I have been on hiatus from blogging for some time, mainly due to two factors. First, I launched a public anthropology podcast, Anthropologist on the Street (huzzah!), which has been a fabulous excuse to spend hours talking to brilliant, and often funny, anthropologists and to force them to explain in plain English why their work is important. It’s like free college, but with fewer exams and hangovers.
The second reason is because I recently discovered the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. Eight books and 7500 pages later, I popped my head up to observe that my children had outgrown all their clothes and had resorted to eating grass, as mommy hadn’t bought groceries because MOMMY WAS READING. After feeding the darlings and reenrolling them in school, I dragged my husband into watching the Starz series, which just completed its third season. He now roams the house saying things like, “I dinna ken, Sassanach” and planning a family trip to Scotland.
It’s a popularly circulating question among fans as to why we are so, well, fanatic. The books themselves are impossible to categorize. They are historical fiction, romance, natural history, mystery, and science fiction. The story begins [and yes, there are minor spoilers ahead] with a WWII English nurse, Claire, who is on a post-war vacation with her husband in the Highlands of Scotland, when she walks through a circle of standing stones and finds herself in 1743. Claire stumbles through the past, trying to survive encounters with British redcoats and their chilling blend of civilized barbarism, as well as encounters with the hierarchical, brutal, and yet somewhat more humane Scottish clans. Along the way she forms a deep romantic attachment with a young Laird, Jamie, whose character now stands as the perfect man in the imagination of millions of women (and many men).
The television series is as engaging and adventuresome as the book series, capturing most of the complexity, along with some of the best dialogue, of the novels. The exceptional replication of historical detail, along with the casting of two magnificent actors to play the lead characters of Claire and Jamie, has only stoked the fires of fans’ obsessions.
But why? It can’t all be about Sam Heughan’s ass (although that should be considered a national treasure). In The Outlandish Companion, author Diana Gabaldon relates that, “by far the most common element that people enjoy in the books is simply the characters—readers care for these people, are interested in them, and want to know more about them”. There is no doubt that Gabaldon is an epic storyteller, and her characters live and breathe in their kilts and corsets.
But stories have to connect to ongoing social and cultural elements to be germane, and Gabaldon excels at that like a trained anthropologist. So here is my take on why so many of us find the Outlander Series to be so darned relevant to us right now:
In a time when we are rewriting the politics of gender, traveling the world at the speed of Skype, and struggling to stay afloat in a world gone mad, the Outlander books give us more than food for thought, they give us a possible roadmap for our modern landscape.
ME TOO, CLAIRE, #METOO
From its first page, Outlander is a series about the modern woman in unmodern times. Starting in the 1940s, skipping back to the 1740s, and then jumping between the 1730s and 1980s, it’s about striving for respect while being pinched on the bottom and generally fearing for your life and safety. It’s about knowing more than anyone around you, but still bearing the role of perpetual minor, at the mercy of your husband’s or laird’s or father’s discipline.
In the sixth book, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, Claire meets another time traveler who approaches her after hearing her favorite disynchronous curse, but who said he recognized her as out of time well before her reference to a future American President.
“I shoulda known what you are…even before you said ‘Jesus H Roosevelt Christ.’”
“What the hell do you mean by that?” I snapped.
“…you don’t act afraid of men. Most of the women from now do. You oughta act more afraid.”
His advice, which surely would help Claire avoid (even more) assault and abuse, falls on deaf ears. She will not be less than she is, regardless of the consequences.
Claire and her daughter Brianna are strikingly talented in their chosen callings, but face the endless, often life-threatening, task of repeatedly proving themselves. Whether in 1770s North Carolina, 1950s Boston, or 1980s Scotland, the women doggedly display their competence, which often only stokes the rage of the men who seek to put them in their places. It’s the experience reflected in the lives of so many women politicians, police officers, actors, surgeons, and business leaders today. It’s the #metoo movement before Twitter was invented.
But the Outlander ladies are having none of it. And, importantly, neither are the men in their lives.
Which brings us to…
JAMIE * EMOJI WITH HEARTS FOR EYES * FRASER, THE KING OF MEN
The Producer of the Outlander television series, Ron Moore, has famously referred to the character of Jamie Fraser as the “King of Men”, and it’s no wonder why. He’s phenomenal. Tall, beautiful, heroic, relentlessly competent at hunting, farming, fighting, conversing in foreign languages like a native speaker, building houses with his bare hands and an axe, quoting authors from Ovid to John Donne by heart, swinging through the window of a well-defended English fort to rescue his wife from a sadistic redcoat—what Jamie can’t do isn’t worth doing. But all of that would leave me bored with its unrealism if he weren’t also empathetic, funny, emotionally aware, and flawed enough to make his relationship with Claire ever evolving.
The television series makes what I think is a grave error in trying to heighten the on-screen tension by, for example, having Jamie show resentment over Claire’s work in a hospital in Season 2. Not only is this tension absent in the books, but later in the series Jamie is concerned when they move to a remote location, worried that Claire won’t have enough interesting work to keep her happy.
The book is breathtakingly romantic, and Jamie is established early as the ultimate male lead, but Gabaldon rewrites the hero-rescues-maiden trope in an unexpected way. Jamie does rescue Claire. Over and over again. But Jamie doesn’t rescue her to defend her virtue (well, mostly. He’s 18th century Scots, so that’s a bit complicated). Mostly, though, he defends who she is.
Claire’s forthrightness, irreverent attitude, and general lack of subservience repeatedly gets her in trouble, and Jamie saves her (sometimes in heart-stoppingly dramatic ways). But Gabaldon does not write Jamie as saving Claire from a bad man just to restore her to the arms of a good one; rather, he is her ally, protecting her from the expectations and the reactions of society, even when he might wish she would conform a bit more for her own safety.
An example of this dynamic plays out through books 5 and 6 over Claire’s refusal to wear a cap, the symbol of modesty and a marker of older women’s respectability. When she is recovering from a terrible illness, a well-intentioned helper (and one who is constantly harassing Claire to for-heaven’s-sake-please-cover-your-head-decently) shaved Claire’s head. Claire is horrified by how it looks and Jamie tentatively asks her if she’d like to wear a cap. She stubbornly refuses to allow circumstance to dictate her decision not to wear one, and Jamie is visibly relieved, seeing it as a sign she is back to normal. He knows who she is, revels in it, sometimes regrets it, and will die to protect it.
Jamie has his work cut out for him, because Claire’s very existence challenges cultural gender norms no matter where she goes. Infuriating powerful men through her insistence to speak truth loudly and her refusal to cower, Claire becomes the target of violence by British soldiers, French aristocrats, and American settlers. And that’s the twist: the hero rescues the maiden, not because she can’t do it herself but because the weight of the misogynistic social structure is too much for her to bear alone.
It isn’t about women being the weaker sex, it’s about women being the more vulnerable sex.
CLAIRE, THE RELUCTANT ANTHROPOLOGIST
Perhaps one of the main reasons I find Claire’s journey so fascinating is because her wit and curiosity land her in the role of accidental anthropologist. I am amused, and not surprised, that her character was raised by an archaeologist uncle, who dragged her around the globe in the 1920s and 30s, exposing her to a multitude of cultures and living contexts.
