The third episode of Poldark reminds us that for much of history, marriage was often a business transaction. In American culture, a character that is a “gold digger” is most often a woman. But in British literature and drama, the men are the gold diggers as often as the women — some good-natured, some not.
Maybe it’s mostly the traditions and laws surrounding the aristocratic entitlement culture. From Lord Grantham of Downton Abbey to Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility to Poldark’s Unwin Trevaunance and Osborne Whitworth, men from fine families (i.e.; gentlemen averse to work) who have nothing to take to market but the shade of their family tree, unabashedly seek out a monied family with a daughter to unload — and the daughter has little say. Whether to avoid the burden of a spinster or to make a strategic move in society, women’s bodies and lives are bought and sold.
Thirteen Essentials of Poldark, Season 3, Episode 3
13. Food Fight
As we begin, there is a riot in the village. Faced with starvation, the village people overrun a grain ship to steal meager bowls of wheat, and many are shot or trampled as a result. Those who survive and are caught must face hanging Magistrate Warleggan, who chastises them for stealing from “your betters.” (He is stuck on that whole “your betters” thing, isn’t he?) He sentences them to 15 years. Given that it was a Warleggan ship, George should have recused himself.
To George, famine is merely an opportunity; he is hoarding grain and scalping it like it was Hamilton tickets. When Ross and Captain Henshawe are walking along the bridle path they happen upon Wheal Leisure workers wheeling a dead body away from the mine. Ross asks if he died from starvation, but before they can answer, George rides up behind them and answers for them, “pneumonia.” George says he was warned to take it easy but wouldn’t stop working so it was his (the stiff’s) fault.
Ross asks him how he sleeps at night, and George replies, “Ask Elizabeth.” Oh, snap. George is one shady lady. He then informs Ross that he is trespassing on Warleggan land and he can have him arrested, so step off. But George should pay attention to the look in the eyes of those workers and take heed: there’s a lot of anger, and it is all directed at him.
12. Cruella de Warleggan
This week’s events made one ponder the question, has Elizabeth crossed the Rubicon and become truly evil? This is up for debate.
George questions why crying Valentine is so fretful. Unconcerned Elizabeth explains that Dr. Choake says it’s willfulness, and they should put their foot down. (On a baby?) Elizabeth instructs the staff tasked with actually touching the baby to keep him quiet (and warm – to show she’s not a total monster).
Apparently she has become quite the social butterfly, fielding invites from every direction, but none from those elusive Godolphins, of the Rapist Nephew Godolphins. No matter, George decides to throw a Christmas ball to bait them. And if that doesn’t work, Tom Harry has been instructed to shoot Lord Godolphin with a tranquilizer dart.
11. The Cutest Little Baby Face
While digging potatoes, very pregnant Demelza goes into labor. Refusing to be attended by Dr. Choake (who can blame her?), she just squats among the spuds while Prudie attends her with a catcher’s mitt.
By the time Ross gets home she’s had a dewy make-over, and he is none the wiser — and (one might say) a little perturbed that Prudie has directed him to serve Demelza, lounging in bed, a bowl of soup. When he snippily asks if “her ladyship” needs anything else, she says, “yes, you can meet your daughter Clowance,” pulling back the covers to reveal, lying next to her, the most adorable little baby punim (face) ever.
Ross melts, as do we. And yes, it sounds like they just can’t pronounce “Clarence,” but her name actually is Clowance. Were they trying to outdo the Warleggan’s “Valentine” for out-there names?
True History: I know, Clowance? Like many of the characters in Winston Graham’s Poldark novels (including Demelza), Clowance is named after a place in Cornwall: Clowance House. It is the family seat of the St. Aubyn Baronets in South Cornwall. In Ross and Demelza’s daym the Fifth Baronet was living there. But now in 2017, the Clowance House estate is a resort offering fitness facilities, and a bar and Italian restaurant (and there’s no need to riot to get extra bread sticks).
10. God Bless Us Everyone
On Christmas, after Ross and Demelza and family sing carols and tuck into their feast, they go out delivering bread to the hungry, and seeing the rampant desperation in the village they all wonder what more they can do to help. That is, all except for brother Sam who, in his religious zeal, claims their starvation is punishment for sin. He is really no better than magistrate George right there. Seriously. Why is it zealots always seem to have been absent from Sunday school when compassion was in the lesson plan?
The Poldark braintrust hatch a plan, a kind of soup kitchen/grain coop. To finance it, Caroline and Demelza go door to door collecting for Jerry’s Kids. They dress to the nines, turn on the charm and raise a bundle. They even get a donation from George, who had no idea what he was donating to, but was egged on by Elizabeth, who was in a pique after having to bring the hammer down on Morwenna.
