philip Haas directed this adaptation of A.S. Byatt’s 1992 novella, “Morpho Eugenia” about a Victorian naturalist who marries into the English landed gentry. Mark Rylance, Kristin Scott-Thomas and Patsy Kensit starred.

4. “Class of ’61” (1993) – Dan Futterman and Clive Owen co-starred in this television movie about recent West Point graduates and their experiences during the first months of the Civil War. Produced by Steven Spielberg, the movie was directed by Gregory Hoblit.

5. “The Tall Target” (1951) – Anthony Mann directed this suspenseful tale about a New York City Police sergeant who stumbles across a plot to kill President-elect Lincoln and travels aboard the train carrying the latter to stop the assassination attempt. Dick Powell starred.

6. “Far From the Madding Crowd” (1967) – John Schlesinger directed this adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a young Victorian woman torn between three men. The movie starred Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp and Peter Finch.

7. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966) – Sergio Leone directed this epic Spaghetti Western about three gunslingers in search of a cache of Confederate gold in New Mexico, during the Civil War. Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef and Eli Wallach starred.

8. “Cold Mountain” (2003) – Anthony Minghella directed this poignant adaptation of Charles Fraizer’s 1997 novel about a Confederate Army deserter, who embarks upon a long journey to return home to his sweetheart, who is struggling to maintain her farm, following the death of her father. The movie starred Oscar nominees Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, along with Oscar winner Renee Zellweger.

9. “Little Women” (1994) – Gillian Armstrong directed this adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s 1868 novel about four sisters from an impoverished, yet genteel New England family. The movie starred Winona Ryder, Trini Alvarado, Christian Bale and Susan Sarandon.

10. “The Beguiled” (1971) – Clint Eastwood starred in this atmospheric adaptation of Thomas Cullinan’s 1966 novel about a wounded Union soldier who finds refuge at an all-girl boarding school in 1863 Mississippi. Directed by Don Siegel, the movie co-starred Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman.

“A Family Scandal in the ‘NORTH AND SOUTH’ Trilogy”

“A FAMILY SCANDAL IN THE ‘NORTH AND SOUTH’ TRILOGY”

I love John Jakes’ “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy. Honestly, I do. I love it so much that I have copies of the novels published between 1982 and 1987 that make up the trilogy. I love it so much that I have also copies of the television adaptations (1985-1986; 1994) of the novels, produced by Wolper Productions. Unfortunately, the trilogy has a few narrative problems. And I feel that one of its biggest problems centered around a particular painting. 

I am referring to a certain painting that hung inside an expensive New Orleans. This particular painting depicted a beautiful young woman, who also happened to be one of the prostitutes that worked there. This particular prostitute was favored by the bordello’s owner. More importantly, she left the bordello and her profession in order to marry one of her customers. Despite her European ancestry, this woman was the granddaughter of an African-born slave. She also happened to be the mother of one of the “NORTH AND SOUTH” Trilogy’s main characters – Madeline Fabray. And she eventually became the mother-in-law of three other main characters.

Before I continued, I want to say a few words about the painting of Madeline Fabray’s mother that was created for the first two miniseries, 1985’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” and 1986’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II”. I did not find it impressive. Look at that dress worn by the painting’s subject. It looks cheap and tacky. Not even a high-priced prostitute like Madeline’s mother would wear such a dress. Even worse, the dress and hairstyle worn by the subject failed to reflect the right decade. Madeline Fabray had been born in the mid-1820s. This meant that her mother must have been a prostitute between the late 1810s and early 1820s. The hairstyle and dress worn by Madeline’s mother seemed to reflect that the painting had been created between in the mid-1840s and early 1850s – at least two to three decades after Mrs. Fabray’s death. Wolper Productions really made a mistake in allowing this painting to serve as an image of the late Mrs. Fabray. But the story that surrounded both the character and the painting struck me as a lot more problematic. And the trouble began in John Jakes’ 1982 novel, “North and South”.

In 1846, two years after her marriage to South Carolina rice planter Justin LaMotte, Madeline Fabray LaMotte had traveled back to her hometown of New Orleans to care for her dying father. Before he finally passed away, Nicholas Fabray informed his daughter that both she and her mother were of mixed blood. One of Madeline’s ancestresses was an African-born slave, which meant the late Mrs. Fabray was one-fourth black and Madeline, one-eighth. Shocked by this revelation, Madeline kept this secret to herself for years, until she finally confessed it to her lover and husband’s neighbor Orry Main – one of the novel’s two main characters – after she left her brutish husband in the late winter of 1861. Despite his initial shock, Orry took the news rather well and eventually married Madeline, following Justin’s death during the early months of the Civil War.

Unbeknownst to Madeline and Orry, an Army officer named Elkhannah Bent had already learned about her mother’s background . . . former profession. Bent first met Orry during their years at West Point. Orry, along with his best friend, Pennsylvania-born George Hazard, became Bent’s enemies. When they nearly caused his expulsion from West Point, he vowed to get his revenge. He nearly got Orry killed at the Battle of Churubusco, during the Mexican-American War. Neither the Hazards nor the Mains had heard about Bent for years, until they learned he was the immediate commanding officer of Charles Main, Orry’s younger cousin, in Texas during the late 1850s. Either in 1858 or 1859, Bent visited Charles’ quarters for a talk and spotted a photograph taken at a picnic held at the Main family’s estate, Mont Royal. Among the subjects in the photograph were Madeline and Justin LaMotte. Bent seemed taken by Madeline’s looks. In January 1861, Bent was recalled back to the War Department in Washington D.C. During his journey from Texas to the East Coast, Ben visited an expensive bordello in New Orleans – the same one where Mrs. Fabray had worked some decades ago. There, he spotted the infamous painting inside the office of Madam Conti, the bordello’s owner. Bent learned from Madam Conti that the painting’s subject was not only of mixed blood, but also a former prostitute who had married well. Noticing the physical similarities between Madeline LaMotte and the painting’s subject, Bent ascertained that the two women were related. For reasons that still amaze me, he decided that this bit of knowledge could serve as a weapon against Orry Main.

