In the Company of Women: Friendships as seen through Outlander’s Claire Fraser

Written by: Anne Gavin


There is something mystical yet earthy about our friendships with women.   Oftentimes our girl friends are so like us in many ways, but just as often they are so very different.  Throughout a woman’s lifetime, we may discover friendships that enrich a specific time in our lives or fulfill a particular need.  Those friendships might be fleeting but it doesn’t matter because they were there when we needed them and perhaps, when they needed us.  And, then there are those of us fortunate enough to have life-long friends unearthed perhaps as far back as the paddling pool or the playground or sitting across from each other on our mothers’ laps.  Those friendships are rare and prized.  

I identify with Outlander’s Claire Fraser in many ways, especially when it comes to her female friendships and the seasons of her life that find her wanting and needing different things from very different women.  We see in Claire a fiercely independent woman, raised essentially without a mother figure and surrounded by strong men most of her early life. However, when Claire pierces the veil of time, she encounters several women in her 18th century life that profoundly impact her.  And, it can certainly be said that Claire’s female friends find their friendship with Claire life-changing in many ways as well.  Let’s see if you can relate to the various friendships that Claire discovers in Scotland and throughout her travels as we seek to explore her friendships with women and the transitional moments she shares with them.

Friends for a Season

Prior to Claire’s first trip through the stones at Craigh na Dun, we see her life as dutiful wife to academic Frank Randall and a brief glimpse of her former life as a World War II combat nurse.  And, as we catch these glimpses of Claire’s past life, it becomes increasingly clear to us that she has had to rely predominantly on herself for survival.  She appears to be quite self-confident and comfortable in the company of men.  But, after her dramatic trip back to 18th century Scotland, she is on her own. 


When Claire meets Geillis Duncan, however, she recognizes in her a kindred spirit of sorts.  There is a chemistry between these two women, a secret they share although neither fully understands this at the time of their meeting. They are both strong willed and as we find out later, survivors – both having to make their way in a strange, new world.  They both possess a passion for herbs and healing and it’s where they find their initial spark of mutual interest and kinship.

Upon her arrival at Castle Leoch and the weeks and months that followed, Claire needed a friend. Yes, Jamie became a friend to her but it was Geillis’ company that Claire initially sought as she began to embrace her role as healer as a means to gain the trust of the MacKenzies and potentially, her way back to the 20th century.  With Geillis, Claire felt more like herself – more like she was before she passed through the stones.  In Geillis’ company, she was not constantly scrutinized nor made to feel like the Outlander – the Sassenach.

Admittedly, there was a curiosity displayed by Geillis about Claire.  Her intuition was telling her that Claire was unlike other women she knew in the village or among the clans.  The two women shared confidences and when they found themselves accused together of witchcraft, they were each other’s support and – frankly – each other’s savior.  Long days and cold nights in the thieve’s hole awaiting trial proved difficult for both women, yet they found comfort in finally sharing with each other secrets of past and, indeed, future lives.  The two women became inextricably linked the day that Geillis sacrificed herself for Claire and Claire became indebted to the mysterious Geillis Duncan who, Claire instinctively knew (“1968”) had much more in common with her than she even dare imagine.


Claire and Geillis’ friendship was grounded in a bond borne from confusion, crisis and more than one significant and transitional life moment.  Claire needed Geillis now.  Alone, not of the time, uncertain and under constant scrutiny, Claire found in Geillis a warm and secure ally – someone with whom she could be herself and let her guard down and someone who was as smart and self-reliant as she was.  As women, sometimes the ONLY person that can truly understand and empathize with you is another woman.  Amidst the furtive glances at Leoch and the suspicious paranoia of the townspeople of Crainsmuir, Geillis was an anchor in a storm for Claire.  

In life, we often find ourselves needing the company of a kindred spirit.  Someone who can relate to the tempest that confronts us whether that is an illness, injustice, infidelity or seemingly insurmountable problem.  Sometimes these friendships last but only the time needed to get us past this phase in our life.  However, they remain as significant and important a relationship as those we maintain over long periods of time.  Just as Claire never forgot the kindness and unselfishness of Geillis during her time at Leoch and during the witch trial, as women we also look back and remember the safe haven a friendship provided us when we needed it the most.


