Outlander has been in the Top 15 of AAR’s Top 100 Romances since we began doing them in 1998. It has a DIK review here. In 1991 it won the RITA award for Best Romance Novel. I think it is pretty safe to say this novel is a beloved romance for many, many people.
Hero Jamie Fraser tends to be a fan favorite. He was No. 2 in our Top Ten Heroes Poll done in 2009. Claire and Jamie ranked third in our Top Ten Couples Poll. So could a guy this popular ever rate as a douchebag?
For some the answer is a resounding yes. And it all revolves around a handful of scenes.
The Background: We are all familiar with Stonehenge. What some don’t realize is that, while nowhere near as magnificent, there are other ancient circles of rock all over the British Isles. Thanks to a standing stone from one of those Claire Randall travels back in time from 1945 to 1743.Through a long series of events she winds up married to Jamie Fraser, a popular young warrior. The only problem is back/forward in 1945 Claire already has a husband. She wants to go home but being truly a stranger in a strange land has no idea how to even do that. She is forced to follow Jamie around. One day, this includes being left in a copse of trees with a warning.
If you leave that copse before I come for ye, I’ll tan your bare arse with my sword belt. Ye wouldna enjoy walking all the way to Bargrennan. Remember,” he said, pinching my cheeks gently, “I dinna make idle threats.” He didn’t either.
But Claire makes a discovery of her own while wandering around the area.
I had been so intent on arguing with Jamie that it had not until this minute dawned on me that the situation I had been vainly trying to bring about for two months had finally occurred. I was alone and I knew where I was. . . . no more than seven miles from that bloody hill and its accursed stone circle. Seven miles – perhaps – from home. From Frank.
She seizes the opportunity and heads for the stones. Unfortunately, on the way there she is captured by the English who have an amazingly bad relationship with the Scots. Jamie rescues her at considerable risk to himself and others. He is not happy. His men are not happy. And since he doesn’t make idle threats –
All right, now I will have to punish you, and for two reasons: first, so that you will know.” He smiled suddenly. “I can tell ye from my own experience that a good hiding makes ye consider things in a more serious light.” I took a tighter hold on the bedpost.
“The other reason,” he went on, “is because of the other men. Ye’ll have noticed how they were tonight?” I had; it had been so uncomfortable at dinner that I was glad to escape to the room.
“There’s such a thing as justice, Claire. You’ve done wrong to them all and you have to suffer for it.” He took a deep breath. “I’m your husband: it’s my duty to attend to it, and I mean to do it.”
Claire feels quite differently about the situation.
I had strong objections to this proposal on several levels. Whatever the justice of the situation – and I had to admit that at least some of it lay on his side – my sense of amour-propre was deeply offended at the thought of being beaten, by whomever and for whatever reason.
I felt deeply betrayed that the man I depended on as friend, protector, and lover intended to do such a thing to me. And my sense of self-preservation was quietly terrified at the thought of submitting myself to the mercies of someone who handled a fifteen-pound claymore as though it were a flywhisk.
“I will not allow you to beat me,” I said firmly.
In spite of some struggles from Claire, the event does take place.
It had been a most unpleasant night. My reluctant acquiescence had lasted precisely as far as the first searing crack of leather on flesh. This was followed by a short, violent struggle, which left Jamie with a bloody nose, three lovely gouges down one cheek, and a deeply bitten wrist. Not surprisingly, it left me half smothered in the greasy quilts with a knee in my back, being beaten within an inch of my life.
First, a side note. Claire eats breakfast, walks about the camp and rides a horse the following day. Yes, her bottom is sore but she can sit and ride. She was clearly not beaten to within an inch of her life, regardless of her feelings on the issue.
What damns Jamie in further in many minds is that he somehow managed to enjoy beating her.
“Enjoyed it! Sassenach,” he said, gasping, “you don’t know just how much I enjoyed it. You were so . . . God you looked lovely. I was so angry, and you fought me so fierce. I hated to hurt you, but I wanted to do it at the same time . . . Jesus,” he said, breaking off and wiping his nose, “yes. Yes I did enjoy it.”
“Though come to that,” he said, “you might give me some credit for exercising restraint.”
