Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we’ll break apart the chapter for its nuggets of writing insights and enjoy a great story.
Chapter 15: Revelations of the Bridal Chamber
Summary: After a small wedding feast, Claire and Jamie retire to a room for the consummation part of becoming legally married. They’re both unnerved, and Jamie confesses to being scared of Claire because she’s much more experienced than him. They decide to ease into the experience by talking first.
Jamie asked about Claire’s previous husband, a subject she dodges. He asks only that they start with honesty. She doesn’t have to tell him something, but what she does tell him should be the truth.
They both give a bit of history about their pasts, Claire careful to avoid revealing anything that would signal to Jamie that she comes from a future time. But Jamie too has his secrets, of which he’s very upfront about not telling her.
However, he does talk about his family, how his mother was Colum and Dougal’s sister. How his father was given lands by the Frasers so he could marry Ellen MacKenzie. How, in the marriage agreement, the MacKenzies had managed to secure the inheritance of those lands so they would pass to Ellen’s children instead of any other children her husband might have. So while Jamie indeed is in possession of property, he can’t use his own lands because of the price on his head.
But Jamie goes on to explain his time in France after being injured. He stayed with an uncle until he was healed, then came back to Scotland. Dougal had come to pick him up, and they were on their way back when Claire ran into them. Apparently, there is truth to Randall’s claim that the MacKenzies were stealing cattle as well.
Jamie also confesses two of the reasons he married Claire. He has others he’s keeping secret. First, he wanted to protect her from Captain Randall. Second, he wanted to sleep with her.
They talk until it’s late and a choice must be made about bed. Claire decides to get the bedding over with rather than cowardly waiting until later. For the next several hours, she introduces Jamie to the pleasures of the marriage bed, and while he’s a bit clumsy, his ardent joy in it delights her.
At one point, famished, she decides to slip out of the room for food, but she finds all Dougal’s men waiting for her and shouted ribald commentary. She’s horrified, and Jamie explains that they’re witnesses to the consummation. Dougal won’t take any chances. Jamie fetches food instead.
At one point, when they finally literally sleep, Claire wakes from a nightmare. Jamie immediately responds by snapping awake, drawing a weapon he had stashed near his head, and springing to action, ready to kill. When he realizes it was only Claire, he swiftly comforts her, warms her by giving her the blankets he accidentally stole in his sleep, and cuddles against her. He asks if it’s hate for him that has her so upset, and she hastily reassures him that it isn’t him at all.
But after, Claire has to wonder why any man would sleep armed in his own bridal chamber.
Writer Comments; Unlike usual, I’ve summarized the whole chapter instead of scene by scene. This chapter is a bit different in that it’s composed over several short scenes that span an extended period of time. Handling each individually would have resulted in an excessively long post. But we can begin with the structure of these scenes as they relate to each other first.
The chapter has eight scene breaks. Eight is a lot for one chapter. However, the setting does not change, and the time changes only by a few hours. So why structure the chapter like this? In actuality, all these scene breaks create the same effect as a series of quick successive fades in a movie or TV show; they represent the passage of time without getting bogged down in tedium. Claire and Jamie spend many hours work up the courage to sleep together, then enjoying the experience of exploring a new lover. These are not moments to be drawn out in endless detail. If Gabaldon had chosen to do so, they chapter would have gotten tedious.
Additionally, Gabaldon uses another trick to avoid tedium. When it comes to actual sex, she doesn’t linger over every detail. Books that do this have their own genre and subgenres. Most books, however, need to follow the general rule that if it doesn’t specifically add to the plot, cut it. Gabaldon gives just enough information to let readers know how Claire and Jamie relate to each other in bed, to indicate Claire enjoys it, and to reveal Jamie’s eagerness to be a good lover, even if he is a bit clumsy at first. Yes, some of the details get a bit racy, but Gabaldon does just as much with implication as she does through flat out description. All actions, including sex should serve a purpose in the plot and impact the characters.
Now, let’s take a step back from that element. Take a look at the chapter’s title, Revelations of the Bridal Chamber. This is a great example of a chapter title done well. As soon as I read it, I immediately started theorizing about what would happen. A chapter title should make readers wonder, and this is a perfect example. I immediately started guessing what would be revealed. I suspected Claire would tell Jamie about traveling through time, but no such luck. It’s probably better that way because, otherwise, that element would be resolved too quickly. Gabaldon deftly extends that conflict.
Additionally in this chapter, Gabaldon plays into the fantasies of her female readers. Jamie immediately proves himself a sensitive, considerate, strong, wonderful husband. He doesn’t know everything, but he’s eager to learn and puts Claire’s protection and comfort first. What woman wouldn’t want him? As much as I warn against Mary Sue characters, even I understand the appeal in this. However, this sort of thing in common in other genres. There’s a reason some fantasy books go into intimate detail about weapons, battle, and magic. The readers want to see and experience such things. In any genre that has a heavy romance element, readers tend to want to see a hero they can drool over and imagine about, and that goes beyond the physical.
As a whole, the chapter is fairly lacking in external conflict. It’s a sweet series of scenes. But Gabaldon, like any good writer, understands that this won’t drive readers onward for the long run. Instead, Gabaldon introduces a hint of something far more sinister than what the chapter mostly implies. First she gives us Claire’s nightmare, then she provides the implication of a threat so strong even Jamie has to sleep armed and paranoid on his honeymoon.
Thank you for joining me for this chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next week. Until then, swing back by for further forays into books, the speculative, and life.
Have a happy Thanksgiving!