It’s time for yet another one anti-review, I’m afraid. Maybe it’s just me; I like writing about things I dislike or I disagree about.
So, supposedly you’ve heard about a wanna-be-doctor Claire Randall who travels in time to the eighteenth-century Scotland and meets
the local god of sex Jaime Fraser, haven’t you? You must have heard. I heard about it, too, and I decided to read the series because I craved desperately for some books about Gaelic Scotland. It dissapointed me. On so many levels. And it irritates me so much that I’m going (or hoping) not to waste a lot of time on explaining why it is so damnably irritating.
1. Children’s Beating Obsession
Let’s say I’ve read some historical novels. Philippa Gregory’s, Sigrid Undset’s, Les Rois Maudits, Poldark series, Cashelmara. What’s more, I’ve read books written in the times when beating children was commonly acceptable, like those of Dickens or Dostoevsky.
What did I learn from these books? Children weren’t beaten for every “misdeed”. They might have been slapped, not beaten with a belt. The more timid ones might not have been punished with beating at all.
Jaime Fraser or his nephew Ian weren’t so lucky, apparently. In Outlander, SPOILERS Jaime recalls that he was beaten by his father (usually with a belt) for literally every childish prank or involuntary omission. From the age of six to sixteen. And he recalls his daddy as a good one. On the other hand, usual Ian’s punishment for the more serious pranks was fifteen beats with a belt. And he also considers his daddy a good one. SPOILERS And I have no clue what is the purpose of all that. To show that the Olden Days were stricter towards kids? They were, but not to such an extent. To show that we shouldn’t judge the people of past with our measure? Tell it to Gabaldon when she describes the series’ TrueLovers/slavery/pacifist tries of stopping Jacobite Rising or American Revolution ’cause “We dont wan’t bloodshed!1!” Maybe—alongside with some naturalist descriptions—it’s just the author’s fetish.
Besides SPOILERS Claire returns to her own time to raise Brianna, her daughter by Jaime SPOILERS Except for the obvious dramatic tension of such a plot solution (lost spouses&kids, and so on) it’s invented to yet another reason, I think. It’s convenient for your book to bring up a child far away from the guy—being described as a perfect wish-fulfillment as he is—whose convictions on corporal punishment were far from the modern ones. *sinister laughter*
2. Naturalistic Obsession
Explicit descriptions of sex/rapes/tortures are another problem to me.
SPOILERS Hell bunch of sex scenes in every book? Described. Jaime tortured and raped by sadistic Captain Randall who was Claire’s husband ancestor? Described. Brianna raped by an Evil! Pirate? Described. Her boyfriend Roger kidnapped and tortured? Described. SPOILERS
You see, I’m the last person to mind explicite sex or violence when such descriptions are needed. When such descriptions enhance our knowledge of characters, or show us something important. I’m the last person, especially, to mind them out of conservative reasons, modesty and so on. There are things beyond politics, however, like good taste or usefulness. And most of the “explicite scenes” at Gabaldon’s books do not meet these conditions. And it isn’t even the question of tortures’ scene. They are disturbing as they should be, but quite overloaded as well. But sex scenes? Usually, they are completely unnecessary, “just for the porn”.*recalls Guy Gavriel Kay’s books* They don’t tell us a lot about the dynamics and relations between characters. And that’s why I prefer the way of Marquez or Undset of writing about sex. Their descriptions are more metaphorical than anything else, and surprisingly—more telling. You cannot say it, unluckily, about these written by Gabaldon. Sometimes, actually, sex between her characters grows nasty. As when Jaime convinces Claire to have sex in the middle of a military camp. Or the first night of Roger and Brianna—I don’t know why, but the description of it seemed quite nasty to me. Maybe because of all the details of coitus interruptus or of what an uncleaned mouth tastes. Really, I don’t give a damn about it. Another question is how even the medical acts of Claire turns sooner or later to be connected with sex or genitals*prefers not to describe it in details*.
I must admit, however, that the naturalism of Gabaldon’s books has one advantage at least—it’s body positive. It acknowledges the fact that—surprisingly! —women have body hair and periods, and that it is nothing unnatural or nasty. I know it’s damnably important to remind the world of it. However, such important things about womanhood and dailyness are covered with tones of unnecessary sex scenes or torture fetish.
