Injured Bodies, Unbroken Spirits, and the Ethos of Care in Outlander

“You learn it when you become a doctor…. There are so many there, beyond your reach. So many you can never touch, so many whose essence you can’t find, so many who slip through your fingers. But you can’t think about them. The only thing you can do – the only thing– is to try for the one who’s in front of you…. One at a time, that’s all you can do.”

Diana Gabaldon. Dragonfly in Amber. Chapter 47 “Loose Ends”

 “We are not connected with one or two percipient beings, but with a society, a nation, and in some sense with the whole family of mankind.”

William Godwin. Enquiry Concerning Political Justice (1793). II.ii. “Of Justice”

         It is not accidental that the heroine of Gabaldon’s Outlander book series is a nurse, a healer, later, a doctor, and a wise woman. For one of the themes that weaves through all the books is that of care: the care of one’s self, of one’s family and loved ones, as well as the care of the community. Claire’s first impulse is always to help those who are hurt, even at the expense of her own safety and comfort. Several times in Outlander, Claire puts herself at risk because of her wish to help others: she tries to save an abandoned baby, believed by the 18th century society to be a changeling;” she rushes to Geillis thinking that Geillis is ill in “By the Prickling of My Thumbs;” and defied Friar Bain when she heals Mrs. FitzGibbons’ nephew from poisoning.

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Diana Gabaldon has stated that she has read hundreds of romance novels, but that her books are not like the “modern romance” because they “deal with an ongoing relationship between two decent people who already love each other” and that she does not guarantee “happy endings” (“Genre Labels”). As readers and television viewers have seen in the first book/season, the characters are tested again and again in difficult situations, and Jamie and Claire are never left to just enjoy their life in peace for more than a chapter or a few minutes on screen. Outlander is not an ordinary romance. One reason for the constant battles, with the English redcoats, with Black Jack, with superstitious townspeople, with illness, with jealous lovers, is the need to infuse the plot with excitement and adventures. But what we love about our protagonists is that they rise to the challenges and show themselves to be capable, generous and noble beings.

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One way they become heroic is through their ability to care for others and to show selfless love. Early on, Jamie reveals his chivalry by taking the punishment for Laoghaire, Mrs. FitzGibbons’ granddaughter (“Castle Leoch”) when she is charged with loose behavior. Like Claire, Jamie is a man who cares deeply and puts others before himself. He tells Claire that four years ago, he was willing to be whipped by Jack Randall in the hopes of saving his sister Jenny from rape. When he marries, he and his men risk their lives to save Claire from Jack Randall at Fort William (“The Reckoning”), and his ultimate sacrifice is to allow Jack Randall to use his body sexually in exchange for Claire’s freedom (“Wentworth Prison”).

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What is interesting about Outlander, however, is that it is not only the main characters who care much for others, who suffer and then triumph, but that there are a host of other characters who are tried and tested. We see many people with injured bodies, with missing limbs, who cannot speak or sing, but who are still able to function and act with goodness. Through this succession of broken bodies, Gabaldon suggests that life often presents us with a series of trials to be endured and overcome. One example is the minor character Hugh Munroe, who appears briefly to give Jamie the name of the English deserter who might clear Jamie’s name. Munroe has an extraordinary story of endurance: captured at sea by the Turks, he was tortured and had hot oil poured on his legs. As a slave in Algiers, his tongue was cut out. Yet in spite of his disabilities, he appears stoic, if not happy, and is able to bestow a gift of the “dragonfly in amber” to the newlyweds. Munroe’s story also reveals the consequences of 18th century imperialism and colonialism. Too often, we hear grand stories of wars and empire, but not the stories of those soldiers who do the fighting, whose lives were irrevocably changed by these wars. Their valor and injuries are not recorded in history books.

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Similarly, another character who is injured and disabled is Ian Murray, who lost his leg below the knee in a battle in France. Ian has a wooden leg, but is able to love and be loved by Jenny. His friendship and loyalty to Jamie have not changed and he is capable of running Lallybroch in spite of this physical limitations. Another character, Colum MacKenzie, Jamie’s maternal uncle, suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome, a degenerative disease that renders his legs immobile and his body painful. However, he is still able to reign over the MacKenzie clan and rises to the occasion at Gatherings and when needed. These are heartening stories of people who suffer physically, but whose spirit remains unbroken.