As the narrator, Claire makes the strange familiar, taking us through the daily life of eighteenth century Scotland, France, West Indies, and America. So often when we read history it is written in a form that focuses on the Big Events of Big People, but Gabaldon’s work, while fictional, is also deeply ethnographic. She wrote in The Outlandish Companion that, after years of fan feedback, one element that stands out is that “Many of them enjoy the sense of ‘being there’; the vicarious experience of another place and time.” (She has done such a good job with this, along with the producers of the television series, that Scotland is currently being flooded with Outlander-inspired tourists.)
This is precisely what Clifford Geertz’s famously argued that anthropologists should convey when writing their ethnographic field experiences: a sense of “Being There”. Cultural Anthropologists frequently describe our job as exactly what Claire does—immersing ourselves in the strange until it becomes familiar, then translating that insider or “emic” perspective into an outsider’s “etic” perspective so that others can understand it, too.
Gabaldon excels at taking us through the most startling aspects of ethnography in a foreign place: What is the “smellscape” of this new place? What do you use for toilet paper? How do you accomplish basic hygiene? What do you eat when there are no Whole Foods? When women invite you to waulk wool with hot urine, what should you do? How do you avoid being burned as a witch when you literally have no idea what’s going on?
The flip side of ethnographic fieldwork is that it often leaves anthropologists questioning their own cultural practices. As Claire moves deeper into daily life, she begins seeing her familiar cultural norms through others’ eyes as strange at best. When visiting Paris, Claire is thrilled to wax her legs and armpits, saying “First time I’ve felt entirely clean in months”. The resulting conversation with a shocked, bewildered Jamie is thoroughly amusing, as it becomes clear to her that he is in turns horrified and offended at her explanations for why she would do such an unnatural thing. The tv series takes a lighter hand, with Claire going so far as to wax her pubic hair bare, and with Jamie finding it unusual but intriguing. But the book, Dragonfly in Amber, makes it clear that Jamie is thoroughly mid-culture shock, disgusted that (as he says) any woman would want to look like a “young lass”.
Claire even experiences that most common of ethnographers’ illnesses, reverse culture shock. Returning to the 20th century, she is overwhelmed by the noise, by the intrusive and somewhat unnecessary technologies, and by the isolation of nuclear family life.
But no matter where she is, Claire lives in the anthropologist’s world of simultaneously inside and outside the culture. She adjusts to the chaos and difference of each time and place, deeply empathizing with people she’s living among, while still never quite fitting in. Claire’s unusual cultural behaviors and unnerving powers of observation set her apart again and again—as the witch, la Dame Blanche, the Outlander, the auld one, the anthropologist.
REBEL, REBEL, YOU TORE YOUR SHIFT
Being there is amazing, but why do we want to stay? The same reason we were Princess Leia for Halloween three years in a row: everyone loves a righteous fight against an evil empire. Despite Claire’s English heritage (which marks her from the start as an outsider, and therefore deeply suspicious, in Highland Scotland), at heart she is a nomadic ex-pat. She comes to sympathize with the Jacobites, struggling against the vicious unjust persecution of the British army.
Because of these attachments, Claire becomes invested in changing history, to save old Scotland from its inevitable destruction by any means possible. Later, as the stories progress through time and place, her role returns again and again to anti-imperialism, humanism, justice—regardless of the personal consequences. Whether as the only woman in medical school (befriending the only black student), as a physician for the American revolutionaries, or in any number of ethical quandaries (could she buy slaves to free them, risking their recapture and reenslavement? Should she warn the Cherokee about the upcoming Trail of Tears, when there is almost no chance of altering the devastating future?), she confronts the uncomfortable realities others are content to ignore.
Claire is a model for living in hard times, as she jumps back and forth between some of the worst of them. Always her training as a WWII combat nurse surfaces: you cannot save everyone, but with luck and hard work you may be able to save the person in front of you. Her youthful goal of changing the world fades to a more realistic, and more productive, life of working relentlessly to change the life of the person in front of her.
She is a women who has seen the worst of everything and keeps healing others, who has lost faith and found it again, who faces terror and stays true to herself, and who
Just. Keeps. Going.
And Jamie is a model for masculinity that is not diminished in the face of feminine power. He knows who he is and knows there is room in the world for others as well. He is a leader because he is born to it, but he takes his role seriously, living not for himself but for all those who rely upon him.
Jamie is a man who has seen the worst of everything and keeps others laughing, who has fallen into darkness and clawed back out again, who restrains his own power to protect the power of others, and who
Just. Keeps. Going.
Aren’t they the inspiration we need right now?
Pam Lynn says
Absolutely love and agree with your comments! I am a new fan of the Outlander series, having watched all three seasons of the tv series, and now reading the books, currently reading the third book. I enjoy the authors observations tremendously, and when I’m in the midst of a passage the world around me moves on without me, because I have found that the Outlander world is so much more intriguing and funny. And yes, my husband has discovered it too, and we too are planning a trip to Scotland in the near future.
I love all of the books,but Voyager is one of my most favourite! How many times I would be up too late laughing out loud, just going to read two more pages. In the second page of the two more pages finding myself sobbing with a tear soaked book. Ugh. I love em!
Leone O'Sullivan says
Voyager is my favourite too.
The Scottish Prisoner a close runner up.
Thanks; really enjoyed your take on the series; I love everything Outlander so much that I organized our 3 month holiday overseas around the outlander series film locations ;I believe we saw more of Scotland that way as we zig zaged across the country it was breathtaking ;I would do again in a heart beat; I have many fond memories and some great pictures to look back on
Carolyn Kollmeier says
I am recently retired and would love to know more about how you organized your holiday around the TV show’s filming! For example: who did you contact to get a schedule? Did you use a travel agent in Scotland? What transportation did you use–drive or public? How can I get in touch with you?
Shelley Laub says
One of the best and totally accurate takes on Outlander that I have ever read! Thank you for ” getting it” and being able to articulate “it” so positively and beautifully. The books have consumed me, so much so that I have dropped out of all my book clubs. I read and reread only DG’s books; and I’m very happy to be doing so! Sam. What can one say? He IS our Jamie. I’ve come to adore him as a human for who he seems to be; kind, humble, charitable and respect the amazing actor that he is. Book Claire is my hero. (She has changed a bit in the series) I hope as I age, I can continue to age as gracefully as she, without losing any of who I am! Love your writing! More?
Constance Jones says
I love what you said. Couldn’t have said it better.
MaryBeth Young says
Wow! Thanks for the “In a nutshell”, you put them, even in a more humane light, and though there were times I wanted to smack Claire for putting herself or Jamie in danger, I get her more now, and I would probably have been the same way in those circumstances.♀️
christian madrid says
I think the reason that Claire ends up putting them in danger is because she comes (as Jamie says), from a ‘softer time”, where a decision doesn’t necessarily have grave consequences and being who she is – forward, open, honest, brave, and female in a male world, she says what she is thinking and follows her heart and conscience. Throughout the series, this can lead to problems, but Jamie is good for it too- he has the same qualities and the open-mindedness to respect those qualities regardless of gender.