3. Toxic TrueLovers (or Sexism Overall)
If you haven’t heard that in Outlander book Jaime beats Claire with belt because she’d dared to disobey him and she got into trouble with Evil! Captain Randall, then you have it.
I have a great problem with this thread. I wouldn’t have it if Jaime Fraser was portrayed as an average man from eighteenth-century Scotland with all its patriarchy and bias. I wouldn’t have it if the book had that hint of realism beyond SteamySex and TerryfyingTortures. But you see, it isn’t that kind of realism. It’s rather that kind of fiction where eighteenth-century men—brought up in feudal, patriarchal and classist culture—are perfect Love Interests, the loving ones, the understanding ones, the caring ones, the passionate ones. If one is perfect and outstanding in comparison to the contemporary ones, than how could one beat his wife?
Beating isn’t the only sin of Jaime. He’s a rapist bastard as well. He prompts Claire to have sex at the others’ presence—although she isn’t especially willing. He mishandles her during another intercourse, even when she wants him to stop.
SPOILERS Later, when Claire is gone, he remarries to a widow called Laoghaire who has been infatuated with him for years. SPOILERS He admits that she wasn’t glad having sex with him. What a reader can guess out, actually, is the fact that Jaime was raping Laoghaire. He wouldn’t ask her whether she wanted to have sex, and he was brutal and indifferent to her during “love”-making.
And guess what? There’s NO justification for it. No “sexist times” and no narrator’s comments about Evil! Laoghaire who’s always had a crush on Jaime and hated
our Mary Sue Claire. If Jaime is such an ideal, he shouldn’t rape anybody.
On the other hand, the very demonizing of Laoghaire is the proof that the series isn’t well-written. If you need to make a villain of your hero/ine’s love rival, than it means that the plot doesn’t stand for itself. *recalls Kristin Lavransdatter and lady Eline, more tragic than villainous* Why, some writers can write such things decently. Some not.
And yet, Jaime is still not as wicked and irritating as Roger, at least. He isn’t your Typical Harlequin Badass with bad reputation and numerous sexual partners; actually, he’s a virgin younger from his wife when he’s marrying Claire, and such a trope is always refreshing. Additionally, most of his unforgettable actions seems more the author’s appeal of “Past is brutal and Laoghaire Evul!” than the consistent and deliberate deeds which are corresponding to his personality.
And Roger McKenzie? Roger is perfect. He’s perfect as your Harlequin Hero observing the world with his male gaze. He despises sexual revolution but he admits he used to have quite a heartless and random sex. Even when he falls in love with Brianna, he perceives her mostly through her hair, legs, breasts and buttocks. When she wants to have sex, he says that if he wanted just to bed her, he could have had his way with her several times. She slaps him. I don’t like beating anybody, but it’s hard to me not to think that Roger deserves it. He’s one of those hypocrits who want to fuck whores and love Madonnas, the worst nightmare produced by the pre-revolutionary society. SPOILERS And later, when he’s drawn to the eighteenth century and learns that Brianna is pregnant (possibly not with his child, but a rape-child) he rejects her. Meanwhile, for Jaime it’s obvious that Brianna isn’t to blame for the crime which was committed on her, and that Roger should help her if she wants that help. SPOILERS
It doesn’t mean, however, that Jaime is fair about sexuality from the modern perspective, SPOILERS being quite indulgent about Ian having sex with a prostitute. Later, the same Ian calls Brianna a whore, because she dared to have premarital sex with her beloved one. SPOILERS Well, I’m not going to point who’s a little whore here, actually.
The examples of sexism (and double standards as well) in the books are more numerous, and often, quite ridiculous. Claire, for example, says something like that the great quest of Jaime is being a male. *Facepalm* She allows her daughter to decide about having an abortion, for the pregnancy might be the result of rape. On the other hand, when a fourteen-years-old girl rejected by her family and seduced by a man much older from her, wants an abortion, Claire compares her to a murderer. Double standard rulz! And, if you forget, the feminists hate men.
4. Commonfolk Out of Question
To put it plainly—even the simple statistics can show us that Outlander isn’t about the commoners. Jaime and his sister are of gentry origin. Their uncle is the chieftain of McKenzie clan. Their aunt owns a plantation. They might suffer because of Jacobite Rising and being Gaelic Scotts, but that suffering is so typical for historical fiction—make the readers believe that the privileged ones unaccustomed to humilation are suffering more than the commoners accustomed to submission and abuse. Such a suffering is worth more, isn’t it? And even the fact that our heroes embrace some commoners (like Fergus) or make friends with Native Americans doesn’t change it.
