Spanking vs Beating: An Honest Historical Look at the "Strapping Scene"

Written by: Kendra Spring Klasek



I'll say right off the bat, I'm going to anger a bunch of fans.  Lest you make the incorrect assumption that this somehow makes me less of a fan, consider that I devote much of my free time to this blog.  Please also note the only cover that is curling in the above photo. But my love for all things Outlander aside, I'm going to anger you because I'm going to criticize both the book and the show.

Simply put, in 18th century Scotland - especially in the upper-echelon of the clans - it was uncouth to beat your wife.  Nevermind beating your wife publicly.  I'm sure it happened on occasion, but it was not something men like Dougal MacKenzie, or especially Ned Gowan, would have encouraged. Those who DID beat their wives in the 18th century were much like those who beat them now.

That is to say, they were nothing at all like Jamie Fraser. Here's why...

The strapping scene is both out of character for the Jamie Fraser we know and love, but also out of character, historically, for a high-born highlander associated with one of the most influential clans in Scotland.

To prove why Jamie would NOT have beaten Claire, this article will be broken down into three parts.

1. The idea of an enlightened Clan.
2. Demystifying cultural tropes of Clan culture.
3. Historical context unable to justify the creative choices of the beating scene.

CLANS AND ENLIGHTENMENT 

Over the course of Outlander, throughout the book and the television series, both Diana Gabaldon and Ron D. Moore have gone to great lengths to set James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser apart from the rest of the clan, as it were. He was different. Jamie would've been one of the "Enlightened."

While I don't deny their efforts to differentiate Jamie from everyone, I do question the jump in logic DG makes when she tries to defend the strapping scene by saying it's included because it was historically accurate.

Wait, does that mean the strapping scene is historically INACCURATE? According to Dr. Katie Barclay, yes - it's inaccurate.

In her detailed work: 'Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650 - 1850', Barclay states that  Scotland's domestic relations were advanced compared to those in England, as was northern Europe.

Scottish marriages assumed to be similar to the English experience, despite Scottish marital law taking a different shape from England, the Kirk holding different beliefs from the Anglican Church and having a more significant level of social control than it's southern counterpart, and Scotland having a different social, cultural and economic environment. In many ways, Scotland had greater similarities with the northern European states than it did with it's southern neighbor...While there is little written on the Scottish situation, there is a significant literature on family life in Western Europe. - Katie Barclay

So Scotland is more like northern Europe because the church held stricter social control.  No, not political control, but social control.  In other words, the church believed in many ways that you probably shouldn't be hurting each other.  Thus, it's reasonable to assume that due to the church's strict social control of the area, "not hurting each other" would be a highly valued principal.

Granted, that's a tad bit of a generality so let's take a closer look this concept.

What does it really mean in context of married life in 18th century Scotland according to Ms. Barclay?

She found that many historians believe that, "unlike in early modern England, the dialogue of male authority in Scotland tended to be part of a wider discussion of gender roles and responsibilities, rather than an attempt to emphasize and enforce patriarchy as a concept." So, are we saying that there were actually conversations happening between wife and husband in Scotland, instead of beatings? Yup.

Not only was that the case, but Barclay further states that there were churchmen like Richard Allestree who "reduced the austerity of the command to obey by limiting compliance to those commands that were scripturally lawful."  Allestree took it even a step further by saying women were not disobedient if they didn't follow their,"husband's instructions if they were unreasonable, as long as they did so calmly, quietly and accepted his final decision." But this was the word of man in the church, maybe you'd argue he was a little biased? Perhaps.  Do we have any other proof of this reasonable relationship between husband and wife from sources other than the church? You bet.

According to Barclay, even in 1761, a highborn woman of the time, Lady Sarah Pennington, "noted that wives should obey their husbands as long as their commands were scriptural and did not leave their wives open to censure by the world."  Barclay continues by saying that Lady Pennington essentially doubled down on this idea when, "she argued that it was not wrong for wives to question their husbands' decisions as long as they did so in a 'strong, plain good-natured manner.'"  Ultimately, women had the freedom to not obey their husbands, and husbands were ok with that as long as it was done in the proper manner.  This doesn't sound like a culture whose men would beat their wives at the drop of a hat because they were disobeyed.

One of the tenets of world building I've heard touted over and over again by the excellent folks over at Story Wonk is that "reality is no defense of fiction."  We've all heard it, but what does it mean?

Basically, even if you are basing something in your story on a real-world scenario - be it historical precedent or a freak accident which happened to your brother's sister's cousin - if it rings false in light of the characters you have created, the real-world scenario cannot be used to defend your fictional choices.  End of story.

In other words, you may think that Claire's disobedience may not have been in the "proper manner",  and you may even be right, but given the way DG writes Jamie in every other facet of Outlander, it is  easy to see it's not in Jamie's character to harm a woman he loves.

