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All the brooding in Poldark, ranked

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Those who’ve seen Poldark’s first season on PBS know that a solid quarter of its screentime consists of the titular Captain Poldark (played by Aidan Turner) galloping his horse across Cornwall, cloak billowing behind him, as he stares broodingly out toward the sea.

So it’s unsurprising that the book on which the TV show is based — written by Winston Graham in 1945 — is filled with page after page of brooding scenes.

The story centers on one Captain Ross Poldark, who has returned to his home in 18th-century England after a war that’s left him scarred and lame. His father is dead; his ancestral home is in ruins; his sweetheart has married another. So truly, what else can he do but brood, endlessly, as prostitutes swoon all around him but he remains far too honorable to ever think of touching them?

Here is every time that Poldark broods in Ross Poldark: A Novel of Cornwall, ranked in order of how impressed the narrator is by the brooding.

11. He looked tired but, like, in a dangerous, broody way

That must be his son. An unusual face with its strongly set cheekbones, wide mouth, and large, strong white teeth. The eyes were a very clear blue-gray under the heavy lids that gave a number of the Poldarks that deceptively sleepy look.

10. Tired but dangerous — always tired but dangerous

Ross turned his sleepy but unquiet eyes on Prudie.

9. His girlfriend is engaged to his feckless cousin and he’s such a badass you wouldn’t even think he cares, but secretly his soul is tortured

His was not an easy face to read, and no one could have told that in the past half hour he had suffered the worst knock of his life. Except that he no longer whistled into the wind or talked to his irritable mare, there was nothing to show. …

He moved on. Occasionally the feeling within him was so strong that he could have been physically sick.

8. Said feckless cousin almost drowns and Poldark is heroic enough to save him, but because he’s so dangerous and brooding he almost doesn’t

The accident had released emotions within them; for a time, they hung in the air like a dangerous gas, impossible to name but not to be ignored.

While they sat there, Francis took sidelong glances at his cousin. That first evening of Ross’s return he had expected and understood Ross’s disappointment and resentment. But in his casual, easygoing way he had had no idea of the extent of the emotion behind the fine-drawn expression of his cousin’s face. Now he knew.

He also sensed that the accident of his fall had not been the only danger in which he had stood … in which perhaps he still stood. …

After a minute he shook some water off his coat and began the trip back. Ross followed him with an expression that was half grim, half ironic. For Francis the incident might have betrayed the extent of his cousin’s resentment — but Ross felt it should have shown him its limitations.

It had done that much for himself.

7. Courts are so corrupt that garbage smells better, because courts are the real garbage, man

He left the box and pushed his way out of court amid much noise and the shouts of the usher for silence. In the narrow street outside he took a breath of the warm summer air. The deep gutter was choked with refuse and the smell was unsavory, but it seemed agreeable after the smell of the court. He took out a kerchief and mopped his forehead. His hand was not quite steady from the anger he was trying to control. He felt sick with disgust and disappointment.

6. Ugh, other girls are so gross

As his hand closed about the cold railings under the trees, he fought to overcome his jealousy and pain, as one will to overcome a fainting fit. He must destroy it once and for all. Either he must do that or leave the country again. He had his own life to live, his own way to go; there were other women in the world, common clay perhaps, but charming enough with their pretty ways and soft bodies. Either break his infatuation for Elizabeth or remove himself to some part of the country where comparisons could not be made. A plain choice.

5. Almost as gross as poor people

After he had seen the sights he sat down at a drinking booth and sipped a glass of rum and water. The words of Jack Tripp the agitator came to him as he watched the people pass by. For the most part they were weakly, stinking, rachitic, pockmarked, in rags — far less well found than the farm animals that were being bought and sold. Was it surprising that the upper classes looked on themselves as a race apart?

4. When you’re so sad not even looking at your inherited wealth can cheer you up

He rode down the valley, too full of a deadly inertia of spirit to find satisfaction in the sight of his land.

3. So sad his old maid cousin (25, so virtually middle-aged) feels bad for him

For all his hard work that winter he was thinner and paler. He was drinking too much and thinking too much. She remembered him when he had been a high-strung, lighthearted boy, full of talk and fun. He used to sing. The gaunt, brooding man was a stranger to her for all her efforts to know him.

2. So sad the prostitutes feel bad for him, but also so dangerous they’re super into him

The woman put her hand on his. He shook if off and finished his brandy.

“Lonely, me lord; that’s what ails you. Let me read your palm.” She put out her hand again and turned his up to examine it. “Ye-es. Ye-es. Bin disappointed in love, that’s what it is. A fair woman has been false to you. But there’s a dark woman here. Look.” She pointed with a long forefinger. “See, she’s close to you. Right close to you. She’ll give you comfort, me lord. Not like these dainty maids who’re afraid of a pair of breeches. I like the looks of you, if ye don’t mind the expression. I’ll wager you could give a woman satisfaction. But beware of some things. Beware o’ being over partic’lar yourself, lest these dainty maids betray you into thinking love’s a parlor game. Love’s no parlor game, me lord, as you very well know.”

Ross ordered another drink.

1. Look, sorry if you’re just too much of a conformist to understand that sometimes a man has to kidnap a 13-year-old girl and make her his servant

Well, what else was there to do? He had not seen that his casual adoption of a child for a kitchen wench would produce such results, but it was done and all hell should crackle before he retracted. Two years abroad had led him to forget the parochial prejudices of his own people. To the tinners and small holders of the country someone from two or three miles away was a foreigner. To take a child from her home to a house ten miles away, a girl and under age, however gladly she might come, was enough to excite every form of passion and prejudice. He had given way to a humane impulse and was called an abductor. Well, let the dogs yap.

To watch the brooding play out onscreen, you can catch the US premiere of season two tonight at 8 pm Eastern on PBS.