Historical Fantasies and Realities in "Poldark"'s Britain with Dr. Julie Taddeo

Historical Fantasies and Realities in "Poldark"'s Britain with Dr. Julie Taddeo


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Why does Cornwall have such a special place in our historical imagination in the twenty-first-century and the current age of Brexit? Why does the TV series “Poldark”, dubbed “the new Downton Abbey,” so appeal to twenty-first-century audiences and how can we use it to understand both the larger world of Georgian England and our own? This seminar will explore this period of history, through the lens of this well-known series (and a comparison with the earlier TV adaptation from 1975-77).

The popular success of the TV period drama, "Poldark" was due to much more than the shirtless appeal of its leading man. Many, for sure, enjoyed taking in the sight of Aidan Turner, who stars as Captain Ross Poldark and was dubbed by the media, a “Sunday night crumpet,” as scenes that depict his shirtless scything went viral. But this TV show about life in late eighteenth-century Cornwall, England, isn't just about a pretty face. Its representation of late eighteenth-century Britain captures the dawn of a modern age, detailing the world of mining, Parliamentary politics, the changing class system, and innovations in medicine, side by side with the proper amount of romance, intrigue, dueling, and tragedy we've come to expect from our Sunday night television.

Based on the series of novels by Winston Graham, published between 1945-2002, “Poldark” follows the titular hero upon his return to Cornwall from the war in the American colonies, offering intense drama and a sweeping depiction of life in England during that era. From his marriage to his kitchen maid, Demelza, to his ongoing rivalry with the “upstart” George Warleggan, Ross Poldark proves to be a complex hero who sometimes commits questionable deeds.

This talk will look at the larger world in which Captain Poldark lives, works, and loves, examining its industrialization, banking, mining, and politics, and the plight of women and the poor in England during that era. We’ll also look at fan obsession with all things “Poldark,” which has caused Cornwall to become the most visited destination in the UK (pre-pandemic), actually prompting the local tourist board (pre-Covid) to beg travelers to go elsewhere.

Led by an expert on Modern British cultural history, this seminar will revisit a much-loved TV series and the period of dramatic history it represented. Designed to inform and educate, participants will emerge with a greater understanding of what we can learn from a historical perspective from this celebrated series.

Dr. Julie Taddeo is Research Professor of History at University of Maryland. Her area of expertise is Modern British social and cultural history. She has published several books on such topics as the Bloomsbury Group, Steampunk, British period drama television, and reality TV.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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