In case you were thinking that I have abandoned my literary roots for the immediacy of video ecstasy, fear not. It took me ten years to get around to it because it is so dauntingly long, but once I started reading Outlander, I tore through it like trick-or-treaters go through a bag of Halloween candy. Diana Gabaldon is an amazing writer, a role model, and I want to share with you some of the passages that I have underlined for their sheer beauty of expression.
To remind the unbaptized, Outlander is the story of WWII British army nurse Claire Beauchamp Randall, who, while in Scotland on her second honeymoon, falls through time to Scotland in 1743. There she is taken in by the Clan McKenzie and lives for a time with them in their home base, Castle Leoch. She is terrorized by a English Captain named Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, and the MacKenzies feel that the only way to protect her is to have her marry a Scot and thereby come under the protection of the Clan. The marital candidate: young Jamie Fraser, nephew to the MacKenzie laird and an outlaw from the English himself. Fortunately for Claire, she already has feelings for Jamie she has been trying to resist, and once they are married their attraction for each other flares from a flickering candle into a enormous bonfire.
Those are my words; let me now share hers.
When she first arrives in 1743 and encounters the MacKenzies as a roving band of bandits:
It was a moonless night, but the starlight caught the metal bits of the harness in flashes of quicksilver. I looked up and almost gasped in wonder; the night sky was thick with a glory of stars such as I had never seen. Glancing round at the surrounding forest, I understood. With no nearby city to veil the sky with light, the stars here held undisputed dominion over the night.
At the castle, she is invited to the great hall after dinner to hear the songs of the castle bard. She describes his voice:
The voice was also deceptively simple. You thought at first there was nothing much to it–pleasant, but without much strength. And then you found that the sound went straight through you, and each syllable was crystal clear, whether you understood it or not, echoing poignantly inside your head.
Describing the efforts to turn her into a beautiful if reluctant bride:
After a short spell of frenetic activity with me standing like a dressmaker’s dummy and everyone else racing about fetching, carrying, criticizing, and tripping over each other, the final product was ready, complete to white asters and yellow roses pinned in my hair and a heart pounding madly away beneath the lacy bodice. The fit was not quite perfect, and the gown smelled rather strongly of its previous owner, but the satin was weighty and swished rather fascinatingly about my feet, over the layers of petticoats. I felt quite regal, and not a little lovely.
When she saw Jamie dressed for their wedding:
His tartan was a brilliant crimson and black that blazed among the more sedate MacKenzies in their green and white. The flaming wool, fastened by a circular silver brooch, fell from his right shoulder in a graceful drape, caught by a silver-studded sword belt before continuing it’s sweep past neat calves clothed in woolen hose and stopping just short of the silver-buckled black leather boots…Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion, and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to–and he knew it.
There are so many more, on nearly all of 850 pages, but this one when Jamie thinks she is leaving him and going back to the 20th century:
I watched him until he disappeared into the oak clump, walking slowly, like a man wounded, who knows he must keep moving, but feels his life ebbing slowly away though the fingers he has clenched over the wound.
Those two lines bring me to tears even now. Can I possibly ever write so well? Must a person be born with these words? Can I ever learn, ever practice enough? She is remarkable, absolutely, totally remarkable.