Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at what works in a great story.
Chapter 14: A Marriage Takes Place
Summary: Claire wakes from her drunken stupor to find herself tucked into bed under a warm quilt. But the alcohol still rages in her and she passes out again.
She wakes another time to one of Dougal’s men grunting in disapproval, then passes out again.
Next, she wakes to the innkeeper’s wife coming to tidy her up for her wedding. This time, she has to get out of bed. She reluctantly allows the woman to do her hair and dress her up. But when the woman leaves, she passes out again.
Finally, she wakes to the scent of a bower of flowers and the presence of a small crowd in her room. The time has finally, dreadfully come for her wedding to Jamie. They dress her in a borrowed silk gown and slippers and escort her down. Dougal keeps a hold on her to prevent her fleeing for freedom, but Jamie seems conspicuously absent.
At last, Jamie bursts in, dressed in full formal Scottish regalia, complete with his own family’s tartan and kilt. Dougal berates him for wearing it, for it will instantly identify Jamie as the man with a price on his head. Jamie then pulls out a pearl necklace and gives it to Claire, a necklace that once belonged to his mother.
Writer Comments: This scene is full of comedy. Let’s look at a few examples.
First, Claire passing out time after time. It’s so ridiculous that it becomes humorous. Gabaldon has each incident occur quickly on the page, one right after the other, and this keeps the thread of the joke going so it can be appreciated. All the times Claire falls back into her stupor occur in just over a page.
Gabaldon also utilizes the technique of placing two incongruent images together to create comedy. Claire is adorned for her wedding, yet she treats it as though she’s going to her death.
“We who are about to die,” I said to my reflection, sketching a salute in the glass. I collapsed on the bed, placed a wet cloth over my face, and went back to sleep. -- page 189
Even Claire treats the occasion with theatrical solemnity, going so far as to place a figurative shroud over her own face. This merely adds to the incongruity, a shroud rather than a veil, and stretches the humor to greater heights.
Lastly, Jamie, who always has a subtle appreciation for humor and mischief, caps off the whole scene with his interaction with Dougal and Claire. When Dougal finally manages words of horror at his nephew’s appearance, specifically the tartan he’s wearing, he says:
“Are ye mad, man,” he said at last. “What if someone’s to see ye!”
Jamie cocked a sardonic eyebrow at the older man. “Why, uncle,” he said. “Insults? And on my wedding day too. You wouldna have me shame my wife, now, would ye? Besides,” he added, with a malicious gleam, “I hardly think it would be legal, did I not marry in my own name. And you do want it legal, now, don’t you?”
With an apparent effort, Dougal recovered his self-possession. “If ye’re quite finished, Jamie, we’ll get on wi’ it,” he said.
But Jamie was not quite finished, it seemed. Ignoring Dougal’s fuming, he drew a short string of white beads from his sporran. He stepped forward and fastened the necklace around my neck. Looking down, I could see it was a string of small baroque pearls, those irregularly shaped productions of freshwater mussels, interspersed with tiny pierce-worked gold roundels. Smaller pearls dangled from the gold beads.
“They’re only Scotch pearls,” he said, apologetically, “but they look bonny on you.” His fingers lingered a moment on my neck.
“Those were your mother’s pearls!” said Dougal, glowering at the necklace.
“Aye,” said Jamie calmly, “and now they’re my wife’s. Shall we go?” -- page 191
Seeing others in consternation is a common form of humor, especially when those others deserve it as Dougal does here. Plus, we get the added pleasure of seeing Jamie turn things around on his uncle.
Humor does not have to be blatant or dripping from every word. However, it should flow smoothly from the work and fit seamlessly into the story. Sometimes, all it takes is a small touch to take something into the realm of the comedy.
Summary: On horseback, then on foot, Claire is escorted to her wedding. Dougal and Jamie keep on either side of her, preventing any escape.
However, when she glimpses the chapel, she nearly has a panic attack then and there. The chapel in which she’s to marry Jamie is the exact same where she married Frank a few hundred years in the future.
But there’s no way out of it. They march her in, and all the men save Jamie disarm. The priest is clearly under some small compulsion to perform the ceremony and has apparently been bribed. But the whole wedding goes off without much difficulty, the ceremony fairly similar to the one where she married Frank.
At the end of it, however, to Claire’s shock, Dougal cuts both Jamie and her wrists, presses them together, binds them, then has them recite a vow in Gaelic. They’re released and escorted back out of the chapel, and at the bottom of the hill, Claire faints.