In the 1984 novel, “Love and War”, Bent returned to New Orleans about a year-and-a-half later, during the second year of the Civil War, and stole the painting, jeopardizing his Army career. Realizing that he no longer had a military career, Bent deserted from the Union Army and journeyed toward Richmond, Virginia – the capital of the Confederacy. Nearly two years later, he managed to find and acquaint himself with one of Orry’s younger sisters, Ashton Main Huntoon. Bent had chosen well. Orry’s vain and unpleasant sister had estranged herself from the Main family, following her attempt to arrange the murder of her brother-in-law, Billy Hazard, for rejecting her years earlier for younger sister Brett. Once Bent had revealed the infamous painting, along with Madeline’s family history, to Ashton; the latter revealed everything to guests at a private reception that included Confederate Senator Judah Benjamin of Louisiana and Christopher Memminger, a South Carolinian resident who was serving as a Secretary of the Treasury for the Confederate States. Orry’s superior, General John H. Winder had “requested” that he send Madeline away from Richmond. Orry sent Madeline to the Hazards’ home in Lehigh Station, Pennsylvania and resigned his position at the War Department before assuming a field command toward the end of the Overland Campaign in June 1864.

The adaptations of the 1982 and 1984 novels – 1985’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” and 1986’s “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” – took a different spin on the tale. One, Madeline did not learn the truth about her mother from her father until 1854, ten years following her marriage to Justin LaMotte. She told Orry about her secret some three months later, leading him to insist that she leave Justin and accompany him to the North. However, events involving Madeline and a secret abortion for a pregnant and still single Ashton Main led to the end of Orry’s plans. Madeline more or less became a prisoner of her husband for nearly six-and-a-half years. Justin LaMotte died during the summer of 1861 and a few months later, Madeline and Orry became husband and wife.

As for Elkhannah Bent, his discovery of the painting also unfolded differently. In the television version, Bent (who was an amalgamation of the literary Bent and a character named Lamar Powell), was visiting New Orleans in 1856 or 1857, when he met Ashton’s new husband, James Huntoon. He was in New Orleans to give a pro-secession speech. The pair, along with two other men, proceeded to Madam Conti’s bordello. When James removed his wallet from his jacket, a photograph of his and Ashton’s wedding reception fell from his wallet. The photograph contained the bridal pair, the Main family and a few guests that included Justin and Madeline La Motte. Apparently, this was not Bent’s first visit to the bordello. While waiting for one of the madam’s prostitutes to finish with a customer, Bent and Madam Conti had refreshments in her private office that contained the painting of Mrs. Fabray. While the madam told Bent about the painting’s subject, he quickly surmised that Mrs. Fabray and the Mains’ neighbor were blood related. Some four years later – between the end of “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK I” and “NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” – Bent managed to acquire the painting. Only neither miniseries revealed how he did it. I can only make the assumption that he had purchased it from Madam Conti. In Episode 2, Bent revealed the painting to Ashton, who had become his lover. Instead of revealing Madeline’s secret to Richmond society, Ashton used her knowledge of the painting and Mrs. Fabray’s past to blackmail Madeline into leaving Orry and Mont Royal for good. Two years later, days after the war ended, Madeline and Orry reconciled in Charleston.

Superficially, there seemed to be nothing wrong with the narrative regarding Madeline’s mother and the painting in both Jakes’ novels and the television miniseries. Superficially. However, both the novels and the miniseries revealed a major blooper. Why on earth did Elkhannah Bent went out of his way to get his hands on that painting? Why? In both the 1982 novel and the 1985 miniseries, Madeline was revealed to Bent as the wife of a neighboring planter. Neither Charles Main in the novel or James Huntoon in the miniseries knew about Madeline’s romantic connection to Orry. Which meant that Bent was not aware of this relationship, as well. In both the novels and the miniseries, Bent did not find out about Madeline and Orry’s relationship until after he got his hands on the painting. so, Why would Bent risk his professional career in “Love and War” to steal the painting featuring Madeline’s mother, if he was unaware of Orry’s emotional connection to her daughter? Or pay good money to purchase the painting (which is my theory, by the way) in the television adaptations?

I wish I could say that matters got better in the third act of Jakes’ trilogy. But it did not. Another mystery regarding the painting manifested. In both the third novel, 1987’s “Heaven and Hell” and the third miniseries, 1994’s “HEAVEN AND HELL: NORTH AND SOUTH BOOK III”, the locals who lived in the same neighborhood as the Mains seemed aware of Madeline’s African ancestry and the profession of her mother. My question is . . . how? How did locals like her first husband’s cousin, Gettys La Motte discover her family secret in the first place? Who had spilled the beans?