Ron McCoy says
Ron McCoy says
You have captured the feelings perfectly
Diane Dumas says
What a wonderful comprehensive analysis of Gabaldon’s books and her main characters. You have captured their essence and have gone beyond the usual comments we see and hear about Outlander. I am still trying to fully understand what has driven my obsession for this story but your analysis has helped me to point to some explanation. The modernity of the characters despite the historical context, the historical background on which the story is based, the truthfulness of the relationship between the main characters and let’s face it, the wonderful love story which is, for a single woman in her sixties, a great escapism and a way to feel by procuration a little of that love.
Susan Armour-Tesno says
As another woman I her sixties, I mourn the loss of a Jamie in my own life. The relationship is wonderful and the more physical action isn’t bad, either! Actually Jamie recognized the difference in Claire from other women as soon as he met her. Their communication was established early and only improved as they came to know each other.
Thorunn Sleight says
I think you mean “by proxy” rather than “procuration”.
As a woman in my sixties also, I particularly like how Claire doesn’t stop being the admirable woman we met at the beginning, even having reached the age of 63 at the end of My Own Heart’s Blood.
Diane G Pyle says
I loved exploring with you the “reasons” details of why I have fallen in love with the Outlander story – Diana’s descriptive words, getting into the heart of things and people, her lovely take on Jamie and my first impression of Claire after reading book 1, “she is my heroine”. I do feel however, that you have forgotten a most basic part of Jamie’s character and why and what supports who he is and that is his spirituality. He is not alone and has depended on his beliefs in his catholic teachings which are more celtic than traditional to give him strength, direction and comfort. He does not expect this same thinking from Claire, but it is so basically important to him. Thanks for the explanations through your eyes…..one often wonders what it is all about.
Carie Little Hersh says
Yes!! I find the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of the series (and, as you say, of Jamie’s character specifically) also fascinating. I’ll have to ponder those elements for a while… I’m sure that conversation could fill another post!
Nancy Wade says
I first began reading the Outlander series 25 years ago and have been a loyal fan ever since; devouring all of the books and thrilled to watch these wonderful characters come to life in the Starz series. I found the comments and observations of Carie Hersh both refreshing and insightful and totally agree with Diane Pyle as to the importance of Jamie’s spiritual teachings and beliefs.
Yes you are right. Claire asks Jamie if he has a prayer for everything.
Jan Wood says
I think that part of the reason we love and admire Jamie is that he says and thinks what many of us would think. He is living in a time of limited communication, it takes weeks to receive a letter. His time is slower paced; he respects the women in his life – Mrs. Fitz and Claire; he really tries to work out what Claire means about things. His life is basic, live, love and take care of your family. Our world is so fast in every way that it is a joy to relax with Diana’s words and fall into those times for an hour or so.
Diane Lennon says
Thank you so much for explaining this. What stood out most to me is the explanation of Claire being vulnerable, not weak. Also, the fact that Jamie does not “save” Claire. He rescues her from danger. You point out that Jamie accepts Claire for who she is, with all her foibles. I think that’s what touches me the most. To be accepted, to be validated as a person, a woman, a mother, a daughter by your mate and to be understood even when it is difficult, that is the true magic. I just wanted to keep on reading. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Carie Little Hersh says
Thank you for starting the conversation!
Let’s not forget that Claire also saves or receive rescues Jaime more than once. I love how they love, respect and protect each other over and over again. They are each aware of the other’s flaws and grow to love each other more deeply. They work hard together to live happily. Couple goals? Yes!
Ceil Price says
Great essay. Your blog title is amusing in an Outlandish way, since (notwithstanding the pun) it’s how Fanny would have pronounced it pre-frenectomy.
Carie Little Hersh says
Okay, it took me a minute, but I laughed out loud at that.
Ceil Price says
Margaret Arlen says
The dates are wrong, in the “me too” section….I love your take on our obsession, some really wonderful observations, and a rich vein of humour.
Carie Little Hersh says
Oh dear, what did I flub? I was thinking of Roger and Brianna when I mentioned the 1730s and 1980s, was there something else?
Michele Baum says
Considering the entire canon of novellas and short stories, your dates would be correct.
Stephanie Calhoun says
Aye, you have explained it all so well! I need something Outlander daily to make my world complete. I get so full of emotions reading the books and rewatching the series that sometimes it leaves me sad and feeling empty to be in my real world. I would really love to some day travel to Scotland and visit the series sites and meet Sam, Cait and many of the others for they’ve all become part of my “family” even though it’s fantasy.♥
Thanks for writing such a wonderful explanation of our obsession to Outlander and the characters ❣
Karel James Bouse, Ph.D. says
This is a wonderful discussion, and thank you for posting it. Thank you also for the references to “emic” and “etic”, and the heads up on Geertz’s Works and Lives (must acquire.) Had never thought of Claire as a cultural anthropologist, but you are absolutely right in stating that she fills that role. It will be fun to re-read the books taking her comments as notes in an ethnographic study. As a psychologist I have always applied more of a phenomenological approach which requires that the researcher bracket their own perceptions in order to allow the narratives and artifacts speak for themselves in accordance with the guidelines set by Edmund Husserl to my own fieldwork, and my interpretation of the Outlander books. It was wonderful to read the anthropological perspective – another argument for the value of multidisciplinary endeavors. This is great – thank you so much.
I’m a big fan. we went to Scotland from Australia last year and saw the highlands. my family were dragged along for my obsession. my only advice is if you’re keen on the tv show. check out the places it was filmed around Edinburgh. we only went to the places that inspired the book and the historical places. which was fantastic but I should have done more research into the show so I could have had pictures in front of scenes from the show. I will have to plan another trip. however I found Inverness and surround stunning and Culloden a must to visit.
Diana Twyman-Davis says
Great article and interesting perspective! I Love Outlander! It’s the best love story ever told! I have had the opportunity to meet Sam, Caitriona and many of the cast members. All lovely and down to earth. Anyone planning on going to Scotland to visit Outlander film sites should consider using Mary’sMeanders tour guides in Linlithgow. Anne and Emma are awesome and so professional! We loved our trip last year! Can’t wait to go back!
Amen to MarysMeanders! We’ve connected with Anne and Emma twice. Once my husband and I were planning to go to Lallybroch, which was due to close for two months. Emma met us early, the evening before so that we could see this iconic Outlander home of Jamie Fraser!
Dianne Scarchilli says
I loved the article! Laughed several times, especially when”of Jamie can’t do it it isn’t worth doing.”
You totally encapsulated the why and the wherefore! We just love it. A comment above also resonated with me, to be respected, loved and trusted in all things is so joyful!’
Linda Fulton says
Spot on and refreshing. I’ll be rereading this because you have pinpointed so many things that I had never singled out before. Extremely thoughtful.. Thank you.
Fabulous, fabulous article. You articulated our love and fascination for all things Outlander to perfection. A friend of mine said, “you know, Jill, there ARE other authors”. I told her, but I love living in the Outlander world and haven’t found one I’d rather be in yet.
Carolyn Cohee says
Very well written. You said a lot of things that I thought about. Thank you!
Bravo! Bravo!! *Standing Ovation Emoji* Endless clapping….
While Outlander is fiction, Diana Gabeldon has written characters that have places in our reality. Honor, bravery, justice, humor in tragedy, unconditional love and support for team marriage (with all it’s warts) and above all joy in survival, because they are together.
One of the most in depth analysis of Outlander that’s absolutely spot on. Thank you so much for sharing.
