Welcome to this week’s read of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Last week, we began looking at chapter 24 to discover what works to help make this a successful story. However, as chapter 24 is over 50 pages long, we’re taking it in parts.
Chapter 24: By the Pricking of My Thumbs
Summary: Claire manages to sleep well despite the ill omen left under her pillow. She and Jamie greet the morning with lovemaking, and Claire playfully threatens to wound Jamie so he can skip work in the stables to stay in bed.
For much of the rest of the day, Claire works to refill supplies in the surgery and realizes, much to her shock and horror, that she’s actually quite content. Despite all her troubles, uncertainty, and the fact that a part of her still misses Frank, she’s essentially happy. This seems a great guilt and betrayal to her. How dare she feel this way when Frank must be frantic with worry for her?
Jamie comes in in the midst of these contemplations with a strained ankle from falling off a horse he was trying to break. She patches him up, and Old Alec the stable master insists Jamie’s to rest the next day.
Despite his orders to rest, Jamie persuades Claire to join him on the roof the next day and see the beauty of the loch and lands from there. He points out where Lollybroch, his real home lies through a certain pass. Now that they’re wed, he realizes he must soon return, even for only a little while to set things in order. But as the Duke of Sandringham is coming and might be able to help pardon him, he determines to wait a little longer. Claire insists he must not trust Sandringham.
They go down to the garden after. On the other side of the garden wall, Father Bain, the priest from the village runs by while being chased by wild dogs. Jamie saves him, and Claire offers to clean and bandage his wounds. Bain leaps up and chastises her for such an indecent suggestion. He storms off despite her warning that, if he doesn’t let her tend his wounds, they will fester.
Writer Comments: Why do I have the feeling that Father Bain is going to accuse Claire of witchcraft, that his wounds will fester and he’ll blame that on her sending a curse on him?
My speculating such is encouraged by the chapter’s title, By the Pricking of My Thumbs, and the fact that a woman being associated with witchcraft has already come up in the chapter in reference to Mrs. Duncan. Too, Claire has already had one thumb pricked. I wonder if this will be seen as a witch’s sign. As an author, Gabaldon uses carefully worded clues to set up events for the reader. No character change or event, particularly significant ones, should occur without proper preparation, and that means hinting to the reader about the direction the author intends to take the story in.
Summary: That afternoon while Jamie naps, Claire returns to the surgery to finish her work. Alec comes in hurting from rheumatism made worse by the damp. Claire gives him whisky and a deep massage to help with the pain. While she administers this, Alec tells her about Ellen MacKenzie, Jamie’s mother, and how she ran off with Brian Fraser, Jamie’s father.
Ellen was prone to willfulness. She offended the chief of Grant when he wanted to marry her, then slipped off in secret with Brian. They hid in a crofter’s cottage until she was undeniably pregnant, thinking Colum would then have no choice but to bless their union. She miscalculated somewhat, however. Dougal came and tried to slit Brian’s throat, but Ellen cut Dougal to stop him. Eventually though, an agreement was reached between the MacKenzies and the Frasers, and the two were officially wed a week before the child was born.
At the end of his tale, Alec drifts off to sleep. Claire leaves him to his rest and tiptoes away.
Writer Comments: Agent Donal Maass recommends not giving backstory until the second half of a novel. Here, we’re about midway through Outlander. We’ve had some backstory, particularly referring to Jamie and Randall’s history, but such was necessary to understand the conflicts in the beginning of the book. The sort of backstory with Ellen and Brian, however, is a different animal altogether. The events of this backstory do not greatly impact the immediate story. They might have been tedious if placed earlier in the book. Here though, they’re interesting because we already have so much invested in Jamie and his family. Reader investment, particularly emotional investment, makes them far more willing to tolerate blocks of backstory.
As I read this scene, I half expected Father Bain to show up while Claire massaged Alec. I pictured him shrieking that Claire was leading men like Alec astray and that proved her evil nature. This didn’t happen, but because of the small references to witchcraft earlier, Gabaldon has me wary, and this creates more tension. Sometimes, tension comes from author implication rather than outright story event.