In “Love and War”, Jakes had made a point of both Judah Benjamin and Christopher Memminger attending the reception where Ashton had revealed Madeline’s secret. However, Benjamin moved to Great Britain after the war and Memminger ended up in North Carolina, following his resignation as Secretary of the Treasurer in July 1864. Ashton, her husband James, and her lover Lamar Powell were forced to flee Richmond for the New Mexico Territory after Orry exposed their plot to assassinate the Confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis. Lamar Powell killed James Huntoon before being killed by an Apache warrior upon their arrival in the Southwest. Ashton arrived in Santa Fe a few days later, stranded and without any funds. It took her at least four years to return to South Carolina. So none of the above could have revealed Madeline’s secret to the Mains’ neighbors. More importantly, Jakes never bothered to reveal how the news reached the South Caroline low country.

“NORTH AND SOUTH: BOOK II” told a slightly different tale. A year after Bent had exposed Madeline’s secret to Ashton, she used the knowledge to blackmail her sister-in-law into leaving Mont Royal for good. However, neither Ashton or Bent ever told another soul. The only other people who knew about Madeline’s mother were her former maid, Maum Sally, who was killed by Justin LaMotte back in 1856, during the debacle regarding Ashton’s unwanted pregnancy; Orry; and his mother, Clarissa Main. And none of these people told a soul. Not even Ashton or Bent, which I find surprising. Like Jakes, the screenwriters for the second and third miniseries never made the effort to set up, let alone reveal how the Mains’ neighbors learned about Madeline’s secret.

It is a pity that the storyline regarding Madeline and her mother was marred by sloppy writing. It had the potential to be one of the most interesting arcs in the entire saga, especially since it focused upon attitudes regarding miscegenation in the United States . . . attitudes that lasted for another century following the saga’s setting and still linger to this day. Oh well. There is nothing I can do about it. I suppose I can only regard it as a blooper and move on.

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Below is an article about the dish known as Martha Washington’s Great Cake: 

MARTHA WASHINGTON’S GREAT CAKE

While perusing a website that featured different American dishes from the eighteenth century, I came across one that caught my interest. It happened to be a dessert created by First Lady Martha Dandridge Washington

The background for Martha Washington’s Great Cake began near the end of the eighteenth century. In 1796, President George Washington had decided not to serve a third term as United States President near the end of his second term. Three months after issuing his farewell address in many newspapers, he returned to his estate in Virginia called Mount Vernon in time for the Christmas holidays. His wife Martha made arrangement for a “Great Cake”, a cake filled with fruits and spices, to be baked and served on Twelfth Night, the last of twelve days of Christmas.

Great Cake had been a common dessert during the country’s Colonial Era and tended to be very large. They were usually risen cakes, very similar to the Italian dessert known as Panettone. However, the “Great Cake” created by Martha Washington was somewhat denser than a panettone and possessed more fruit and spices.

The recipe for the First Lady’s version of the “Great Cake” was discovered among her private papers by her granddaughter, Martha Parke Custis Peter. It utilized different ingredients that were common in the “Great Cakes” of the past. However, Mrs. Washington did not personally prepared the cake herself. Instead, she utilized the kitchen slaves at Mount Vernon to do the actual preparation. The First Lady’s original recipe consisted of the following:

“Take 40 eggs & divide the whites from the yolks & beat them to a froth then work 4 pounds of butter to a cream & put the whites of eggs to it a spoon full at a time till it is well work’d then put 4 pounds of sugar finely powder’d to it in the same manner than put in the Youlks of eggs and 5 pounds of flower and 5 pounds of fruit, 2 hours will bake it add to it half an ounce of mace and nutmeg half a pint of wine & some fresh brandy.”

However, here is a more modern recipe for Martha Washington’s Great Cake from the Seasonal Wisdom website:

Martha Washington’s Great Cake

Ingredients:

*1 1/2 cups currants
*1/3 cup chopped candied orange peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied lemon peel
*1/3 cup chopped candied citron
*3/4 cup Madiera, divided
*1/4 cup French brandy
*3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
*1/2 cup slivered almonds
*1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
*1/2 teaspoon ground mace
*3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
*1 1/2 cups sugar
*3 large eggs, separated

Preparation:

Combine currants, orange and lemon peels, and citron in a large bowl. Add 1/2 cup of Madeira and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap, and set aside for at least 3 hours, or overnight. Stir the reminder of the Madeira with the brandy; cover and set aside.

When ready to bake the cake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan.

Drain fruits in a large strainer set over a bowl, stirring occasionally to extract as much Madeira as possible. Add the strained Madeira to the set-aside Madeira and brandy.

Combine 1/4 cup of the flour with the fruit, and mix well. Add the almonds, and set aside. Sift the remaining flour with the nutmeg and mace.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter until it is light. Add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating for several minutes after adding each ingredient. Whisk the egg yolks until they are light and smooth, and add them to the butter and sugar. Continue to beat for several minutes, until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Alternatively add the spiced flour, 1/2 cup at a time, and the Madiera and brandy, beating until smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to form stiff peaks. By hand, gently fold them into the batter, combining lightly until well blended. By hand, fold in the fruit in thirds, mixing until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula, or the back of a spoon. Bake for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the cake on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 20 minutes. If serving the cake plain, turn it out of the pan to cool completely. If finishing it with icing, turn the warm cake out of the pan onto a baking sheet, and proceed with the icing.

To ice the cake, spread Sugar Icing generously onto the surface, piling it high and swirling it around the top and sides. Set in the turned-off warm oven, and let sit for at least 3 hours, or until the cake is cool and the icing has hardened. The icing will crumble when the cake is sliced.

