The Extremism of Outlander
So, I was sitting on the couch thinking the other day, and of course, Outlander comes to mind. It started as a thought related to a thread on our group page but then went beyond. Here is the gist: Outlander is a study in the extremes of life. Thought I’d jot down some thoughts – obviously, I can’t give examples of everything or I’d have a tome the size of the Big Books, so, please ignore omissions – they were consciously done and not overlooked. My thoughts jump around from Diana’s descriptions to the visuals of the show – mainly the show for some and mainly the books for others.
Opulence and Humility – Throughout the Outlander series, we see Jamie and Claire in different settings and levels of wealth. They go from the rough wild Scottish countryside, living by what they can hunt and cook over a campfire and sleeping on the ground with no shelter, to the relative luxury of Leoch with a roof and beds and meals cooked inside, not to mention the Rhenish and whisky. Then they go to Paris where the sheer majesty of Versailles is awe inspiring. But even as they are amidst such splendor, we are reminded of the everyday, mundane functions common to all people regardless of station – who can forget the King’s constipation and Jamie’s suggested cure of parritch ? And Claire’s disappointment in Louise and her ladies for wanting to hide the less fortunate instead of helping them. (More on that later.) Then we go back to Scotland and reunite with our earthy band of clansmen on the road. The humble domains that they march upon take us back to the beginning and see our heroes part at Culloden. When they meet again, it is in the prosperous city of Edinburgh. But not for long…After a brief visit to Lallybroch, they are once again thrown to humble surroundings aboard the Artemis. Yes, it is shelter, but they can’t even have a cabin to themselves. Plus, there are food and grog rations, and all crewmates are supposed to be treated equally as far as that goes. As Super Cargo, Jamie could dine on better fare with the Captain, but alas, he is too seasick to enjoy that perk. When they finally arrive in Jamaica, they dive right back into luxurious surroundings at the Governor’s Ball. Then they are thrust back onto ship and wreck in America with nothing but the clothes on their backs and whatever they can salvage from the wreckage. Very humble indeed. Throughout it all, they remain unchanged. Jamie and Claire go through all these situations and places and interact with the high and the low, but they do not change their characters. They remain true to their core beings.
Side thought on “Costuming”: As I describe all these journeys and surroundings, I think of the different clothes that all the characters wore. Kudos to Terry Dresbach and her team for dressing Jamie, Claire, and all others on the show as real people. Terry is a costume designer, but she is not creating costumes. She is creating period clothing that would be comparable to what was actually worn. This is much harder to do than many realize. Researching patterns, textiles and societal/cultural norms of the time periods has ensured that what we see on the show is accurate. To me, and I think to Terry as well, a good costume adds to the authenticity of a scene, but it is not the focus of the scene. If it were the focus, it can take us out of the story. Even the Red Dress succeeds in this – it did not take me out of the story as it was a supposed to be over the top as described in the book. And it had to be eye-catching for Versailles.
Romantic and Familial Love and Hate – There are no things further apart yet as close together as love and hate. Jamie and Claire see quite a bit of both in the series. Frank, Laoghaire, Dougal, Geillis, Colum, Murtagh, Black Jack Randall, and the Duke of Sandringham all come into play here. I have a love/hate relationship with many of these characters.
- At the beginning of the books, Frank is a model husband – maybe a bit boring, but a solid dependable man. And when Claire returns to him pregnant with another man’s child, he is stellar in his acceptance of her and the baby. This may or may not be swayed by the fact that we know that he has discovered his infertility while Claire was gone and this is his only chance at raising a child. But then as the years go by, I start to dislike him. He commands Claire to “forget” Jamie and never speak of him as a condition of his acceptance. He belittles Claire’s passion for medicine – can’t she just be a lady who lunches like all the other professors’ wives? Then he is unfaithful to her…repeatedly. Many people say that they understand and forgive this since Claire was not sleeping with him, but there really is no proof of that. Diana does not mention Claire becoming celibate in the books – at least not until much later in their relationship. She does not describe all the times that they had sex, and I wouldn’t want to read it. I am invested in Claire and Jamie so Claire and Frank seem like a betrayal even though it isn’t. Then Frank wants to basically steal Bree away from Claire. That is unforgivable.