9. Trick or Treat
I’m not sure why it would be illegal for them (or anyone) to hire a ship to buy provisions, and after some sturm und drang, it looks like it wasn’t. Either Ross talked a fast one or all the subterfuge was merely to do a Vulcan mind meld on George (and us), making his informants think there was something fishy going on.
Tattle-tale Tom Harry was the one who raised the alarm; reporting back to George about the suspicious activity. George, along with Tom Harry, rides over to the meeting house to watch Ross being arrested and dragged, just for the entertainment value. Just as George and his gorilla arrive, the soldiers are being sent on their way. And furthermore, Ross informs George that he is trespassing on Namparaland and he can call those soldiers back and have him arrested if he so chooses. Check.
George is upset he was made to look like a fool. He will not be mocked. He would have tweeted about it in retaliation, but instead he closes the Wheal Leisure mine just for spite, throwing 70 men out of work. Checkmate.
Ross takes on some of the laid-off Wheal Leisure workers, but it is going to be tough. I’m thinking that this is where all that money he paid for the lists of prisoners may come into play. He may need it now to meet payroll, don’t you think?
True History: From 1795 through 1796 there were a series of food riots across Britain, called the Bread Riots. Changes in society meant fewer people farmed themselves. They now had other types of jobs and depended on being able to buy their food. But in 1795 there was an exceptionally poor wheat harvest, caused by bad weather two years in a row, which resulted in a shortage that brought Britain close to famine.
On top of that, the war with France made it impossible to import enough grain from Europe to cover the shortfall. Further complicating matters, opportunist grain dealers (like George Warleggan) were accused of hoarding to increase prices, and depriving local areas, sending their grain to London instead where it could fetch higher prices. It was a perfect storm and a recipe for unrest. Previously there had been isolated instances of rioting over soaring food prices, but these riots were widespread and ongoing.
8. Drake Goes From Frog to Prince
With George away, the kids will play. Drake comes to Trenwith bearing toads. He has an invitation to meet Aunt Agatha and he has heard she likes them. He remembers the little things. Good boyfriend material. He also brings primroses for Morwenna. Aunt Agatha reads the two, and sends him back to Nampara with a message: tell Ross she’s feeling neglected.
Just as he’s leaving, a message arrives from Truro Headquarters; Geoffrey Charles and Morwenna are to go there for Christmas. Before Drake goes, Geoffrey Charles gives him a present: stationery to write to him while they’re away. When Drake returns to Nampara from his afternoon at Trenwith, Sam sees the Morwenna-induced sparkle in his eyes and asks him if it is worth his mortal soul? Drake responds with a resounding, “Hell, yeah!”
Prudie delivers a christening invitation to Aunt Agatha which turns into a game of chicken between her and George’s house gorilla, Tom Harry. As soon as Prudie turns to scamper away, he crumples it, never giving it to Agatha. But Geoffrey Charles and Morwenna attend (why they didn’t tell Aunt Agatha about it, we don’t know).
When Agatha doesn’t show up for the party, Ross goes to Trenwith and finds her bundled up, freezing in her room next to an empty fireplace. She reports that the servants don’t make fires for her anymore. (Again, why Geoffrey Charles doesn’t, we don’t know.) Ross is alarmed and invites her to come live at Nampara, but she turns him down. She doesn’t want to give up her career as a full time burr under George’s saddle. The moments of torment she brings to George are the one joy she has left in life, and they’ll have to pry the snark from her cold, dead hands.
7. Stop in The Name of Love
At the christening, Dwight is named godfather in absentia. When Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles walked into the church, the looks exchanged between Demelza and Ross said they’d already discussed the downside of this budding romance with Drake. Did you get that feeling too? We’d seen no evidence that they even knew there was anything going on, but Drake must have been chattering, or Sam tattling.
Demelza takes the opportunity to pull Morwenna aside to discuss her gentle soul of a brother, that he cannot aspire to her station and she must know it. Morwenna admits she does know it. She knows. Demelza asks her to break bond now, before she breaks his heart. When Morwenna runs back into the church to retrieve her scarf, Drake follows her and they finally kiss. But she says it must be a goodbye kiss, she tells him this must be the end.
After mere minutes with Geoffrey Charles in the Truro house, George tells Uncle Scrooge he’s writing to Harrow to unload the brat. George has been threatening to send Geoffrey Charles to Harrow since the moment he got his feet under the table at Trenwith. At this point it’s like Ralph Kramden saying, “One of these days, Alice, bang zoom! To the moon!”
True History: Here’s what I wrote about Harrow last season, when George first made the threat. Harrow is a private boarding school for boys which was founded, in its current incarnation, in 1572, under a Royal Charter granted by Queen Elizabeth I, though there is evidence a school has been there since 1243.