She wakes with her head in Jamie’s lap and reassures him that her swoon had nothing to do with him, but rather the fact that she hasn’t eaten in almost two days and is still suffering from a hangover.
Jamie explains the blood vow to her, thinking it might have contributed to her swoon. He also explains that, for it all to be legal, they still have to consummate the marriage.
Writer Comments: Not quite your typical romantic wedding, but it suits the moment. Jamie is considerate of Claire, which makes it easy to forgive the fact that he’s pushing her to wed. Jamie’s genuine concern for Claire is actually his most endearing trait.
But to the specifics of Gabaldon’s techniques in this scene.
Here, we learn Jamie’s actual name: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. As a reader, who, if you recall, looked up what Scottish clan used the motto Jamie quoted in a previous chapter, I can happily say “WOOT! I was right about Fraser.” Readers like to feel like they’re smart, so when an author lets us feel that way without pandering us, it adds to the enjoyment of a story. Gabaldon gives a clue to Jamie’s real name chapters before, and here, she provides the payoff. Payoffs are very important in stories. Readers must feel the confusion, suffering, and/or turmoil are worth it.
Additionally, I suspect Gabaldon is setting something else up with the pagan blood vow Jamie and Claire swear. Translated into English, it goes like this:
“Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone.I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.I give ye my Spirit, ‘til our Life shall be Done.” -- page 195
This is entirely conjecture on my part as a reader. I wonder if the man Frank saw in the first chapter, the Scot in full regalia that seemed like a ghost, was actually Jamie somehow brought forward into the future, or perhaps a true ghost still linked to Claire as her life is not done. I wonder if this vow is what drew Claire to this particular time and place. After all, in the convoluted logic of time travel, Claire was already married to Jamie before they met, and she isn’t married to Frank yet when she marries Jamie in this scene. That’s looking at it from a linear chronological perspective. But time travel, especially in this case, is more cyclical. Where is the true beginning? Is it with Jamie back in the past or in 1945 Scotland? Who was Claire married to first, Frank or Jamie? Is there even a beginning? Has she, in some sense, been married to both men all along, even if she didn’t know it? These sorts of questions and conjectures make a story more interesting. A reader should be able to pleasurably theorize about a story as they read. Doing this increases their investment.
Further, Gabaldon throws another rock at Claire in this scene by having her wed Jamie in the same chapel where she wed Frank. Perhaps it borders on the unlikely, but it does strike an emotional blow to Claire. Besides, it’s the sort of thing that’s so unbelievable it fits. Writers must constantly find ways to make their protagonists’ lives more difficult. Sometimes, those ways don’t have to be big or complex. Sometimes, they can be as simple but emotionally distressing as this.
Now, take a look at the post marriage vow kiss. There truly is an art to writing good kisses. Look at how Gabaldon manages it:
More mumbling from the priest, and Jamie bent to kiss me. It was clear that he intended only a brief and ceremonial touching of lips, but his mouth was soft and warm and I moved instinctively toward him. I was vaguely conscious of noises, Scottish whoops of enthusiasm and encouragement from the spectators, but really noticed nothing beyond the enfolding warm solidness. Sanctuary. -- page 194
Sometimes, kisses are full of passion, tears, joy, or any number of other things. An author must capture that emotion in the description of the kiss and the surrounding details. Claire feels neither passion, nor joy, nor sorrow. Rather, she’s frightened and horrified at her circumstances. But through the whole book, the one person she’s felt comfortable around, the one person who has in fact always been there for her, is Jamie. Here, in their first kiss, she realizes on some level that he is her shelter in the tumultuous direction her life has taken. This realization is captured in how she thinks of the kiss and the details Gabaldon elects to incorporate: softness, warmth, solidness, and sanctuary. Claire instinctively moving into the kiss indicates how desperately she wants and needs these things.
Lastly, I’d like to take a look at this consummation thing. Having researched medieval marriage law in the past, I know that, during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church established a set of criteria to make marriage legal. They’d had a problem with young couples resorting to pagan rituals or men promising marriage to young girls then ditching them. Sometimes, they even had problems with kings ditching their queens because they had become inconvenient. These laws continued past the Middle Ages and included this bit about consummation. So, while Gabaldon is historically accurate in this element, the advantage for writers, especially romance writers, is that it wonderfully complicates the lives of characters. The technical requirements of marriage law have long been a source of inspiration for authors and a point of conflict for hapless fictional characters.
If you look, you can find all sorts of useful facts in history to make characters’ lives oh so wonderfully complicated and difficult. Sometimes those historical details can solve plot problems. We don’t always have to look to our muses for inspiration.