Part #1 of Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
tremendous personal courage and a theatrical use of the rosary, saves her from the mob and from ecclesiastical abuse of authority. But Claire’s safety is also dependent on Geilie’s altruism in declaring her innocence. How do you account for Geilie’s dying act? How does it affect your estimate of her character?
37. Notice that previous tension in their marriage focused on the question of wifely obedience. Claire has once again disobeyed Jamie—he had told her, when he left with the Duke of Sandringham, to stay away from Geillis Duncan (513). Claire’s failure to do so, when Laoghaire told her Geilie was sick and needed her, almost results in her death. And yet Jamie does not reproach her this time for her disobedience. Why not? How is their relationship evolving?
38. Jamie’s love for Claire encompasses the possibility that she actually is a witch, and his direct question to her elicits, finally, her explanation of her improbable origins in the 20 c. Jamie’s response is not merely acceptance of what is improbable at the level of fact, which would be remarkable enough, but a moral imperative: he believes that out of his love for her, he must give her up and return her to her “home.” In one of the most moving episodes in the book, he takes her to Craigh na Dun and sets her free to return to Frank. Claire says that neither rationality, emotion, or duty helps her to make her decision, “and before I even knew I had decided, I was halfway down the slope” to Jamie, who lay asleep as “the silver tracks of dried tears glinted on golden skin (561).” The powerfully emotional moment has a comic resolution (as is the case in the stable during her escape attempt, and his attempt to protect her by lying on the floor outside her room in the inn): they crash into each other. But if Claire herself cannot fully understand why she returned to him—beyond “I had to (562)”—how do you account for it?
Part FIVE Lallybroch
39. Jenny emerges as a strong female character in this section. What personality traits are revealed in Jenny in her wrangling with Jamie? Is Ian right that she and Jamie are similar? Much of the extended argument concerns the false rumor that Randall had sexually exploited her and fathered her first child. Why did Dougal spread that rumor?
40. As Jenny and Claire get to know one another, they have a conversation that both recognize is a polite kind of code: for example, “I hear ye married very quickly” meaning, “Did you wed my brother for his land and money? (592)” Re-read this dialogue. Have you had conversations like this that you are willing to share? In your experience, did both parties understand what the other was really saying?
41. For all the passion and commitment already evident in their relationship, for some reason Jamie defers telling Claire that he married her out of love until he has a chance to show her his home and the portraits of his family (595). What is the link between their presence here and the timing of this major revelation? And why does Claire hold back until after the episode in which they take in Rabbie MacNab (651)? Even then, she is reluctant to be the first one to speak. Claire is clearly capable of feeling great love: why does she have so much difficulty expressing it verbally?
42. The Lallybroch chapters are to a great extent relaxed and funny, including the adventure with Jamie’s father’s drawers in the millpond and the many anecdotes of boyhood thrashings Ian and Jamie received from their fathers for misbehavior, anecdotes which could have been told in a very dark way—and which disturb some modern readers, despite their light tone. The stories about Brian do segue into much darker narrative in two ways: first, in both Jenny’s and Jamie’s guilty belief that each was responsible for Brian’s death; and second, in the subsequent contrast between Brian’s heavy-handed but fair disciplinary style and the drunken, vicious beatings Rabbie MacNab receives from his father.
Should Jenny and Jamie feel guilty for Brian’s death? How does Jenny’s anecdote about Randall’s impotence prepare us for the horror in Wentworth prison?
The new cover of Outlander identifies moral ambiguity as an issue: does Jamie do the right thing on Quarter Day by beating Rabbie’s abusive father? Jamie worries about the line between justice and brutality.Which side of that line is he on (648-49)?
