Outlander (novel)

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Outlander-1991 1st Edition cover.jpg
First edition cover
Author Diana Gabaldon
Country United States
Language English
Series Outlander series (Book 1)
Genre Historical
Science fiction/Fantasy
Published 1991 (Delacorte Books)
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 640
ISBN 0385302304
Followed by Dragonfly in Amber

Outlander (published in the United Kingdom as Cross Stitch) is the first in a series of seven historical multi-genre novels by Diana Gabaldon. Published in 1991, it focuses on 20th century nurse Claire Randall, who time travels to 18th century Scotland and finds adventure and romance with the dashing James Fraser.[1] A mix of several genres, the Outlander series features elements of historical fiction, romance, adventure and science fiction/fantasy.[1] Outlander won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991.[2] In June 2013, Starz ordered 16 episodes of a television adaptation to be developed by Ronald D. Moore.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

After being separated by their work in World War II, British Army nurse Claire Randall, and her husband Frank, an Oxford history professor who briefly worked for MI6, go on a second honeymoon to Inverness, Scotland. The couple, though loving, have a strained sexual relationship, caused mainly by their apparent inability to conceive a child. On the trip Frank also intends to research his family history, in particular an ancestor named "Black Jack" Randall, a prominent captain in the British Army during the first half of the 18th century. To distract herself while Frank pores over documents with a local historian, Claire and a fellow amateur botanist go plant-gathering near a group of standing stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun. After hearing rumors of a pagan ritual to be held there, Claire and Frank later hike to the stones and the ritual while concealed behind some bushes.

Claire returns the next day, intending to collect a plant specimen that she had seen the day before, but becomes disoriented and faints when investigating a buzzing noise near the stones. Waking to the sound of battle in the distance, Claire assumes the noise is a re-enactment or a working movie set. While struggling to make sense of her surroundings, Claire runs into a man claiming to be Frank's ancestor Captain Jack Randall, and she notes his strong resemblance to Frank. Before Randall can take her into his custody, he is knocked unconscious by an unknown Scotsman who takes Claire with him to rejoin his party, a group of Scotsmen who are apparently fugitives from the red-coats. Increasingly confused by the stark reality of the "re-enactment", she is further puzzled by their reactions to her dress, which everyone seems to think is an undergarment. The Scots attempt to force the dislocated arm of a wounded young man, Jamie MacTavish, back into place. Claire, horrified by the crude and medically incorrect way in which they are proceeding, quickly steps in. Surprising the entire party, she uses her 20th century nursing knowledge to successfully relocate Jamie's arm. Trusting her somewhat more, the men reveal themselves to be members of the Clan MacKenzie, though they still refrain from releasing her for fear that she is an English spy. The group rides away from the battlefield and Claire is forced to go with them. During the long ride, Claire shares a horse with Jamie; they talk, but Claire is distracted when she does not see the lights of Inverness where she knows they must be. Noting that, and all the previous strange events, Claire reluctantly and somewhat disconcertingly concludes that she may have traveled to the past.

The party of Scots returns to their home, Castle Leoch, seat of the Clan MacKenzie. Claire is questioned by the laird, crippled but cunning Colum mac Campbell MacKenzie, and claims she had been sailing to France to visit relatives and lost her gown, luggage, and servant when they were attacked. The Scots are suspicious but also unable to prove that she is lying; wary of her true intentions, Colum treats her as a guest but forbids her from leaving the castle. Claire's fears of having traveled through time are proven when she sees a letter on Colum's desk dated 1743. She desperately searches for a way to return to the Craigh na Dun, believing that if she returns to the standing stones she can also return to her own time. The Scots see Claire as a "Sassenach", an Outlander, an outsider ignorant of Scottish Highland culture and one of the generally hated English as well. She begins to earn their respect with her work as a healer, though some in the castle and neighboring village think her a witch. Wanting to learn the truth of Claire's background, Colum's brother Dougal MacKenzie takes her and Jamie on the yearly rent collection through the MacKenzie lands. Claire and Jamie begin to develop a friendship, and she soon realizes that Dougal is a Jacobite, a fact of which his brother Colum is not aware. Dougal is also using Jamie, who had been violently whipped by the English and bears the scars to prove it, as a visual argument against English aggression and oppression. Along with regular taxes, Dougal also collects donations towards the Jacobite cause. This is all overseen by the elderly but surprisingly lucid Ned Gowan, a lawyer from Edinburgh who has sworn fealty to Clan MacKenzie. Captain Randall orders the MacKenzies to bring Claire to him for questioning; as the man who nearly whipped Jamie to death, Randall has a reputation for rather brutal interrogation. Dubious of her story, Randall ties her to a chair and attempts to beat the truth from her, but Dougal refuses to allow Randall to detain her further.