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Lest we become complacent and think that all these scenes of violence and injury only happened in the 18th century, Gabaldon and Ron D. Moore create parallels to show how we have not learned from history. We are still waging wars that kill and injure, only our weapons are now more sophisticated. In the opening episode set in the Second World War, Claire, clothed in a very bloody apron, is shown in a horrific scene where a soldier’s leg has to be amputated. This amputation scene is later repeated in Episode 6 “The Garrison Commander” where an English soldier has to suffer the same fate. The parallels force us to contend with the way history repeats itself, the way we do not heed the lessons from our past.

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Significantly, after the season finale, a number of bloggers wrote about healing and therapy. We, too need comfort after those scenes of suffering at Wentworth. Beth Wesson writes about reader responses and quotes from a fan who commented to Diana Gabaldon that she “expected to be entertained, not healed” by her books. We may not all be able to change the course of history, but like Claire, we can help the person who is right in front of us, one at a time. Bodies may be injured, but spirits do not have to be broken. The end of Outlander gives us hope that there will be a new life ahead for Jamie and Claire.

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Discussing happiness, the best use of time, and the advantages of industry, pragmatic and philosophical English author Samuel Johnson wrote: “To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next is, to strive, and deserve to conquer: but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence…” (Adventurer 111). Outlander is inspiring because Gabaldon and Ron Moore’s TV production show that real life is not about a couple riding off into the sunset, but a series of day to day trials. Often, we are hurt and suffer loss, but those who endeavor to move on in spite of disheartening encounters, big or small, are the ones who ultimately gain strength and our admiration. Learning from history, we can, like Claire and Jamie, create a caring and supportive community for the real heroes in our lives.

By: Eleanor Ty

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Works Cited

Gabaldon, Diana. “Genre Labels and the big ‘romance’ question, are they or aren’t they?” FAQ: About the Books. http://www.dianagabaldon.com/resources/faq/faq-about-the-books/#romancequestion

Johnson, Samuel. “The Pleasures and Advantages of Industry.” Adventurer 111 Tuesday, November 27, 1753. http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/29985/

Wesson, Beth. “I Expected to be Entertained, Not Healed”: Outlander and Reader Response. 9 June 2015. http://bethwesson.com/2015/06/09/i-expected-to-be-entertained-not-healed-outlander-and-reader-response/

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Sex, Spirituality, and Salvation in Outlander: To Ransom a Man’s Soul

Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom. His flesh shall be fresher than a child’s: he shall return to the days of his youth.                                                                                                Job 33:24

 In the abbey where Jamie and she are taking refuge, Claire finds a bible, and searching for an answer to Jamie’s despair, she reads a number of passages about help and strength. Of the many quotations she highlights, she likes this one about the possibility of being blessed without condemnation (Outlander, Chapter 39 “To Ransom a Man’s Soul”). In Job, God reassures us that to the justified, everything is adjusted because God has found a ransom in Christ and we are delivered out of the pit. Claire tells Jamie, “there’s nothing to forgive.” 116 Claire monk

There are a number of biblical echoes in Outlander, which Diana Gabaldon carefully adapts for her contemporary global readers. The richness of her prose comes from the way she is able to link the earthly with the intellectual, the mythic, the spiritual, and oftentimes, the scientific and historical. In Gabaldon’s books, love and passion are never just physical and sensual, they encompass a range of emotions that carry us from our mundane world to somewhere above the ordinary. Many of our favourite lines from Outlander are precisely this fertile mix of passion and spirituality:

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“Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone,

I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.

I give ye my Spirit, ‘til our Life shall be Done.”              Marriage vows

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Outlander 2014

“I am your master… and you’re mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.”

What happens when both heroes and villains desire the kind of passion, fury, and glory that we yearn for? In Episode 1 x16 “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” we have Jack Randall who seeks a fulfillment for which he has been waiting for over four years, at the same time as we have Claire who is seeking to find a way to ransom Jamie’s soul. Blogger Candida notes the “sinister and heartbreaking” cuts between Randall and Claire in the show (Candida’s Musings), as they both touch and desire Jamie.