However, when Diana, herself, uses the defense of "well, that's just the way things were, historically", she then tethers herself to the actuality of a real world defense, and in this case, her arguments may not hold up.

So let's tackle why this may not be the best argument for DG to use.

Given the obvious effort by DG and RDM to set Jamie apart from the rest of his clan as an enlightened individual, it's also reasonable to assume, like Dr. Barclay does, that Jamie would have been one of the "seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Scots [who] preferred negotiation and discussion when trying to manage their relationships with their spouse, rather than violent force."  Why is this easy to assume? Well, we all know Jamie as the honorable man who treats Claire, his wife, differently than the rest of his clansmen treat their wives.

This kind of moral compass would make it hard for Jamie, "when such violence was made visible to the wider world, [because] it undermined models of masculinity based on honor, self-control and good management of the household." Suffice it to say, Jamie would not have let his honor be sacrificed, or tarnished, at the hands of trying to dominate his wife.

Jamie beating Claire simply doesn't make sense for his character, both in terms of his person, but also in terms of the story.  As an "enlightened" character (which we can call Jamie at this point since we have already established the huge efforts of DG and RDM to paint him in that light) Jamie undermines himself, and his own story, by beating Claire.  True, he may have been a little proud and stubborn, but like Barclay says:

The use of violence to exercise power within the family indicated a fundamental breakdown in the operation of the household for Enlightenment thinkers, and reflected more than a simple need for discipline.  Adam Smith explicitly denounced violence 'when a son seems to want that filial reverence which might be expected to his father . . . The sufferer can only complain and the spectator can intermeddle no other way than by advice and persuasion.  Upon all such occasions for equals to use force against one another would be thought the highest degree of insolence and presumption. . . The inner morality and self-control of the elite man should overcome his instinctual anger.

Since this was hard for the entirety of the population to put into practice, Barclay states that Enlightenment thinkers, "advocated turning control of punishment over to the State.  Abused wives were also directed to seek justice from the State." Woah, hold up here - women could go to the state for protection during this time?!

YES!

Barclay continues her thoughts when she describes the notes of one William Alexander:

[W]hen a husband from maliciousness of temper or resentment or any other cause' beats his wife, she could take refuge in the law (although he does not discuss violence as a form of discipline for wives).  It was the motive behind physical acts of violence that determined their meaning and their legitimacy into the nineteenth century. . .in the later eighteenth century, marital violence towards elite women had become generally unacceptable, putting the onus on men to justify their behavior.  Enlightenment thinkers never entirely denied the right of men to discipline their wives - always leaving a space for marital violence to occur - but at the same time, they reduced its cultural legitimacy.

Basically, rather than "proving" himself to the clan, as one might expect, this move by Jamie (beating Claire) makes him appear weak in a real-world setting.

In a normal fictional world, sure, you can do away with actual history and make up your own set of rules. Yet as I stated previously, Diana's defense has always been that the beating was historically accurate, so she HAD to write it that way so as to give us a true sense of the danger of the time.

Most people just swallow this, hook, line and sinker. The evidence, according to DG, is printed in black and white.

But, Katie Barclay's study, which has the voracity of not having anything to do with Outlander, is an unbiased study, focused on ONLY the real history of the time.

The problem arises when people just take someone else's word for it.  Valerie Estelle Frankel's 'Scots, Sassenachs and Spankings: Feminism and Gender Roles in Outlander' purports to be an unbiased look at this and many other instances in Outlander, but it really only amounts to a massive rehashing of other sources . . . most of them being media sources with no actual basis in history.

Frankel posits in her book that, "Jamie comes from a barbaric time, not only of wife beatings but of lashings, primitive medicine, infant death, and poor hygiene." Sure, some of this is true, but most of it is simply backed up by Diana, herself, who paints an unsupported view of marital relations in Scotland at the time.  Is it Frankel's fault?  Heck yes.  She should know better as an author than to just rehash unsupported claims.  Is it Diana's fault? Not necessarily.

Simply put, the research hadn't been done when she wrote Outlander, 28 years ago.  Katie Barclay's book was published in 2011 and Barclay includes this introduction as a disclaimer:

"In the context of Scottish history, research on women's and family history is scarce for the period 1650 to 1850.  While there is a growing body of work on women and the family in the medieval period and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, until recently the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have been largely ignored.  A collection of essays published in 2008 on the Scottish family contained new research on the early modern period, indicating that this picture is beginning to change.  Yet, even this vibrant collection is relatively silent on experiences within marriage and the nature of the conjugal unit.  Marital relationships have been included in wider discussions of Scottish families or Scottish women, such as by Lynn Abrams, Keith Brown, Eleanor Gordon and Rosalind Marshall, but have received little attention in their own right." - Katie Barclay

To Gabaldon's credit, there is a major contradiction between Jamie's secured place among the Scottish Enlightenment, spear-headed by Adam Smith, and the Feudal system of the Highland clans.