Sugar Icing Recipe for Great Cake

Ingredients:

*3 large egg whites at room temperature
*1 1/2 cups of sugar
*2 tablespoons rose water or orange-flower water

Preparations:

In the bowl of an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites on low speed, gradually adding 2 tablespoons of the sugar. After about 3 minutes, or when they just begin to form soft peaks, increase the speed to high and continue adding the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until all the sugar is incorporated and the egg whites form soft peaks.

Add the rose water, and continue beating to form stiff peaks. Use immediately to ice the cake.

“ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” (1945) Book Review

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“ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” (1945) Book Review

During a period of fifty-seven, writer Winston Graham wrote a series of twelve historical novels that centered around a former British Army officer from Cornwall, who had fought for king and country during the American Revolutionary War. The first of the novels, “ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” had been published in 1945. 

“ROSS POLDARK” begins in the fall of 1783. Ross Poldark returns home to Cornwall after spending three years in the Army. The former officer returns to discover that his father had been dead for several months. The estate he had inherited, which includes Nampara and a failing copper mine, had fallen in arrays. His home is being occupied by his father’s two slovenly servants – Jud and Prudie Paynter. Worst of all, he learns that his former love, Elizabeth Chynoweth, had given him up for dead and become engaged to his cousin, Francis Poldark. Ross sets out to restore his fortunes by acquiring financing for one of his family’s derelict tin mines. But dealing with the loss of Elizabeth prove to be a real problem. Emotional salvation seemed to come in the form of a young 13-14 urchin girl named Demelza Carne, whom Ross saves from a mob at the Reduth Fair. Ross hires her as his new kitchen maid. Over the course of three years, she develops into a beautiful 17 year-old, for whom he develops emotional feelings and eventually marries.

I have read a good number of reviews about this novel. With the exception of one or two, most of them seemed pretty positive. Personally, I believe that Winston Graham did a solid job in setting his multi-novel series in motion. I was impressed at how he introduced his major characters, the story’s historical setting and the story lines that reverberated throughout the series. One of those story lines proved to be the various love triangles that centered around Ross Poldark and Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark. I find it amazing that most these different love triangles centered around Ross and Elizabeth, instead of Ross and the woman he would eventually marry – Demelza, who happened to be the saga’s leading lady. The 1945 novel included at least two triangles and a potential third:

*Ross Poldark-Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark-Francis Poldark

*Demelza Carne Poldark-Ross Poldark-Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark

*Ross Poldark-Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark-George Warleggan

Anyone familiar with “ROSS POLDARK” would automatically know that no such triangle existed between Ross, Elizabeth and George. I would agree . . . to a certain extent. George Warleggan was more or less portrayed as a minor supporting character in this novel. His father, Nicholas Warleggan, had a more prominent role. Yet, Graham provided a hint of the Ross-Elizabeth-George triangle during the 1787 Trenwith Christmas party, in which George projected a deferential and infatuated attitude toward her. A sign of things to come, indeed.

In fact, the Christmas party proved to be one of those scenes in which I believe Graham did an excellent job in portraying life in Cornwall during the late 18th century. Other scenes that impressed me include Ross’ arrival at Truro upon his return from the war; Francis and Elizabeth’s wedding reception; Ross’ first meeting with Demelza at the Redruth Fair; and the trial of Jim Carter for poaching, one of Ross’ employees, at Truro’s court of assize. These scenes conveyed to me that Graham did some extended research of Britain’s history during the late Georgian era and life in Cornwall during that period. And although I found his use of this research impressive, I would not say that Graham was the best novelist in conveying historical research into stories. I have read novels that have a stronger historical background.

“ROSS POLDARK” is foremost a story about a war veteran who returns home to find his world drastically changed. I suppose one could compare Graham’s tale to the 1946 movie, “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”. But the Ross Poldark character seemed traumatized . . . so to speak, by the ruined state of his fortunes and his loss of fiancee Elizabeth Chynoweth, instead of any combat experiences during the war. It did not take Ross very long to set about restoring his fortunes. But the loss of Elizabeth proved to be another matter. He spent a long period of time drinking heavily over her marriage to his cousin Francis. And when he finally realized that he had fallen in love with Demelza near the novel’s end, he came to another realization that his marriage had not erased his feelings for Elizabeth. It is very rare to come upon a fictional story about war veteran trying to overcome a past trauma that focused on lost love, instead of past combat experiences. Very odd. And rather original, if I must add.

Another aspect of “ROSS POLDARK” that I found impressive was Graham’s strong portrayal of most of its characters. Ross Poldark came off as a very strong and well-rounded character. While many fans tend to view him as some borderline ideal fictional hero, I was too busy noticing his personal flaws to immediately accept this view. And I regard this as a good thing. At a younger age, I would have eagerly accepted Ross as something close to a perfect hero. But not at my current age. One, I find ideal characters rather boring. And two, while I found his virtues – especially his concern for the lower classes – rather admirable, I must admit that Ross’ flaws – his stubbornness, quick temper, massive ego, and occasional bouts of hypocrisy – made him more interesting to me than any personal virtue ever could. A good example would be his attitude toward women. Despite his respectful attitude toward most women below his class, Ross still managed to retain a strong patronizing and slightly sexist attitude. This was especially apparent in one scene in which his cousin-in-law, Elizabeth Chynoweth Poldark, requested his help in dealing with Francis’ growing penchant for reckless gambling. Instead of taking Elizabeth seriously, Ross dismissed her request as one from an over-emotional woman exaggerating about a husband’s flaws:

“It occurred to Ross in that moment that half of Elizabeth’s worry might be the eternal feminine bogey of insecurity. Francis drank. Francis gambled and lost money. Francis had been seen about with another woman. Not an amiable story. But not an uncommon one. Inconceivable to Ross in that case, and for Elizabeth it had the proportions of a tragedy. But it was unwise to lose one’s sense of perspective. Other men drank and gambled. Debts were fashionable. Other men found eyes to admire the beauty that was not theirs by right of marriage and to overlook the familiar beauty that was. It did not follow that Francis was taking the shortest route to perdition.”