43. Jenny’s remarkable, sensuous description of her pregnancy, as you may know, was one of the early chunks of Outlander posted on the CompuServe Writers’ Forum that attracted attention and encouragement for Diana Gabaldon to write more and publish. (Perhaps this pregnancy led not only to wee Maggie, but also to the novel itself!) If you have been pregnant, do these details ring true to your own experience? Could only a woman have written this passage? Debates about whether a male writer can write authentically in a female voice and vice versa have proliferated for years. Could this passage have been written by a man? Or by a woman who has never been pregnant? Why or why not?
44. When Jamie is taken by the Watch, having been betrayed by Ronald MacNab, Claire warns Jenny of the coming slaughter and famine, giving her the practical advice to plant potatoes. Is Claire running any risk of being considered a witch again here?
PART SIX The Search
45. Jamie has always had a complex relationship with his uncle Dougal. In their search for Jamie, Claire practices some fortune-telling skills she learned from Mrs. Graham, as well as her medical skills. Gypsies she and Murtagh encounter lead her to a cave where she meets Dougal, whom the Gypsies have understandably mistaken, from their description, for Jamie. Widower Dougal’s attempt to seduce her for Jamie’s property, in the belief that there is no hope of rescuing his nephew and foster son, enrages Claire and lowers him in our estimation. Surprisingly, however, in view of Jamie’s theories, Dougal swears that he did not attempt to kill Jamie with the axe, the wound that sent him to St. Anne to Beaupré to convalesce. Is Dougal credible on this point? Do you believe him? He says he is unwilling to risk the lives of his men to save Jamie. Does this ring true to you, or is it an excuse? When Claire challenges him to allow his men to make their own choice, why does Rupert follow Claire rather than Dougal? What is the source of Claire’s hope that Jamie can be freed?
PART SEVEN Sanctuary
46. Jamie is to be hanged on December 23 (697). Although Claire does not make this point, the day she reaches Wentworth Prison is December 21, the Winter Solstice, one of the sacred days in pre-Christian Celtic tradition about which Frank spoke early in the novel. On this day, northern people rejoice that the sun is returning to a world that otherwise would die without its light and hope. If speculation about the standing stones is correct, this day is one in which one could travel through time. Claire, at the moment, however, is focused on the preciousness of the present and the immediate future. She charms Sir Fletcher, and Rupert gambles with the soldiers, both strategies eliciting some information about where Jamie is. Claire finds him, cold-bloodedly kills a guard, and sees the depths of Randall’s depravity. Jamie promises to submit to him if he sets Claire free. Claire’s rage, helpless against Randall, gives her the fury and physical strength to kill a wolf. Are you familiar with other examples of astonishing strength in traumatic circumstances and overcoming fear in order to act?
47. MacRannoch, initially unenthusiastic about provoking Sir Fletcher, who could level his castle, changes his mind when he and Murtagh recognize one another from a long-ago Tynchal at Castle Leoch. In their conversation, Claire realizes, with a shock, that the beautiful, barbaric boar-tusk bracelets at Lallybroch were a gift from Murtagh to Ellen; he was Ellen’s secret admirer, and MacRannoch the suitor who gave her the pearls Claire now takes out. MacRannoch’s stratagem with the stampeding cattle enables them to rescue Jamie. With the assistance of MacRannoch and his wife, Lady Annabelle, Claire tends to Jamie’s very serious physical wounds, especially the nine broken bones that need surgery. There is some continuity here with the first episode in which Claire confidently and competently takes charge of Jamie’s injuries: this time, however, she claims her full range of authority and skill by saying, for the first time, “I am a physician (741).” How does this assertion mark her personal growth? Despite her stamina in conducting the surgery, ho
48. Jamie does try to explain the psychology of rape, of a violation and breakdown that provokes suicidal thoughts (760):
“I think it’s as though everyone has a small place inside themselves, maybe, a private bit that they keep to themselves. It’s like a little fortress, where the most private part of you lives—maybe it’s your soul, maybe just that bit that makes you yourself and not anybody else …”
“You don’t show that bit of yourself to anyone, usually, unless sometimes to someone that ye love greatly ….”