Similarly, when Claire found herself abruptly thrust into the salons of Paris and the exotic Court of Versailles, knowing no one save her husband and his grumpy sidekick, she needed a female companion.  Enter one Louise De Rohan.  Louise possessed neither Claire’s intelligence nor her sensibilities but she did offer Claire a refuge during a time when her husband was otherwise preoccupied with stopping a rebellion.  And, on top of that, Claire was enduring a rather difficult first pregnancy without much support from her household or her beloved Jamie who was suffering his own fish-out-water diversions.  Feeling bereft of purpose, lonely and frustrated, Claire sought the company of Louise and her frivolous ladies if only for the comfort and companionship of other women who serendipitously could also help deliver Claire entrée into French society and the connections required to see the Frasers’ plan for the Jacobite disruption succeed.  Louise graciously vouched for Claire with the wealthy and powerful in the French Court while also easing Claire’s discomfort with her new station in life.  And, what woman wouldn’t want to get introduced to the finest dressmaker in Paris?!  Indeed, we have Louise and her connections to thank for Claire’s attention-getting Red Dress!

Louise relied on Claire and her medical knowledge when she shared details of her entanglement with the Bonnie Prince including her ill-timed pregnancy.  Claire’s wise and non-judgmental counsel allowed Louise to decide that her desire for the life within her was worth a certain amount of inconvenience sorting her situation with her lover and her husband.

And, when Claire needed her friend the most – post still-birth of Faith – Louise provided a safe refuge for her at Fontainebleau. Indeed, the television adaptation illustrated this most poignantly when it was only Louise who could pull Claire from her grief and allow baby Faith to be taken from her and finally put to rest.  It was that brief flicker in Claire’s eyes as she looked up to see her friend, and the growing life inside her, that Claire finally agreed to accept the loss of her own baby.


Two women managing some extraordinary circumstances – life altering circumstances – and it is to each other, they turn.  One might argue it’s the only course they have.  Claire’s husband is unavailable due to his imprisonment and Louise is imprisoned by both her station in life and her adultery, which for a woman in those times, was a not only an egregious sin but also a criminal act. 

Claire was never again to see Louise De Rohan after leaving Paris.  But, this long season in her life where so much tragedy and sorrow occurred was marked by a most extraordinary friendship with an unlikely supporter.  For Claire, both Louise and Geillis were a vital need that she had.  How fortunate she was to have experienced this kind of brief yet meaningful friendship that forever marked this fateful time in her life and made it more bearable.

We all hope and pray that when desperate times come, we have these kinds of friendships upon which to lean.  They can be brief, but what they provide in return can last a lifetime.  Inspiration, courage, perspective and non-judgmental compassion are things we all need in abundance, but it is sometimes only our women friends from which we can accept these affirmations without objection.  These kinds of friends remind of us of our true selves and why we are significant despite life’s foibles.


Friends for a Reason

It was an inauspicious first meeting when the two most important women in Jamie Fraser’s life met outside the Fraser family home.  Claire was called the 18th century version of the word “slut” by Mrs. Janet Fraser Murray in the heat of the moment.  Claire took it quite well.  Probably better than I would have.  And, as those first few days at Lallybroch unfolded, Claire was further iced out by the current mistress of Lallybroch, who remained skeptical of both Claire’s English ways and intentions towards her only brother.  It would seem at first that the two women had little, if anything, in common save for their affection for James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.

It’s likely a scenario that many can relate to with in-laws and family.  The “no-one-is-good-enough-for-my-brother” situation is a familiar one when families merge and/or a marriage takes place.  Jenny had essentially raised Jamie given his mother, Ellen, had passed away when Jamie was still a wean. Then there is the fact that Jenny and her husband had been single-handedly managing the estate since Jamie left (unwillingly, but left nonetheless) more than four years ago only to have their place usurped by the returning Laird and his Sassenach bride.  It didn’t seem as if these two – Jenny and Claire – would truly ever get along other than to awkwardly coexist.  However, Claire threw herself into learning how to be mistress of the estate and when Jenny’s baby came, Claire proved herself more than fit as a midwife. Plus, it became most obvious to Jenny that Claire truly loved Jamie.

And eventually, as sometimes happens with unlikely friendships, we finally prove ourselves to each other.  Bound at first by a mutual love for a husband and a brother but later by respect and a recognition that common interests and similar traits far outweigh disparate backgrounds and unfounded distrust.  These types of friends see us for who we are – overlooking our shortcomings – and who love and care for us anyway.  But, it wasn’t until both women found the strength and the courage to set off in search of Jamie that the friendship was truly cemented.  The Frasers had their fair share of family drama but it’s during these predicaments that one can truly take the measure of a friend.