What I found ironic is that Ross’ sexist dismissal of Elizabeth’s concerns about Francis will eventually bite him in the ass.

Thanks to Graham’s sharp writing, the novel featured other strong characters. One of them include his kitchenmaid-turned-wife, Demelza Carne Poldark. At first I did not know what to make of Demelza. Perhaps the reason I had such difficulty in embracing her as a character is that she was so young. Demelza remained a adolescent throughout the novel, despite becoming a wife who ends the story pregnant. I noticed that anyone in Ross’ life – namely his family and Elizabeth – made her incredibly jealous. And Demelza expressed her jealousy in a rather infantile manner. This was apparent in her internal reaction to Elizabeth’s discovery that she and Ross had sex, following Jim Carter’s trial:

“She is one day too late; just one day. How beautiful she is. How I hate her.”

This jealousy was also evident in her determination to avoid the company of Ross’ cousin Verity Poldark following her marriage to Ross. I find it interesting that neither of the two television adaptations of the novel never explored this situation between the two cousins-in-law. Another example of Demelza’s infantile expression of her jealousy appeared near the end of the novel, when she contemplated on her social success at the Trenwith Christmas party. Even though Demelza had internally expressed pity toward Elizabeth’s marriage to Francis, she also reveled in the idea that Ross still wanted her and not Elizabeth – unaware that Ross’ feelings for Elizabeth have not abated. Demelza’s hostility even managed to shift toward Ruth Treneglos, who had originally expressed hope to become Ross’ wife a few years earlier. I can understand why Graham had portrayed Demelza’s jealousy in such a volatile manner. She was – after all – an adolescent in this story. Despite marrying Ross two-thirds into the story, Demelza remained a teenager from the beginning of the novel to the end.

Graham’s portrayal of Francis and Elizabeth Poldark seemed a bit more . . . limited. Especially Elizabeth. Considering that Ross’ reaction to their marriage played such a major role in the novel’s plot, I found it odd that Graham did not explore the couple’s characters a bit deeper. Ironically, Elizabeth suffered from Graham’s superficial portrayal a lot more than Francis. I am not claiming that her character had suffered from a weaker portrayal than Francis’. I have noticed that many fans of the saga have claimed that she is a cold and haughty character. But after my recent re-reading of “ROSS POLDARK”, I found this hard to accept. Elizabeth struck me as slightly conservative, quiet and private woman, with a pragmatic streak. The only time she became “haughty” was when she lost her temper after Ross had insulted her mother at hers and Francis’ wedding reception. More importantly, she proved to be a very warm and caring parent. But I was surprised to discover upon my last reading of this novel that Elizabeth also harbored an inferiority complex, as revealed in a scene following Geoffrey Charles’ christening:

“Verity had gotten over her disappointment very well, Elizabeth thought. A little quieter, a little more preoccupied with the life of the household. She had wonderful strength of mind and self-reliance. Elizabeth was grateful for her courage. She thought, quite wrongly that she had very little herself, and admired it in Verity.”

Quite wrongly. It seemed as if Graham had inserted those words to explain to the readers that Elizabeth underestimated her own inner strength. And considering the number of times Elizabeth resorted to fainting in dealing with many crisis, I got the feeling that instead of acknowledging or even being aware of her own inner strength, Elizabeth had decided the best way to survive in a world that did not favor women was to play the role that society demanded of her – that of a quietly submissive woman. Francis, on the other hand, had three things going for him – he was not portrayed as an introvert, he did not stand in the way of Ross and Demelza’s relationship, and he is a man. Even though Francis tend to resort to infantile behavior to hide his own securities, sometimes I got the impression that many of Graham’s readers are more tolerant of his character than of Elizabeth’s. Is this due to modern society’s intolerance toward reserved or introverted women? Or is this due to many of Graham’s readers view of Elizabeth as a threat to Ross and Demelza’s romance? I wonder.

“ROSS POLDARK” featured an array of interesting supporting characters. The most colorful to me seemed to be Jud and Prudie Paynter, Ross’ servants; a fellow landowner by the name of Sir Hugh Bodrugan; Ross’ former schoolmaster Reverend Doctor Halse; Demelza’s father, Tom Carne; Elizabeth’s mother Mrs. Chynoweth and Ross’ great-aunt, Agatha Poldark. Ross’ Uncle Charles struck me as a particularly interesting character. If there was one character who matched Elizabeth in terms of pragmatism, it was Charles Poldark. Yet, for such a pragmatic man, I am amazed that he was unable to produce a bigger fortune for his family. And his determination to ensure Francis’ marriage to Elizabeth literally smacked of sheer manipulation. When I first read this novel, I had wondered why Charles was determined to set this marriage in motion. After all, the Chynoweths were cash poor. Did Charles have designs on the Chynoweth land, which would eventually go to the man who marries Elizabeth? I wish Graham had been a little clear on the matter.