- What can we say about Laoghaire? I used to hate Laoghaire “damn her eyes” MacKenzie, but recently, I’ve come to understand her more. When we first meet Laoghaire, she is a beautiful and mischievous teenager in the throes of intense puppy love for Jamie yet not above some “harmless necking” with some other boy. We, the readers and watchers, know that Jamie does not care for her the same way, but she doesn’t. Then Jamie saves her from public humiliation by taking her punishment for her. And then he accepts his reward which appears to have been a necking session of his own. Smitten as she is, she sees this as proof that Jamie loves her. And he does nothing to discourage her! When he talks of his marriage to Claire, he tells her of obligation not of affection. I think Laoghaire truly thinks that Jamie loves her and is in a loveless marriage to Claire. She’s only sixteen at this point – and as Murtagh says “she’ll still be a lass at forty” – she’ll never grow up and look at this with mature eyes. It’s her immaturity and fervent belief in Jamie’s love that causes her to set Claire up for what happens at Crainsmuir. And she never gets over it.
- Let’s talk and Colum and Dougal The MacKenzie brothers have inherited their skill at manipulation and ruthlessness from their ancestors, and boy does it affect the way I feel about them. My first instinct is to like Colum – he is a man crippled by an unknown disease, yet he is a strong leader. He puts the interests of the clan first: he doesn’t support the Bonnie Prince as he knows that it is folly – he knows the English will win and that the punishment for the participants would be severe. But one of his strengths is also a weakness. He does not allow emotion to cloud his judgment, but in doing so his ruthlessness is more pronounced. He allows – one might even say encourages – Claire’s imprisonment and trial for witchcraft. He tells Claire she can leave Leoch and then reneges to have her stay as a healer. But in the end, I feel sorry for him and the pain that wracks his body and is happy that Claire could ease that. Now, Dougal…what a man. We pretty much know that it was Dougal that hit Jamie in the head when he came back from France – he did not want Jamie to survive as he is a threat to Dougal being named the future Laird of the MacKenzie clan. He marries Jamie off to Claire to suit this purpose. The clan would not accept Jamie as Laird if he is married to an English woman. Dougal is so fervent in his desire to have a Scot sit on the Scottish throne that he is blinded that the presumptive heir is not worthy. I admire that Dougal is faithful to his cause, but dislike his methods in furthering it.
- Geillis Duncan aka Gillian Edgars aka Mrs. Abernathy aka the Bakra etc… Geillis was such a friend to Claire when she first showed up in 1743. I liked Geillis – she had a modern woman vibe so unlike the other women. Of course, we get to know why later, but that early impression was friendly. But then…she tries to drug Claire in order to question her; she kills her husband, Arthur Duncan, because he found out that she was pregnant and not by him; she obviously kills Mr. Abernathy in order to gain wealth; she uses and kills young boys looking for some ‘virgin stone’; and wants to go to the future to find the last of Lovat’s line all for the Scottish “cause”. But…she saves Claire at Crainsmuir. That counts for a lot, but this girl is cray cray!
- Murtagh – oh, Murtagh… He’s the cousin, companion, and – dare I say – lover, we would all want (if we can’t have Jamie, of course!) For all his outwardly bluster, Murtagh is a softie. He shows his love and respect for all our heroes by his actions. He is Jamie’s right-hand man, sworn to protect him. He is the clansman who rescues Claire from Black Jack right after she comes through the stones. He offers to marry poor Mary Hawkins, not out of affection for her, but out of a sense of honor. He does not want her ruined by having a child out of wedlock and not being able to care for it. He has his romp with Suzette and it shows how human he is. And when he hates, it is for a good, justified, solid reason. The Duke and Black Jack beware!
