Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we take a look at the techniques Gabaldon uses to tell her bestselling story.
Chapter 22: Reckonings
Summary: After the rescue, Jamie and the rest take Claire to Doonesbury, a coach stop with an inn on the path of their flight from Randall. No one will talk to Claire, and after eating supper in chilly silence, she’s more than happy to go up to bed with Jamie. However, when they reach their room, Jamie takes off his belt as promised.
The prospect of getting beaten horrifies Claire. But Jamie insists it’s a lighter sentence than what a man would receive. Had a man done what she did, disobeying orders and endangering everyone, he would get his ears cropped, be flogged, or possibly killed. It’s justice he intends to make her bear, but it’s far from just in her perspective.
She resists, but he finally talks her into taking the first strike. Then she fights and he holds her down and finishes.
That whole night, she doesn’t sleep. She’s too pained from the whipping and too furious at Jamie for giving it to her. Too, though, she realizes that she hadn’t taken this time period seriously, treating it more like an elaborate play than an environment that was real. Too, compared to the horrors of World War II, the sight of a handful of men butchering each other hardly made a dent on her psyche.
The next morning, she’s still furious with Jamie and bites him. At breakfast, the other men start talking to her again, playfully teasing her, and gently chastising Jamie for half-killing her the previous night. A lighter sentence might have done, but they still insist on riding on. One gives her the mercy of a cloak to pad her saddle, and the men frequently make excuses to stop and give her a break as they flee into the night.
Eventually, though, Claire can’t stand to ride any farther. She invents the excuse that her horse got a stone in its hoof, that she pulled the stone out but better walk the animal for a while. Dougal allows this so long as someone stays with her, a chore Jamie volunteers for.
Walking is painful at first, but after a bit, her body starts to relax. Jamie walks beside her and tells her of times when he’d been beaten for various bits of mischief. Claire can’t help but laugh at his tales, and after a while, she finds herself starting to forgive him.
Too, he tells her what truly lies between him and Randall and of his father’s death. Not only did Randall rape Jamie’s sister, he propositioned Jamie in exchange for offering to drop Jamie’s second flogging. Jamie refused, thinking of what his father would say. (His father had come to Fort William to try and help Jamie, and Jamie saw him then for the last time, just before he went into Randall’s office and heard the captain’s offer.) Jamie so feared that his terror of getting flogged again might overwhelm him and cause him to change his mind about accepting Randall’s proposition, that he refused with as much name calling and foul remarks as he could think of. Randall is naturally infuriated and takes out his rage on Jamie during the next flogging. At one point, everyone thought Jamie had died during the second beating, and at that moment, Jamie’s father, who was watching, had a stroke and died. Jamie wonders whether his father would have lived had he taken Randall up on his offer rather than suffering the second lashing.
This naturally stirs Claire’s sympathies so that, by the time dawn draws near, she’s feeling much more inclined toward him. He asks if she understands why he felt like he had to beat her. She says she forgives him for that, but she cannot forgive the fact that he enjoyed it.
He laughs a long time at that and confesses that he did indeed enjoy it, but she ought to be grateful he used restraint in not “rogering” her afterwards and instead chose to sleep on the floor. She becomes even more enraged at him.
After a while, Jamie confesses that he now regrets bringing the whole topic up, that what he was really trying to get at was to ask her if she’ll allow him back into her bed now. She takes her time about answering and at last says:
“Will you do me the honor of sharing my bed, O lord and master,” I asked politely.
Obviously suspecting something, he considered a moment, then nodded, just as formally. “I will. Thank you.” He was raising the reins to go when I stopped him.
“There’s just one more thing, master,” I said, still polite.
I whipped my hand from the concealed pocket in my skirt, and the dawn light struck sparks from the blade of the dagger pressed against his chest.
“If,” I said through my teeth, “you ever raise a hand to me again, Jamie Fraser, I’ll cut out your heart and fry it for breakfast!”
There was a long silence, broken only by the shiftings and creakings of horses and harness. Then he held out his hand, palm up.
“Give it to me.” When I hesitated, he said impatiently, “I’m no going to use it on ye. Give it to me!”
He held the dirk by the blade, upright so that the rising sun caught the moonstone in the hilt and made it glow. Holding the dagger like a crucifix, he recited something in Gaelic. I recognized it from the oath-taking ceremony in Colum’s hall, but he followed it with the English translation for my benefit.
“I swear on the cross of my Lord Jesus, and by the holy iron which I hold, that I give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty. If ever my hand is raised against you in rebellion or in anger, then I ask that this holy iron may pierce my heart.” He kissed the dirk at the junction of haft and tang, and handed it back to me.
“I don’t make idle threats, Sassenach,” he said, raising one brow, “and I don’t take frivolous vows. Now, can we go to bed?” -- pages 304-305
Writer’s Comments: Normally, I’d break up my summary of a chapter into sections and give comments along the way. This time, however, I put it all together, though the chapter is lengthier than most, because it all deals closely with the same themes and issues.
This chapter comes head to head with the differences between modern mores and premodern. To Claire and to Gabaldon’s readers, the very concept of Jamie taking his belt to Claire is abominable. However, to Jamie and the men and women of his time period, it was the norm.
One major challenge of writing historical fiction of any type is portraying the different mindset of the time without diluting them with modern philosophies and beliefs. Those authors that ignore such things do not do the history or the people justice. Those that give such characters modern perspectives despite the culture of their age aren’t being honest with themselves or readers. Gabaldon handles the issue maturely because she acknowledges its existence and gives Jamie a reasonable perspective on beating his wife given the time he lives in. True to Jamie’s character, he is sympathetic to the fact that Claire hurts and doesn’t like causing her pain, but he genuinely believes she needs a lesson to make what she did sink in and to mollify those she wronged by endangering their lives needlessly and selfishly. He approaches the matter with consideration for her, but neither does he yield. Yet, as readers, we have Claire to sympathize with and whose perspective through which we can view the whole ordeal.
At the same time, Gabaldon does not paint Claire as the one and only wronged party. She is honest with us and has Claire acknowledge some of her own fault. Truthfully, Claire did endanger the others and gave little thought toward the repercussions of her actions. Too, she hadn’t taken the lives of those around her very seriously. She hadn’t considered that, while the events and loyalties of the men around her are little more than remembered history lessons from school, to the MacKenzies and Jamie, they are very real and personal.
All this is dangerously precarious to write. Gabaldon could easily offend some readers if she tilts one way or other readers if she tilts another. But she manages, as I believe all good writers should, by approaching the subject with as honest a perspective toward her characters and time period as she could.