“Now it’s like … like my own fortress has been blown up with gunpowder—there’s nothing left of it but the ashes and a smoking rooftree, and the little naked thing that lived there once is out in the open, squeaking and whimpering in fear, trying to hide itself under a blade of grass or a bit o’ leaf, but not … but not … making m-much of a job of it.”
After more challenges—including killing a young English soldier in cold blood, the latest of a series of killings that illustrate Claire’s own lethal tendencies (the British deserter, the guard, and the wolf)—Claire and Murtagh succeed in getting the dangerously seasick Jamie to St. Anne de Beaupré, where the more complex challenge of addressing his emotional and spiritual wounds must take place.
Jamie’s terrible problem is one shared by many victims of sexual assault—that they have, albeit against their wills, been sexually aroused by and responsive to the stimuli. The shame and recurring images are a form of post-traumatic stress disorder, worsened by the victim’s conviction that he or she is morally culpable. When Claire understands that she must give Jamie an experience that will reverse his disempowering trauma at the hands of Randall, she uses her medical skills—and, perhaps surprisingly, a strategy she learned from Geillis—to summon spirits. Conjuring up her memories of Frank for the shared voices and gestures, including sexual ones, she uses the power of suggestion and opium to stimulate a hallucinogenic experience in which he can fight his battles again against the dead Black Jack Randall, this time defending himself and therefore having a different outcome. In taking Jamie back into his own soul-deadening trauma, is this a sort of time travel?
49. Claire needs healing herself, particularly about her unresolved sense of guilt for having chosen to stay with Jamie rather than Frank. How important in Claire’s own growth is her experience with the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, when time seems to have stopped (787)? In your opinion, has Claire committed bigamy? Most readers want Claire to accept the theology Anselm offers her (Chapters 39 and 40), assuring her that she has not sinned, but not every reader agrees—and despite her joy in Jamie’s recovery, she seems somewhat unsure, perhaps because of her lack of formal catechesis in Catholicism. How much of what Father Anselm tells her do you think she actually accepts? How much do you agree with?
50. Remember that when Claire returned from Craigh na Dun, having chosen to stay with Jamie, she told him that the hot baths nearly won (562). It seems only fair that they both enjoy the hot baths of the Abbey springs now. It seems a fitting symbol for the cleansing of their psychological wounds, their reconnection sexually, and the promise of new life. What does Claire mean in the last line of the novel?
Some general questions on the whole book:
Many readers are drawn to the Outlander novels because of the powerfully appealing character of Jamie. What is it about a character with an 18 c. sensibility that is so attractive to 21 c. readers? Scholar Jessica Matthews suggests that “part of its popularity stems from Diana Gabaldon’s rehabilitation of masculinity after feminism tried its best to declaw it for a generation.” What aspects of masculinity have been “rehabilitated” for us in Jamie?
The title of this first novel seems prescient, as so many characters in the subsequent volumes are, in so many ways, outsiders too. In what ways is Claire an “outlander”?
What, in your opinion, was the most moving moment? the most frightening one? the most surprising one? the funniest one? the most erotic one? the most beautifully descriptive passage? the most interesting detail(s) in terms of the novel’s depiction of a different historical era?
Who was (or were) your favorite secondary characters(s): Frank? Murtagh? Dougal? Colum? Rupert? Alec MacMahon? Mrs. Fitz? Laoghaire? Geillis? someone else?
The fresh new Outlander cover features these words: “history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, horses, herbs, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul … you know, the usual stuff of literature …” True, but rarely found within the same covers … Are some of these more important to you, in your opinion, than others? Which ones? Why? Can you and your group come to a consensus on three that stand out? Why or why not?
I am deeply indebted to many people who have shared their love of and insights into these remarkable books with me over the years, none more than Jessica Matthews of George Mason University.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon / Fantasy / History & Fiction have rating 5 out of 5 / Based on85 votes