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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.

Hugh Munroe

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:

Outlander 2014
Outlander 2014

“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/

Wentworth: Violence, Death, and the Hell Within

For within him Hell

He brings, … nor from Hell

One step no more than from himself can fly

By change of place.

John Milton. Paradise Lost. Bk. 4

 

The episode we have all been dreading in Outlander aired and it was as horrible as we imagined it to be (1X15 Wentworth). The image of Jamie clutching his bloody crippled hand was extremely disturbing even though we were prepared for it. Many people, including the Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies, have described the last couple of episodes as “dark” and, as the Wentworth episode coincided with a rape scene on Game of Thrones, a number of writers commented on the violence in both shows (ex. Sara Stewart). Yet we do tolerate the violence on Outlander, gruesome as it was. Why?

Diana Gabaldon has talked about the necessity of putting Jamie through such “pain and suffering” because it’s a “High Stakes” story and how the violence is necessary to show that Jack Randall was “a serious threat” (Gabaldon, “Jamie and the Rule of Three”). She also suggests that the Wentworth scene is part of a triangle of emotional climaxes of the book, which culminates in the Abbey.

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Outlander 2014 from Starz

The Hell Within

For me, the Wentworth episode is central to the story because it is the moment when Jack Randall and Jamie confront their deepest fears and unconscious desires. In Paradise Lost, John Milton envisioned hell not just as a place, but as a state of mind. After his defeat, Satan leaves hell but talks about the “hell within” him which he carries to the Garden of Eden. Similar to the fiend, Black Jack Randall is a tormented man who takes pleasure in seeing others get hurt. Four years before, Jack Randall tried to break Jamie with sheer brutality and physical force (100 lashes on top of 100 lashes), but that failed to crush Jamie’s spirit. This time, he succeeds in penetrating Jamie’s core through a combination of love and brute strength. Initially, Jamie was unafraid of Jack and refused to surrender, but agreed later to comply with his wishes in exchange for Claire’s safety. Even so, Black Jack’s triumph comes at a cost to himself: he had to admit his desire for Jamie in order to gain the upper hand. Love is risky.

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Outlander 2014 from Starz

What happened in the dungeon was not just physical torture but an experience that cut through the essence of one’s psyche. Jamie tells Claire later that he could have stood “being hurt, no matter how bad,” but it was the love that got to him. Black Jack aroused a visceral response in Jamie. It was the combination of love and pain, the confusion of anger, sexuality and desire that broke Jamie and made him feel shame and loathing for himself. Later, he becomes reluctant to touch Claire in the abbey because he feels that he would contaminate their relationship (Chapter 39 To Ransom a Man’s Soul).

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The Wentworth dungeon represents a hell in more ways than one. Milton had envisioned hell as fiery, in a state of “darkness visible,” and the imagery of fire and darkness permeates Starz’s production. Even the other prisoners all had the look of forsaken souls.

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Significantly, this descent down to hell is introduced by numerous images of death. The episode begins with prisoner after prisoner being hung at the gallows, and the camera pans to a close-up of the noose. Jamie, MacQuarrie, and all the other prisoners are confronting one of our greatest fears in life, the prospect of annihilation.

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In Episode 1X11, “The Devil’s Mark” Claire had faced a similar prospect, and she had also descended into a kind of hell in the thieves’ den. The imagery is suggestively similar: an underground dark, damp place crawling with creepy creatures. With Geillis, she was held prisoner for three days before being rescued by Jamie. After this imprisonment and near death, Claire has an epiphanic moment of revelation. At Craigh Na Dun, she realizes how much her emotions have shifted in the past six months. Having been given the choice by Jamie to return to her own time, she chooses to stay in the 18th century.

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In a similar manner, Jamie also has three days before he is rescued and then redeemed. At one point, the brothers in the abbey give him a sacrament, both to heal and to serve as his last rites (Chapter 39). He is believed to be near death. A nail through the hand, the sacrifice of the self in order to save another, redemption and three days before resurrection are strong biblical echoes, as Gabaldon has remarked. It is the gravity of the scenes and the emotional weight of them that make a profound impact on us. The Wentworth episode is not a gratuitous rape scene. Wentworth is about confronting the limits of one’s self, acknowledging one’s weakness, and being able to find enough courage to come back from the dead, and pursue one’s dreams in spite of the lingering pain and suffering.

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By: Eleanor Ty

Works Cited

Gabaldon, Diana. “Jamie and the Rule of Three.” Dianagabaldon.com 9 December 2010.

Stewart, Sara. “Sexual Violence on Outlander vs. Game of Thrones. Women and Hollywood 21 May 2014. http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/sexual-violence-on-outlander-vs-game-of-thrones-20150521

Why Sassenachs (not just soccer moms) love Outlander

        In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article in Business Insider, Jethro Nededog writes that Starz’s Outlander is a show mainly watched by women (64%), and more specifically by soccer moms who have become hooked by reading Diana Gabaldon’s novels, who like the characters’ family values, find inspiration in Claire and Jamie’s marriage, the strong female point of view, and the good-looking lead actor, Sam Heughan. These reasons are probably true for some people, but do not adequately explain the obsession readers and more recently, audiences have with the books and the TV series. Gabaldon’s books have sold 26 million worldwide, and the Starz production has averaged 5.1 million viewers each episode in the first half of Season 1.