The novel featured another love story – one between Francis’ sister, Verity Poldark and a sea captain by the name of Andrew Blamey. I thought Graham did an excellent job in portraying the charming and subtle love story between the plain, yet sweet and soft-spoken Verity and the intense Captain Blamey. But the latter’s revelation of how his alcoholism and temper led to the manslaughter of his wife led both Verity’s father and brother to put a stop in the romance before it could continue. A part of me felt sorry for Verity. Another part of me felt that both Charles and Francis Poldark had done the smart thing. I could not blame them for not wanting a former alcoholic who had killed his wife in a drunken rage anywhere near Verity or within the family ranks. Which makes me wonder why Graham had created this character in the first place.

As I had earlier hinted, I found “ROSS POLDARK” was a solid novel. Solid . . . not perfect or anywhere near perfect. The novel proved to be a good starting point for Graham’s saga, but it was certainly not one of his best. It had its flaws. I have already hinted at one of the novel’s flaws – namely Graham’s portrayal of Francis and Elizabeth Poldark. I realize that Francis and Elizabeth are not the story’s main protagonists. Yet, they are among the saga’s main characters after Ross and Demelza. And the couple played major roles in the protagonists’ lives. Especially Elizabeth. Unfortunately, I discovered upon re-reading the novel that Graham had not explored their characters as much as I wish he had. Characters like Verity Poldark, the Paynters, Jim Carter, Reuben Clemmow and Jinny Carter née Martin seemed to have been written with more depth than either Francis or Elizabeth.

Speaking of Jinny Carter and Reuben Clemmow, this brings me to the sequence that featured Reuben’s attack upon her. I have no problems with Graham’s portrayal of the incident. I thought the scene reeked with tension and violence. What irritated me to no end was that Graham had ended the sequence on a cliffhanger with Clemmow stabbing Jinny before accidentally falling out of a window, while trying to opening it. Following those violent moments, the novel jumped two years later in which the next chapter featured Ross in a meeting with potential shareholders for Wheal Leisure. Readers had to wait until another chapter before learning that Jinny had survived the stabbing and Reuben had fallen to his death. Perhaps other readers had no problems with Graham ending the Jinny-Clemmow sequence on this note. I did. I found it irritating. It seemed as if Graham had spent a great deal of energy in building up to Jinny and Clemmow’s confrontation, only to end it by “telling” how it ended, instead of “showing” it. And why on earth Graham felt the need to jump the story another two years before revealing the conclusion of this plot line?

As someone who has read countless number of novels over the years, I have encountered a good share of them in which the writer has a tendency to shift the point-of-view from one character to another in the middle of the scene. And unfortunately, Winston Graham seemed to be onen of those novelists that share this flaw. This was especially apparent in one scene between Francis and Elizabeth Poldark, following the christening of their son. The scene started with Elizabeth’s point-of-view, as she contemplated on the christening’s success, her love for young Geoffrey Charles and her anticipation for more rest, as she continued her recovery from childbirth. Just before Francis could enter her bedroom for a little marital sex, the scene shifted to his point-of-view and readers experience his anticipation and his disappointment at Elizabeth’s rejection of his attempt to seduce her. To this day, I still wonder why Graham had shifted the viewpoint from one character to another. Why could he not reveal Elizabeth’s point-of-view, when Francis tried to seduce her for some post-natal sex? Or explain to viewers – from her point-of-view – why she wanted more rest, instead of sex with Francis? Was it easier for him to convey Francis’ disappointment? This shift in viewpoint seemed to have left many fans of the saga to assume that Elizabeth simply wanted no more sex with her husband – or that she was sexually frigid.

One last sequence that bothered me in “ROSS POLDARK” focused on Ross and Demelza. Not long after meeting the thirteen (or fourteen) year-old Demelza at the Reduth Fair, Ross brought her home to Nampara. He had wanted Prudie to clean the lice-infested Demelza before the latter could step foot inside the house. But since Prudie was not there, he set about cleaning her himself. Ross ordered Demelza to remove all of her clothes so that he could clean her, using water from the water pump behind the house:

“He worked the handle with vigor. The first rinsing would not get rid of everything but would at least be a beginning. It would leave his position uncompromised. She had an emaciated little body, on which womanhood had onl just begun to fashion its designs.”

The idea of a 23-24 year-old man washing the naked body of a 13-14 year old girl left me feeling very uncomfortable. Squemish. I had noticed that the topic had been mentioned on the The Winston Graham & Poldark Literary Society message board, but those members who had responded did not seem bothered by the scene. I had mentioned it on Tumblr and someone had the same response as me. Perhaps an adult man washing the naked body of an early adolescent girl he had recently met and hired as a servant did not seem out of place in the late 18th century. But as a woman of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, it seemed out of place to me. And I can only wonder how many early-to-mid 20th century readers felt about this scene when the novel was first published in 1945. And honestly . . . why on earth did Graham include this scene in the novel in the first place? Why not allow Prudie to be at Nampara to wash the very young Demelza? Especially since the latter ended up as Ross’ wife some three years later? I mean . . . honestly . . . all I can say is “Ewww!”.

Speaking of Demelza, how old was she? The handling of Demelza’s age struck me as confusing. According to the novel, she was 13 years old when she and Ross first met at the Reduth Fair in the early spring of 1794. When she married Ross in June 1787, she was 17 years old. And during the Christmas party at Trenwith near the end of 1787, she told Francis and Elizabeth’s guests that she was 18 years old. Exactly when was Demelza born? In 1769 or 1770? Perhaps it is wise if I just give up on the matter.