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The mixture of the sexual and the spiritual comes out in Ron D. Moore’s show to a certain extent. At one point in Episode 1 x 16, Jack Randall, unable to get much of a response from Jamie, says, “what, you are going to lie there like Christ with his bleeding hands?” Jack is only able to elicit the kind of sexual and spiritual response he wants by inflicting great pain followed by tenderness. The fact that he does, and succeeds in getting Jamie to momentarily forget himself, is what is disturbing.

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In Western art, there is a long tradition of expressing intense feeling through a mixture of the religious and the sexual. In 1647, Gian Lorenzo Bernini sculpted the Ecstacy of St. Teresa which dramatized St. Teresa of Avila’s relationship with god. As the angel stabs St. Therese’s heart with his arrow, she felt the love of God as extreme spiritual pain, and also intense sweetness (akward42). bernini_st_teresa_avila

Violence seems to be part of the intensity of great love. This is the reason why the monks of the abbey could not on their own rescue Jamie. They are well-versed in the spiritual, but didn’t have the love and powerful desire that motivated Claire. We need both aspects of love–the physical and the spiritual, to be whole. In the novel, Claire uses her knowledge of drugs, spirituality, and psychology to pierce through the veil of Jamie’s trauma. Braving Jamie’s confusion and brutal reaction, she struggles with him until she brings him back from the pit. In the TV show, she takes on the role of the abandoned woman in order to appeal to Jamie. She tells him that own her life would not make sense if he dies, which succeeds in rousing his masculinity and protective spirit. He does reach out to her finally, which leads to his spiritual healing.

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For Claire, the spiritual healing comes partly from her confession to Brother Anselm who absolves her of both bigamy and murder. He reassures her, “Everyone’s actions affect the future” (Chapter 40 Absolution) which absolves Claire and also empowers her for what lies ahead. What we did not see enough of in the final episode, which many readers of the book have commented on, is the sensuality and spirituality between Claire and Jamie. We saw a lot of the sensuality of Black Jack and Jamie, but it seems like Ron Moore and Ira Steven Behr became enamored of the villain, as John Milton did with Satan in Paradise Lost, so that the episode became about him rather than about Jamie and Claire.

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Blogger Erin Conrad notes, “the viewer hasn’t seen enough of [Claire and Jaime’s] growing love to completely buy into their soul connection” (Review Ep 16, TIBS). It is a pity that we could not have a version of the hot springs ending in place of “The Watch” or the “The Search,” which were fillers (Conrad). Not only was the hot springs scene the second-best erotic scene in the novel (next to the wedding night), it was the way to link back to Claire’s decision at the standing stones. For Claire had said then about her difficult choice: “You don’t know how close it was. The hot baths nearly won” (Chapter 25, “Thou Shalt not Suffer a Witch”). In Chapter 41 “From the Womb of the Earth” we have Jamie presenting Claire with his own “hot bath” deep underground, a fitting symbol of rebirth by water, but also the way life is different in 18th century Scotland but still filled with beauty.

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In the TV show, the episode ends with Claire and Jamie sailing away romantically on the tall ship bound for France. In place of the caves, we have a different kind of water and the journey motif, which signals a path to rescue and redemption. The open sea is a fitting image of the challenges and wide horizon in front of them: “And the world was all around us, new with possibility.” Just don’t expect Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” to be played on this boat…

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                                                                By: Eleanor Ty

  Works Cited

Akward 42. “Bernini’s The Ecstacy of St. Teresa.” 24 February 2015. https://akward42.wordpress.com/2015/02/24/berninis-the-ecstasy-of-st-teresa/

Candida’s Musings.” A True Fan’s Review of #Outlander Episode 116: To Ransom a Man’s Soul.” Candida’s Musings. 2 June 2015. Web. https://candidan.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/a-true-fans-review-of-outlander-episode-116-to-ransom-a-mans-soul/

Conrad, Erin. “Outlander Ep. 16 Review – Too Much, and Not Enough.” TIBS: ThreeifBySpace.net 31 May 2015. http://www.threeifbyspace.net/2015/05/outlander-ep-16-review-too-much-and-not-enough/