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Monday, January 5, 2015

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: Read, Chapter 21

Welcome back to this read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, where we examine what techniques are used to make this book a success.



Chapter 21: Une Mauvais Quart d’Heure After Another

Summary: While waiting for Randall in his office, Claire does her best to wreak havoc. She writes rude words, overturns sand over his spare wig, and drips as much muck as she can manage onto his nice, thick carpet. She knows there’s no hope for her. Jamie and the others could not possibly know she’s at Fort William, so no one will rescue her. She decides instead to go down as brazenly as possible.

Randall finally arrives with a horse whip in hand and clearly tempted to use it on her for the mess she made of his office, but he’s not allowed to whip women, at least not for the offenses Claire has committed. Instead, he tries to intimidate her into speaking with the threat that he intends to send her to Edinburgh to the Tolbooth, a prison so awful that its inhabitants rarely survive long enough to reach trial.

Claire pulls out the one, tiny hope she has of getting the upper hand with Randall. She alludes to the Duke of Sandringham, a name she only vaguely remembers being associated with Randall’s. The reference so startles Randall that he spills his tea all over his fine carpet.

But it’s not enough to save her. Despite his initial shock, Randall refuses to believe she’s working for Sandringham and threatens her at knifepoint that she will reveal everything she knows about the duke. When she remains silent, he tries to rape her. Knowing it’s probably pointless, she screams and struggles, stopping when she realizes that her screaming makes Randall enjoy it more.

Then Jamie comes through the window, pistol pointed at Randall, and demands Claire’s release. Randall puts the knife to Claire’s throat and informs Jamie that he’ll drop the pistol or he’ll become a widower. Jamie drops the pistol, Randall picks it up and aims it at him, then continues on with trying to rape Claire.

Then to Claire’s horror, Jamie lunges at Randall, pistol and all. Randall shoots and nothing happens. The pistol is empty. Jamie knocks Randall out and whisks Claire out of the fort while his accomplices blow up a building on the other side.

Writer Comments: This is certainly a enjoyable scene. It’s full of tension, witty dialogue, humor, and heroism. But the scene’s strongest quality is Claire’s spunk. Few heroines would have the nerve to make a mess of the office of the man about to torture them. Fewer heroines could do so with such perfect poise and calculated mischief.

Then there’s Claire’s witty banter as Randall interrogates her. Here are a few examples:

“I am afraid I must still insist on the name of your employer. If you have indeed parted company with the MacKenzies, the most likely supposition is that you’re a French agent. But whose?”
He stared at me intently like a snake hoping to fascinate a bird. By now I had had enough claret to fill part of the hollow space inside me, though, and I stared back.
“Oh,” I said, elaborately polite, “I’m included in this conversation, am I? I thought you were doing quite well by yourself. Pray continue.” -- pages 272-273

Later, after already sipping claret, Randall has tea brought, to which Claire gives him further grief:

The tension was slightly relieved by the entrance of an orderly, bearing a tray of tea things. Still silent, Randall poured out and offered me a cup. We sipped some more.
“Don’t tell me,” I said finally. ‘“Let me guess. It’s a new form of persuasion you’ve invented--torture by bladder. You ply me with drinkables until I promise to tell you anything in exchange for five minutes with a chamber pot.” -- page 273

This last quote comes right after Randall informs Claire that he intends to send her to Tolbooth:

“Just as you like,” I said calmly. “What do you suppose the Duke of Sandringham will have to say about it?” 
He upset the hot tea on his doeskin lap and made several very gratifying noises.
“Tsk,” I said, reprovingly. 
He subsided, glaring. The teacup lay on its side, its brown contents soaking into the pale green carpet, but he made no move toward the bellpull. A small muscle jumped in the side of his neck.
I had already found the pile of starched handkerchiefs in the upper left-hand drawer of the desk. alongside an enameled snuffbox. I pulled one out and handed it to him.
“I do hope it doesn’t stain,” I said sweetly. -- page 275

Such things are the stuff we average humans dream of saying and doing, but rarely have the nerve to manage. Such are heroic qualities and make Claire and the story all the more enjoyable.