Weird factoid: The sport of squash was invented there. Harrow alumni include numerous prime ministers and members of royal families, and notables such as Winston Churchill, Jawaharlal Nehru, Lord Byron, Robert Peel (for whom British police officers are nicknamed “Bobbies”) — and Benedict Cumberbatch!
It is interesting to note that even though Harrow is one of the most elite and expensive boarding schools in Britain, the fee for students is currently £12,050 per term, which makes it a lot cheaper than many NYC private schools (which aren’t even boarding schools)!
6. Match Game
At the ball, George overhears Geoffrey Charles and Morwenna talking about the christening (what a rookie mistake to talk about it with George right there within earshot!), and with Elizabeth’s enthusiastic approval, he decides to punish Morwenna by pimping her into a forced marriage of convenience — convenience for George, that is.
This match offers the added benefit of making him a member (once removed) of the Godolphin family, who would not come to George’s ball, and now must be punished by becoming his cousin by (forced) marriage.
Elizabeth has often been cold, but now, angry (and likely afraid of discovery) she joins George in becoming downright cruel. Already jealous over Morwenna’s closeness with Geoffrey Charles, now it seems she is resentful of Morwenna’s possibilities, that she still has them, that she has relationships that are Poldark-adjacent.
Into this sadistic mix comes the delicately sauntering Reverend Osborne Whitworth, a merry widower who is just one week past his wife’s demise — but he isn’t about to to let a little detail like that make him decline a party invite. He is actually so “la la, how the life goes on…” about it, one wonders if he killed her.
Mr. Whitworth is a greasy peacock of a man, who possesses the kind of delusional self-confidence that makes someone who looks the green glob in a Mucinex commercial think that what his tight britches reveal (imagine raised eyebrow emoticon here) inspires the ladies “with awe and anticipation.”
Note to self: Check to see if Morwenna listed barf bags on her bridal registry.
5. Son of A Gun
What’s the son of an ancient family, who doesn’t inherit the title (or the cash) supposed to do other than sell his stud services, such as they are? Mr. Whitworth comes to talk business with George. He wants six thousand guineas for the match. George counters with two thousand. This is scoffed at by Whitworth, who declares that that will do him little good since he already has debts of one thousand.
Plus, he feels he must inspire awe (again with the inspiring awe), and two thousand will not keep him in Manolos for long. George counters that Morwenna is from a fine family and is of good breeding stock. Feel free to kick the tires. It’s still two. Whitworth says, OK, three. George screams, nope, two.
Bottom line: Don’t take Whitworth with you to help you buy a car. Even George admits that Whitworth is a reptile and a prig, (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but who cares about Morwenna’s prospective decades of misery, if it gets him onto the Godolphin’s Christmas card list.
True History: The dowry Whitworth wanted, 6,000 guineas in 1795 money, is the equivalent of £774,900 in 2017 pounds sterling, or $1,027,656. The 2,000 Whitworth settled for is the 2017 equivalent of £258,300 (or $342,552). That’s still a very large sum but, one supposes, not so much when you’re addicted to pretty, bespoke lemon chiffon waistcoats.
4. Love Is a Battlefield
Week by week we see Elizabeth descending into darkness. Is she just becoming more of her authentic self, or is this George’s doing? Even though she was adamant that Morwenna be punished, she is reluctant to be the one to tell her what that punishment will be, but George insists. Then Morwenna’s objections and questions harden her approach.
Elizabeth is miserable, so why shouldn’t everyone else be? She doesn’t like Morwenna’s questions, and her pleas about love and her hopes for its place in a marriage are met with Elizabeth’s icy stare and her claim that it is all just an illusion that doesn’t last. In her experience, marriage is more successful without it (as long as you keep Dr. Feelgood on speed dial).
In her stern dismissal of Morwenna we possibly see a bit of the shove Elizabeth got from her mother, to forget about Ross — and look at what great advice that turned out to be! After the deed is done Elizabeth retires to her bed chamber for some sips of her mother’s little helper. Crushing dreams is thirsty work.
3. Shock and Awe
Drake walks to Truro to bring Morwenna a note but chickens out on delivering it. Too bad. She could use the cheering up! Whitworth comes to meet with Morwenna and his charm offensive is light on the charm, heavy on the offense; he tells her he’s a “man of god” and sees the hand of god (who is apparently a stylist) in his choice to wear his lemon silk to grab her attention.
She says she does not love him and he, in a creepy and ominous passive-aggressive threat, he assures her his love will be returned by her. She makes a hasty exit. When Elizabeth sees her flee and asks Whitworth if she refused him, he says no problem, set the date.