DEMYSTIFYING CLAN TROPES

So now that we have established Jamie as an enlightened thinker as well as the historical precedent for enlightened thinkers' actions of allowing wives to disobey (as long as it's done correctly), and that it may not necessarily be DG's fault for not knowing this, let's at least analyze Jamie's actions within the context of the story, and how we can relate some of his direct actions to direct historical context.

In her work, Barclay continually references a text by Arthur Herman: 'How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It'.  I took that as an invitation and picked up a copy.

Herman's work is imminently fascinating and creates a most interesting dichotomy.  While Frankel is correct, the clans were brutal,  their brutality was balanced by both the Enlightenment and the strict pecking order of clan society.

First, Herman goes out of his way to clarify many perpetuated myths about the barbarous "tribal" highland clans:

The oldest, and most persistent [myth], is that the rising of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 symbolized a cultural clash between a Celtic 'Jacobite' Highlands, steeped in primeval tribal loyalties, and a modernizing, photo-industrial 'Whig' Lowlands. Scottish Whigs actually encouraged this view.  It implied that they and their English allies were engaged in a virtual crusade for civilization, a war against an anachronistic social order left over from Scotland's barbarous history. The clans were an anachronism, all right, except that they were a holdover from Scotland's feudal, not tribal, past. The  bonds that held the clan together were land and landholding.  Their origins had as much to do with French-speaking Normans as with ancient Celts." - 'How the Scots Invented the Modern World' by Arthur Herman, Chapter Five (A Land Divided).

Again, we're establishing the context for Jamie's world, and how his clansmen weren't as barbaric as Frankel implies.  Herman goes on to further debunk the myth of the family clans, bonded by kinship:

The term clan, of course, comes from the Gaelic clann, meaning 'children.'  It implied a kinship group of four or five generations claiming descent from a common ancestor. And clan chieftains encouraged their followers to believe that they were indeed bound together like a family.  Men such as the Duke of Argylle of the Campbells or Lord Lovat of the Frasers routinely demanded a loyalty from their tenants not unlike that of children for a father. But it was entirely a fiction.  The average clan - and there were more than fifty of them in 1745 - was no more a family than is a Mafia 'family.'  The only important blood ties were those between the chieftain and his various carporegimes, the so-called tacksmen who collected his rents and bore the same name.

Herman later states that clan loyalty to the Stuart line has been largely romanticized and was in large part a result of mutual back-scratching, but that's another story for another day.

But as enlightened as most of the highland clans were, notice how Herman mentioned this really curious bit of info - "The average clan . . . was no more a family than is a Mafia 'family.'" The Mafia?  Like, The Godfather kind of Mafia? "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse," kind of Mafia?


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Yes.  That kind.

It's a rather odd marriage between the two ideals, and the mafia comparison seems a little below the lofty notions of clan enlightenment. But in light of the following stories, it's hard to say he's wrong...

"Once a woman was brought before MacDonald of Clanranald, accused of stealing money from him. He ordered her tied by the hair to seaweed among the rocks, until the Atlantic tide came in and drowned her.

Another chief, Coll MacDonnell of Barrisdale, required all fishermen on his land to pay him one-fifth of their catch.  Those who failed to pay up found themselves tied to a device locals dubbed the "Barrisdale."  Iron rings held a man flat on his stomach while a large stone weight was strapped to his back, and a steel spike placed under his chin.  If the miscreant failed to support the stone's weight, the spike would drive up through his chin to the roof of his mouth." - Arthur Herman

Pretty brutal, right?  It's the Highland equivalent to a pair cement shoes. "Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes."


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Again, yes, I know - this seems to take all that Scottish Enlightenment business and toss it right out the window.  But, as with all things, don't judge a book by the cover.

Let's look at why this historical context about the mafioso tendencies of the clan from Herman is important, what it actually means, why it's important to Outlander, and why it's specifically important to Clan MacKenzie..

According to Herman, the clan chieftains maintained absolute control of life and death over any member of his clan, much like a mafia Don. (see: Marlon Brando as Don Corleone).  As such, when it came down to doling out punishment, there was only one person who could order such a thing.  The clan chief.

In the context of our story, our Don Corleone would've been Colum MacKenzie.

What happened when members of the Mafia, or even the Clans, took matters into their own hands instead of bringing the matter before the Don or chief?  Just ask Tommy at the end of 'Goodfellas'  Oh, that's right! We can't . . . because he's dead . . . for whacking without permission.


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Where am I going with all of this?

Well, before you claim my Goodfellas reference as a loose comparison with no precedent, you should know that Diana sets the precedent herself, right in the very text of Outlander!

We find a similar situation to the Goodfellas comparison during the scene in the Great Hall, where Colum dispenses justice to Laoghaire.