JoAnn McKendrick says
Want all information and updates where to get anything Outlander. We are Scottish and were married 2 years ago with husband in his Macnaughtan kilt and with bagpipes
Patricia McCormick Wainer says
You are decidedly the Queen of Outlander Apologetics! Thank you for your articulate analysis of the book series, which the film series cannot capture. Once again, “time” has to be tempered with reality; soul and spirit are better “felt” than “telt”(sp??).
Thank you for explaining so well what we all feel.
This is fantastic. I didn’t realize this was the sort of academic analysis I wanted of outlander until I was reading it. It tied so much into my own work interests. You verbalized some of the aspects I’ve been unable to word. Fantastic!
Also, I’m adding Being There to the research books I need to read. Also, always happy to run into another Bostonian
Sheri Wenker says
Thank you very much. Truly.
Nancy Tomlinson says
I always wondered why I was so drawn to these books and Diana’s wonderful characters. You have helped me understand why! I love that both Claire and Jamie remain true to themselves and each other. Here’s hoping we are fortunate enough to be able to enjoy the fruits of Diana’s imaginative mind for as long as she continues to share. Thank you for helping me feel okay with my obsession!
Margaret Lang says
Jings..did you take a breath whilst writing
this !!..im exhausted …and laughing at me hearing another womans voice reading this in my head, oddly enough in a generic american accent !! A dizzying thought really haha..
Welcome to the fold
Such a great explanation why I love these books/shows so much! I couldn’t agree more with the idea of the misogynistic world vs. Claire and Jamie as a major underlying theme. I never would have been able to put that into words before. Thanks!!
Marianne Garvey says
Finally, someone else who gets my fascination with the books and series, even though it’s entirely different than so many others (I love the character Jamie for who he is; Sam Heughan is attractive, but very much not my type, so it gets tiring seeing others talk about his physical nature endlessly, and sometimes about his ability to ‘become’ Jamie). As someone with a bachelor’s in anthropology (minor in humanities), I found the books exciting because Claire was doing what I always do when I’m learning about a new culture, or learning yet another new language. Throw me in where I’m in an entirely foreign culture, and I’m at my happiest. People are fascinating, confusing, bizarre, and beautiful. Thank you for your post!
I loved your wonderful article.
This is a wonderful analysts of Diana’s writings. I am going to share this with my daughters to help them understand Mom’s obsession with all things Outlander! Thank you!
I recently finished the Outlander series. I went through withdrawal at first…I had to figure out how to do life without Jamie and Claire. I looked around and realized how I had literally put family and friends on hold because I HAD to know what happened to the Frasers. In my opinion, the STARZ series is good, but the books are phenomenal! Diana Gabaldon is a genius! My coffee table is now cluttered with the books, my husband purchased me a replica of Claire’s pearl necklace that Jamie gave her on their wedding night. My china cabinet now holds two Jacobite dram whiskey glasses from Scotland. My son knows that I ugly cry when I watch the episode, “Dragonfly in Amber.”
My husband, bless his heart, totally got onboard and watched the series with me. He now thinks Claire is HOT! He now answers my questions with, “Aye” and wants to travel to Scotland as well! I have to resist the urge to tell him what is going to happen down the road for Jamie and Claire. He has seen me laugh out loud when I’m reading and cry like a baby at times…and he is ok as long as I don’t reveal anything about the plot! He was super-patient while I was reading and withdrawing from family and friends. (He was also very happy when I finished!!!!)
I think your article is a fantastic read! I agree that the books immerse the reader in historic time periods that paint a truer picture of the events than what most people ever imagined after reading a traditional history book.
Thanks for the writing this piece. It sums up what fans love about the series. I only wish I could get more friends to take the journey and read the books. I wish they could look past the length of the novels and just commit to enjoying the ride!
Susan Angell says
I am in awe of your perspective. It makes so much sense to me. I didn’t realize much of this, that I felt this way until the light bulb came on after reading your article. Thank you for putting into words what I could not.
This makes so much sense to me. This is my second time through the books in the last twenty years, and have been obsessed with all things Outlander for the last several years. I wondered why they were hitting me so much now, that I am an old lady in retirement. I have been puzzled, but your summary makes sense, “In a time when we are rewriting the politics of gender, traveling the world at the speed of Skype, and struggling to stay afloat in a world gone mad, the Outlander books give us more than food for thought, they give us a possible roadmap for our modern landscape.”
Diana Banks says
The best having read the books was to listen to them all books on Audible narrated by Davina Porter. She is amazing and deserves an Oscar.
I am so in love with Jamie and everything Outlander. Recently went to Inverness, the Stones and Culloden
Virginia Snyder says
I always appreciate it when someone goes beyond the first impression or judgment. Diana’s books are so worthy of this deep thinking and parsing. I have read and re-read the entire series three times and I love them so much. And thank-you for mentioning
the importance and poetry of the descriptions of the natural world. Reading these books makes me feel I am learning things about the human condition, values, morality, justice, and love. Of course I am crazy about the TV show and love the actors, too, but look what they have to work with!
Elizabeth A Taylor says
Not only does Jamie rescue Claire who is vulnerable because she’s female but Claire rescues Jamie who is vulnerable because he is of the dominated culture!! Thanks so much for your anthropologist’s view!!
Pamela Fuhrman says
Claire as an anthropologist – BRILLIANT. Probably the one occupation I had not attested to her. Your insight is thoughtful and thought provoking. Diana’s experience as a field scientist serve us readers well as she sets many a scene that we fall right into. But it is her characters that are so full of life, warts and all, that draw us into her/their world. We listen in on conversations that carry more weight than most of us experience in our own lives. Outlander is not just a great place to visit it is a world filled with people of substance who we want to share our time with. Thanks for the this refreshing outlook. Will be reading the novels all over again with fresh eyes.
Laura Black says
I read Outlander for the first time in 1993. I have been a huge fan ever since! I have read the series 3 times, and I still laugh out loud, cry and sigh each time I read them. It has been such a joy to introduce friends and acquaintances to the series. Or what I like to say is that I am introducing them to what I believe to be the greatest love story of all time! I LOVE the TV show, I think Cait and Sam are perfectly cast and yes Sam’s ass should be deemed a National Treasure!! I enjoy their chemistry and I believe they do the Claire and Jamie love story proud!! I adore how Diana writes and because of that I am patient with her and the length of time it takes to get the next book in the series, however I grow impatient waiting for this 9th book!!! It is taking longer than usual♥️
Janet Headding says
Thank you for helping me to understand why I have been so enamored of these books for so many years. They have been read time and again. I must admit that I have not seen the shows. When you have such a clear view in your mind of how they look and sound, someone else’s views might feel off key. Diana Gabaldon is such a marvelous author, I live in hope of more books from her.
Sharon Dockter says
I felt the same way when I first heard about the series. In fact, my daughter worked very hard to convince me to give it at least one look. I love the books for all the reasons everyone has already listed, but I love the series, too. The scenery, the sets, the music, and the actors have added a depth of feeling and understanding to what I love about the books. Diana is truly a genius and a part of me will wither when there are no more Outlander books in my future.
Your article brought me to tears. I recognize these tears are tears of truth. I didn’t know why these stories fascinated me so until I read your article. Thank you!
Lisa Margulies says
What an incredible analysis! So intelligent! I especially loved the “everyone loves a righteous fight against an evil empire” phrase. Hoping Herself reads this perspective. I have a feeling she would be as appreciative of your words as the rest of us. Thank you!
