Ross Poldark by Winston Graham (Pan)

The hugely-popular television series Poldark is based closely on a series of books by Winston Graham.

I had not realised that the first in the series – Ross Poldark – was written as far back as 1945. It has a clear, crisp writing style and a pacy narrative style that feels much more modern.

The novel focuses on brooding and principled Ross Poldark, a young man who returns from the American Revolutionary war to find his father dead, his copper mine failing and his childhood sweetheart, the beautiful Elizabeth Chynoweth, engaged to his cousin.

There is a whole host of memorable and well-drawn characters, including Demelza, a half-starved urchin girl Ross rescues from a street brawl and takes home to be his kitchen maid. As the years pass and Demelza grows into a woman, she and Ross find love together.

The background to the story is the landscape and poverty of late eighteenth century Cornwall, the reliance of local people on the harvest of the sea and the unpredictable fortunes of the coastal mines.

Themes include the role of class in society and the fact that whether people are rich or poor their real wealth lies in their ability to make the most of life and to think about the needs of other people.