I was getting rather angry again. I could feel my cheeks flushing hotly against the cool dawn air.
“Restraint, was it? I was under the impression that what you were exercising was your good left arm. You almost crippled me, you arrogant Scottish bastard!”
“Did I want to cripple ye, Sassenach, you’d know it,” he answered dryly. “I meant afterward. I slept on the floor, if ye recall.”
I eyed him narrowly, breathing through my nose. “Oh, so that was restraint was it?”
“Well, I didna think it right to roger you in that state, however fierce I wanted to. And I did want to,” he added laughing again. “Terrible strain on my natural instincts.”
There is one more moment that seemingly condemns Jamie.
“Oh, no, you don’t,” I said, pulling back. “I can’t possibly; I’m too sore.”
James Fraser was not a man to take no for an answer.
“I’ll be verra gentle,” he wheedled dragging me inexorably under the quilt. And he was gentle, as only big men can be, cradling me like a quail’s egg, paying me court with a humble patience that I recognized as reparation – and a gentle insistence that I knew was a continuation of the lesson so brutally begun the night before. Gentle he would be, denied he would not.
These three moments are what serve as evidence to his nasty nature to some. Brynn Donovan in Persephone Magazine calls him a wife beater. Leah of Talking Reckless says, “This was a story about love, and there is something very twisted about slipping rape fantasies into a romance and passing it off as love.” Moxie on The Well-Trained Mind forums said:
Based on the reviews here and on several other boards, I began reading Outlander last week. I really liked it and thought Jamie was just perfect. Protective, gentle, just a perfect romance novel character. Then I hit chapter 22 “Reckonings”. I had to put the book down I was so disturbed and really shocked. I’m not sure I want to finish a book in which a man so happily beats his wife. I’m so surprised that in all of the glowing reviews I’ve read, I’ve never once seen any warning about violence.
I have to wonder what this says about women (I’m not attacking anyone here, just thinking about women in general). This is a really popular book and women everywhere *swoon* over Jamie. Do women secretly want to be dominated like that?
Kate Nagy gives a good defense of the issues on Heroes and Heartbreakers. But ultimately it comes down to individual readers as to whether or not the above actions place Jamie in douchebag territory.
For my part, while the fact that beating his wife caused a spike in his libido gave me a twinge, I ultimately still find Jamie to fall in dreamboat territory. A far worse punishment would have been not rescuing her. She might have a sore bum but he risked his life to save her from a situation where she was about to get far worse. In the 1700’s the idea of marital rape would not have existed so that doesn’t impact my opinion of him much either.
Now I will put the question to AAR Staffers – Jamie Frasier, dreamboat or douchebag?
Mary: Oh, definitely dreamboat for me. I just don’t understand how readers judge a 23 year old young man in his first committed relationship, doing what his culture has taught him to do and not look at the larger picture. First, when he had to rescue her, he put both his and the lives of his companions at grave risk. He had to confront the man who lashed him within an inch of his life (the witnessing of which caused his father to suffer a heart attack and die) who was also a sexual predator and in the process of attempting to rape his wife when he found her. That might just make any one of us a little angry. Dougal already does not trust her, nor do any of the other MacKenzies on that trip. So something had to be done to make things right. While I certainly do not believe that husbands should beat their wives, that was the culture back then and Jamie was just doing what his culture had taught him to do.
I also think that scene had less to do with Jamie’s character and more to do with Claire’s frame of mind. I do not think until that moment she truly understood the precarious situation she was in – that up until that point it was not totally real to her – almost like playing a game of make believe. This event brought it home to her in a very real and brutal way. It is a scene that forces her to choose and until later on in the book when she is accused of witchcraft, we no longer see Claire trying to get home. She resigns herself to life in the 18th century and a life with Jamie.
But…back to Jamie. What 23 year old guy has much sense? Especially one who has never been in a relationship before? If Jamie were perfect from the get go, he would have been a boring character. Over the course of their relationship, Jamie grows up and grows as a character. He does make a solemn vow never to strike Claire again and he keeps that vow. He LISTENS to her and takes her feelings and opinions seriously. By the time we are several books into their relationship, Jamie and Claire are on more egalitarian terms than Claire had been with Frank, in my opinion.