Fran Arnsdorff says
Great article and right on point!
You know very very seldom read “blogs” because I find them boring BUT this has me weeping. Finally someone gets it like I do! The keep going, the forgiveness and the respect. Thank you!
Sandra Gootee says
Many dittos to above replies! AND a huge BRAVA LADY BRAVA!! Thanks, I really enjoyed and hence subscribed to the podcasts.
I started reading the series shortly after OUTLANDER first arrived on the shelves,fell in love with it and found myself re-reading instead of picking up a historical romance. I remember saying to my husband, ” you really should read these, this guy is sooooo much like you, your value system is the same”; I was so lucky.
Sheila D. Tupper says
Thanks to Diana Gabaldon, the tv crew of the Outlander series and to Dr. Hersh for bringing the 18th century to life for me. My family history is deeply entrenched in the 18th century. My ancestor, Hector MacLean, led the MacLeans into battle and their deaths at Culloden. Though I hate the results of that battle, I underdtand why the Scots were so determined to fight and die there. The MacLeans are called a clan of priests and warriors. I didn’t learn this fact until I had served 10 years in the US Army, just as my Dad had served until he retired!
Cathleen McKenzie says
Oh my goodness what a totally spot on Blog entry ! I have loved ( and lived) Outlander for more years that I can remember. I am a Retired Nurse and was encouraged to begin the Outlander Jounrney by another Nurse I worked with, just after Diane’s first book came out. Never did I make the connection you did so beautifully with living Anthropology ! You make it so effortlessly and have opened a whole new facet of this fabulous Series to me. Thank you so much…now if you will excuse me, I’d like to go listen to some of your Podcasts !
Jude Sargent says
Yes yes yes — you’ve totally nailed it. I’m having a colarary thought about the differences between Claire and her daughter. Brianna seems to inhabit and perform adequately in the 1700s and occasionally even thrives: she has the opportunity to develop excellent hunting skills, and a number of impressive inventions. But unlike Claire, she doesn’t serve us as a participant observer ethnologist. I rarely hear her explaining or otherwise making clear the social mileau she has fallen into. We do learn a little about what’s considered respectable in regard to her unmarried pregnant state, and some minor discussion about clothing, oh and we learn about birth control. I rarely see her 20th C. self in conflict w her 18 C self; not never, but way less so than Claire, who of course pushed boundaries in her WWII battlefront service.
Resa Rawley says
Thank you for your well written article!! I too discovered the Outlander series years ago when my 3 kids were in elementary school. I didn’t want to cook, clean or do laundry. Just wanted to read about Jaime and Claire. Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of sleep but enjoyed every moment of reading. I’ve reread them 3 times and have loved, loved, loved the Starz series.
D Stine says
Great thought-provoking piece! I often wonder how Jaime would fare in today’s world, and how the story might differ if Claire was not from 1945 but 2045. Thoughts? Perhaps worth another great essay?
Sarah Frazer says
As supposed, it is historical fiction, but it is loosely based on my late husband’s family and the general direction of the fictional characters was so similar, that I questioned it. My husband’s first cousin did a genealogical tree back to Forres Scotland and the emigrations of the family to America is eerily similar to those presented in the Outlander series. I am so sorry that my husband died before the books and series became so popular. I know he’d have read them all as I have. We both were/are bookacholics. Congratulations to Diane Gabaldon, a superb tale spinner.
Nancy Read says
Excellent article…. so much is what I would say if I could pull it all together as you have! Thank you for putting the time and effort into articulating your thoughts, so clarifying for many of us. We all agree the characters that Diana has developed are our friends for life and ones we will never tire of. Thank you again!
Thanks for your deep thoughts and perspective, and welcome to the fanmily!
What a wonderful account of the best series I have ever had the pleasure to watch and read.
I am making the trip to Scotland this month to visit as many places in the books (and TV) as possible!
Real life is rather dull afterwards.. though I still hope to find my Jamie one day.. queue heart emoji!
I loved what you wrote and have very much enjoyed everyone’s comments. I’m re-reading Drums of Autumn and just don’t want to put it down. It feels like I’ve time traveled each time I start reading!
Brilliant! It is a real pleasure to read your comments! It opened larger perspective! 😉
Jane Beetem says
Excellent analysis of why we all love the stories so much. Love how you explain Claire’s experiences as relaying different time periods to us, how she’s not so much brash and unthinking as vulnerable, and how Jamie, the “King of Men” doesn’t just save Claire (as in a romance novel) but supports her and loves her, flaws and all. I do love how Diana describes the smells, the weather and surroundings, including details of daily life in each time period. So looking forward to seeing how the show portrays them going forward, Jamie, a man who “has fallen into darkness and clawed back out again” – great description – Claire as a mother, grandmother and healer, and all the other members of their family. Thank you for including the photo of Midhope Castle – the one filming location that most says “Outlander” to me, as Lallybroch was important to both Jamie and Claire. Reminds me of the day I got to sit on those very same steps and soak in the surroundings!
Debbie Anderson says
Fantastic Carie. You really struck a delightful nerve with this one! xoxo
Susan F. says
What a succinct précis of Outlander! I’ve been reading and re-re-reading them for over 20 years now. They never get old and even after all this time, there are parts where I still cry, laugh out loud, break out in goose pimples etc. So happy for you that you discovered DGs marvellous books. As they rest of us you’re awaiting ‘Go Tell The Bees . . .’
Tina B. says
Omgosh! Caire–Claire without the l. I’ve never seen the series but I’ll find a way to watch it now! I read most of the beginning but I didn’t want to read the spoilers. I’ll have to email you because I loved your insightfulness and we have several interests in common. I received a BA in my first love–cultural anthropology but after 18 years in college and several majors including one in the medical field, I feel the need to stick to being a civil engineer to keep my head above financial waters.
Carie Little Hersh says
Thank you for your comment! There are times when civil engineering seems like a fabulous alternative-the job market is indisputably better 🙂
K Courtenay says
I hadn’t thought of Claire as an anthropologist, but I should have! I am a linguist, not an anthropologist, and in fact have never even taken any anthropology courses, but I have learned a lot about such things as kinship systems, taboos and so forth just by being a field linguist in West Africa and Aboriginal Australia. Although I wasn’t actually part of the cultures, I learned things much as Claire does, by observation and especially by making cultural mistakes! The mistakes were often embarrassing, sometimes really unfortunate since they upset the people I was interacting with. An example is participating in a May Day parade with an Aboriginal man who later turned out to be taboo to me, since according to the kinship system of the tribe (which I had been adopted into) he was ‘related’ to me in the same way that a son-in-law would have been (mothers-in-law and sons-in-law can’t have any interaction). A worse one was writing on the blackboard the names of some deceased persons, in order to figure out what words in the language had been dropped because they were ‘too close’ to the name of the dead person. I knew I couldn’t SAY the name of any dead person, I just hadn’t realized that I couldn’t write it either, until I saw the shocked faces of my students…. My mistakes could not have got me killed, though, Claire’s could have!
As an archaeologist, I always joke that I only read/watch for the material culture. Thank you for so neatly encapsulating the many other reasons I love the series!
