Outlander (1992)

by Diana Gabaldon

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander books have a huge following. The series of seven (as of 2011) novels focus on Claire Randall, who time travels from 1945 to 1743, and James “Jamie” MacKenzie Fraser, the Scottish outlaw who becomes her 18th-century husband.

Outlander, the first book, opens with Claire and her 20th-century husband, Frank Randall, visiting Inverness on a second honeymoon after the end of World War II. They had been apart for much of the war, when she was a British Army nurse and he worked for British intelligence. One day when she is alone at the Craigh na Dun stone formation, Claire is unwittingly transported two centuries back. She is found by Frank’s evil British ancestor Captain “Black Jack” Randall and rescued by on-the-lam Scotsman Jamie Fraser, a member of the MacKenzie clan. Both the British and the Scots puzzle about where Claire came from, and she doesn’t expect anyone would believe her if she tells the truth. When the MacKenzies marry her off to Jamie for political reasons, she falls for the handsome young Scot, complicating her plan to get back to the 20th century and Frank.

Many readers like the combination of romance, adventure, and history in the Outlander books, but others find them violent and meandering. Also objectionable is Outlander’s offensiveness to contemporary sensibilities: after a couple hundred pages of Jamie’s being portrayed as a hero, he beats Claire with a belt to teach her a lesson. She decides she deserves it, and they make up when he rapes her. To an 18th-century man, a wife was a possession over whom he had complete power, but Claire grew up in the 20th century. Once you lose sympathy for Jamie and Claire, you start to question other aspects of the story, like why Claire doesn’t seem to miss Frank much or have much trouble adjusting to 18th-century life.


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