Pride and Prejudice has been my favorite novel since I read it for the first time over a decade ago. In that time period the ONLY book to produce a hero that could come close to Fitzwilliam Darcy was Persuasion. Captain Frederick Wentworth and Darcy were, in my opinion, the epitome of what you wanted in a man. They both were strong, confident men who were able to admit they were wrong and change for their lady loves. Come on ladies, who wouldn’t want a man like them? Fast forward to last month when I was on Twitter and saw an infographic that allowed readers to select their favorite male literary hero. Maybe it’s just me being arrogant, but I thought Darcy had it in the bag. I clicked on the link, and to my great surprise the name that popped as the winner was James Fraser. I immediately did a Google search to figure out what book he was from. Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, was the response I got, and thus began my journey to figure out how this Scottish Highlander could possibly beat out the love of my life, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Claire Randall is a combat nurse back from World War II in 1945. Married before the war began, Claire is separated from her husband during the war and is finally reunited with him after hostilities are over. Out on their second honeymoon in Scotland, Claire falls through a portal that transports her to the year 1743. Once there she must find a way to become part of the past until she can return to the future. Her journey is filled with a forced marriage, an attempted burning at the stake, claims of witchcraft and prostitution, and countless other atrocities. The silver lining in this, however, is her forced marriage to a Scottish Highlander named Jamie Fraser. He pledges to protect her, body and soul, and in many instances, does. Will she ever be able to tell him where she really comes from? Will they ever be able to figure out a way to get her back to the present? With her growing feelings for Jamie, will she even want to go?
Let me start out by saying: JAMIE FRASER. OH MY GOD. I totally “get” how women ranked him higher than Darcy! He’s mysterious, funny, kind-hearted, at times arrogantly confident, strong, and devastating. There are times you want to smack him for his cockiness, and other times you want to hug him for the brutality that he’s had to face. In short, he is one of the most complex characters I’ve ever read.
At times Jamie and the other men of the period are barbaric, but when you look at the time period (the 1700’s) it’s historically accurate. There is one scene in the book where Jamie whips Claire for disobeying him and putting his clansmen in extreme danger. While I don’t agree with the beating, his explanation of why he did it (it’s expected by his clansman for retribution due to the danger they’ve been placed in) makes sense. Even Claire understands and accepts it (and she’s a modern woman!) Jamie is extremely remorseful over the entire incident and agrees to make a pact to Claire that he’d never do it again, regardless of the traditions he lives by. This brought a question to my mind: are we able to accept abuses of women when placed into the context of the past? If I read a book that took place in contemporary times there would be NO WAY IN HELL that I’d accept abuse as a viable plot point. But when placed into a story where it’s truly indicative of the way people acted, I can accept it as “historically relevant.” Do you agree?
Now, on to Gabaldon’s writing style. At times the book got a little wordy, but by and large it created a world that you can’t help but become mesmerized by. Jamie’s revelations near the end of the book about what happened to him in prison are probably some of the darkest and most heart wrenching scenes I’ve ever read. His vulnerability as he is telling Claire of his pain and shame is both awe-inspiring and deeply depressing. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as deeply for a character as I did for Jamie in that scene.
A word of caution: there is a rape scene in the novel, and as I’ve stated in other book reviews in the past, I feel that this should be noted somewhere. You never know what a reader has gone through in his/her own life and what a scene like that (explicit or not), could trigger for them.
In all, I think this work is incredibly multidimensional. It fits in so many genre “boxes” that you can’t help but identify with it. It is heartwarming, touching, and a beautiful piece. I urge all of you to see for yourself how great of a work Gabaldon has created. Maybe Jamie will rate as high on your list of male heroes as he now does on mine?
5 out of 5 Stars
This is my second completed review for the Historical Fiction Challenge
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Random House Publishing (2004)
eBook: 818 pages