martens and heads

poldarkmmmuses musings: The Four Swans – one year and a WHOLE lotta Poldark after


I’d only been active in the fandom for a few months when I read tFS for the first time. And I admit, I was quite vocal about the things that happened in it. Since I’ve become more involved in the fandom, have watched series one of the 2015 countless times, analyzed both S1 and S2 to pieces, and led interweb bookclubs on both The Black Tide and The Four Swans for the Poldark Podcast, I can say some of my thoughts around Graham’s sixth book have mellowed. This is not to say I’m all warm and fuzzy about Hugh Armitage all of a sudden. I’m just no longer demanding his head be served to me on a platter.

I have a trigger when it comes to adultery. I’ve mentioned it in a few locations as well as the podcast. This goes back all the way to when I was a kid (back in the Stone Age). Without getting into too many details, my dad had affairs. The last one broke up my folk’s marriage. At the time, I was all about being on Team Mom. It wasn’t until after she’d passed and I’d learned some of the KRAYKRAY shit happening in their relationship at the time of that last affair that I began to understand why my father made the choices he did. This perspective has doubled as I approach the twenty year mark on a less-than-ideal marital situation. 

So, what do I get with all of this life-wisdom heaped onto my head?

There are no such things as Soulmates™. I say this specifically to address some of the anonymous asks that have come into the @poldarkpodcast inbox. Here’s a sample (tweaked spelling and punctuation a bit): 

…not enjoying the four swans don’t like how Graham comes up with plot devises to constantly split up Ross and Demelza. he gave them a break in Black Moon, wonder if that’s why we talk about it so much because of heartache. I think in Black Moon Ross loves Demelza more then ever but as you said, there is now a chink in Demelza’s armor, she loves Ross still but it’s not the same as before the betrayal, she changed, lost faith, not on pedestal anymore, because if she was as happy as she seemed in Black Moon she wouldn’t want to have known Hugh, just friends who enjoy company etc, if you in love with husband you don’t sleep with a man who you hardly know, just to make him happy, its as bad as Ross sleeping with Margaret because she fed up, this was wrong of Graham to do this with Demelza because it alters how her character has been so far in the books, i know she has flaws, reckless with Julia, Verity etc but not unfaithful to Ross, hate the four swans. I agree with all what you said, she didn’t need to have sex with him on the beach, she could of said no, spoils it for me, hate betrayal, makes a mock of their marriage and i thought they were soul mates in literature, don’t think so. What do you you think Michelle

Folks are undeniably upset about Demelza’s adultery and have said they were supposed to be Soulmates™ (the trademark is my addition to the term that is posted). Other than the dictionary definition of the word, I simply cannot believe there is only one person on a planet of seven billion that I’m meant to be in a perfect, shiny, awesome state of being for the rest of my life . If that’s the case and I’m current with that person, then whoever is responsible for the soulmate matching job in my current situation is about to get a size-ten Doc Marten upside the head because why? EPIC FAIL. 

It’s a lovely, romantic notion, to be sure, to be with a single person in one’s life and never encounter moments of suck, the whole “happily ever after” idea. And yes, there are many couples out there who have been able to sustain a loving, committed relationship with the same person who used to snap their bra straps in junior high school or whatever. What I’ve discovered is what lies beneath those “soulmate-type” couples most if not all of the time is unwelcome compromise, societal pressures to stay together, despite what would be better for all concerned, and/or a SHIT-ton of hard, heartbreaking and heart-mending work that chips away on the very foundations of their partnership. This can include infidelity (emotional or physical), lack of communication, grief and loss, changes in dynamic (e.g. the traditional bread winner loses their job, so the other partner becomes the breadwinner and all of the mindfucking that goes into that. Don’t ask me how I know this). Which brings me to my next point…

Marriage is hard frakking work. There’s a reason why I haven’t bounced out of this less than ideal relationship. Or, I should say, YET. It’s far too easy to bail on a situation where the person you married has left the toilet seat up or has left the cap off the toothpaste one too many times. Living one’s life with another person, a person who is doing the same amount of growing and changing as you are, requires strong communication, opportunities to be independent in one’s hobbies or activities, and a whole bunch of other stuff. The first one, communication, is the thing that glues everything together. If you’re not willing to do the work, accept those moments when you’ve been the horse’s ass and need to apologize or say “I don’t think I love you anymore”, then stick with dating and booty calls.