A major problem this scene sets up is that Laoghaire is brought by her father to Colum for discipline.  Her father doesn't do it himself because that's not the way the clan works.  He needs permission.  This is just in the eyes of the clan, yet Jamie steps in to stop her from being shamed in front of them.

And herein lies the ultimate problem/continuity error/ paradox of Jamie's choice to beat Claire.

 Jamie saves Laoghaire of shame, yet thinks nothing, however, of beating the hell out of Claire in a room directly above Colum's tacksmen (men of great importance to Colum) and bragging that he expects they'll be able to hear her screaming "in the next village".

The other obvious logical problem is that Jamie (in light of our historical context of the Don/Chief comparison) wouldn't have been doling out the punishment himself.  They were on their way back to Leoch, and Claire (again, based not only on clan rules but on the rules established by Diana in the Outlander text itself) would have been formally brought before Colum to dispense the proper justice.

Keep in mind that Jamie was not just a proponent of the Scottish Enlightenment, he was also someone who had been flogged to within an inch of his life.  He would not have taken any type of beating lightly and he certainly wouldn't have enjoyed it, as he clearly is shown to have done.

 If you want to say he didn't enjoy inflicting pain so much as he enjoyed her fighting back, be careful!  This is one of many reasons some men prefer to get their sexual exploits without bothering with that whole  pesky "consent" thing.  They don't enjoy it unless the woman is fighting back.  Don't believe he enjoyed it? Let's take a stroll back to text again, shall we, and Jamie will tell you that, himself.

"You barbarian!  You . . . you sadist!" I hissed furiously.  "You're doing this for your own pleasure!  I'll never forgive you for this!"  Jamie paused, twisting the belt . . . He replied levelly, "I dinna know what's a sadist.  And if I forgive you for this afternoon, I reckon you'll forgive me, too, as soon as ye can sit down again." . . . "As for my pleasure . . . " His lip twitched.  "I said I would have to punish you. I did NOT say I wasna going to enjoy it."  He crooked a finger at me.  "Come here." - Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings)

"What I can't  forgive," I said, my voice rising slightly in spite of myself, "is that you enjoyed it!" . . . "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." - Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings)

What we're left to ponder, here, is how any of this can be seen as even remotely sexy, and yet, it's clearly treated in the text as something akin to sex-play at least in Jamie's point of view.

Bravo to RDM, and his staff on the show for toning that bit of nastiness down. In the book, however, we're left with these contradicting viewpoints which clearly create a problem, and it's one which has been prevalent in bad romance novels since the 70s.


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I did some more digging and Alex Townsend, in his piece 'Tropes of Love: Gender Roles in Romance Novels' addresses these issues.  He doesn't address physical abuse so much as unacknowledged rape, but the principles apply here, and I think you'll be able to see the parallels as well:

"These scenes aren't hot and they clearly aren't meant to be.  The man is angry.  The woman is scared and in pain.  She cries a lot.  When it's done the man often doesn't even apologize to this woman he supposedly loves.  Instead this is supposed to be the low point that the couple overcomes together, the place where Male Hero realizes he has to open up about his secret pain.  Somehow the woman always understands the internal angst that led him to these actions and they never talk about the matter again . . . This is where bad romance novels cross the line.  They go from being misinformed and silly to being visibly dangerous . . . the fact is I can't open any romance novel without a hint of dread.  I know with each book that there's a high chance that I'm about to read something horrifying that will be passed off as romantic."


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This is compounded in drivel like '50 Shades of Gray', where sexual violence is intermingled with the control issues of a genuine narcissist in Christian Gray, and yet he is portrayed as a "troubled" romantic hero.

I'm not trying to vilify the BDSM enthusiasts out there, that's what you're into and that's ok by me.  But, there has to be consent.

How it relates to Outlander is this: Diana stumbles, here, because she seems unsure how to play it and leans towards sex-play, but there is absolutely zero consent.

One thing I've seen over and over again in defense of this scene is that Jamie only "spanked" her and that's not technically beating.  Do me a quick favor.  Go to the text and find the place where it says the word "spanking".  I'll wait.

Give up?  That's because it's not there at all. Nor is the term "strapping".  We've mentally inserted this to soften it up and forgive some of the violence of it.

Still maintain he didn't beat her?  Let's go back and count the number of times some conjugation of the term "beat" appears in reference to this scene. No, wait.  I'll save you the trouble.

It's eight.

Eight times (if you include the reference after Claire reveals the truth to Jamie after he rescues her from the witch trial.)

EIGHT TIMES.

The most troubling quote (disregarding the part where he congratulates himself for not raping her directly afterwards) is this one:

"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 me half smothered in the greasy quilts with a knee in my back, being beaten within an inch of my life." - Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings)

For those who need a vocab lesson . . .