How many of us have experienced this type of friendship – either for the better or the worse?  Sad to say that sometimes friends disappear in time of crisis, finding themselves unable or unwilling to share the burden or offer support.  The ones that stay – that disrupt their own lives – in order to be present for their friend and provide for whatever needs may arise, is the type of friend we cherish – no matter how unlikely the beginning of the relationship may have been.


In Claire, Jenny found a companion, another woman with which she could speak of her pregnancy, her hopes and fears for herself and her children as well as concerns about her future and that of her land and her family’s legacy.  In Jenny, Claire found an emotionally intelligent equal, someone almost as hard-headed as herself and someone who loved Jamie as deeply as she did.  It will become a friendship that sees itself through several seasons of both women’s lives, despite the span of time and some deeply held misunderstandings and actions on both sides.

As they say, you can’t choose your family.  You can, however, hope that mutual love of those you hold dear and, eventually, mutual trust and respect borne from shared experiences, might result in the type of friendship displayed between these two women; one which seemed improbable if not implausible.

Mentorship

As women, we often decry the pitfalls of aging, wishing for what may have seemed like a simpler time when we were young and not carrying the many burdens of life.  Sometimes we may even seek the company of women younger than ourselves as a means of living vicariously or to catch a glimpse of our youthful selves – the way we used to be or the way we wish we still were.  At some point in our lives, however, we stop wishing to be younger and start appreciating all we have learned.  “If I had only known then, what I know now” is a common refrain for women of a certain age.  For wisdom can only come with time and experience, and with inevitable mistakes.

But, what if we could short-circuit that learning curve?  What if we could save someone from the inevitable pain and confusion that comes with growing and learning the tough lessons of life’s hazards?  And, alternately, what if opening ourselves up to seeing the world through a younger lens, we again find the joy and freshness in a life worn down by disappointments, desertions and disillusionment?  There is a mutual benefit to a May-December friendship, although both sides have to be open to it and both have to commit to suspend beliefs from time to time in order to appreciate the full measure of the relationship and what it offers.


Claire’s bond with the adolescent Mary Hawkins in Paris is such a relationship.  The girl can hardly utter her name without trepidation and she knows nothing of the world of Paris or the seductions of life amongst the salons of the privileged and wealthy.  But, most of all, she knows little of love, or sex or marriage.  Claire takes pity on the young girl and does her very best to counsel her on the proclivities of Parisian life.

Claire becomes even more intrigued by the young ingénue when she realizes the girl has an important link to her own past/future.  Despite what seems to be manipulations to the contrary, Claire cares for Mary and tries to be a source of wisdom and knowledge for her as Mary attempts to balance the foreboding of an arranged marriage with that of her giddiness over her budding love affair with Alex Randall.  Claire sees in Mary the exuberance of young love, but also someone completely unprepared to manage the consequences of challenging society’s expectations.  

As mentioned previously, Claire grew up without a mother and as an only child.  And, we all know Claire’s survival instinct is superior to most – certainly to the immature English girl who found herself removed from her family and her home and facing an uncertain and frightening future. Claire had a sense of purpose when counseling Mary and a strong drive to protect her when she was injured and facing both physical injury and shame as a result of the sexual assault she suffered on the streets of Paris.  Again, Claire needed to be needed and Mary offered her a chance to try and shield the young girl from some of life’s harder lessons.

The truth is, mentoring friendships are not the easiest. Mentees rarely take advice without resistance.  And, mentors must often stand by and watch their friend make the exact mistakes they made themselves – sometimes with worse outcomes.  It can be a frustrating experience for both parties but, ultimately, any and all small victories can make the effort meaningful.  And, I have often found that these relationships mature in time.  If a mentor can positively influence a mentee’s thought or action – even if that thought or action occurs far in the future – then the friendship was worthwhile for both. 

Mary Hawkins gained strength from her relationship with Claire Fraser.  We saw this as time went by and as Mary was faced with difficult circumstances around the illness and eventual death of her lover.  Had Mary not met Claire in Paris and not been the subject of Claire’s tutelage, this may never have come to pass and the girl would have likely ended up a pauper or worse.

There is a season for finding and making friends for which to mentor.  It’s part of our role as women, I think.  Life can be hard enough, but not to have the wisdom and experience of other women upon which to draw would make it even more grim for most of us.  Mentoring is the type of friendship that can lead to great highs and great lows but, ultimately, we know we tried for purely selfless reasons to ease another woman’s path and that is a thing to be celebrated.


