The above excerpt is from the novel Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It’s a playful and romantic scene between Claire & Frank Randall, possibly the last time they make love. There may have been more business in Mrs. Baird’s Bed & Breakfast that night to which we are not privy, but it’s the last time we read about them together in the arms of passion.
So, what happened? We all know the story. Girl meets Boy. Girls gets whisked back to the 18th century. Girl is forced to marry a gorgeous Highlander against her will and starts to fall in love despite her better judgment. Girl is maliciously and falsely accused of witchcraft. Highlander rescues her and gives her the opportunity to go back to Boy. And, well . . . you know the rest.
While Outlander is not your every day tale of love, sex and adventure, it does harbor the basic elements of life. Those elements are twisted around our hearts and squeezed to make us laugh, sigh, cry and wish it were us experiencing Claire’s feelings first hand.
In a way, through the first-person telling of the story, we are able to do just that. Ms. Gabaldon allows us to “crawl” inside her head and be Claire. We know exactly how she feels about Jamie Fraser, Jenny Murray, Black Jack Randall, everyone who crosses her path.
And then, there’s Frank. Our time with him is cut short because of those nasty singing stones. Although it’s not explicitly stated in the novel, I believe Frank was Claire’s first love – certainly, of her adult life. If the war hadn’t interrupted their state of newlywed, who knows whether they could have been truly happy?
With the upcoming Starz series on the horizon, I am excited by the prospect of additional Frank & Claire scenes being added to the story. They will make Claire’s apprehensive affections for Jamie even more heart-wrenching.
I introduced the series of novels to a friend of mine two years ago – we’ll call her Shelley. Shelley was a newlywed herself at the time and trying to start a family right away. Her first reaction to Outlander was, “How can Claire be attracted to Jamie? What about Frank?!” Shelley was appalled enough almost to consider stopping. A few days later, she expressed to me she wanted Claire to sleep with Dougal! I shook my head and said, “No, you don’t.”
The next week, she came to me and said sheepishly, “Okay, I want her to sleep with Jamie.” She wasn’t quite ready for Claire to fall in love with him, but she was ready for the two of them to “do it.”
Now, Shelley is an Outlander fan of the entire series, eagerly awaiting the televised event. She loves Jamie and Claire together – as they were meant to be. Poor Frank.
I bring Shelley into the picture because I am un-newlyweded and have had no problem with Claire falling into Jamie’s arms from the beginning. It was a difficult transition for my friend – who, like Claire – was/is in love with her husband.
So, I ask again – What happened?
And I state again – the war. War is the great equalizer. It brings people together while tearing them apart. Many a marriage were made and broken during the war. It changed people – some for the better. Others were not so lucky.
What was Claire like before the war? We can hypothesize from her upbringing she was always an independent and strong-willed woman – practical, too! She was smart, duty-bound, and driven to help people. These are all qualities which attracted Frank.
Frank is described as handsome, refined, intelligent. Like Claire, he is duty-bound and dedicated to his profession. And let’s not forget the part about his being a skilled lover.
Along comes the war, and both are faced with dire circumstances and troubling temptations on a daily basis. Claire did not give in to those temptations, but everyone believes Frank did. He as much as insinuates it but does not openly declare committing infidelity.
Shelley never once brought up to me the idea Frank got what he deserved when Claire “took up” with Jamie. Did she forgive him? I believe she did. Perhaps Shelley was able to look beyond the cost of war. What happened in WWII should stay in WWII.
Even if Frank cheated on Claire during the war, I – personally – do not believe it means he would have continued cheating on her during post-war times. “But what about when Claire returns from the 18th century?” I can hear you all asking.
Hmm. Your wife returns after leaving the “real” love of her life and takes her place at your side. She “allows” you to make love to her, but we all know her heart is not in it. I doubt she would have thought of Jamie during those times. It would have been too painful, and I don’t believe she would have used him in that way. She doesn’t think of Frank when she’s with Jamie – except for that one time, but then she was dreaming, so . . .
Oh, the hornets’ nest is buzzing louder now. “You’ve never been married. You don’t know what ’til death do us part & forsaking all others’ means.”
Of course, I do. It’s the main reason I’m not married. Marriage is hard work. The only tougher job in the world is raising a child. But faced with the prospect of being wanted for questioning and having the choice to marry a handsome Highlander – I know what I’d choose. Like Claire, I am very practical. But none of this is the point.
We are all human, and humans make mistakes. I asked a male friend once, “If you were comforting a woman (not his wife) in an intimate situation, could there be a spontaneous, physical reaction (to put it delicately).”
His response was, “If I was in love with someone else, I wouldn’t be comforting another woman.”
Fair enough, but it answered my question. Yes.
I am a firm believer that women have a tighter reign on their physical reactions and sex drive than do men – despite what I see daily on twitter. (A nod to the naughties. I know it’s all in good fun.)
Does it mean Claire is a better person than Frank? Does it mean Claire loved Frank more than he loved her? We’ve all read or heard the excuses in books and movies (hopefully, not in real life), “It didn’t mean anything.” Or “It was just sex.” My personal favorite is, “It wasn’t personal.”
It is always personal to someone. Frank cheating on Claire was not personal to him. It was something he did to cope with the situation. Claire did not cheat on Frank because it was her way of dealing with the situation – the mentality of Man versus Woman.
Perhaps Frank thought, “This could be my last day on earth, and I may never see Claire again.”
In Claire’s mind, “This could be my last day on earth, and I will be faithful until my last breath.”
Fidelity is a black and white subject to many, if not most. In a perfect world, it should be. Tell me where that planet is.
To me, war makes everything muddy and grey. It brings out the best and the worst in people. You can repudiate Frank or forgive him, as I believe Claire was prepared to do. In her words:
Frank’s response is, “If that’s a sample of your mercy, I’d hate to see your vengeance.”
Of course, he’s not asking to be forgiven for cheating, but for accusing her of a romantic liaison. In a way, he’s sneakily asking for a veil of forgiveness without admitting to anything or saying he’s sorry.
I read even more into his words. “If you ever did . . . Claire, it would make no difference to me.” He knows her cheating would not have been personal and is willing to let it lie in the past. You could also ponder, he is willing to grant forgiveness in the hopes she will forgive him.
Claire graciously grants forgiveness, but only for the slight to her question of fidelity. Mercy for his undeclared sins must happen without compulsion, as the gentle rain drops to the ground. Only time with these two characters would have answered that question definitively.
For the record, these are my generalizations, assumptions, and conclusions. You are free to agree or disagree. As always, I welcome discussion.