This is spanking:


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This is beating:



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And then you have the phrase, "beaten within an inch of my life."  Wow - when was the last time someone that was "spanked," let's say a child, or, heck, even a woman, then described the feeling as being "beaten within an inch of my life"?

Have you been spanked? Would you have described it as being beaten within an inch of your life?

No, I refuse to justify Jamie's actions within the text by playing semantics.  From Claire's own perspective, she was beaten.  She said it EIGHT TIMES.

So if Claire said she was beaten eight times, Jamie beat her.

 And given the historical context we have from the likes of Barclay and Herman, it's hard to imagine James Fraser would have taken a leather strap to any square inch of Claire's body.  It doesn't make historical sense, it doesn't make sense for the story, and it certainly doesn't make sense for Jamie the character.

WHY CONTEXT PROVES THE BEATING SCENE TO BE PROBLEMATIC


Again, I love Outlander.  Am I being a little hard on Jamie, and indirectly DG? Perhaps. But let me give you a little bit of backstory about how I first came to know about the show.

I first read Outlander some 15 years ago and fell in love with it. I was bothered by the strapping scene, but brushed it off, not being in an age of internet fandoms where something like that would be up for open discussion.

I tore through the first book and immediately dove into the second and the third and then stopped.  Honestly, I can't remember whether I didn't know about the rest of the series or I got sidetracked, but either way, I moved on to other things, with the warmest of affection for Jamie and especially Claire.

I'd heard rumors about a series being made,  but didn't keep tabs on it and, before I knew it, the first 7 episodes had already aired.  By that time, I had access to STARZ and quickly binged to keep up.

So when #Droughtlander hit, I went all-in.

I reread the first three books and continued on to tackle the rest of the series (I'm on book 6 right now) and started scouring the internet for all things Outlander, including podcasts.  That's when I stumbled on both 'The Scot and the Sassenach' and 'Outlander Cast'. The first episode I was able to watch live was 'The Reckoning' and I made my very first call in to Mary and Blake to voice my frustration.

In essence, I've since realized this issue is a big deal for me, and it's what hooked me into the fandom for a place to be heard.  But here's the gut wrenching truth:

I'll be blunt; Diana Gabaldon treats women poorly in the Outlander series.

There are no excuses to be made for DG, no pointing at historical accuracy or inaccuracy to defend or condemn it - it's just a fact. Women do not fair well in the series.

The fact of the matter is, and I said this when I called M&B, authors are creators. Fiction is world-building and when you build your world, YOU choose what happens in it.  No one forces your hand.  You populate it and you choose what happens to the people you bring to life.

With the highland historical context/precedent in mind, it appears that the strapping beating scene, both in the book, and the show, reflects less of a need to further character and growth, and more of a need to insert conflict to move the plot along and heighten the dramatic tension.  This is very similar to the lackadaisical way in which rape is used to create conflict (usually to inspire some male character's quest for revenge, utterly ignoring the victim).

As such, the strapping beating scene is there because we have newly-wedded bliss between Jamie and Claire and rather than some actually believable differences in politics or religion between the rather devout Jamie and the atheist Claire, we have a completely out of character action from Jamie which basically goes ignored until book six, apparently.

But I'm not singling out DG here.  I told you I was going to criticize the show, as well.

Ron Moore took some obvious steps to lighten up this scene, but I believe the biggest change was his worst mistake.  Setting the entire episode in Jamie's perspective robs us of something essential we need to take from this, if the scene absolutely had to be included at all.

We needed to truly understand Claire's fear.  The book shows this plainly:

"I felt deeply betrayed that the man I depended on as a 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." - Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings).

The decision to set the entire episode in Jamie's POV was pretty much universally praised by fans.  One of the main reasons I've seen for this was the fact that we get the line from Jamie saying he'd already forgiven Claire because he was falling in love with her.  That's great and all, but one scene later, he beats the crap out of her.  How romantic!

We also get the insight of the "abuser" explaining away his actions.  We see he's put in a tough position and rather than standing up to the rent party, he folds like a lawn chair; Jamie, the Enlightened.  We should see his discomfort with the "necessity", but we do not.  We hear him echo the classic victim-blaming spiel of "Why do you make me treat you this way?".  Forgive my disgust, but this is just the worst.


Yeah . . . this is "just" fiction, and it's historical fiction at that, but if you can't see how much this sets women back, then I'm not sure anything I say is going to be persuasive.  The major problem with all of this is that Jamie is a romantic hero, dubbed by fans as "The King of Men".  This behavior, so easily brushed off because he is "dreamy" sets a terrifying precedent for real-life relationships.

