Recent Poldark Rape Controversy


While most of the fans seemed to have calmed, some in the media still seem to be out for blood when it comes to the Poldark episode 8 “rape scene”. I would highly recommend that they let it go due to their sensationalizing it and due to the fact that they are slightly putting it out of context.  Whether of not it was or was not rape is up to the viewer, and I cannot make that determination for them and they cannot make that determination for me. However, what we can do is go over the scene and some thing that may have bearing on what happens in the scene.

First of all, language has changed since the 1940s and 50s when the books were written. It certainly has since the 18th century when the books are set.  Language had quite a few more subtleties than it does today, and meaning for some things has certainly changed. No still means no, but in a second you will see what I am getting at. So Ross has had a bad couple of days. In all truth I don’t think I have seen that character be good at anything. He was bad at delinquency, soldiering, mining, and now being a husband. Still we were sort of willing to forgive all that because he was sort of the champion for the common man, and there were few enough of those in that era. He represented the man who was willing to fight for the common man. He did some really stupid things in order to do some but did so nonetheless.

So we have Ross and his “bad days”. He then learns that his former love, Elizabeth, is about to marry his mortal enemy (yes, he has mortal enemies. I wonder if he keeps a list like Sheldon Cooper?) George Warleggen. He is incensed by this because he knows that Elizabeth is doing this just to raise his ire. So he goes to her house in the dead of night and starts banging on the doors. It would have been good at that point if she had gone down stairs and met him in the drawing room if she didn’t want him in her bedroom. She knew he was there, heard him clearly, was not worried that he was there. Even Aunt Agatha knew he was there. So things might have played out differently if she had gone down to meet him.

Then he goes up stairs and finds her in her room. He does not come in at first, she tells him to wait while she gets a candle and they go down stairs. However, he comes in. She does not stop him. If she had wanted him out of there she would have said something to the point of, “What, are you deaf from banging your head on rocks too many times in the mine?! Downstairs!” If she had said that he probably would have gotten the message. He still would have been angry, but it would have played out differently.

Then she challenges him. And we’ll get to other challenges in a minute, but this is at least the second one. She asks his if he would do anything to keep her from being a widow for many long years? Note that her mother had just suffered a stroke, her husband had just died, and Ross was her first love. A man she probably would have married if she had known he was coming back from the war (the American Revolution). Basically she is saying, “will you provide for me and my child, despite the fact that you are still married?” That in itself is scandalous since she is suggesting that he either divorce or commit adultery, neither of which people in the era, or god at the time would look kindly upon.

Then their frustrations boil over, he kisses her and she doesn’t respond well. She says, “you would not dare.” Now what is the operative word we need to be looking at there, kids? That’s right, “dare”. A dare is a challenge, and this is in fact the third challenge she has given him. And probably when she says dare, it really means, “I wonder if he will?”  Let’s talk about these challenges for a moment. The first one was where she tells him, “downstairs” and he comes into the bedroom anyway. That’s the first, “I wonder if he will?” The second is when she encourages him to be her mate, “I wonder if he will?” The third is when she says, “you would not dare.” Yes this is a challenge, it is also quite different from, “no, I don’t want to”, or , “please don’t, I don’t want to,” or in fact anything like that.

The he throws her on the bed and starts kissing her and she kisses him passionately and continually back. That doesn’t happen with rape. It would be at this point that she would try and push him off, kick him, bite him, scream for Aunt Agatha who has a gun, or could certainly go out and find help. Aunt Agatha knows what’s happening! She’s basically in the next room! So what I see is a man and a woman engaging in what happens after years of watching and wanting. Suffering ad frustration. Acknowledging that they would have been with each other if things had been different. This isn’t the terrible thing some think it is. It’s people being human, for goodness sake!

The the next day Ross gets his freakin’ pants on, and they have a perfectly rational conversation about the consequences of THEIR actions. A lot of what I see on Elizabeth’s face there is guilt. She has had sex with a man she’s not married to, she’s caused her former love to commit adultery (both taboos and no-nos), and they have both betrayed Ross’s wife, Demelza who lost her first child caring for Elizabeth and her family when they were ill.

So there you have it. There is my analysis.