Then suddenly there is a reprieve; Morwenna and Geoffrey Charles are sent packing, back to Trenwith. Gleeful Morwenna whistles while she scrambles to exit, leaving skid marks on her way to the carriage, not realizing that plans are still afoot (and being finalized) behind her back to sell her into marriage to Whitworth.
What do we think, Poldarkians: Was Elizabeth sending Morwenna back to Trenwith an act of compassion? Might this be an escape that prevents the life of boredom and misery that would be marriage to this toad? Or should we buy a hat?
True History: There was a real Godolphin family in Cornwall. Parts of their estate date back to the Bronze Age, though Godolphin House itself is Medieval and began to be built in the 13th Century. By the 16th century it was one of the largest houses in the country.
The family fortune came from tin mining and royal favor; Sir Francis Godolphin was an intimate friend of Lord Burghley and modeled the gardens at Godolphin House on Burghley’s own estate gardens, though Godolphin House was too far from London to host one of Queen Elizabeth I’s royal progresses. The title Earl of Godolphin was created in 1706, for Sidney Godolphin, a Knight of the Garter, but the title became extinct when the second Earl died without a male heir.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the estate fell into disrepair due to its then-absentee owners, the Dukes of Leeds, who owned the estate because the Fourth Duke married Mary Godolphin, daughter of the Second Earl. (As a female heir, she could inherit the estate but not the title.) The title Duke of Leeds eventually became extinct as well.
The upside of that neglect is the original historical gardens remain intact. In the 1930’s the estate was bought by the Schofield family who owned it until ten years ago when it was purchased by The National Trust, who have worked to restore it and open it to visitors. Godolphin House was also used as the filming location for Trenwith in the 1970’s Poldark series.
2. Sweet Caroline
And speaking of peacocks, Unwin Trevaunance returns to shake his tail feathers — or at least his name is dropped as a possible savior for Dr. Dwight Enys. Continuing in the quest Caroline began last week (to go down the list of anyone of influence if they can get info about her missing secret husband Dr. Enys), next up is her ex-fiancé, the gold-digging closet case (now Member of Parliament) Unwin. In her conversation starter, Caroline may have hinted to him that she is interested in rekindling a relationship of some sort. And of course Unwin tells what she wants to hear, that all is well, that Dwight is soon to be released, and in the meantime he receives best possible treatment.
Ross, who was a prisoner of war himself during the Revolutionary War, knows better. He shares this with Demelza, but not Caroline. Caroline goes off to London to see good old MP Unwin, thinking she can help the Navy negotiate a ransom, and maybe discuss her plans to open a home for wayward French aristocrats, but we know that isn’t what Unwin really wants to negotiate, don’t we?
1. Doctor, My Eyes
Meanwhile, Dr. Enys is somewhere in France, in a makeshift prison, held by casually sadistic guards who murder prisoners for fun (and where Christmas dinner consists of rats roasted on a stick over a fire).
He is performing primitive surgery on the floor, with no medicines or water, and like Sisyphus, it is all pointless. Dwight has been carefully nursing friend Williams back to life, but the guards entertain themselves by taking bets on who will die next, and one of them had bet on Williams.
When the improvement in Williams’ health could cause the guard to lose his bet, he drags him out of Dwight’s arms and shoots him at point blank range, laughing as he does it. If Dr. Enys does survive and make it back to Cornwall, how scarred will he be?
The one light in this dreary place is a patient Dwight saved last week, the one who wondered if he was dead or alive, Lieutenant Armitage. He wants to be Dwight’s apprentice and learn how to be a doctor — and he is taking it upon himself to care for Dwight as Dwight cares for everyone else.
True History: Through the 17th and 18th centuries, soldiers were professionals and prisoners of war were treated relatively well, often exchanged and sent back home quickly (for money). That changed with the French Revolution, the rise of the citizen army, and the concept that war was a crusade against evil. Soldiers were now seen as evil too, and suffered abusive, inhumane treatment from guards and regular citizens of the towns where they were captured. It was Napoleon who, in 1800, brought back more humane treatment for prisoners of war.
Bonus: The Questions
Can Unwin actually do anything to help, or is this a ruse to get Caroline (and her money) back? And how can she come clean to Unwin when she still insists on keeping her marriage a secret? And would he have any incentive to help her if she told him she is off the market? What price will she have to pay? Bigamy? Is this going to end up being a Gift of the Magi-type situation? Does Caroline, as a two-time heiress, have the power to call her own matrimonial shots? Or will even she be taken advantage of? Don’t they know how I worry? This is more complicated a mission of mercy than buying oranges!
This week’s episode leaves a lot of open questions. What do you think the answers will be? Do you have questions of your own?
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