Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we’ll enjoy a great read and break down the story for writing insights.
Due to some issues with my website where I keep the table of contents to my blog book reads, I don’t have accessible easy links this week.
Chapter 13: A Marriage Is Announced
Summary: Claire is shaken by Captain Randall’s attack. More than the physical shock, she can’t help but be haunted by the look in Randall’s eyes and the fact that Randall looks eerily like her husband.
She waits downstairs in the inn while Dougal marches up to yell at Randall. When he comes back down, he whisks Claire away and takes her to a saint’s pool deep in the woods. There, the water is dark and tastes of sulphur, but Claire is so thirsty she drinks it. Then Dougal tells her of how Randall had Jamie beaten.
The first time was for trying to escape, but Randall was occupied with other business and missed it. This displeased him, so he thoroughly investigated the escape and accused Jamie of thievery as well as he had a little food on him when he made his bid for freedom. For William’s doctor insisted Jamie would die if Randall had him beaten a second time so soon, so Randall grudgingly agreed to postpone the punishment for a week. Then he did the deed himself, looking quite pleased, perhaps even enraptured, as he flayed Jamie that bitter cold October morning.
Claire asks why he’s telling her all this, and Dougal says he hopes to give her a character illustration of Jamie and Randall. Then he confesses that he’s orders to take her, as an English subject, to Fort William that Monday for questioning. Claire nearly faints on the spot in horror.
However, Dougal has one possible way out of it. If she’s not an English subject, but a Scot, Randall cannot compel her to come for questioning without convincing evidence. Therefore, he proposes she marry a Scot to escape Randall. Jamie specifically. She refuses flat out, and Dougal suggests Rupert as an alternative, though he’s quite a bit older. Still, Claire refuses.
Then it occurs to her that Dougal now believes she isn’t an English spy, and she asks why. He confesses that she drank the water from the pool without him even asking her too. If someone drinks the water and lies, his gizzard will be burned out.
Writer Comments: When I read this chapter’s title, I had a notion it would result in her and Jamie getting together. However, I wasn’t sure how. This way is certainly interesting.
Normally, the romantic leads hooking up before the conclusion of a story is a bad thing. It tends to rob a tale of tension. However, I don’t suspect this will be much of an issue with Outlander. Gabaldon has set up enough problems that Claire marrying will only complicate to ensure tension stays high. First, Claire is technically already married to Frank Randall, though in this time, it’s centuries before his birth. Second, getting married will only make trying to return to her present that much more complicated. And third, I have a suspicion that Jamie is going to have far greater success getting her pregnant than Frank did. A child, or the potential for one, will pull her in even more agonizing directions.
Summary: Later that day, Claire paces her room, desperately trying to think of another way to escape Randall without marrying. Nothing comes to mind. Then Dougal, Rupert, and Ned Gowan enter with the marriage contract and insist she sign it. Claire demands to speak to Jamie first.
Jamie comes to her bewildered, but already aware of Dougal’s wishes for them to marry. She tries everything she can think of that he might have an objection to, that he’s promised to another, that he likes someone else, and finally that she isn’t a virgin. Jamie answers that he hasn’t a problem with that so long as she doesn’t have a problem that he is one. She gapes in shock, and he quickly leaves.
She goes downstairs and orders whisky. As she drinks, she hears Dougal and Jamie in the other room yelling at each other. Apparently, whatever ease Jamie feigned with her, he has his own objections to the match.
Then someone come up to her, disgusted that she’s drunk. Fuzzy and disconnected, she watches a fly drown in a puddle.
Writer Comments: Oh boy, I’m glad nobody is going into this arrangement happy. Gabaldon is clearly ensuring that as many obstacles as she can place before the marriage will be set up. Claire is clearly against it, and Jamie knows that now. Jamie is apparently against it, and Claire knows that now. Claire’s so upset about it all, she gets wasted, and what message will that send to Jamie? Even though marriage is supposed to be a good thing, Gabaldon is using it to create further conflict, which makes the story more interesting.
Additionally, in this final scene, she uses a metaphor, the fly trying to avoid drowning, to give greater depth to Claire’s plight.
Once the searing effect of swallowing the stuff had passed, it did induce a certain spurious calmness. I felt detached, noticing details of my surroundings with a peculiar intensity: the small stained-glass insert over the bar, casting colored shadows over the ruffianly proprietor and his wares, the curve of the handle on a copper-bottomed dipper that hung next to me, a green-bellied fly struggling on the edges of a sticky puddle on the table. With a certain amount of fellow-feeling, I nudged it out of danger with the edge of my glass. -- page 186
Here, the fly represents Claire, and the puddle represents marriage to Jamie. Gabaldon casts them both as repulsive images. To compare, even in metaphor, marriage to a sticky puddle that can drown flies is far from flattering. To compare a woman, a heroine, as a green-bellied fly struggling against drowning is equally repugnant.
Yet the fly struggles, representing Claire’s desire to avoid the marriage. In the following paragraphs, she hears Jamie arguing with Dougal and silently cheers Jamie on, hoping the result will be an end to the idea of marriage.
But in the end, the metaphor continues to a darker fate.
The fly had found its way back to the puddle, and was floundering in the middle, hopelessly mired. The light from the stained-glass window fell on it, glittering like sparks on the straining green belly. My gaze fixed on the tiny green spot, which seemed to pulsate as the fly twitched and struggled.
“Brother . . . you haven’t a chance,” I said, and the spark went out. -- page 187
The fly’s death represents Claire’s fate sealed in marriage. Without stating it outright, Gabaldon tells her readers that Claire isn’t getting out of marrying Jamie. The metaphor conveys Claire’s emotions without stating them, which is far more powerful. Too, it digs a bit deeper. The stained-glass brings up images of church, where weddings are most commonly performed. Yet the weight of this particular light falls on a fly as it dies, certainly the most opposite image to joyous marriage.
The metaphor is apt, original, and powerful. Its power comes from the fact that it so contrasts the typical feeling of marriage, that it takes associations and twists them (sympathizing with a drowning fly, the beautiful shadows of stained-glass forming the draping of death on the cusp of a wedding), because Gabaldon chooses to utilize a metaphor at a moment full of intense emotion and change, and because she does not overuse metaphors. Like most things, metaphors are best used in moderation and with finesse.