Welcome to this week’s chapter of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. Here, we explore what makes this bestselling book work.
Chapter 26: The Laird’s Return
Summary: Having decided to stay in the past, Claire rides with Jamie to Lallybroch, the home he left when Randall took him into custody and raped his sister. Near to Lallybroch, they meet a man on the road who knows Jamie. The man’s stare reminds Claire how abominable they look, dirty and clothes torn and worn, hardly the lord and lady they’re supposed to be. But the man finally recognizes Jamie and welcomes him back.
Writer Comments: Claire has a habit of getting dirty and beaten up. One of Gabaldon’s admirable traits is that she’s not afraid to mention the grittier elements of life. This helps make the story feel more real. After all, despite Hollywood portrayals, the heroine’s hairdo certainly shouldn’t remain intact after her struggles with the villain or his minions.
Further in the scene, Gabaldon foreshadows Jamie’s coming to Lallybroch. We don’t yet know exactly what reception he’ll have, but the mere fact that this man welcomes him gives an upbeat, hopeful air to the return.
Summary: At last, they reach Lallybroch. Unlike Leoch with Colum, there’s no grand welcome. No one rushes out to take the horse. Only the dogs come bounding to greet Jamie, and even they are initially uncertain. He soon makes friends with them again, and they bound all over him.
Jamie takes Claire into the house, much to the astonishment of the serving staff. In a room deep inside, he comes upon his sister Jenny, who is blatantly pregnant. Jamie is horrified and shamed at the mere idea that she’s whoring herself out. It was bad enough that she yielded to Randall. Their meeting grows even more tense when Jenny introduces her young son, who she’s named after Jamie. At that point, nothing can stop the explosive fight that erupts between the siblings over shame and honor and accusations.
Claire, feeling quite uncomfortable, quietly slips out to let the artillery land where it may. She waits outside, hearing frequent yelled words and insults. Men come in from the fields, among them, Ian Murray, Jenny’s husband. He’s quite friendly and has sense enough to shrug off the argument as typical Fraser tempers.
After a while, though, Ian accompanies Claire inside where Jamie and Jenny are still arguing. Ian takes little Jamie in with him and interrupts the quarrel with all politeness and self-assuredness. Jenny points out that little Jamie wasn’t even conceived until six months after the incident with Randall and that, for all his talk, Randall didn’t successfully rape her. Further, she defies Jamie to think badly of her for being willing to sacrifice for him.
Though tempers are still short, Jamie calms down enough to listen. Jenny also demands to see his back and chases him down until he reluctantly removes his shirt to show her the scars from being whipped. She becomes for tender with him then, asking if it hurt and if he cried. Jamie confesses that he did cry, and she tells him she did too, every day since he vanished. This confession goes a long way toward bringing peace between them, and Jamie and Jenny embrace as reunited siblings.
Writer Comments: I must say that I really like Jenny. She’s got lots of fire, a scathing tongue, and while she may fit plenty of stereotypes, she’s just plain fun.
Specific to this scene, despite the wonderfulness of returning home to people who love him, Jamie’s homecoming isn’t one of sweet bliss. Gabaldon understands that she had to keep the tension up to maintain reader interest. She’s just resolved, or seems to have resolved, several plot points: Claire choosing to stay with Jamie rather than return to her own time, Jamie returning to Lallybroch, them escaping Colum for the moment, and Claire escaping being burned as a witch. This could easily be the recipe for the climax of the book. However, it isn’t. It’s a little more than halfway through. Gabaldon then has to push in more conflict, which she manages here by having the fight between Jamie and Jenny. No matter what, tension should always be maintained throughout the story.