But even if you didn't want to take it that far, and you felt the need to devalue the impact a scene like this could have on romance/pop culture/real-life relationships, you at the VERY LEAST have to admit that the historical context proves beating was not a commonly used method, that Jamie was an enlightened man, that Jamie would not have used beating as a form of punishment unless it was approved by Colum, and that he probably wouldn't have even done it himself anyway.  That being said, the next logical statement is that DG's argument of historical accuracy, and that she HAD to include it in Reckonings is also flawed because the beating is not necessarily historically accurate.  To that end, it should NOT have been included in the text - or even the show for that matter.

But regardless of false historical justification, or character analysis, I think it's fair to say that behavior like this, in ANY context, is absolutely inexcusable.

Nice men, good men, did not beat their wives, even if society allowed it.  There have always been good men and cruel men, no matter when we are in history.  In every single other respect, Jamie is a good man, who stands up for those he loves and for what is right.  Not just what is right in the eyes of the clan, but what is right before the God he believes in and in his own heart. Thus why we see his acceptance of Claire being from the future, and why he vowed to never lay his hands on her again.

This beating is an anomaly.  Not a character "oops" moment, but a majorly problematic contradiction.

If reality is indeed no defense of fiction, then even if all men routinely beat their wives, historically, Jamie beating Claire would still present a problem, because Diana created a character beat which strikes as entirely false to the character she's meticulously constructed.

Bottom line: Jamie beating Claire is a writing flaw.

At the very least, it damages Jamie's credibility as a character.

At worst, it creates a dangerous false reality where abusive men can be forgiven because of societal pressures.

So where do you stand, dear readers? Does wife-beating sit well with Jamie's character, no matter what century we're in or does it make your blood boil?

21 comments

  1. I have no words. You've used them all, to such validity that all should read this and soak it in. Every time I thought "well what about...", you answered it and provided compelling logic. I'm now forced to go back and re-read and re-watch this particular sequence with new eyes. For the record, I always hated this scene. I just didn't feel I was allowed to because everyone - even friends - would say "but that's just what they did then. he's just a product of his environment." I always thought, "lame" but couldn't place why. You just solved it all for me. So thank you for taking this deeply historical plunge into this important topic.

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    1. Thank you, Ashley! No writer, no matter how many of her exquisite lines of prose I want to tattoo on my chest, is infallible. I firmly believe this was a major misstep.

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  2. In all those words, you have left out the most important one of all: context.

    What Jamie did to Claire would not have happened if they were living "normal" 18th century Scottish clan life. But they were in a situation that, if not declared war, was damned close to it. As Jamie notes in the book, Claire isn't being punished because Jamie is angry that she disobyed, she is being punished because what she did could have caused the death of a dozen men. As Jamie says, if any of the men had done such a thing, they would have been FLOGGED. Claire being spanked - and yes, spanked is the word; "beaten within an inch of my life" is, as Gabaldon has said, hyperbole. If Jamie had wanted to, he could have easily, LITERALLY, beaten her to death.

    And if Claire had not faced the consequences of her actions, how would the men had felt about her? Angry and resentful, as they were before she was punished. Since she paid the price - as any of them would have - the resentment dissipates.

    Perhaps you haven't read "Dragonfly in Amber," but it includes a scene in which a couple of Jamie's men fail in their duty, and they're flogged for it. It doesn't mean Jamie is being cruel or domineering, it just means that if you put your compatriots' lives in danger, you're punished for it, be you a man, or a woman.

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    1. The context is there because beating Claire (yes, it was beating . . . She sat painfully for three days) would not change their situation one iota. Not at all. Not one bit. Plus, the research I did was during this period. Every Jacobite in the Highlands was under the same pressures. So Jamie had a price on his head. Will beating Claire solve this? Nope.

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    2. You wrote exactly what I would write. Don't forget on TV Outlander Jamie warns Claire to stay hidden and demands her promise to do so. Remember, oaths and promises are serious things to a Highlander. Which Claire broke her promise to Jamie and before the rest of the rent party in addition to endangering all the men in the rescue party in addition to Jamie.

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  3. And as for Jamie enjoying it, hell yes, of course he did! She put him through absolute hell! He wouldn't have been human if he didn't enjoy getting some payback, for crissakes.

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    1. Really? And parents enjoy spanking their children?

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    2. If the child repeatedly been told to stop with verbal warnings and a time out, mild spanking to remind him to stop and think of whatever devilry he/she want to do is maybe not such a good idea. Besides, Jamie grew up getting strapped by his father for being a wee gomeral, and occasionally so did his sister.

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  4. Yes, I've read Dragonfly. I'm up to book 6. Yes, it matters that she's his wife rather than one of his men.

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  5. Now that I have a moment to respond from my computer, rather than my phone, I will say this. I understand your arguments and I will say that they would have validity if it were any man OTHER than Jamie. It is my firm belief that Jamie's actions are 100% out of character. She had been nearly raped not once, but twice. To beat her that same night was akin to psychological torture. She needed comfort, no matter what she'd done. Keep in mind, Jamie didn't know she was making a run for it, at the time. He only knew she took a walk and got captured. Yes, the consequences were serious, but her action was fairly minimal.