G Weber says
Your essay so echoes my own responses to Gabaldon’s books over two-plus decades. Relevanth indeed. Too, you put your finger on my main issue with the show, beautifully produced and acted though it be. While Ron Moore and the show folk refer to Jamie as “the king of men,” I suspect they mean it facetiously, or pejoratively. They reduced Jamie’s role in favor of “equal time” for Tobias Menzies–at least in the first two seasons. I see the books as the story of a loving partnership; the show appears to see it as the story of Claire the righteous and that cute guy she has to teach to be a man. I know, slight exaggeration, and show issues notwithstanding, enjoying the “national treasure” is worth squelching my opinions about the television series.
Dr Hersh – this is genius. I’m a middle-aged hard core feminist mum, intrigued and a not a little perplexed by my Outlander fixation. I try to examine just why it is I so want my 15 year old daughter to read it; why I so wish my 15 year old self had had Claire, and Claire and Jamie as models. You’ve absolutely captured it here – thank you.
Jane Showalter says
Well said! I enjoyed your POV.
Debra Holland says
What a great article!!!
Patricia J Kelley says
WOW! You have nailed it. Now explain why so many of us women would give just about anything to have a Jamie Fraser in our lives. Though Sam Heughan is a very handsome man, it is when he dyes his hair ginger and puts on his kilt or break, but when he IS Jamie Fraser that I (and many others) melt. It is like he is totally two different people. Having said that, it is because of his amazing portrayal of Jamie.
Andrea Ryan says
Noting your discussion of the shaving / waxing, I was noticing before that scene in the series that Caitriona Balfe’s armpits and legs always seem to be shaved. Guess the didn’t want to be THAT authentic in the series!
Carie Little Hersh says
Lol- they never do, do they? I always think of this article: https://www.buzzfeed.com/arianelange/armpit-hair-ew?utm_term=.lvnM1GAMx#.ikw283420
Alicia P says
That may have been purely because Caitriona says she has little natural armpit hair in the first place, perhaps not enough for the cameras to distinguish the difference between shaved and not shaved in candlelight. I expect they would have been prepared to demonstrate that particular realism if they could have; there has been particular attention to detail throughout.
I don’t think anyone realizes that Jamie has a super-power. While he is not a time-traveler, like Claire and we find out that it’s genetic, but Diana slips in while Jamie is waiting for the gunsmith how his mind actually works. That he has this ability to associate people, families, ancestry, relevant assorted facts, with some characteristic of their face. (Like in one episode of Big Bang Theory, Sheldon tells Raj, that when he is doing math calculations in his mind, prime numbers always appear in red). He keeps a “Wikipedia” of knowledge in his mind, everything he has ever learned (and he is a sponge) – with instant and appropriate recall. Now that’s what I find the most attractive thing about the book character Jamie. To be able to have a conversation with “that man” in today’s world of sports stats and junk infotainment would be remarkable.
Sally Bugg says
I have loved the books from the very start , read them several times , I like the History ,the excitement, and Jamie”s wit . I grin when Claire and Brianna talk over Jamie”s head a little ” not your average bear ” I am 89 and still enjoy the books as much as ever , I keep saying Diana has ruined all other Authors for me , I do watch the series , but to me it can not compare with the books . Your article was the best , Thank you .
Jscqueline Frazer says
Spot on, Madame! Thank you for putting into words exactly how I feel and think about Outlander.
Wow that says it all
Erin H. says
The analysis of the books and characters is phenomenal! I had a feeling others felt as I do. The best way I have found to survive Draughtlander is to re-read the series between books and between seasons. I have re-read my books so many times I have had to replace the older ones! I also consider the books and the tv series separate entities with their own encompassing qualities both incredibly well done. I started reading the books when Drums of Autumn was released and am so grateful to have it in my life as it brings me so much joy!
Cindy S says
Thank you for so succinctly describing the attraction we all have for Claire and Jamie. I set life aside for 4 months when I discovered the Outlander series and books. Never have I been drawn into a series of books like I have been with these. I felt lost when I finished book 8. The challenge is to live well, love well, and enjoy what has been given us, as these characters exemplified.
Thank you Dr. Hersh for such a wonderfully insightful and relevant article! I thoroughly enjoy vicariously experiencing historical life and so many different cultures when I am reading the Outlander series or watching the show. I have always found it to be more encompassing than anything else I’ve read. I genuinely care for many of the character. *****SPOILER ALERT*****the person who shaved Claire’s hair off (Malta) had malicious intent, and had actually caused her illness in an attempt to steal Jamie away.
Congratulations on having your post dharedbu DG, Herself! I’m swooning on your behalf. This is such a great observation of how the stories and characters actors inspire such loyalty. I have struggled to explain what it is about these stories / this epic story that gets to me. You have summed it up nicely. Thanks!
And now there seems there could be yet another section in bookstores where the Outlander series might be categorized! The list keeps growing!
Well said, lass!
Jo Roberts says
Great article, thank you! I read the first book in the nineties and was hooked, it was so well written and deeper than an historical novel. The subsequent books were better and more detailed and suddenly it was hard to be without them on my bookshelves. I love the healing aspect of Claire’s persona, her knowledge and the extraordinary way she invents instruments unknown in the times; and the wonderful characters…who wouldn’t love a Mrs. Bug in their life? Jamie is much more than a leading man, and I resisted the tv series as I knew no-one could BE Jamie for me. I saw three episodes this year and did enjoy the scenery, costumes et al…but the books are the reality for me. Your article helped me to understand why!
I’ve loved Gabaldins series since the beginning & have enjoyed the TV series (which is a pleasant surprise!). I concur with your analysis —we can look to Claire & Jamie for encouragement in these tumultuous times ! Thanks
Deirdre Hosking says
Thank you for your anthropologist interpretation of Outlander. No books or series have ever captured my imagination and heart like this. It’s wonderful for insights as to the magical “why” I am completely fascinated by the books and their characters.
Thank you !
Merci Cari ..
Ses lignes redonnent de la valeur à cette saga si longtemps décriée et considérée comme littérature à* l eau de rose *….
Pas pour moi .. je suis addict de l’écriture de Diana Gabaldon ainsi que de la série et de tout ces personnages tous autant qu’ ils sont..
Et vos analyses/ regards sont un ne peu plus juste .
.J aurai aimé les écrire moi même tant
c est exactement ce que je ressent ..
J attend comme des centaines de personnes dans le monde la suite des romans et même en appréhende la fin …
Melanie Kayrell says
Excellent, well-written commentary with which I totally agree! I have been an Outlander fan since the beginning! Throughout the stories, I have often been frustrated with Claire, however. While I appreciate her spunk and dedication to her principles, I sometimes think that as an educated woman, she should be more sensitive to the norms of the 18th century and act accordingly. Would that make her wimpy? Perhaps. Nevertheless, great characters, and, of course, Jamie is the “King of Men!”
Cari- Treat yoursekf and save your family by listening to the series on Audible.
It really was the only reason my family saw more than the top of my head for months.
I did get strange looks though as l went about the house and yard with headphones on while often laughing, gasping, crying or yelling “Nay!”.
I was so excited when the story turned to the history of my ‘homeland’ northeast New York!
To be able to have the voices of all the characters in your ears as you go about your day just makes the story that much more engaging and …. sigh…. Jamie’s voice as I drift off to sleep….