Caz: You took the words right out of my mouth. I really don’t think Claire had quite understood the severity of her situation and the fallout her actions could cause. There are many times early in the book when, while we can admire her for her ballsy stance and the way she stands up to the men around her in a way a woman of the time would probably not have done, but there’s a niggle at the back of my mind saying that she needs to be more circumspect. Jamie sums it up perfectly at one point when she starts to criticise something saying “where I come from – “ and he interrupts and points out “you’re here now”. Or words to that effect. She doesn’t have a great deal of respect for their ways and culture, possibly because at that point she’s still focused on getting back to the 20th century and Frank, so 18th century Scotland is still like a bad dream for her.
But her wandering off and then getting captured puts everyone in danger – especially Jamie who, until that point, has been lying low.
I’m not defending his actions but what else was he going to do? Sure, he could have sat her down and explained it thoroughly and perhaps Claire would have understood. But there’s also the fact that Jamie would have lost a lot of respect amongst the clan if he’d been seen to do nothing, and that if he hadn’t inflicted the punishment, then someone else would have, and would probably have done it publicly (much as would have happened to Leoghaire (sp?) had Jamie not stepped in).
As for the part where he admits to having enjoyed beating her… squick. But I don’t think it was the beating he enjoyed so much as it was the fact that she was riled up and fighting back.
As for the final example… I don’t see it as rape, marital or otherwise. He’s lusty and demanding, she’s knackered and a bit sore. It’s not the ideal combination, but there are times in a marriage when one partner will compromise to suit the other, and that happens in bed as well as out of it.
A lot of the time, Jamie is almost TOO good to be true. Even without comparing him to the men around him, he’s almost perfect – open minded, willing to learn, and from a woman, no less, honourable, kind and all those other things we love him for. To an extent, Jamie NEEDS to have some flaws, otherwise, he’d be bland and uninteresting. Would I have chosen those flaws to be that he straps his wife and has sex with her when she’s tired and uncomfortable? Perhaps not. But as far as I’m concerned, he’s still Dreamboat material.
Jenna: I thoroughly agree with Caz on all of this.
I read Outlander decades ago, when it first came out, and can’t remember much of it. I only just caught up with the miniseries, which inspired me to reread the book. I haven’t yet gotten to the scenes under discussion, but my initial thoughts about Jamie are that he’s almost too good to be true. He takes the beating for that young girl (name is completely beyond me!), he’s sweet and respectful and still a tough warrior, all with a good sense of humor. I think he falls firmly into the dreamboat camp.
As for the beating, again, haven’t read it in context yet, but given the times and the severity of what Claire did – the level of danger she exposed them to – I can understand Jamie’s reaction. She can be offended by what he did, and it certainly wouldn’t fly in today’s world, but I can see why it happened when put in the proper context of history and situation. I can’t hate him for doing it, the way I hated Clayton for spanking Whitney in Whitney, My Love. Even though that was also an historical, his beating of her was based on stupid misunderstandings and clearly an instance of power and domination.
Caroline: I think the spanking itself has been pretty well covered by the other ladies commenting here, so I’ll address mostly the arousal.
I think Caz is right that Jamie’s excitement comes more from having fought with Claire than from the act of beating her. I can’t really fault him for that. Erections in men can be a biological response to conflict and the hormones and adrenaline that come from an intense situation. Men get erections when their teams win tight football games, but that doesn’t mean they’re aroused by Peyton Manning.
Even if Jamie specifically had a spanking/beating fetish, I still wouldn’t let that alone put him in the “douchebag” camp. Why? Because what arouses people is typically outside their control (we wouldn’t call a BDSM hero a douchebag merely for getting turned on by spanking). It’s what a guy does with that arousal that matters to me. He recognizes that Claire doesn’t share his excitement, and so he doesn’t pursue sex. What’s wrong with that?
So it would seem that AAR Staff is firmly of the belief that Jamie is a dreamboat. Sure he has his problems but those are what keep him interesting. Now it’s your turn – In your opinion is Jamie a dreamboat or a douchebag?