Poldark is a series of historical novels by Winston Graham, published from 1945 to 1953 and continued from 1973 to 2002. The series comprises 12 novels: the first seven are set in the 18th century, concluding in Christmas 1799; the remaining five are concerned with the early years of the 19th century and the lives of the descendants of the previous novels' main characters. Graham wrote the first four Poldark books during the 1940s and 1950s. Following a long hiatus, he decided to resume the series and published The Black Moon in 1973.
The main character, Ross Poldark, is a British Army officer who returns to his home in Cornwall from the American Revolutionary War only to find that his fiancée Elizabeth Chynoweth believed him dead and is about to marry his cousin Francis Poldark. Ross attempts to restore his own fortunes by reopening one of the family's derelict tin mines. After several years, he marries Demelza Carne, a poor servant girl, and is gradually reconciled to the loss of Elizabeth's love.
The BBC has adapted the series for television twice: Poldark, which aired in 1975 and 1977, and a new version, Poldark, which premiered in 2015.
All of the novels are subtitled A Novel of Cornwall. In a preface to The Black Moon, Graham explained his decision to revive the series after a two-decade hiatus.
Ross Poldark is the protagonist of the series. In his autobiography, Graham states that Ross's character was, in part, based upon a fighter pilot he met on a train during World War II. In the first novel in the series, Ross Poldark, he learns upon his return home from the American Revolutionary War that his fiancée, Elizabeth, has given him up for dead and promised to marry his cousin, Francis. Life becomes bleak for Ross. A brooding and introspective character, he assumes his late father's estate, which includes a failing copper mine. Having lost Elizabeth to Francis, he marries Demelza, the girl he originally hired as his scullery maid, and they soon have a baby called Julia. Over the next 20 years, four more children follow: Jeremy; Clowance; Isabella-Rose; and Henry.
Taken home from Redruth Fair by Ross, miner's daughter Demelza and her dog Garrick have an unpromising start. However, she soon develops into a charming, amusing, lovely young woman, eventually winning Ross's affection. Dark and earthy, she is the total opposite of the fragile Elizabeth. The two women are wary but polite towards each other. Demelza shows courage and fierce loyalty to Ross but is somewhat impulsive, causing trouble for both of them.
A young doctor who arrives in Cornwall after training in London. He strikes up a firm friendship with Ross which proves strong and enduring. He is conscientious and generous, often not charging his poorest patients for his services. He becomes involved with a young miner's wife with tragic results. He eventually marries a young heiress, Caroline Penvenen.
Caroline is an orphan, taken in and raised by her rich uncle Ray. Strong-willed and independent, she begins a romance with Dwight Enys against her uncle's wishes, culminating in a disastrous plan to elope. They eventually marry several years later, after Dwight's rescue from a prison camp in France. Caroline and Dwight's first daughter, Sarah, has a congenital heart defect and dies in infancy. Two more daughters, Sophie and Meliora, follow.
She was Ross Poldark's first love and he was probably hers, but thinking him dead in America she marries Ross's cousin Francis. Elizabeth, delicate and beautiful, tries to be a good wife to Francis but must watch her marriage fail due to Francis's alcoholism, insecurity and unfaithfulness. After his death Elizabeth struggles with poverty and loneliness, eventually accepting George Warleggan as her husband.
Ross's archenemy is of a new class of industrialists and bankers. Although regarded as an upstart by the aristocracy, through ruthlessness and cunning he becomes increasingly powerful. Always impeccably dressed and elegantly behaved, he constantly schemes to increase his own wealth at the expense of others, including the Poldarks. He becomes enamored of Elizabeth, eventually marrying her after she is widowed.
Ross's cousin Francis has a tendency to be flippant but his feelings are strong and he can be very obstinate. The two cousins were friends as boys but their relationship is tested severely when Francis marries Elizabeth, with lasting repercussions for them all.
Francis's sister and Ross's cousin Verity is described as plain, with fluffy hair and a mobile mouth. She has been a dutiful unmarried daughter who looks after the affairs of her father, Charles Poldark, and his estate. She meets and falls in love with Andrew Blamey, a sea captain. Unfortunately he has a terrible secret that is soon revealed, and she seems to lose her chance of happiness.
Osborne Whitworth appears briefly in the first Poldark series of novels, but comes to be featured prominently in the second series when he marries Morwenna Chynoweth. Whitworth's main preoccupations are money and women. He is loud and arrogant, delivering sermons which intimidate his parishioners more than inspire them. When deprived of his wife's sexual companionship during her pregnancy, he begins an affair with her fifteen-year-old sister, Rowella, which proves to be his undoing.The BBC adapted the first seven books of the novel sequence as Poldark, a television series first broadcast in 1975 and again in 1977. Robin Ellis portrayed Ross and Angharad Rees was featured as Demelza.
In 1996, HTV produced a pilot episode of The Stranger from the Sea which became a controversial adaptation with fans, using a new cast featuring John Bowe as Ross Poldark and Mel Martin as Demelza. Fans protested, and over fifty members of the Poldark Appreciation Society picketed HTV's headquarters in Bristol wearing 18th century costumes. The pilot was unsuccessful, and no further episodes were made.
The BBC broadcast a new adaptation of the novels in 2015, again titled Poldark, with Aidan Turner in the title role and Eleanor Tomlinson as Demelza. Like the original 1975 BBC adaptation, this new series has been taken up by the PBS network for broadcast in the United States.
Graham mentions in his autobiography Memoirs of a Private Man that the character of Demelza is based on his own Cornish wife Jeann, at least in part.
Graham states in Poldark's Cornwall that the first real-life child named Demelza (after his character) was the daughter of British writer Denys Val Baker.
In Poldark's Cornwall, Graham reveals that the name "Poldark" is a product of his imagination. He initially named the character after his friend, a chemist named Polgreen. However, Polgreen did not sound strong or mysterious enough for the character, so Graham changed Polgreen to Poldark.
Ross Poldark's physical characteristics are based upon those of an injured flying officer whom Graham met on a train during the Second World War.
Graham's novels were researched minutely, and many of the events of the books were factual. Examples based on fact include:The story of the physician (Dr. Enys) who was called out to attend a young girl's (Caroline Penvenen) dog.
The incident with the fishbone where (Caroline) believes she has the putrid throat, and eventually Dr Enys is called out to her, removing a fishbone in order to cure her.
The first novel Ross Poldark, was published in the UK in 1945. Upon re-publication in the US in 1951, it was retitled The Renegade, and significantly shortened by approximately 12%, with most editions since then using the shorter, revised text.
The second novel, Demelza, was published in the UK in 1946. Upon re-publication in the US in 1953, it was also significantly shortened, by approximately 14%, with most editions since then using the shorter text.