As a post-script, I want to thank my fellow staff writers at the Outlander Cast Blog for their friendship, their inspiration and their unwavering support.  They are all extraordinary women.  They are articulate, compassionate, wise, hilariously funny, and full of life and joy.  I didn’t know until one of them told me, that September was "Women’s Friendship Month."  How ironic that it was September of this year when several of us met in person for the very first time.  It had been over a year since we had started together as writers.  I felt like I knew them as we frequently talked virtually, asking advice about our various posts for the blog and other things that women talk about!

But, it was astonishing when we all met.   It was an instant chemistry.  It was exciting and emotional and empowering.  I’ve never felt such an instant kinship with a group of people in my life.  I don’t know if these women will be friends for a season, friends for a reason or friends for a lifetime, but I am glad I have the wisdom to recognize that these friendships are to be cherished and that we must make each day we have with each other count in case we find ourselves one day adrift again.  Thanks to you, ladies (you know who you are) for enriching this season of MY  life.



Everybody believes her own friendships are endowed with a kind of secret significance.  When we’re with our friends, we believe that we are in extraordinary company. Making us feel rare and prized, our friends capture our imagination and offer us perspective.  Appearing almost ghostlike as figures from our past or arriving like ingénues in a Broadway play, they serve to remind us not only of who we are, but also why we’re significant – Gina Barreca – Humor Writer and Professor

We’d love you to use this space to give a shout-out to a special friend in your life.  Let us hear your stories!

Have you had a special friendship like some of Claire’s?
 If so, what were some of the things you learned from that friend?
  

  


19 comments

  1. Friends for a reason, friends for a season, friends for life - my mom has taught me this for years and this post brought it all home. SO THANK YOU! I've got a couple of lifer friends who have been with me since preschool. I'm fortunate enough I got grandfathered in to being their adult friend, but know that I'd pick them all over again if given the choice. Hopefully, they feel the same. But the friends I make as an adult are cherished in a unique way to me - because they're the friends who I picked, and who picked me, when I felt I had arrived at the person I was truly meant to be. What a blessing they all are!

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    1. Ashley Crawley -- your mom was a wise woman! Choosing our friends and more importantly (I think) knowing that they choose us and love us no matter is what it's ALL about. Everyone should be fortunate to have a friend like this in their lifetime. Thanks for reading and commenting!!! I choose you!

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    2. I have had friends come and go, but I can say I have had a handful of true r friends throughout my life. I am still close its my kindergarten/neighbor friend. I may not always see them, but I know they are there. When my dad passed each of them came to pay respects. But oddly, they the timesame they visited reflected how I met them chronologically.
      I still have groups of friends from which I am able to pull different experiences, information and support. Many I hold near and dear. Some very new and still as important.

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    4. I have had friends come and go, but I can say I have had a handful of true r friends throughout my life. I am still close its my kindergarten/neighbor friend. I may not always see them, but I know they are there. When my dad passed each of them came to pay respects. But oddly, they the timesame they visited reflected how I met them chronologically.
      I still have groups of friends from which I am able to pull different experiences, information and support. Many I hold near and dear. Some very new and still as important.

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  2. This article must only be based on Claire's relationships as portrayed on the show.

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    1. Just Visiting -- Nope. Takes into account her time with Louise in Paris and at Fontainebleu which was not in the show. Also, passages from Outlander when Claire and Geillis were on trial. Up until the Jamaica, Claire cared about Geillis. Unfortunately, Claire was forced into a situation that led to dire outcomes. Nonetheless -- they were friends for a good part of the book series. Do any of these types of friendships ring true to you? Is there a friend you have had that you would like to give a shout out to? Would love to hear your story!!! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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    2. Denise Stewart -- how lovely. Friends for many seasons and friends for a lifetime. Count yourself among the fortunate. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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  3. Lovely post Anne,true friendship is everything in life,when your partner or family cause you grief,your friends will be there!Well Claire definitely a very strong character,but the life they led with Jamie always going from 1 place to another she couldn't forge on going friends,I didn't think that Geillis ever was a true friend,it will show in Voyager!All the other females in her life were good friends to her if brief,but maybe not with Jenny,well its all in the later books!I have been blessed with good girlfriends,but couple of them passed away sadly comes with age ot any age,I sure appreciate the 2 I have left& one male friend I have had for 50years now.