Ned notes that the only way to make Claire safe from Randall's power is to make her a legal Scotswoman by a witnessed and consummated marriage. Dougal tells her to wed Jamie, which she angrily refuses. After much heated argument, she finally agrees, resigned to the fact that it is the best route to safety and thinking him the most suitable candidate. Jamie is unfazed by the arrangement; when Claire asks him whether it bothers him that she is not a virgin, he replies "'Well no... so long as it doesna bother you that I am'" and that "'One of us should know what we're doing.'" In a gallant gesture of trust before their wedding, Jamie tells Claire that his true name is James Fraser. Much to her surprise, Jamie makes an effort to make her wedding day as pleasant as possible, procuring a gown for her to wear and dressing in full clan tartan for the occasion. He even insists on being married by a priest in a chapel, though it is, much to Claire's horror, the same one in which she and Frank had been/will be married in. Claire, though terrified, is touched by his kindness and the two marry. Later that night, they overcome their mutual nerves and consummate their marriage, a process Claire finds more enjoyable than she had expected. Claire and Jamie grow closer through the course of their travels with Dougal and the other MacKenzies. Claire, torn between her newfound attraction and attachment to Jamie and the thought of Frank back in her own time, escapes from the Scottish party and attempts to make her own way back to Craigh na Dun. Nearly drowning when she falls into a stream, she is rescued by an English patrol, only to be brought back to the fort where Captain Randall is stationed. Claire is saved from rape at the hands of Randall by Jamie, who sneaks into the English fortress to save her. The two return to the party of Scotsmen who, infuriated by her rebellious actions, refuse to have any contact with her. To both punish her for escaping and to (according to Scottish culture) rebuild her reputation among the clansmen, Jamie is forced to strap Claire; he convinces her of its necessity and Claire, though still somewhat outraged by the apparent violence of Scottish custom, complies. The experience brings the two to a deeper degree of understanding. Returning to Castle Leoch, Jamie and Claire fall into a normal existence as a married couple, though she is tormented by thoughts of Frank, who she thinks must be worried for her safety. Unable to escape the castle and the surrounding countryside, Claire takes on the role of castle healer and befriends Geilis Duncan, the cunningly beautiful wife of a local official, who shares her love of medicine. Claire's ignorance of local superstition and the machinations of a girl jealous of Claire's marriage to Jaime lead to charge of witchcraft against Claire and Geilis. Jamie is away from the castle when Claire and Geilis are arrested, and he returns just in time to save Claire from a public whipping. Just before their escape, Claire realizes that Geilis is also from the future when she sees the scar of a smallpox vaccine, yet undeveloped in the 18th century, on Geilis' arm.

Jamie and Claire flee from Castle Leoch and, when the two are safe in the wilderness, he asks her to explain the allegations. Claire finally explains her entire time traveling predicament to Jamie; despite his shock, he believes her and insists that the two return to Craigh na Dun. Although it had been Claire's ultimate goal to return to her own time, she finds herself torn when Jamie allows her to decide between staying in the past with him or returning to Frank in the future. Saying he will wait for her for a single night at the bottom of the hill, the two share a painful half-farewell and Claire is left by the stones to make her decision. After much deliberation, Claire decides that she has come to love Jamie more and finds him in the abandoned hut below Craigh na Dun. He is overjoyed with her decision to stay and takes her to his home, Lallybroch, where they share a happy peace with Jamie's sister Janet and her husband Ian. Though Jamie is still a fugitive from the British army, he secretly reclaims his role as Laird of Lallybroch, much to general happiness of his tenants. But Jamie is soon betrayed by one of his people who had a grudge against him and is taken to Wentworth Prison, the fort where Captain Randall is stationed. There, Jamie is sentenced to hang. Claire and the clansmen attempt to stage a break-out, but their plot fails. She is captured by Randall, who beats nearly rapes her. Jamie, knowing of Randall's long-suppressed sadistic desire for him, offers himself in Claire's place. Randall agrees, much to Claire's horror, and ejects Claire into the freezing, wolf-ridden woods outside the castle. Desperate, Claire tells Randall she is a witch, cursing him with the date and manner of his death, which she had learned from Frank's investigations in Inverness.