Summary: The MacKenzies make a run for it with Claire to Mackintosh lands as they’re the closest where they might have a chance of escaping Randall and his men. But Jamie is outright rigid and standoffish to Claire, a fact that’s far from helpful as the shock of what happened is sinking in and making Claire shaky and upset. She accuses him of sulking, and he takes her off the side of the road and motions Dougal and the others to go on without them.

He yanks Claire off their horse, shakes her, and the two start yelling at each other. They say a lot of things to each other, fueled on fury and fear. Insults and accusations of disobedience and who’s to blame, also hints of deeper emotional wounds, like how used Claire feels and how Jamie still can’t completely trust her, are tossed with abandon, though with far less kindness and far more poison. Claire accuses Jamie of being more concerned with his pride than with her or her feelings.

Then he, he says:

“You saw the post in the yard of the fort?” I nodded shortly.
“Well, I was tied to that post, tied like an animal, and whipped ‘til my blood ran! I’ll carry the scars from it ‘til the day I die. If I’d not been lucky as the devil this afternoon, that’s the least as would have happened to me. Likely they would have flogged me, then hanged me.” He swallowed hard, then went on.
“I knew that, and I didna hesitate for one second to go into that place after you, even thinking that Dougal might be right! Do ye know where I got the pistol I used?” I shook my head numbly, my own anger beginning to fade. “I killed a guard near the wall. He fired at me; that’s why it was empty. He missed and I killed him wi’ my dirk; left it sticking in his wishbone when I heard you cry out. I would have killed a dozen men to get to you, Claire.” His voice cracked.
“And when you screamed, I went to you, armed wi’ nothing but an empty pistol and my two hands.” Jamie was speaking a little more calmly now, but his eyes were still wild with pain and rage. I was silent. Unsettled by the horror of my encounter with Randall, I had not at all appreciated the desperate courage it had taken him to come into the fort after me.
He turned away, shoulders slumping.
“You’re right,” he said quietly. “Aye, you’re quite right.” Suddenly the rage was gone from his voice, replaced by a note I had never heard in him before, even in the extremities of physical pain.
“My pride is hurt. And my pride is about all I’ve got left to me.” -- page 282-283

With this confession and Claire’s realization of what Jamie risked for her, coupled with her own realization that she was more upset than she’d realized, the two apologize and forgive each other. But forgiveness cannot erase the words that were spoken before or the things they suggest or wounds they leave behind.

Writer Commentary: First off, take note of the fact that, while Gabaldon has once more rescued Claire from Randall, she’s set up a new conflict between Claire and Jamie, one that will undoubtedly require more than a quick and flashy rescue to resolve. She closes the chapter with the pain of this tension and the separation it creates between Claire and Jamie. As readers, the need to see that separation healed pulls us into the story deeper.

Lastly, take a look at how Gabaldon handles with argument between Claire and Jamie. As an author, Gabaldon reveals Claire’s thoughts fairly frequently as they occur, but she isn’t one to explain and tell how Claire feels about thing, at least not often. Rather, she relies on Claire’s action and tone to indicate Claire’s emotions.

In this instance, Claire and Jamie’s emotions, both of which are complex and layered by this point, spill over into a full out fight between the two. It’s messy. It’s brutal. It’s very, very human, and therein lies its power. Claire becomes aware of her emotions as they occur and as we readers see their impact. This gives the scene more immediate force and impact.

But Gabaldon doesn’t stop there. She also brings the argument to a reasonable, believable conclusion. Though Claire and Jamie may not have admitted it to themselves, they’re falling for each other. They both care deeply about the other and are good people. This allows them, especially Jamie, to admit fault and try to make amends. It allows Claire to be open to this and to acknowledge Jamie’s efforts on her behalf. They want resolution, so they’re willing to grasp it when their initial buildup of emotion is released.

Further, Gabaldon takes into account the fact that Claire has been through trauma, and this trauma influences how she reacts to Jamie and what she says. Even Claire comprehends that, in a calmer, more rational state of mind, she would not dare think of some things the way she does now. Jamie too is wound up from a series of emotional strains that explode in this scene. Together, the result is a satisfying fireworks show of tempers and, ultimately, affection.

Thank you for joining me for this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. We’ll resume this read next week. Until then, swing back by on Friday for further forays into fiction, the speculative, and life.

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