Debbie Cason says
For some reason it is almost like I am brainwashed! It takes me to my happy place. I love all the characters and I read and study up on the history of all that has happened. We are going on the Outlander tour in a week. I can’t believe a tv show and books has done this. My husband as well.
My daughter and her friends are the same. It is like maybe I lived in another time myself and I am reliving my history!
Margo Blackstone says
Thank you for putting into words so many of my own thoughts on this one-of-kind series of books and show. I started listening to these books on Audible last summer during an extremely difficult time in my life. My marriage was falling apart, I’d lost a job I’d loved for many years, and I’d basically forgotten who I was as a person. Rough times. Diana’s books helped me through it all by reminding me what being a strong woman looks like, that the possibility of a solid partnership in marriage wasn’t that far-fetched (and what THAT would look like), and basically reminded me how to love again should that opportunity arise. That all sounds very dramatic, but it’s true. I saw how Claire accepted Jamie’s need to be a man even when he was doing things that worried her greatly, and how Jamie let Claire be who she was and even revelled in it because he saw who she was as something wonderful. The books changed my perspective on intimacy and how it can bring and keep loving couples together. The list of my revelations goes on and on.
I’ve continued to listen to the books almost daily for more than a year (while also reading other books so I don’t get TOO obsessed!) as the characters have become old friends. I watched the Starz series as well, and while I think at times the writers must not have read the books or they wouldn’t have written certain episodes as they did, they overall have done good work in bringing the books to life. Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe have done terrific work in their portrayals, and the series has done so well in showing some very beautiful love scenes from a woman’s perspective for once.
SO, all this to say that it feels so good to see someone else “get it” and I’m ever so grateful for these stories. They’ve kept me afloat and are now accompanying me in my new life and encouraging me to be courageous. And I too love Jamie’s spirituality. I wish they’d show more of that in the show. I know it’s not popular right now to show characters who have religion as a daily and important part of their lives, but Jamie’s character isn’t who he is without it. (And book readers know Claire eventually adopts spirituality as part of who SHE is, as well, which is also such a feel good thing for those of us who pray all the time without making a big deal out of it).
Finally, all this Outlander love has brought me into several extremely supportive Facebook communities of Outlander fans and introduced me to Sam Heughan’s “healthy living” world of My Peak Challenge (MPC) which encourages people to eat right, exercise, and try new things (like getting outside to experience life) while supporting some important charities. I’ve made new friends and branched out. All because a lovely woman wrote some fabulous books unlike any others. ❤️
I will have my adult daughter read this wonderful article! She was initially turned off, thinking “it’s just a romance novel!” And never finished the first book! Perhaps this will encourage her to try again. She is a brilliant writer and voracious reader, and I want to share my love for these characters with her!
Barbara Wismer says
Thank you so much for a truly new insight into the books and series! I hadn’t thought specifically about the anthropological aspects, although I have always thought it was so clever of Diana to have Claire raised by an archeologist all over the world. As a book-reader since the early 90’s, I can honestly say I have been absolutely thrilled with the hard work and vision of Ron Moore and his crew in the series. To me, they have brought these books to life as I never imagined it could be done. It’s a tribute to Diana that they are so well-written that she inspired the filmmakers just as she has inspired all of us! So thank you again. I’ve also really enjoyed reading the comments as we wait for Season 4!
Patty Park says
Lucky you. This is your first go-around with Outlander. Your stellar essay says it all, and if I read it correctly, you’re a goner. In future years, as you re-read again and again, the wonder of Outlander will keep happening–one more time. Outlander has been my companion for decades and I take great comfort knowing it will always be there. Thank you for your excellent piece reminding me why.
Pat T says
This made for fascinating reading as it says all of the “feels” that I have and have had reading these books over and over and over again. I’ve lost track of the rereads and Diana Gabaldon has absolutely spoiled me for any other reading or author. I keep looking for the same thing but no one else can write and make me use ALL FIVE SENSES while I’m reading. As some of the others have said, the world keeps turning while we are reading these books but there have been times where I’ve looked up from the books or my Kindle and said to myself “Oh, I’m still in my living room!!!!” I’ve been to Scotland now twice and have met Diana and had her sign a couple of my books. I want to go back to Scotland again!!!!
Blithe Reed says
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog. I wish all of my non-Outlander friends could read this to, perhaps, better understand my obsession with the books, the series, and the characters, mostly Jamie. I know some of them are totally baffled how a fairly intelligent, well- educated and well-read, 70-year-old English and world classics teacher can become so consumed by a series of novels and a Starz television series. haha 🙂
Really enjoyed your take on this. I too have fallen under the spell of these books and the tv series. It’s hard to explain why we love this series so much, but you have summed it up nicely. Can’t wait to see how season 4 goes. Meanwhile I’m re-reading the books. Good to know I’m not alone.
Melissa Harrelson says
Simply put, this is the best description of the Outlander books, show, Claire and Jamie I have read. You have hit all the nails in the head. Thank you.
Diana is an incredible story teller. I took a course at the University of California called “Anthropology Through Experience”. We discussed nonfiction accounts of women that entered unusual societies with the understanding it was to experience the culture from inside, not bringing current values and behavior of an outlander. One woman, living in an igloo with a small family, was found to be so rude that the native father built an igloo just for her. Diana captures the heart of a foreign land in the experience of an intelligent outsider. It’s a premise guaranteed to land us in a world we experience with alternating great humor and with horror.
That to me is one of the best appraisals oc the books.
You hit the nail on the head about Jamie and Claires gender roles, I think some of that has been missed in the TV series, trying too hard to push Claire as the strong woman. The way Diana describes things in her writing it feels like I am there observing.
Fab article resonant with my thoughts
Marina Lavrow says
Love your article! I have devoured each book as soon as it was out and discovered the series quite accidentally. I like them well, but Diana Gabaldon narrative and attention to anthropological detail is quite unsurpassed. Having discovered the Outlander universe on FB I am planning to start reading the books again. Thank you for your insights into the characters.
You’ve hit the nail on the head and yes, that scene in Series 2 where Jamie upset about Claire working in the Hospital in Paris never sat right with me either. It should have ended up on the cutting room floor.
Sheila T Kessel says
For me at least, part of the attraction to Claire’s character is the fact that not only does Jamie rescue her, she also rescues him many times. It’s an interesting inverse of the traditional roles and one that I love deeply. Beyond that, I agree with you 100%.
Carie Little Hersh says
Yes!! She really does save him repeatedly, which is refreshing. I had hoped to work that into the blog post but somehow it got left out. Thanks for mentioning it!
Robin Richardson Gilbert says
I have been “with” this book series from the beginning and have never been quite able to explain it to others. People want to hear a catagory for their books……not all the categories! I think you have completely nailed it! Practically taking the words I was always trying to find right out of my mouth! I so appreciate all you have said! I plan to copy it and keep it in my “Outlander” file! (With your name, etc. of course!) BRAVO on this article!
I loved your analysis about the “Outlander Effect”, but I think you missed one major point. Although Jamie is King of Men and thankfully there to protect or save Claire from all manner of chaos, Claire has saved Jamie just as many times. Most notably his physical freedom from Wentworth Prison and later she saves his emotional health and brings him back from the brink of self destruction. Then of course all of the wounds that a hard man like Jamie will get either fighting or farming. She tries to save others too (her attempt to save Frank Randall via Black Jack was very unsuccessful). So Claire as a feminine hero, is also very prevalent in Diana’s writings as well as on the show. It is a characteristic not see much on television these days, who time has come.