Not to mention that usually, we like to identify with those who are both influential and similar to us at once. And eighteenth-century gentry—literate and moderately clean—sems undoubtedly closer to us than ignorants working in dirt, doesn’t it?
And if you miss it, Claire’s “contemporary” husband is a professor with some aristocratic origin, and they lead quite a wealthy life. Upper-middle class people’s problems so much.
5. Gay Men Obsession
The problem with Outlander series isn’t the eighteenth-century people calling non-heteronormative men with ugly names. It reflects the sad truth of the society’s attitude towards homosexuality.
The problem is how non-heteronormative people are portrayed in the series. Surprisingly, they are all males. Aristocratic men. One of them is quite a nasty aging man harassing adolescent boys. Another one, captain Randall, is a psychopath and rapist bastard obsessed with Jaime. The last one, John Grey, is super-intelligent, super-kind and super-handsome. He’s our heroes’ buddy, and he loves Jaime, of course. He’s probably also a rapist bastard abusing slaves, but as we’ve already learnt, rape is a relative thing in Outlander series.
I’ve just got an impression that when you portray some group with two villains and one Mary Sue, there’s something utterly wrong about it.
6. The Reign of Mary Sue
Jaime and Claire (and Brianna plus John Grey, to some extend) are Mary Sues. They are either beautiful/handsome or captivating despite of their Uncommon Beauty Type. Jaime is a warrior/clan-leader/ship captain/gentleman/politician/hunter (delete when not applicable) and he’s good at all of this. He’s also a passionate lover to his wife and—as we are to believe despite of several nasty questions—a perfect True Lover. He can rock a child or build a house as well, and he speaks several languages. Could he be a better Mary Sue? A character more wish-fulfilling and more inaccurate to one’s times? An eighteenth-century guy who takes care of kids from time to time and respects his wife as a professional doctor?
Claire, however, is even more Mary-Sue-like. She’s got rare golden eyes (the Cullens approve) and at the age of fifty, she’s still found attractive and visually competitive by randomly met prostitutes. And if I have a problem with it, it’s because that being an attractive woman past fifty (or even forty) is still seen as some exception. This time, it’s the sign of Mary-Sueishness.
What’s more, SPOILERS Claire possess some kind of clairvoyance, and makes out the theory of time-travelling on her own. As a doctor, she rules as well, inventing antibiotics in her makeshift laboratory at her eighteenth-century home in Carolina. SPOILERS
The worst aspect of Claire’s coolness is her attitude towards the people of colour, however. In ’60s, she’s shown as Sooo Tolerant because she befriends an Afro-American doctor. In the eighteenth century, because she feels sorry for the slaves and cures them, and she finds slavery terrible. And has friends among the Native Americans, remember! It’s just sad to think that the people of colour were introduced to the series probably only to show how Good, Tolerant and Gracious Claire is.
Not to mention that Claire’s Buddy is put in the show mostly to say things which would be find unforgettable at whites and to mock the Afro-American counter-culture with its hairstyle and clothing.
7. The Guise of a Serious Fiction
Maybe I’m a prejudiced snob. But I don’t consider Outlander series something beyond a romance with some multi-genre traits of adventure, historical and fantasy novel. It’s just an exceedingly well-packed and overloaded harlequin written a bit better than a mediocre work of this type. It meets all the tropes of a romance novel—historical setting, attractive men not entirely resembling the people of their times, shallow womanizers portrayed as True Lovers, pathetic sex.
But the series pretends it’s something more. That’s why all the “social issues”, historical characters, religious references or profound descriptions of converted and down-trodden Roger are thrown into.
8. Too Much Content and Too Little Important Action
OK, this was the main reason of putting this series aside by me. Not occasional sexism, not toxic True Lovers, not pretext PoC’s portrayal, not stereotypical gays.*feels ashamed* It’s just too long, with hell bunch of sub-plots which aren’t relevant at all. And book by book, it grows only worse. Thus, even the perspective of receiving a family tree in the book eighth didn’t convince me to go on with Outlander.