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    1. Hello again, zsuzsip! Despite how Claire and Geillis' friendship ended, for most of the book series, Claire always considered her a friend. Unfortunately, Claire was forced to take some drastic action to protect Jamie and things ended badly. Plus, I believe Geillis' mental state had declined precipitously since Claire had seen her last. However, for a season in Claire's life, Geillis was there for her. As for Jenny -- yes -- there were some misunderstandings later. Jenny was in the dark on a lot that had transpired between Claire and Jamie and she was desperate to save her brother and provide him some comfort. But, she and Claire became bonded over their love for Jamie and it was a significant friendship for both of them at particularly stressful times in their lives. Sorry to hear of your girlfriends passing on. Amazing you have been friends with your guy friend for 50 years. WOW! You two must know everything there is to know about one another. Good for you. As always, thanks for reading and commenting. Good to hear from you.

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  4. For 40 years, my 6 pack of college buddies have managed to stay close...we rendezvous every summer at the beach. This summer we all watched the very first Outlander episode together so that no one is left out (several of us are devoted fans)...heard more than once, ..."now I get it".

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    1. Joyce K. -- that is SO awesome! How wonderful that you have all stayed so close AND are sharing Outlander together! What special friendships! Thanks for reading and sharing your story. I hope you ladies continue to meet every summer and celebrate your bond.

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  5. Such a beautifully written and poignant article. Having moved around a lot like Claire, I can certainly relate to making different friends, some of whom I stayed in contact with and others not. Each one of them was precious though.

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    1. Sarah Downing -- Thank you for reading and commenting! It's hard to move a lot but wonderful for you that you made friends and can recognize how in that season of your life, they made a difference. So glad you shared this!! Come back and visit us again soon for more original Outlander related content and news. Cheers!

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  6. Anne, you are a wonderful writer. Your words caused me to think long and hard about the many friendships that have been a blessing to me throughout my lifetime – for seasons, for reasons and (now and then) just because.

    As young women, we test the waters of friendships in our families, neighborhoods and schools. I think these are very important times where we learn the values that make us a good friend to others and the characteristics in others that we need to form lasting friendships. The learning curve can be all over the place as we discover the joy of well-placed loyalty and the pain of misplaced trust. I know only a small handful of women that would ever go back to their secondary educations to relearn any of those lessons.

    I can relate to the seasons in our lives where friends come in for a short time and move on. This happened in my life as I made friends whose children were in and around my children, their schools and their activities. These friendships seemed to form in groups. They were great fun, both wonderful and necessary for sharing advice on common issues. Once our children moved on, having supported each other with wild child stories, wise counsel and adventuresome ideas, a new group would form at the next point of entry. When we come across each other years later, the communication continues around our children as we launch right back into wild child stories, wise counsel and the sharing of adventures great and small.

    I can also relate to the friendships which form for a reason. I am always amazed and filled with wonder at the way God puts people in our path – or us in theirs – for a reason. I have befriended those who needed support while they suffered loss, and bonded with women met in chemo labs where our common battles allowed us to hold hands while we fought independently with mixed results. These complex friendships can last but a moment or extend into a lifetime. There is no way to know which will last because the depth of feelings and shared emotions can reach levels far beyond where most of us are comfortable. As we become stronger, capable of standing on our own again, the memories of those experiences may strengthen the bond or require that we leave each other behind.

    The common interests and experiences that bring women together in friendship can occur anywhere at any time ~ and some are not easily placed in a definable box or wrapped up with a pretty bow. Sometimes, friends just happen. These friendships may be the most mysterious of all . . . friendships that leave us wondering how two such diverse people can enjoy spending so much time together. I think of these women as the sisters I choose. They are the people I trust with my most honest feelings and beliefs and they trust me with theirs. We can talk in understanding and nonjudgmental ways. We forgive each other the eccentric ideas and boorish behaviors. These friends are the family we expect on special occasions and would miss if they weren’t around.
    My sons are all grown now. My Sisterhood of Friends is a necessity in my life which I am grateful for. I try to make time to maintain them with the love and nurture they merit; when I cannot, I trust they will be there when I come up for air. The friendships that weathered the seasons and the reasons, that have become family, are precious beyond words.

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  7. Laurie Brandt -- Thank you for sharing!!!! These are wonderful stories that I am sure many can relate to. Many different types of friendships for many different reasons and seasons in life but all precious. Your words are appreciated. Thanks for reading and commenting!!!!

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  10. Connie taught me so much. She was a lot older than I when I moved from Alabama to Georgia. The day I met her she told me to pack my bags and move back to Alabama. I didn't have the guts to take on the job I was there to do. I was coming to be a property manager in Atlanta. She was right, but we became BEST friends, until the day she died.

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