Trigger Warning for discussions of child abuse, IPV, and rape.
Claire and Frank Randall head to Scotland to reacquaint themselves with each other after a six year separation, due to Claire's work as a combat nurse during WWII. Frank uses this time to research his family history and though Claire is supportive, she's not necessarily interested in the role that Frank's ancestor played in the Jackobite uprising. Clarie finds herself at the stone circle at Craigh na Dun and when she touches the cleft rock, Claire's life takes a turn she could never have imagined.
When Claire regains consciousness, she finds herself 200 years in the past but before she can make sense of what happened, Claire finds herself in a confrontation is Black Jack Randall, the 6x grandfather of her husband. Thankfully for Claire, a group of highlanders come along and rescue her before she can be raped. The problem is that the highlanders take Claire away from the stones she needs to stay near to, in order to return to her own time. Caught up in the upcoming uprising, clan politics and the tyranny of Black Jack Randall, Claire has only her wits to protect herself with.
Essentially, Outlander is a historical fantasy/romance novel. As much as the novel concerns itself with Claire learning how to live 200 years in the past, it is also about her relationship with Jamie Fraser, the man she is forced into marrying. Claire is a really strong protagonist, who never fears saying exactly what she is thinking or feeling for that matter. This gets her into some trouble at times, as of course, gender dynamics in the 1700's, are extremely patriarchal and rigid. The highlanders are highly suspicious of Claire, who they fear to be an English spy and Claire must spend her time trying to convince them that she is not working for the crown, even as she hides the truth of her identity from them.
As the story continues, Claire's marriage of convenience to Jamie, turns into love and is she troubled by the fact that she has a husband - Frank Randall waiting and worrying about her 1945. Many of the other female characters in this novel are very strong and outspoken, particularly Jenny, Jamie's sister. Jenny refuses to be bullied by anyone and stands toe to toe with her older brother when he tries to shame her because he believes that she is a rape victim. Instead, Jenny laughs at her would be rapist and fights back to the best of her ability.
“I laughed. I mean—” Her eyes met her brother’s with some defiance. “I kent well enough how a man’s made. I’d seen you naked often enough, and Willy and Ian as well. But he—” A tiny smile appeared on her lips, despite her apparent efforts to suppress it. He looked so funny, all red in the face, and rubbing himself so frantic, and yet still only half—”
There was a choked sound from Ian, and she bit her lip, but went on bravely.
“He didna like it when I laughed, and I could see it, so I laughed some more. That’s when he lunged at me and tore my dress half off me. I smacked him in the face, and he struck me across the jaw, hard enough to make me see stars. Then he grunted a bit, as though that pleased him, and started to climb onto the bed wi’ me. I had just about sense enough left to laugh again. I struggled up onto my knees, and I—I taunted him. I told him I kent he was no a real man, and couldna manage wi’ a woman. I—”
She bent her head still further, so the dark curls swung down past her flaming cheeks. Her words were very low, almost a whisper.“I…spread the pieces of my gown apart, and I…taunted him wi’ my breasts. I told him I knew he was afraid o’ me, because he wasna fit to touch a woman, but only to sport wi’ beasts and young lads…”
“Jenny,” said Jamie, shaking his head helplessly.
Her head came up to look at him. “Weel, I did then,” she said. “It was all I could think of, and I could see that he was fair off his head, but it was plain too that he…couldn’t. And I stared right at his breeches and I laughed again. And then he got his hands round my throat, throttling me, and I cracked my head against the bedpost, and…and when I woke he’d gone, and you wi’ him.” (pg 540- 541)
When Jamie is kidnapped, even after just giving birth to a baby, Jenny is not afraid to go on a rescue mission to save her brother. Then you have Mrs. Fitz who runs her kitchen with an iron hand and shows Claire the ropes somewhat. Mrs.Fitz is unafraid to stand up to himself (the Laird), when she believes that Claire is in danger after a report of a witch trial in town. The women of Outlander are not above scheming if they must, or even playing on the gender roles that they have been given in order to get their way. Even Geille whose life ends horribly manages to outsmart her husband and murder him.
For a historical fantasy romance, Outlander is filled with violence from start to finish. Yes, violence between the English and the Scottish is to be expected given the time period but Gabaldon takes it so much further. We have Geille, a pregnant woman and yet another traveler from the future, who is set up as a witch by Callum and Dougall and killed. Homicide is the leading cause of death amongst pregnant women and Gabaldon used this as a small additive to her story. The only purpose Geille's death served was to inform the reader that she had also traveled from the future. Surely, such information could have been imparted without her violent death.