Unlike many fans of the literary POLDARK series, I cannot say that “ROSS POLDARK: A NOVEL OF CORNWALL, 1783-1787” was among the best. In fact, I would not regard it as one of the best historical novels I have ever read. It possessed some flaws that prevent me from proclaiming it as such. But . . . I must admit that Graham had created a solid story that maintained my interest from the beginning to the end. And more importantly, I thought Graham did a pretty good job in using this novel to set up the twelve-book series.

Lobster Newberg (or Newburg)

Below is an article about the dish known as Lobster Newberg:

LOBSTER NEWBERG (OR NEWBURG)

Some time ago, I had written a small article about a dish called Lobster Thermidor. Four years earlier, a similar dish that involved lobster meat cooked with eggs and alcohol was created on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean called Lobster Newberg.

I was surprised to discover that Lobster Newberg was created by a sea captain in the fruit trade named Ben Newberg in 1875 or 1876. The latter created the dish from lobster, butter, cream, cognac, sherry, eggs, and Cayenne pepper. Following Newberg’s creation of the dish, he demonstrated the creation of the dish to Charles Delmonico, the manager of Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York City. Delmonico’s top chef, Charles Ranhofer, made refinements to the recipe before the former added the dish to the restaurant’s menu as Lobster à la Wenberg. The dish became very popular.

However, an argument between Wenberg and Delmonico caused the dish to be removed from the menu. Despite this move, many of the restaurant’s patrons continue to request it. To satisfy their demands, the dish’s name was rendered in anagram Lobster à la Newberg or Lobster Newberg and return to the restaurant’s menu. The dish is still popular and can be found in French cookbooks, where it is sometimes referred to as “Homard sauté à la crème”.

Below is a recipe for Lobster Newberg from the Epicurious website:

Lobster Newberg (or Newburg)

Ingredients

*Three 1 1/2-pound live lobsters
*1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
*2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon medium-dry Sherry
*3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon brandy
*1 1/2 cups heavy cream
*1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
*Cayenne to taste
*4 large egg yolks, beaten well
*Toast points as an accompaniment

Preparation

Into a large kettle of boiling salted water plunge the lobsters, head first, and boil them, covered, for 8 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil. Transfer the lobsters with tongs to a cutting board and let them cool until they can be handled. Break off the claws at the body and crack them. Remove the claw meat and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces. Halve the lobsters length-wise along the undersides, remove the meat from the tails, discarding the bodies, and cut it into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a heavy saucepan cook the lobster meat in the butter over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes, add 2 tablespoons of the Sherry and 3 tablespoons of the brandy, and cook the mixture, stirring, for 2 minutes. Transfer the lobster meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Add the cream to the Sherry mixture and boil the mixture until it is reduced to about 1 cup. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the remaining 1 teaspoon Sherry, the remaining 1 teaspoon brandy, the nutmeg, the cayenne, and salt to taste. Whisk in the yolks, cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it registers 140°F. on a deep-fat thermometer, and cook it, whisking, for 3 minutes more. Stir in the lobster meat and serve the lobster Newburg over the toast.

List of Historical Fiction Series

Below is a list of popular historical novels that are a part of a series:

LIST OF HISTORICAL FICTION SERIES

1. The Forsyte Saga (1906-1921) by John Galsworthy – Nobel Prize winning author John Galsworthy wrote and published a series of three novels and two interludes about members of an upper middle-class English family between the 1870s and 1920s.

2. Poldark Saga (1945-2002) by Winston Graham – Set between 1783 and 1820 is a series of twelve novels about a former British Army officer and Revolutionary War veteran, his struggles to make a new life and renew his fortunes following his return to Cornwall after the war.

3. The Asian Saga (1962-1993) by James Clavell – This series of six novels centered on Europeans – especially the Struans-Dunross family – in Asia and the impact of both Eastern and Western civilization between the the early 17th century and late 20th century.

4. The Raj Quartet (1966-1975) by Paul Scott – Paul Scott wrote this four novel series about a group of Europeans during the last five years of the British Raj in India.

5. Flashman Papers (1969-2005) by George MacDonald Fraser – Journalist George MacDonald Fraser wrote a series of novels about the exploits of a cowardly British Army officer during the Victorian Age, between 1839 and 1894. The Harry Flashman character was originally a minor character in Thomas Hughes’ 1857 novel, “Tom Brown’s School Days”.

6. Beulah Land Trilogy (1973-1981) by Lonnie Coleman – This three-volume series told the saga of a Savannah belle named Sarah Pennington Kendrick and her years as mistress of a Georgia cotton plantation called Beulah Land, between the early Antebellum Era and the late Gilded Age.

7. The Kent Family Chronicles (1974-1979) by John Jakes – Also known as “the Bicentennial Series”, author John Jakes wrote a series of eight novels to commemorate the United States’ 200th Bicentennial that centered on the experiences of the Kent family from 1770 to 1890.

8. American Civil War Trilogy (1974; 1996-2000) by Michael and Jeff Shaara – Michael Shaara wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “The Killer Angels” in 1974, which was about the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War. A few years after his death, his son Jeff wrote both a prequel (set during the first two years of the war) and a sequel (set during the war’s last year); creating a trilogy of the three novels.

9. The Australians Series (1979-1990) by William Stuart Long – Set between the late 18th century and the late 19th (or early 20th) century, this literary series followed the experiences of the Broome family in Australia and other parts of the British Empire.