Recently I was in a Twittersation (yes, that’s what I call them), where I found something really, really offensive and sort of went off. Someone later said to me, “don’t be so reactive, you lose your voice”. This is very much true. While you may be a voice for women and rape victims, as I am, you can have a voice and be involved and helpful. However no one wants to hear a voice that is shouting rabidly in their ear. It doesn’t work out well and then no one listens to you because you’re just annoying.

Another thing that we need to be wary of is that when people find something offensive, that when a really dirty word comes into play. What’s that dirty word, kids? *puts hand to ear and listens intently* That’s right, censorship! The road to censorship is a slippery slope. Once it begins, it’s not pretty. When we go back to the days of abridging and burning books because they’re “offensive”. When we lose shows like Outlander, Game of Thrones, The Waling dead, even Supernatural, because they’re considered “offensive”.  If there is anything we have learned from Russia, China, North Korea and other countries like it, it’s censorship = bad.

I am not saying that your point of view is invalid, I am not saying that you don’t have the right to feel the way you do. All I ask is that people have the same respect for me. Also the scene is ambiguous. There are several ways in which it can be interpreted. There’s not just your way, and you should just take the word of media sensationalism. In all truth I am not a great fan of Poldark. I find it exceedingly boring at times, but I felt I still had to speak. Thank you for listening.


12 thoughts on “Recent Poldark Rape Controversy

  1. Ambiguous. In a world where we are trying to establish the need for clear consent, wouldn’t it have been a good thing to make it every so slightly less ambiguous? It need only have been a slight change – a breathless “Oh Ross,” before they hit the bed.
    It’s not censorship – you’re creating a false dichotomy there. And context is important too – Poldark is a very different genre to GofT etc. Debbie Horsfield has written a brilliant series – it’s such a same that this critical few seconds have let it down.

      • It’s not about censorship, it’s about responsibility. And the fact that people need to make so many excuses for it (“It’s just a story” “it’s what went on at the time” etc) or try to explain it away in phrases that sound eerily similar to those used to defend rapists in court (“She let him in.” “She didn’t scream”) is troubling.
        For what it’s worth, I tend to agree that it wasn’t rape – partly because I can read into it from the stories. I just wish Debbie had made it just that little bit less ambiguous.

      • Sometimes there is no other way to write it. Sometimes you have to stay true to the source material or you’re being dishonest. I agree that ambiguity is not comfortable, but what do you want? Something that’s a comfortable lie, or something that true to the work? Those are basically t he two options of a writer. You either write it as it is meant to be written, or you lie to your audience in which case, everything that comes after is part of that lie and makes no sense. Writing it this way was a risk, yes, but it was accurate to the piece, to the period, and to what people who had read the book expected. Rape is not a comfortable subject, but as writers, we do explore it, and we do address it as a social issue.

      • Not everything in life is simple, or black and white. Human relationships are complex. It is part of what makes us human. It is also our mistakes. We cannot condemn the writers for what they have written.

  2. Very nice analysis, Shara, though I suspect that those who in their 21st century pc-handicapped minds have decided that what took place was a rape, cannot and will not see the subtleties of the interaction or the context in which the actions of Ross and Elizabeth should be considered.

    I would like to add that it would have been anachronistic for Elizabeth not to resist Ross’s physical advances though she obviously wanted him as much as he her. Women were thought to be inherently virtuous in the 18th century, especially women of such station and breeding like Elizabeth. It’d been inappropriate for her to accept instantly Ross’s approaches.

    Some comments on social media regarding Poldark s2 e8 are really sad. People are saying things like “I don’t’ know what to do about my life now”. I enjoy watching Poldark as much as any woman, but my mental wellbeing doesn’t depend on it any more than on any other fictional representation, weather it was a book or a film or a peace of music or art. I say that if your life’s foundations are shaken because of what happens in a fictitious tv show, maybe your life isn’t much of a life at all.

    More frightening is that some people are equating actor Aidan Turner with fictional character Ross Poldark and are asking Turner “how could you do that”.

    One can’t but wonder how superficial and empty lives some people live or how naïve and simple they are.

