A VERY IMPERFECT HEROINE
The ravens which are resident on Carningli are Martha's angels. She is not at all afraid of them, and they "speak to her" over and again, occasionally warning her of impending disasters. Sometimes she listens to them, and when she does not, trouble inevitably follows........
For better or for worse, Martha is a nineteenth-century version of super-woman, which is why so many female readers envy her and empathise with her. From the beginning she is very beautiful and very sexy, and as she blossoms into womanhood she gains a reputation as the most beautiful woman in Wales. Little wonder that many readers said, when they first encountered her, that Catherine Zeta Jones had to play her when the film came to be made! She is well educated, and has a very inquiring mind. She is a competent musician and a moderately talented artist. She speaks English, Welsh, French and Dimetian Welsh fluently. She reads widely, and is attracted to “subversive” or radical literature.
Her liberal views frequently lead her into trouble, and it is quite natural that she should be concerned about the plight of slaves and convicts and all those who might be oppressed or victimized by the crown, the government, and impersonal institutions. She has concerns about voting reform and womens’ rights, and she sympathises with the Chartists -- at least until they start to split apart and lose control of extremist elements. She is immediately drawn to the Rebecca Rioters since she understands what their grievances are and sees (better than most of her peers) what happens to families struggling against poverty and disease. She is not particularly religious, but goes through the motions of being a worthy member of the established church and goes through life trying to be a “better person.” She flirts with Methodism for a while, and finds the devotion and kindness of the Non-conformists appealing. But at the same time she is irritated by their evangelical zeal and their unshakeable conviction that they are saved while others are condemned to hellfire and damnation. She is, as she admits now and then in the pages of her diaries, not averse to a little jolly sin now and then. She is also perfectly happy to shelter criminals, to drink smuggled gin, to tell lies, and to withhold her tithe payments in protest against the arrogance and insensitivity of the Church.
But Martha has a host of virtues too. She is brave, loyal to her husband and her family, and fiercely protective of those in her care once she is widowed and responsible for the safety of the Plas Ingli estate. She has enormous generosity of spirit, and makes spontaneous gestures of support when others might back off. Think about the welcome she gives to Patty the prostitute, or to Will the petty criminal, or to Zeke Tomos, who goes on to betray her. She often acts impulsively and on the basis of intuition and instinct. She makes huge self-sacrifices for the good of others. She puts herself in danger over and again, often because she is seeking to help those who do not necessarily deserve her assistance or her loyalty. For example, she plunges into the task of helping the sick and the dying during the cholera epidemic of 1797 without any thought for her own wellbeing. She goes to Ireland to help the starving during the Irish Potato Famine, and becomes seriously ill in the process.
She sees beauty all around her, and takes an almost child-like pleasure in simple things -- such as standing on the mountain-top in the wind with her hair streaming behind her and her arms stretched out wide. She loves her children and her grand-children, and welcomes back Daisy, the black sheep of the family, when she returns after years of loose living in London. She fights to keep her family together when stresses and strains occur because of grief, or bankruptcy or other disasters. On those occasions she is a diplomat as well as a matriarch. In some ways she is also naive, and has a tendency to think well of others when suspicion might be more appropriate. But she trusts her family and her servants to look after her when she makes misjudgments, and indeed they do just that. She is a prudent and wise estate manager, and she knows how to inspire loyalty, give responsibility to others, and reward enterprise. She never stops learning, and wants others to learn and to better themselves -- to the extent that she becomes a great benefactor of the Circulating Schools. She is generous to a fault, and one of the ironies of the Saga is that having protected her precious treasure and left it in the ground as a “family insurance” for more than fifty years, she finally digs it up and gives most of it away.
Throughout her life, she displays a natural empathy for the plight of the poor, and goes out of her way to deliver to them supplies of food at times of hardship, and to support them in many other ways -- often at great personal risk.
Martha is an enigma. In some ways she is extrovert, and so full of life and ideas that all of those around her become exhausted in the process of trying to keep up. But there are other sides to her character too......
Throughout the stories she suffers from bouts of deep depression, which sometimes bring her to the brink of suicide. This is perhaps not surprising, given the sort of things that happen to her.
She is well read and intelligent -- and is fluent in Welsh, English, French and the old dialect of Dimetian Welsh (this is the language she uses in her diaries). As she matures, she feels herself perfectly at home in the most elegant of company, and takes a certain delight in dealing with pompous idiots..........
Because of the ruination of the estate in the great fire that happened before the start of the story, Plas Igli is impoverished -- and the normal social gulf between gentry and servants is quite broken down. Without complaining, Martha gets involved in many of the day-to-day tasks that are needed on the farm -- as well as fulfilling her duties as Mistress of the estate before and after the death of David.
But Martha also knows how to be a fine lady -- and she does sexy elegance very well, when it is required of her.......