Francis Poldark tragically died on screen just when it seemed his fortunes were about to rise. He had revived his friendship with Ross and discovered a rich seam of copper in their mine. He had turned away from his mistress Margaret and was back on speaking terms with his wife and son. He had openly defied the wicked George Warleggan.
At last everything was going well for him. He had even confessed his crime – not to Ross, who refused to hear it – but to Demelza. And, she like a kind counsellor or priest, forgave him. He was a new man. He looked happy and excited. He had learned from his mistakes and was trying to put things right.
But then, all alone in the mine, he drowned. Clinging to a nail until it pulled from the rock. While his childhood memories flashed before him.
At this tragic moment I thought I’d look back to the second book in the series, Demelza, to remind myself why he betrayed Ross in the first place. And why he had to die.
Francis Poldark’s crime was simple and devastating. He gave George Warleggan the list of investors in the Carnmore Copper Company. This company was set up by Ross to buy copper at a fair price from the mines. It helped mines to make a fair profit, stay open and employ more miners. Once George had the list, Warleggan’s Bank put pressure on the investors, and the company closed.
So why did Francis do this? He might be weak but he wasn’t stupid. He knew what was likely to happen.
There are three main reasons, it seems to me – all which show how beautifully the themes are interwoven in Winston’s Graham’s novels.
Firstly, George Warleggan. He is a very clever, devious, complex villain. He is rich, ambitious, and in love with Francis’s wife Elizabeth. Francis is already indebted to George for large amounts of money, most of which he has lost by gambling at George’. But when Ross exposes the cardsharp Sanson – a Warleggan cousin – and throws him in the river, George is embarrassed. Sanson is his relative; this doesn’t look good. So, in an apparently noble gesture, George comes to Trenwith to return half of all the money the impoverished Francis has lost to Sanson over the years.
Half, you notice – not all of it. But still, a substantial sum. And Francis is grateful. But is that a good enough to betray Ross?
Not on its own, no. But George makes this clever offer just at the moment when Francis’s sister, Verity, has eloped with the sea captain Andrew Blamey. Francis is humiliated and furious. Whose fault is this? Really, of course, it’s Demelza who has acted a go-between, but in Francis’s mind that means Ross. Ross has betrayed him – again! And here is George with the money.
But how – in Francis’s mind – has Ross betrayed him? Again?
Well, for one thing, Francis is genuinely concerned for his sister. Captain Blamey is a violent man – a drunkard who killed his first wife. It’s quite right for Francis, as head of the family, to try to protect her from this. Ross has already brought them together once. Now, through Demelza, he’s done it again.
And then, he’s jealous. Francis’s wife, Elizabeth, loves Ross more than him. If Ross had returned a few days earlier she’d have married him, not Francis. And the fact that he did return blighted Francis’s marriage from the start. Ross is simply a better man than him – braver, nobler, more attractive to women. He may be poor but he hasn’t frittered his wealth away at the card table. Other mine owners respect him, much more than they respect Francis. Even Ross’s marriage, to a kitchen maid, is happier than Francis’s own.
So all of these things are festering in Francis’s mind when George Warleggan turns up with his handsome offer to repay half of Francis’s gambling debts.
Of course, it’s only because of Ross that Sanson’s cheating was exposed at all.
But somehow Francis forgets that and George gets the benefit. And so, in betraying Ross, he gets his revenge.
Does Francis know what he’s doing? Absolutely. That’s why, when he later regrets it, he tries to kill himself. And the pitiless author has to drown him in the end.