    The problem with the logic of the men's anger towards her being abated by a beating is that Diana sets these rules herself (ignoring the actual clan dynamic) and then claiming historical accuracy. You can't have it both ways. You either set your own rules or you are ruled by historical record. Diana literally makes it seem like her hands are tied by history.

    We also have the problem of Ned Gowan (another Enlightened man . . . who had brought Adam Smith's ideas to the clan and to Colum, who held him in high regard) sitting downstairs, listening to the screaming and nodding in approval.

    The Jamie we know would not have harmed Claire, and if Claire WAS to be punished, Colum would dispense justice.

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    1. I'm not sure that Jamie would be obliged to defer to Colum's judgement here. He took no oath to Colum or the MacKenzie clan. His loyalty is to clan Fraser. And I think that something should be said about Jamie's notions of consequences, punishment and justice. Although he is educated or "Enlightened" he was still raised by a father and mother that condoned and practiced corporal punishment while he was growing up. He goes into great detail with regards to this and used many of his own experiences to demonstrate to Claire the reason he did what he did. There are many people today that still believe in corporal punishment as a form of discipline despite the belief of many experts that contradict it's effectiveness or benefits. Your original post questioned whether this was spanking or beating...there is a difference. I believe this was a spanking for the purpose of consequence and discipline vs. a thoughtless beating for the purpose of the purging or venting of Jamie's anger. I do agree that this was probably out of character for Jamie on the whole but keep in mind that he is very young. This is the first time that he's faced with this situation. I think it's safe to assume that he will fall back on what he knows and is familiar with. And in the end, he does decide that what worked for his parents is not what will work for he and Claire.

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    2. Claire broke her PROMISE to stay hidden! She wasn't suppose to be going for a walk anywhere.

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  6. I agree that it seems out of character... though in a later book, Jamie references the beating when saying he didn't care enough to beat Laoghaire. Also in another reference of the incident, he is unapologetic about the beating and expressed that he could beat Claire, but because he and she knew he could, he didn't have to. That was hard for me to wrap my head around, but the point is that as much as we think it is out of character, it is a consistent part of his character throughout the books. Finally, she did not just disobey her husband. She could have easily got them all killed or imprisoned. The book/show says that if a man had done what she had done, he would have been beaten or maimed. So to decide whether this beating was justified, you would have to know whether it is historically accurate that a man would have been severely punished if they had done the same thing.

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  7. Gabaldon didn't set any rules herself in that regard; it's human nature to resent the privileged (as in teachers' pets). It's part of tribalism.

    You said you were going to make Outlander fans mad, but I'm certainly not mad - bemused is a better word. (I mean really, you don't understand why Jamie would enjoy spanking Claire as opposed to Young Ian? Really?) What you've done is akin to ramming a round peg in a square hole, but it's certainly your right to do so. Just don't expect everyone to see it as you do.

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    1. And it's certainly your right to express your opinion, as well. There are many other questionable moments passed off as perfectly fine that I haven't even touched, but that's for another day. Perhaps when we get to Voyager.

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  8. I kind of understand why it bothers you (because it's Jaime) but not why it bothers you so much. Also, I totally disagree with pretty much all of your conclusions.

    First of all, the world the story takes place in was historically accurate at the time that it was created. The research you cite wasn't available when the book was written. Also, despite evidence cited, the conclusions the author makes are opinions and I'm pretty sure there are historians who would disagree. Having done some research myself, I know there is limited evidence available from almost 300 years ago with which to draw accurate conclusions.

    But, even if a majority of historians now would agree with you about clan life in the mid-18th century, once the novel is published the world is created and cannot be changed. It doesn't matter how much evidence you find that Diana's conclusions of historical accuracy were wrong, the world exists as published and you may not like it but I'm pretty sure she did the best she could at that time.

    So, in looking at that scene, you must look at that world to judge that character's behavior and not at your modern values. As Jaime says in the show: in his world wives obey their husbands and when they don't their husbands beat them. That's his world.

    As for Colum judging what the punishment should be, Jaime was not a member of clan MacKenzie. If Jaime's promise of obedience while on MacKenzie land would make him effectively a clan member for this issue, on the road Dougal acted as chief and Dougal wanted her punished publicly but Jaime convinced Dougal to let him deal with it privately (that may be only in the book).

    Since you read the book, you know that Jaime doesn't consider what he did wrong, even for someone he loves. His father did it to him and he knows his father loved him. His father beat his mother and his father loved his mother. Also (this might be from a book you haven't read yet) Ian has beaten Jenny and he knows that Ian loved Jenny.

    As far as Jaime was concerned, he was doing his duty and it wasn't that big of a deal. It was truly a surprise to him that it was that big of a deal for Claire. This is made very clear in both the book and in the show.