- Let’s talk about the Duke of Sandringham and Black Jack Randall When I think of these two, I think of the extreme – hate. But in truth, I really think that Black Jack is ruled not by hatred, but by his own warped sense of love. He loves Jamie, and therefore must break him as BJR believes love to be a weakness that cannot be tolerated. He loves his brother, and in the show, shows his frustration by beating Alex when he dies. It is a shocking moment that Tobias ad-libbed, but it was a perfect manifestation of the character. We really see the fine line between love and hate (hatred of self in this case) with Black Jack. Now, the Duke, I think, is just oblivious to anything other than what will benefit himself. He only loves himself. To him, the ends always justify the means. He sets up the ambush on Mary and Claire, knowing rape would be the goal thinking that he is doing a good thing because Le Comte wanted Claire dead and surely rape was saving her. Mary just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But he had absolutely no remorse over her rape even though he has been a close family friend and godfather to her.
War and Peace – These polar opposites are represented well throughout the series. We have the peace after World War II when Claire first arrives in Scotland with Frank. Then Claire is thrust back into a time where the clans are not only fighting amongst themselves but also have skirmishes with the Red Coats. The results of one of these skirmishes are truly how Jamie and Claire meet. Then when Jamie and Claire get to Paris, it is a time of peace for a while. Sure, there is plenty of intrigue and espionage, but not war. We see war once again when they return to Scotland for the Jacobite exercise in futility that ends on Culloden Moor. Then twenty years later, after some battles amongst themselves, they are at peace again briefly. They do battle with Geillis in Jamaica and escape the British, but these are no real wars. And when they settle on The Ridge, they are peace. And then comes the Regulation – the first real rumblings that will lead to the Revolution. Jamie and Claire can’t seem to escape conflict and war, but they do have plenty of peaceful happy times as well.
Intelligence and Ignorance – We all know that Jamie and Claire are well-educated people. Jamie was educated in France and knows at least five languages that I can think of: Gaelic, English, French, Chinese, and Latin. He has great recall for anything he has read. Claire is much the same way – she went to medical school at a time when women were just not doing that. She quotes many authors to Jamie, including Robert Burns. I was always amazed at how much she knew as a nurse when she first went back. There is a mention of her interest in botany and medicinal herbs, but her knowledge blew me away. In contrast, there are plenty of people in the series that could be classified as ignorant. Ignorance doesn’t mean that they are not smart, just that they are not educated. For me, both Jenny and Ian come to mind here. Neither of these characters are educated, but there is no doubt in my mind that they are highly intelligent.
Common Sense and Naiveté – In many ways, Louise de Rohan reminds me of Marie Antoinette in her naiveté. Marie, the Queen of France, was brought up as a sheltered Austrian princess and then married to King Louis XVI. She had no concept of poverty. Her most famous attributed quote (although she actually didn’t say it) of “Let them eat cake” was woefully misconstrued. She was so sheltered that when told that people didn’t have any bread to eat, her response was to tell them to eat cake as surely they had cake, if they didn’t have bread. She was naïve of the world. Louise strikes me much the same way. She is aware of the poor peasants, but I don’t think she really understands their plight. Her solution of moving them to the other side of the city where the nobility would not have to see them is very naïve. Politicians still try to do this today. Out of sight, out of mind. We find her lover, our Bonnie Prince Charlie, much in the same situation. He has been brought up in the Vatican, continually told that his family are the rightful rulers of Scotland and completely sheltered from the real world. Yes, he is arrogant as most royals of the time were, but he is also naïve. He truly believes that the clans will flock to him and that they will win against the mighty British without any real resources or weapons or trained army. The clans could hardly agree on whether it was day or night, much less agree to fight together for a monarch that none of them had ever seen. They may have wanted to be free of the British, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they wanted a replacement in the form of James or Charlie. And “Mark Me”, he truly thinks everything that he has to say is remarkable and worthy of taking note – which is what that phrase means. Contrast these two against Jenny. Even though Jenny has never been more than 10 miles from Lallybroch, she knows how the world works and the practicalities of life. This may be due to being poorer than Louis or Charlie, but then again she was the mistress of LallyBroch for quite a while. Of course, part of this is because she was not sheltered in her formative years. She had to learn how to be a mother when her own mother died. She had to learn how to deal with the Red Coats both before and after her father died.
So…I’ve given some examples of extremes. There are plenty more, but it would take a much lengthier blog and better blogger to write about them. Diana has woven such a magnificent story that we could (and do) discuss for quite some time and find something new with each discussion. And what do the members of our clan have to say about this?