• Daniel Kephart

Demelza: The Beggar Queen

"Life is precious and should not be scorned. The thing is to find some purpose...and go on living."

"Until philosophers become rulers or rulers become philosophers, we shall have no end to the troubles of states." - Plato, The Republic.

Ross may on paper be the central character of BBC's Poldark, but it's Demelza Carne Poldark who defines the tone of the show. While Ross and his nemesis George Warleggan scheme against each other, pulling countless others into their orbit of misery, Demelza is the one who ultimately takes the greatest steps towards resolving these conflicts. She is the one who speaks from the heart - even when it appears unwise - because she refuses to do otherwise. For Demelza, love is the great reason to go on living. To be loved, but more importantly to love others, are the twin pools from which her character draws her power.

Unlike the show's other main characters, Demelza does not come from the elite British middle-class. The child of a miner, Demelza works as a serving girl in the kitchen of Nampara before marrying Ross. Her social elevation initially seems to diminish the forcefulness of her character - after all, she's only where she is because of Ross! Yet ultimately, it is this very facet of her character which empowers her to act in situations where all other characters are immobilized by fear or bitterness. Demelza, alone of the characters of Poldark, holds no pretentions about what she deserves. Her belief that she is not responsible for the good things in her life drives her to act accordingly, showing kindness to those who least merit it.

Yet she is not perfect. Demelza lies, manipulates, and even commits adultery - yet she remains heroic for all her (often major) flaws. Like many of Poldark's characters, she often does too much rather than too little. She loves too much, fights for her way too much, and grieves too much. She never manages to shake the hunger of the streets for more: More life, more friends, more adventure. Yet if this impulse leads her into trouble, it as also the very thing which leads her out. Demelza is a philosopher, in the truest sense of that word, one who loves wisdom. And wisdom is not abstracted knowledge; but knowledge which moves and breathes. Her philosophy is one of love - which perhaps explains why she is responsible for establishing most of the successful relationships on the show.

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