    • I have seen a good deal of things like this actually with Oulander fans where their obsession transfers from fictional characters to the actors. Actors are actors. They do their job and do not owe anyone anything. Nor are that at all any part of their characters. Sometimes we cease to see them as individuals when we see them as so many “characters”. I am sure that Aidan is a perfectly decent person and was just doing his job. Also I have noticed that so many people’s lives hinge upon television show. It is only now that I am realizing how little television I watch compared to others. But if they want to make historical consent their cross to bear, they can be my guest. I hope they have a time machine.

  3. I’m sorry, but I cannot agree with you. I cannot agree with you because Elizabeth only consented seconds before Ross was about to rape her. First of all, this did not happen in the novel. Second, the whole scenario reeked of a rape fantasy to me.

    What is it about the BBC and its inability to portray the relationship between Ross and Elizabeth in the 1953 novel, “Warleggan” with any real honesty? Why does the BBC keep making changes or adding additions to the story arc in order to salvage Ross’ reputation? Graham had no problems portraying how low Ross could sink. Why couldn’t the BBC?

    • That’s okay. You don’t have to agree with me. This is the way I see it, it’s not the way everyone has to see it. However, I think we’re seeing things that are far more nefarious this season with the Drake, Morwenna and Osborne storyline. It’s actually rather disgusting, but it is accurate to the time period and things that happened to women in that era. It’s quite disturbing really. As for Ross. Agreed, he’s not a very wise man, and sometimes maybe even a fool, but he still cares about things and people. He still seems to love her, and she him. There was just no way they could be together after that night. o it goes. Relationships are complicated. Especially relationships like Ross’s and Elizabeth’s. It might have been rape. It certainly would be considered so today. But then? Probably not. I mean, they were going to hang him for inciting a riot. They never would have just let him get away with rape.

  4. Ross . . . raped . . . Elizabeth. Period. Demelza eventually realized this some twenty years after the incident. He even admitted it to himself in the last novel of the series. He raped her.

    He is incensed by this because he knows that Elizabeth is doing this just to raise his ire.

    What on earth? Are you serious? Elizabeth had agreed to marry George Warleggan in order to piss off Ross? You honestly believed that? I get the feeling that if you had said this to Winston Graham, he would have stared at you in disbelief or laugh in your face.

    She married him for money. Even George knew that was the way to get Elizabeth to marry him. She married him for money, because the Trenwith estate was in debt, thanks to Francis. Either she marry George and ensure that Geoffrey-Charles will have a debt free estate to run when he comes of age, or she loses the estate . . . Geoffrey-Charles’ birthright. That’s why Elizabeth married George. If you don’t believe me, read the book.

    • First, I would like to say, note that I am talking about the show, not the book. If I were to talk about the books I would say, “I read this in the Poldark books.” I did not say that.

      Also, what do Elizabeth’s monetary motivations have to do with Ross’s feelings about her motivations? Just about nothing. In fact, absolutely nothing. He knows what her motivations are. Those don’t change his feelings. If she didn’t want him to confront her about it, she shouldn’t have sent the note, nor begged him on two occasions twice while they were standing there together to leave his wife and take care of her instead.

      Also you seem to be ignoring every other motivation and emotion happening between these characters. Not only that, but you’re also ignoring the words of the author’s son who states that what happens between them is consensual. Here, read this:

      I mean for goodness sake, they were about to hang Ross in Series 2 for inciting a riot. Do you think they would actually just let him get away with rape? Especially since he’s a dissenter within the upper class? No they would not. There are many people who, if they thought that it was rape, they would have loved to see him hang for it.

      The scene is ambiguous. Even in the book the scene could probably be considered ambiguous. But given the course and events of the story, and the way that the characters react, what it is is adultery. While adultery is technically not a crime, or at least it wasn’t in Britain in the 1700s, it was something to be ashamed of and feel guilty about. So was it rape? Maybe. But for me it was so ambiguous and no one treated it like it was, so I can only say no. The continued reactions and interactions of the characters suggests that it isn’t. The thing going on between Morwenna and her gross husband certainly is, There’s no question about that. But what happened between Ross and Elizabeth? Debatable.

      And yes, she married him for money. It’s a good motivator. But that doesn’t mean her need or love for Ross disappears. Nor her apparent jealousy of Demelza for having what she wants. There are far more pieces to the emotional puzzle than one incident. Just as Andrew Graham says, you have to take the stories as a whole in order to understand how the pieces all fit together.

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