Maureen Watson says
Such a clear insight to outlander fans. A friend suggested I watch outlander whilst recovery from surgery. I was hooked after two episodes and have constantly watched various episodes. The books are magical.
Traci Clifford says
I just loved this! All so great and relevant! Thank you!
FANdemonium Network says
Latest Update: STARZ released the official synopsis, promotional photos and preview for Outlander Episode 3 –The False Bride, airing November, 18th.
Nice post! Thank you.
I can relate to Claire is many ways though I am at the age of her daughter…Bree is one year younger then me…But I lived more like Claire who is 3 year younger then my mother…My mother was the stay at home wife with only her clubs and church circles to keep her busier…I on the other hand married very young 18…The first year I thought I should be like my mother…ask him what I should do and only do as he said…It didn’t work…He sat me down one night and gave me permission to take over…He couldn’t be around every minute for me to ask him a question…”I married you because you have a brain” he told me. You can think for yourself and reason things out for yourself…I am here for you he said…I have your back and I will support your every decision no matter what…I will be there for you through thick and thin when you have done all you can…I will not make a decision without consulting you he told me…I will bring home the paycheck and give it to you to run the house hold…but don’t screw it up…He worked in a factory and worked his parents farm…He really needed me to be strong…So at 19 with a new baby I did it…And I want you to know it was not a popular thing back then…I was chastised by every one from the minister, our parents and half the neighbors…He was criticized for giving me too much power…We sat down one night and discussed me starting my own business in 1972…Go for he told me I have your back you know that…Those times when Claire went to med school brought back many memories of what I went through with the male majority…I would butt heads and tangle arses with a good many men that still thought of me as the little housewife…I bought my first car of my own in 1980 something…I picked it out and the sales man said bring your husband down to make the deal..Hubs went but never said a word except shes buying it not me…The whole show room sat and watched as I closed the deal…I battled with wholesalers that would tell me to put my boss on the phone…We went to markets and the sales reps would begin talking to my hubs and he would tell them talk to the boss there I have no say…But he didn’t just lay back and do nothing…He worked hard and long hours but if I got in a pinch he never said a word and helped me through it…Thats where I see Jamie sometimes…He backs up Claire and bales her out when she needs him the most…My hubs hunted, fished and built things to make things easier…He provided for us…What I worked so hard at added to our life…We have always been a welled matched team…and that is what Claire and Jamie is…That is what I love about the books…I can relate…
I really enjoyed this. Thank you.
Eilish McCaffrey says
It is October 2019 and I am JUST starting to watch Outlander! I found it uncomfortably ‘addictive’ from the outset and your intelligent and thought provoking rationale feels ‘spot on’. I am at an age now where I stopped fighting the injustices of gender inequality, disparities else it would make me mad. 🙂 As with the series, I am enjoying the brilliant acting and realism in clothes, location, etc..BUT I had to stop after episode 9 season 1 FOR NOW as for me, for some reason, I found it so stressful that there is the amount of violence toward women that is commonplace. Women barely matter..Sadly, I expect I am so stressed because so much ‘hits so close to home for me’ on so many levels. I also loved your analysis of Claire and Jamie as to what broader archetypes they may represent. I, too, love them both as roles they play and hope that there are more of those passionate, accepting, protective and forever relationships out there. It gives me hope as I’m a huge romantic..:-)) Thank you
Carolyn Abbott says
Spot on and I am grateful to the person who shared this in the Outlander Universe on Facebook. I began by listening to the audiobooks with Davina Porter’s incomparable narration in late January 2019. I was up to book 3 (Voyager) when I discovered the series on Netflix, and if I hadn’t been hooked before, that did it! Sometime last year (2019) I also found the OU group on FB and have enjoyed that so much because of the discussions and observations of so many insightful women, many of whom have been fans since Outlander was first published. Finally last September I decided to actually read the books (I have been an avid reader since I was 6 years old, so this experience has been a real reversal for me of my usual order) and am now in Book 4 (Drums of Autumn). It’s been quite interesting to be listening, watching and reading different books at the same time! In fact, I finally began keeping a notebook handy to record my own thoughts, observations, insights and notations of foreshadowings and connections between the books. Needless to say, I have listened to the books multiple times and watched the series at least 4 times, so I believe I do qualify as what someone has called us, Obsessenachs! It’s a whole world to itself and I knew it was really special when I found myself thinking about the main characters as family members.
Cynthia Dianne says
Someone reposted this on Facebook and I am grateful. Thank you for your incisive, and insightful appreciation of two thought provoking fictional characters. However, you were remiss in not discussing how often Claire rescues Jamie which is one of the most dynamic and unique aspects of their relationship. At its best, Outlander exemplifies the last two lines of PRETTY WOMAN:
Edward Lewis: “So what happens after he climbs up and rescues her?”
Vivian: “She rescues him right back.”
I must confess that I have been disappointed that Season 5 has not lived up to the unique qualities of earlier seasons – not only in production values – but also in storyline as our heroine Claire has been reduced to almost a supporting character. The equality of their relationship was unmatched in television. Sadly, Outlander has devolved into the standard dominating male hero with supportive woman by his side. Outlander may be acting out the American Revolution but it has tragically lost what made it revolutionary.
judith iglehart says
Love this viewpoint. Loved the characters, but it is bittersweet. My late husband was a Jamie (not his name) in unconditional love, courage, skills. He was an unapologetic male secure in his skin, and he loved me. That was the best gift of all.
Alexander Smith says
Great work! I loved the piece, Claire. I happened across it while promoting a new Youtube series titled “Outlander Ethnography”: https://www.youtube.com/embed/xZflzI4CF98
Had I read your work earlier, I would have dropped in a reference to your article, but I’ll be sure to do that in the future. I’d love to build a discussion on Outlander and qualitative research in general terms, if you’re interested.
Dawn Taggblom says
I am a 57-year-old librarian who has read thousands of books since the start of my existence. Diana’s “Outlander” series comprise the best books I ever have read. Thanks for explaining many of the reasons why!
Dawn in Florida
Most successful movies and television shows are popular because they connect with some cultural elements in their audiences, which makes them rich material for anthropologists striving to understand how communities think about everything from family to gift-giving to social class. But
Alison Stewart says
What a great essay provoking such a lot of affirmative responses! You have certainly helped me understand my obsession with all things Outlander. Strict lockdown last year saw me bingeing on Netflix, getting hooked into the Outlander TV series and deciding to try the books. What extraordinary books! Diana’s writing is so evocative, well researched, humorous and exciting. I have read the main series twice and all the associated writings and novellas as well. It is hard to get enthusiastic about other authors and I feel like I’m stuck in an alternate world and will never be able to get out. I have DVDs of the TV series (which is pretty good too although I have some reservations) so I can watch them at my leisure but the books are the backbone.
My reaction to the characters, the writing, the themes and all the other dimensions is much the same as all your other respondents. I have largely felt overwhelmed by the emotion. Your analysis has allowed my to put this into a different perspective. I can relate to so much of what you and others have said and I feel so lucky that I have had a real life, red-headed Jamie in my life.