So why blather about this stuff on a Poldark blog? Because the Poldark series is NOT a fairy tale, like Beauty and the Beast or The Little Mermaid. It is all about a marriage, through its turmoil and betrayal; its healing and forgiveness, that spans thirty-plus years. We encounter two of the greatest injuries to the Poldark marriage in Warleggan and The Four Swans. By the end of the latter, BOTH Ross and Demelza, our power couple, the Soulmates™, the hero and heroine of the series, have committed adultery, but emotional AND physical adultery and are at a very precarious place in their relationship. And as much as I want to rage and howl at both of them – and I do, every single time I re-read these books, I do – the emotion I am left with is a bone deep disappointment, the same disappointment I had when I was a kid and discovered my father’s failings, and when I was an adult, and discovered my mother’s failings. Feet of clay.

Now, neither of them were hapless victims or perpetrators of their decision making. As the saying goes, it takes two to tango. I’ve got ZERO love for either Elizabeth or Hugh, see both of them as being selfish, manipulative individuals (I’ve at least backed away from the predator label I’d slapped on Armitage my first read-through of tFS…see? An old dog can learn new tricks) and have much to do with how things shake out. Communication across the board for these four was ridiculously flawed and craptastic. Ultimately, it was the folks who’d made the promises that day in June 1787 that are responsible for ignoring the “You Shall Not Pass” line.

Why does Demelza’s adultery affect me more than Ross’s? Believe me, I’ve asked myself this question more times than I care to think about. Maybe it’s because she’d been the injured party first? Because she is so intuitive and has such well-honed Spidey senses and they’d been screeching in her ear from the moment she met Hugh? Because despite her saying she was content with Ross, in love with him and only wanted to be his wife, it feels like she was saying all of those things with her fingers crossed behind her back? Sadly, she doesn’t accept the truth of the situation until after she’s given herself to Hugh. Even after she acknowledges Jud’s tale telling and Ross’s secret meetings (which she assumes are ongoing rather than the single incident) as something that’s niggled at the back of her mind and, in the moment of decision, “eroded her will”, she acknowledges that it only had the power to do so because her impulses towards the act were strong enough that they would have leapt upon any excuse to justify the act. Even Hugh’s romance and fawning and charm and crap weren’t enough to sweep her away. Further, it isn’t until she thinks of the damage the knowledge of her infidelity would have upon her relationship with Ross should he ever find out that she begins to feel bad about what she’s done. She then reconsiders the possibility that Hugh’s romantic overtures had more of an impact on her than she’d thought earlier (of course they did, otherwise you wouldn’t have kept all of those damn poems, Demelza). She is sorry for committing adultery, not because she is any less in love with Ross, nor because she’s remorseful about having the experience of making love with another man (because she’s not)…it is because it has eradicated trust and loyalty, just as Ross’s visit to Elizabeth in Warleggan did. And even then… it’s not until Hugh is dead that she finally, FINALLY seems to come to terms with her actions and motives behind them: a) she was instantly attracted to him; and b) she’d fallen in love with him – long before she learned of Ross’s meeting with Elizabeth – and followed her heart’s desire.

If SHE casts aside her knowledge of Ross and Elizabeth’s meeting(s) and Ross’s fall from grace as an excuse for her behavior, who are we to continue to point at them as being the thing that would have kept her from doing what she did? Hugh’s not the only one who has had Demelza on a pedestal. We have as well. And her fall from that lofty position hurts so incredibly much.

tl;dr If I could say one thing it would be this: Ross? Leave that sonofabitch at Quimper. He ain’t nothing but trouble.

Want to read the passage where Demelza ponders all of this? It’s behind the cut. Happy to talk about this – I know I’ll enjoy the conversation. Well… enjoy might not be the right word for it, but you know what I mean. :-)

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Kvothe: Hey guys do you dare me to cross this clearing and go do it with Felurian?

Dadan, Hespe, Tempi and Marten: No.

Kvothe: *shaking his head, laughing* You guys are crazy, I can’t believe you’re making me do this.

Dadan, Hespe, Tempi and Marten: We’re not.

Kvothe: *Chasing after Felurian into the night* This is out of control, you guys are so fucked up for making me do this.