The Anxiety of Reproduction: Patrilineage in Outlander

Episode 206 ended with Captain Black Jack Randall bleeding from his groin and Claire Fraser losing blood from her pregnancy. Jack Randall’s wound threatens his masculinity and his ability to father children, while Claire is in danger of losing her baby. These two seemingly unrelated events are symbolic of the larger political issues of heredity and 18th century notions of patrilineage: lineage based through the paternal line.

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What pushed Claire to 18th century Scotland initially was her husband, Frank Randall’s search for his ancestor. Outlander is a novel about roots and the anxiety about losing one’s heritage, family, or clan, as well as losing the rights to one’s line. At the political level, Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the Young Pretender (pretend: to claim to be someone) is also concerned with patrilineage, his right to rule Scotland and England because he was the eldest son of James Stuart, the Old Pretender, whose father had been King James VII of Scotland and King James II of England. King James had ruled England briefly from 1685-1688 when he was deposed because of his Catholicism.

The anxiety about reproduction and family affects Claire’s thinking about Jack Randall because she believes that were Jamie to kill Black Jack, her husband, Frank would no longer come into existence. But this kind of thinking proves false, because as an individual, Claire is powerless to change history as it is recorded.

This is why it is so heartbreaking to watch these episodes. There is a sense of foreboding and doom that underlies the glitter and costumes and small talk in Paris. In the domestic world, as in history, conflicts are not magically resolved, as in fairy tales. There is much tension, unhappy consequences, and often lots of violence. But as the story unfolds, what we discover is that patrilineage does not necessarily ensure that the best man rules the country and that “father” can be performed in various ways.