    As far as the effect of Jaime's behavior to modern readers' behavior (I think this is one point you make but I don't exactly get what you mean by the impact on real-life relationships), I don't understand your point at all. This is a work of fiction and there's much worse behavior in fiction than this, even by "good" characters. Of course, no person (or creditable character in fiction) is totally good or totally bad. It's part of the story and behavior in a work of fiction is never an excuse for bad behavior in real life.

    In my opinion, this scene needed to be included in the show (regardless of historical accuracy) because of the way Jaime & Claire's relationship grows from working through what is truly a crisis in their marriage. This is a story of Jaime & Claire's relationship and this is a key scene in the development of that relationship. It would have been totally wrong to have omitted it.

    Anyway, that's my opinion. No anger, though.

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  9. I agree that the scene is problematic, etc. Apparently I am in the minority, but I have always seen Jamie as a flawed character. He does something that he later finds reprehensible (although apparently necessary to him at the time). He doesn't do it again. He learns, grows, changes. He's supposed to be what, 23, at the time? He continues to make poor decisions at times throughout the series. Part of his realistic humanity to me. We all regret certain actions in life. To expect anyone (fictional or real) to never do stupid/wrong things in isolation is naive. Patterns of such behavior would be a bigger problem for me. IMHO. Also, no anger, just ruminations. Made me think.

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  10. Hi Kendra,You have done a lot of research to this questionable scene,call it what you will spanking,beating,yes it sort of goes against Jamie's character,but Claire unfortunately endangered the lives of a lot of man,so it seems that was the law then (beating).What is strange that this fiction of a book has you so riled up!In the 18th century disobeying one's husband was a major offence (sad) isn't,Yes Jamie has flaws,he is human after all,but dear God the mouth on Claire would get her into trouble in 21st century as well.I hate beating,bashing in real life,sadly it happens much to often,not only to woman,but man as well,maybe that is why You're so passionate about this scene that you may have seen it happen in real life.I have to disagree with you on this,didn't like that Jamie beat Claire,but that's what DG wrote,and it has been handled quite sensitively & realisticly in the adaption.Of course this is my opinion only,but always great to read such intelligent different opinion.

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  11. So well written! The scene disturbed me so much I'm not sure yet whether I will continue reading or not. For me, it just completely went against Jaime's character. To earlier in the book show a young woman who he had no real connection with and did indeed do something culturally not acceptable and take the beating for her but then turn around later in the book and beat his wife? What!? Also, if he had showed an attitude of saving her from a worse punishment from his clansmen that would have made more sense. Instead, he seemed to have enjoyed the act, even admitting sexual arousal, and then boasted that he restrained himself from raping her. After he almost witnessed her being raped twice shortly before. It reduced their connection from true intimacy to ownership. Which was completely distasteful. Even if this was historically accurate (which as you showed wasn't), that doesn't really make sense either considering this is a work of time-travelling fiction in which she had recently had a strange connection with the loch ness monster. I think it was poorly done. I'm glad to know I'm not completely alone in my thoughts. It's disturbing to me that more women don't find this disturbing.

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  12. So well written! The scene disturbed me so much I'm not sure yet whether I will continue reading or not. For me, it just completely went against Jaime's character. To earlier in the book show a young woman who he had no real connection with and did indeed do something culturally not acceptable and take the beating for her but then turn around later in the book and beat his wife? What!? Also, if he had showed an attitude of saving her from a worse punishment from his clansmen that would have made more sense. Instead, he seemed to have enjoyed the act, even admitting sexual arousal, and then boasted that he restrained himself from raping her. After he almost witnessed her being raped twice shortly before. It reduced their connection from true intimacy to ownership. Which was completely distasteful. Even if this was historically accurate (which as you showed wasn't), that doesn't really make sense either considering this is a work of time-travelling fiction in which she had recently had a strange connection with the loch ness monster. I think it was poorly done. I'm glad to know I'm not completely alone in my thoughts. It's disturbing to me that more women don't find this disturbing.

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  13. This is so well written & explained--THANK YOU! I too, hAve done my research on this scene and scenes in FSOG, and come to the same conclusions. I am not going to subject myself to reading all the comments, Goddess knows I am in the minority. And, I most likely already know the excuses they will make in defense-'it was the custom' ' she really messed up,'he is flawed and young,''everyone makes mistakes.' Beating someone you are falling for isn't just a mistake. Confusing abuse with sexual tension is not an excusable vehicle for a plot.
    I understand fiction, a I am also a writer, but I feel it's dangerous to portray any non consent or abuse as sexy. I'm looking at you, Fifty Shades.
    Lastly, I tried explaining all of this to my sister, including the lack of consent and after care in FSOG, and she just looked at me like I was nuts.
    Great post, though! Thank you

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