The Twisted Sword

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE TWISTED SWORD is the eleventh and final novel in the Poldark saga, which began in 1783 when Ross Poldark met Demelza Carne. For many years, their lives have been overshadowed by the meteoric career of Napoleon Bonaparte, who managed to conquer most of Europe before his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Now in 1815, Europe is experiencing an uneasy peace, with restored aristocrats having difficulty adjusting to the stewardship of nations irrevocably changed by the spirit of the French Revolution.

Ross Poldark, a Cornwall squire, is asked to go to France as an undercover agent to report on possible anti-Bourbon agitation. Demelza and his two younger children accompany him to Paris, where they attend brilliant social functions and meet important figures of the period.

Suddenly it is learned that Napoleon has escaped from Elba and is gathering a new army to reconquer his empire. Demelza flees to Belgium with the children. Ross is arrested as a spy. The Poldark’s oldest son Jeremy is thrust into the famous Battle of Waterloo with no prior combat experience. The Poldarks’ daughter Isabella-Rose, though only thirteen, falls in love with a handsome young British officer who has been sent to help repel the advancing French army. Stephen Carrington, the Poldarks’ fiery, not overly scrupulous son-in-law, makes a small fortune as a privateer operating on the English Channel.

As in Leo Tolstoy’s WAR AND PEACE, all the characters’ lives are changed by the grandiose ambition of a single man, Napoleon Bonaparte. Some meet tragic deaths directly or indirectly as a result of Napoleon’s attempts to regains his throne. The “twisted sword” referred to in the book’s title is a metaphor for the pain suffered by those members of the Poldark clan who survive the famous One Hundred Days of panic and bloodshed.

Winston Graham focuses on history as it affects the lives of the women involved. However, he includes plenty of action and suspense to appeal to male readers as well. His description of the Battle of Waterloo form the points of view of several participants is accurate and stirring. His Poldark novels have sold more than five million copies and have been dramatized on two BBC television series aired on “Masterpiece Theater.”