Scantily clad, freezing and attacked by a lone wolf, Claire wanders through the forest looking for help. She finds it in Sir Marcus MacRannoch, a former suitor of Jamie's mother. MacRannoch finds Jamie's companions and they devise a plan to storm the castle and rescue Jamie. While MacRannoch's men attack the castle to distract the main guard, the clansmen drive a herd of agitated cattle through the underground halls of the castle, clearing them of guards and trampling Randall in the process. They rescue Jamie, who has been brutally assaulted both physically and sexually, and bring him back to MacRannoch's. Claire and Jamie escape to Saint Anne de Beaupre's monastery in France, where Jamie's uncle serves as Abbot. Claire tries to heal Jamie, but acknowledges that his mental injuries will be harder to fix than his broken bones. As she and Jamie emerge from the healing waters of a sacred hot spring under the Abbey, Claire reveals that she is pregnant with their first child.[4]

Main characters[edit]

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser
A warm, practical and independent World War II nurse who inadvertently travels back in time to the Scottish Highlands in the mid-18th century. Though married to Frank Randall in the 20th century, she falls for Jamie Fraser in the 18th century. A gifted natural physician and an amateur botanist, Claire is an only child and orphan, raised by her archaeologist uncle.
James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser
(aka Jamie MacTavish) A strapping young Scottish redhead with a complicated past and disarming sense of humor. Jamie is intelligent, principled, and, by 18th century standards, educated and worldly. He picks up languages very well, and after initial conflict he falls in love with the mysterious Claire. Though he does not always know what she is doing, Jamie usually trusts Claire to know what to do.
Frank Randall
Claire's husband in the 20th century is a history professor with a deep interest in his genealogy and heritage. He worked for MI-6 during World War II as an spy.
Jonathan Randall
(aka "Black Jack" Randall) The primary villain of the story is Frank Randall's ancestor, a British army officer. According to Jamie, the “Black” refers to the color of his soul. He looks almost exactly like his descendant Frank, and hates Jamie intensely.
Colum MacKenzie
The Laird of the MacKenzie clan and Jamie's maternal uncle, who shelters Jamie and Claire from the English. He suffers from Toulouse-Lautrec Syndrome.
Dougal MacKenzie
Colum's younger Jacobite brother leads the clan into battle since his older brother is physically disabled. He is the biological father of Colum's son, Hamish, and takes Jamie as a foster son for a year as a teen. Dougal has four daughters, and a son with Geillis Duncan.
Geillis/Geilie Duncan
The wife of the procurator fiscal believes that she is a witch, and has knowledge of herbs and plants. Geillis is pregnant with Dougal MacKenzie’s child when she is imprisoned for witchcraft, which wins her a brief reprieve on her death sentence. She murders her husband, Arthur Duncan, and tricks Claire several different times. Ultimately Claire realizes that Geillis is a time-traveler from the 1960s.
Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser
Jamie's godfather is taciturn, quiet and brave, and very loyal to Jamie, whom he cares for like a son. At first he does not accept Claire, but changes mind as he sees how much Jamie loves her.
Laoghaire MacKenzie
A young girl of 16 who is attracted to Jamie. She sends Claire to Geillis Duncan just prior to the witch trial because she "loves" Jamie and wants him back.

Outlander: The Musical[edit]

On 1 August 2010, a CD song cycle telling the story of this first book in the series was released under the title Outlander: The Musical. The 14 songs were written by Kevin Walsh (music) and Mike Gibb (lyrics) with the words for one of the tracks being provided by author Diana Gabaldon. The CD has been highly successful, especially in America, Canada and Germany, and a libretto for a full scale stage musical is currently under consideration by a number of theatres. There is a website here. The writing team of Walsh and Gibb earlier produced the work "Clarinda the Musical",[5] while playwright Mike Gibb has produced a string of plays and musical plays on Scottish themes[6]

Reception and awards[edit]

Publishers Weekly said of Outlander, "Absorbing and heartwarming, this first novel lavishly evokes the land and lore of Scotland, quickening both with realistic characters and a feisty, likable heroine."[7] The novel won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991.[2]

Television series[edit]

In June 2013, Starz ordered 16 episodes of a television adaptation to be developed by Ronald D. Moore.[3] Production was set to begin in October 2013 in Scotland.[3]


  1. ^ a b Reese, Jennifer (November 27, 2007). "Book Review: Lord John and the Hand of Devils (2007)". EW.com. Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved October 30, 2013. 
  2. ^ a b "RITA Awards: Past Winners". Romance Writers of America. Retrieved October 31, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c Andreeva, Nellie (1 June 2013). "‘Outlander’ Greenlighted To Series By Starz". Deadline.com. 
  4. ^ Gabaldon, Diana (1991). Outlander. New York: Dell. p. 850. ISBN 0-440-21256-1. 
  5. ^ Clarinda the Musical
  6. ^ Hame Pages
  7. ^ "Fiction Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon". PublishersWeekly.com. June 3, 1991. Retrieved November 23, 2013. 

External links[edit]