Gabaldon’s books offer multiple levels of intellectual, emotional, aesthetic psychic engagement, and Ronald D. Moore’s production has been careful to replicate this experience on screen. Here are my five reasons why women (not necessarily just soccer moms) love Outlander:

  1. A strong, competent heroine

Gabaldon presents a strong, intelligent heroine who is able to perform amazing feats of nurturing and healing because she has the advantage of 200 years of science and medicine. During the first encounter of Claire Beauchamp with the Highlanders, her ability to put back Jamie’s dislocated shoulder was the first riveting scene that made us and Jamie fall in love with the heroine. Not since Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe or Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) have we seen such “competence porn,” the enjoyment derived from witnessing impressive feats of human capability” (Dartnell). Starz understood this attraction and made the most of Claire, and later, Jenny representing them as feisty, strong, and capable women, at home in Lallybroch and on the road.

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Outlander Episode 1 x 02
  1. Melodrama

19th century melodrama is characterized by the clash between extremes of good and evil, between strong and weak, rich and poor, but also by its use of archetypal, mythic beliefs. Gabaldon’s novels are full of heart-wrenching scenes of emotional conflicts and drama. The scene of Black Jack Randall flogging Jamie works at a number of levels. The flogging scene, with Jamie’s outstretched arms, is one of goodness and innocence at the hands of the wicked, suggestive of Christ at the hands of Roman soldiers. Diana Gabaldon describes Black Jack as a “pervert” and a “sadist” (Facebook post 28 April 2015), but even David Cameron appreciated the power of such a scene when he requested that Outlander not be shown in Great Britain before the Scottish referendum.
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In the eighteenth century, sentimental novels used stock characters and scenes to create affecting scenes for readers: a seduced maiden asking for forgiveness at her father’s feet or the reunion between a father and his long, lost son. Different readers have their own list of gut-wrenching scenes in Outlander but for many it is the scene at the standing stones, when Jamie bids Claire to go back to her “own time on the other side” because “There’s nothing for ye on this side, lass!” (Chapter 25 Thou Shalt Not Suffer). Later, he admits that letting her go was the “hardest thing” he ever did. Instead of replicating the self-sacrifice through dialogue, the Starz production shows Jamie crying himself to sleep, and then weeping for joy when she returns to him at the cottage.

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Outlander Episode 1 X 11

In addition, melodramas often feature orphans and emphasize the weak and the unappreciated. Interestingly, Claire and Jamie are both orphans, which intensifies their need for each other. Promises of unconditional care become more critical. Early on, Jamie tells her, “You need not be scairt of me.. Nor of anyone here, so long as I’m with ye” (Chapter 4 I Come to the Castle). Care is also given to Claire by Mistress Fitzgibbons who offers Claire a “kindly” welcome, dresses her and respects her as a healer. These scenes are important because Claire, and to a certain extent, Jamie, have been itinerants, without stable homes, and are emotionally- starved. In the Starz production, when Claire imagines telling someone who she really is, it is to Mistress Fitzgibbons to whom she dreams of confessing.

  1. The Renaissance man as hero

Even though Sam Heughan has become the “alpha male” of 2015, most women would agree that we are in love with the fictional character Jamie Alexander Fraser rather than Sam. As well as being a brawny fighter and soldier, Jamie is a true Renaissance man, cultured and accomplished in the arts and sciences. He speaks English, Gaelic, French, German, and reads Latin. He is good with horses, is emotionally intelligent, often understanding people’s needs before Claire, and is a born leader. He can fix a mill wheel, knows how to run a farm, and later, can build log cabins with only an axe (Drums Of Autumn). He is a tender and passionate lover. The only thing he cannot do is sing. Okay, Jamie’s (and Sam’s) physique and handsome features help.

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  1. Romance and transgressive sexual passion

Contrary to those who see Claire and Jamie’s marriage as the epitome of pure married love, I see their relationship as the embodiment of transgression and desire. All through the first two-thirds of Outlander, Claire’s feelings for Jamie are ambivalently tinged with admiration, love, but also feelings of guilt, worry, and her sense of impropriety. She knows she is married to Frank, and the relationship with Jamie is that much more exciting because it is, in the back of Claire’s mind, a forbidden one. Sure, Jamie and Claire’s relationship has been sanctified by marriage, but was she free to marry? There is nothing quite so exciting romantic as being reluctantly swept up into a passionate love affair, for once, letting one’s body (and soul?) judge what is right instead of following one’s reason.

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  1. Nostalgia and Elegy

Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber are extended elegies for the Scotish clans, their kilts, their grand horses, and the Gaelic language. In the Starz production, Claire and Frank visit the battlefield of Culloden right at the beginning. In the novel, Claire warns Jamie not to participate in the Rising. She remembers “the clan stones, the grey boulders that would lie scattered on the field, each stone bearing the single clan name of he butchered men who lay under it” (Chapt. 25 Thou Shalt not Suffer). We are reminded that the Highlanders and their way of life are doomed, and the impending destruction infuses the story with a sense of melancholia and nostalgia. Even though readers and viewers may not have been to Scotland, we feel nostalgia for the rolling green hills, the craigs, lochs, old castles, majestic mountains, and heather-covered fields. The Starz production makes the most of the pastoral beauty of Scotland by highlighting its magic and mystery. Terry Dresbach’s meticulous and detailed costumes make even the drabbest wool and plaid come alive and look stunning. Is it any wonder that tourism in Scotland has increase by 30% since the show started?

By: Eleanor Ty

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