10. North and South Trilogy (1982-1987) by John Jakes – John Jakes wrote this literary trilogy about the experiences of two families – the Hazards of Pennsylvania and the Mains of South Carolina – between 1842 and 1876.

11. The Savannah Quartet (1983-1989) by Eugenia Price – The four novels that make up this series is centered around a Northerner named Mark Browning who moves to the birthplace of his Savannah-born mother and his relationships with his family, friends and neighbors between 1812 and 1864.

12. Wild Swan Trilogy (1984-1989) by Celeste De Blasis – Set between 1813 and 1894, this literary trilogy focused on a young English immigrant named Alexandria Thaine, her two husbands and her descendants in England and Maryland.

13. Outlander Series (1992-Present) by Diana Gabaldon – This current literary series focuses upon a World War II nurse named Claire Randall, who embarks upon a series of adventures after she travels back in time and fall in love with an 18th century Highland warrior named Jamie Fraser.

Stargazy Pie

Below is an article about the dish known as Stargazy Pie:

STARGAZY PIE

One of the more . . . uh, interesting dishes that has recently attracted my attention is the British dish known as Stargazy Pie. Created in the county of Cornwall, the dish is also known as Starrey Gazey Pie. The dish is a pie made from baked pilchards (sardines), eggs and potatoes and covered with a pastry crust. Other variations of fish have been used for the pie. However, the dish is unique for having fish heads (or tails) protruding through the crust, so that they appear to be gazing skyward. This allows the oils released during cooking to flow back into the pie.

The pie originated from the fishing village of Mousehole in Cornwall to celebrate the bravery of a local fisherman named Tom Bawcock in the 16th century. According to legend, a particularly stormy winter prevented Mousehole’s fishing boats from leaving the harbor. The villagers were on the verge of facing starvation, as Christmas approached, for they depended upon the pilchards as a primary food source. Two days before Christmas, Bawcock had decided to face the stormy weather and head out into the water. Despite the difficult sea, Bawcock managed to catch enough pilchards and six other types of fish to feed the entire village. Some of the fish caught by Bawcock was baked into a pie, with the fish heads poking through to prove that there were fish inside. Ever since then, the Tom Bawcock’s Eve festival has been held on 23 December in Mousehole. During the festival, villagers parade a huge Stargazy Pie during the evening with a procession of handmade lanterns, before eating the pie itself.

However, there have been rumors that the entire festival was a myth created by The Ship Inn’s landlord in the 1950s. However, an author on Cornish language named Morton Nance had recorded the festival in 1927 for a magazine called Old Cornwall. He believed that the festival actually dated by to pre-Christian times, but expressed doubt that Tom Bawcock ever existed.

The original pie included sand eels, horse mackerel, pilchards, herring, dogfish and ling along with a seventh fish. In a traditional pie, the primary ingredient is the pilchard, although mackerel or herring was used as a substitute. Richard Stevenson, chef at The Ship Inn in Mousehole, suggests that any white fish can be used as the filling, with pilchards or herring just added for the presentation.

Below is a recipe for Stargazy Pie from the BBC Food website:

Stargazy Pie

Ingredients

For the Mustard Sauce
9fl oz white chicken stock
4½oz crème fraîche
1oz English mustard
1 pinch salt
½ tsp mustard powder
squeeze lemon juice

For the pie
5oz piece streaky bacon
16 baby onions, peeled
9oz all-butter puff pastry, rolled to 3-4mm thick
1 free-range egg yolk, beaten
4-8 Cornish sardines, filleted, carcasses and heads reserved
1-2 tbsp rapeseed oil
1oz butter
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
16 quails’ eggs

Preparation

For the mustard sauce, bring the stock to the boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Whisk in the crème fraîche, mustard, salt, mustard powder and lemon juice until well combined. Bring back to the simmer. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a jug and set aside.

For the pie, cook the bacon in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, then allow to cool slightly before chopping into lardons.

Bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the baby onions for 6-7 minutes, or until tender. Drain and refresh in cold water, then slice each onion in half. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 400F/Gas 6.

Roll out the puff pastry until 3-4mm thick, then cut into 4 equal-sized squares. Using a small circular pastry cutter the size of a golf ball, cut out 2 holes in each pastry square.

Place each square on a baking tray and brush with the beaten egg yolk. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Bake the pastry squares in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp.
Remove from the oven and set aside.

Turn the grill on to high.

Place the sardine fillets, heads and tails on a solid grill tray, brush with the oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown and just cooked through (the fish should be opaque all the way through and flake easily).

Heat a frying pan until medium hot, add the butter and bacon lardons and fry gently for 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown. Add the onions and stir in enough sauce to coat all the ingredients in the pan. Reserve the remaining sauce and keep warm.

Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer.

Crack the quail’s eggs into a small bowl of iced water, then pour off any excess (there should only be just enough water to cover the eggs). Swirl the simmering water with a wooden spoon to create a whirlpool effect, then gently pour the quails’ eggs into the centre of the whirlpool. Poach for about 1-2 minutes, or until the egg whites have set and the yolk is still runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.

To serve, divide the onion and bacon mixture between 4 serving plates. Arrange the sardine fillets on top, then place four poached quails’ eggs around the fillet. Using a stick blender, blend the remaining sauce until frothy. Spoon the froth over the top of the sardines and eggs. Top each pile with the puff pastry squares, then place the sardine heads and tails through each hole in the pastry. Serve immediately.