Jamie Fraser Farts (…or Why the Best Books Have B.O.)

For me, the best fictional worlds feel just real enough to draw me into them.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy the fantastical because, well, Outlander…and Harry Potter…and Lord of the Rings…and Game of Thrones…

Well, you get the idea.

But what really draws me into a story are those little touches with which I can identify.  The sounds, and smells, those “been there done that” bits woven into the tapestry of the story.  Those moments when I see my own imperfections in the characters I love.

Once of my favorite, snort-laugh-worthy moments in the Outlander series occurs in Dragonfly in Amber.  Claire had just returned from getting her legs waxed. Jamie was not amused because, well, God Himself put the hair there.  No, seriously, Jamie had seen it there just the day before.  Where the heck did it go?! (and, for the love of all that is holy, WHY did it go?!)  Sensing his indignation and alarm, Claire tries to mollify him:

“It might have been worse, you know,” I said, sponging the inside of one thigh. “Louise had all her body hair removed.”

That startled him back into English, at least temporarily. “What, she’s taken the hairs off her honeypot?” he said horrified into uncharacteristic vulgarity. 

It made me laugh so hard I had an asthma attack (yes, apparently laughter induced asthma is A Thing).  But it wasn’t the fact that it was funny that stuck with me—it was that it addressed an issue that I have:  whenever I read books, I get distracted by wondering how a character’s legs are so smooth if she’s been on a deserted island for six months, and why no female protagonists ever seem to have a menstrual cycle…or stray hairs needing plucking…or acne…  How come they never seem to sweat, or have bad breath, or fart?  Seriously!  It’s like they’re not even human!  Oh, wait, right…

Still, perhaps that’s one of the reason that I love certain books—because we get to see characters with warts (both literal and figurative), and we get to see how they actually cope with being less than Fancy-Shiny-Airbrushed.

While many books have a few elements of the ordinary thrown in to keep us Mere Mortal Readers from totally forgoing our Willing Suspension of Disbelief* and tossing the book aside (along with our well-wept-over fashion magazines), some books really own their characters’ humanity.  Outlander owns it.

I don’t care how much you character-crush on him:  James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser farts.  He does.  More than once.  (It was not just a token fart.)  Not only that, but his hair sticks up weird sometimes.  Also, he actually does have body hair, quite a bit of it, in fact (no manscaping here!), and his nose gets snotty when he cries.  Did I mention he cries?  Because, yeah, people sometimes do that when they’re sad.

Claire gets snotty when she cries, too.  She also hip on all the best 18th Century Things With Which To Wipe Your Bum.  She talks about birth control pre-Pill.  She talks about orgasms and masturbation and other things that People Really Talk About.

But perhaps the part that makes her unlike a lot of female characters is books is that she doesn’t live in a vacuum; over the years, Claire changes…she ages.  She talks about her spider veins, and the silver in her hair, and her waning fertility.

She is a bit like the BFF who you’ve known since sixth grade.  Sure she’s changed…you both have.  But you live with the changes–day in and day out–so it all seems so gradual that when you look at in the mirror you still see your youthful face staring back from behind the wrinkles.

People gain weight and lose weight.  They get wrinkles and have scars.  Also, sometimes, they…well…stink.  Outlander is a virtual olfactory oasis.  The reader is regaled with descriptions of odors, both good and bad.  Men don’t smell like aftershave; they smell like a wood fire (or a peat fire, depending which book you’re reading).  Jamie frequently carries the tang of sweat or musky maleness about him; while Claire smells of her wee herbs or, if she’d been making a poultice, perhaps the sharp bite of onion.  But very rarely do we greet them freshly bathed and perfectly coiffed (and when we do, such coiffing seems to be rather against their will—remember Jenny dragging a brush through their tangled hair and tugging out all manner of dried leaves and vegetation?).

So, yeah.  My favorite books have farting.  And crying.  And snotty noses.  They have tangled hair and make-up sex.  They have flawed people doing stupid things for good reasons.  They have fights and misunderstandings and grudges.  The stories are often messy, and bloody, and unfair.

Just like life.

_____________________

*  Thanks, Coleridge! (And thanks Professor Stenson…see, I did listen in class!)

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73 thoughts on “Jamie Fraser Farts (…or Why the Best Books Have B.O.)

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I have read an article from DG about how important describing the sounds and smells are to her. I know why – because we relate to them so well. We crazy Jamie and Claire fans (all 8 books worth) think they are real because DG makes them so real! It is not our fault we are obsessed.

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  2. A great escape. When there is nothing new to read you have your choice and because you know what is in each book you can choose according to your mood. Voyager is my favorite, nook and soft cover but I always goes back to her walking into the printing shop and saying no its me Claire. Still get teary eye.

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    • I. Love. That. Part. It is bookmarked on my Kindle. I have realized that there are certain books that I return to over and over. I do love the first book, and Voyager, of course. But I also love A Breath of Snow and Ashes. (Mostly because of the bodhran scene. It gets me every time.)

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    • She has an amazing eye (and ear and nose) for detail. I never realized how often authors leave out those sensory details until I had the pleasure of reading a writer who was able to integrate them so well.

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  3. Very true, I agree that they are down to earth, but I wonder in later novels why Jamie and Claire still have all their teeth, do not have arthritis, and still have great sex in their 50s! Health care wasn’t great in the 18th century.

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    • I like to think that Claire’s nagging helped a lot. She had Jamie brushing his teeth with a willow twig in Voyager (and as he does so Claire mentally credits herself for his lovely teeth). I imagine that Jamie probably does have quite a few creaky joints (especially with all he has been through), but he is a proud man and not one to complain. The characters have aged well, but Claire does have hot flashes, silver in her hair, and spider veins. And I firmly believe that great sex does not have to end in your 50s (please, God, let me be right!), although I do see that the “unflagging enthusiasm” referenced in the first book is tempered at times by exhaustion in later books. The heart is willing, but at times the best thing you can do in bed is sleep.

      That being said, I really AM eager to see how they continue to age, grow, and change. 💕

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      • I definitely agree with this. If you think of when Jamie was in prison collects things like watercress to supplement the mens diet as he is mindful of what Claire has taught him, he is aware of germs and what he needs to do to prevent them whenever he can, and I think there are references to Jamie continuing to clean his teeth and encouraging his family to do so also. We know also that Jamie is not invincible as he ages. The first winter on the Ridge he doesn’t come home one night in the dead of winter because he’s put his back out, and he tells Claire that it has happened to him before, and it recurrs again in book 8. There are several mentions about the pain and stiffness in the hand damage by Jack Randall, which worsen as he gets older. Claire offers massage on a few occasions to help with this. So yes, health care in the eighteenth century was poor. But Jamie, and indeed everyone else that come into contact with Claire have their own personal 20th Century physician who not only has knowledge from her own time, but also learns which of the ‘old wives tales’ are genuinely helpful and which are likely to do more harm or be of no use at all; ie those perfect formed round pills, slaters, from book one, that turned out to be woodlice. And I also believe that sex gets better as you get older, not having to worry about getting pregnant or not getting pregnant just for starters is a real winner!

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    • Well….I think some of the answers to that are in the books. They talk a lot about keeping their teeth, by eating greens and brushing them, which is not normal for the time. They do have some arthritis, they mention aches and pains occasionally. And the sex…they do talk about it being less often, and different than when they were young. But I hardly think that great sex is impossible in one’s 50’s….I’m 40 this year, I really hope I’m right about that….

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    • Yes! (This made me laugh because it reminded me of the first book when Claire thinks to herself that Jamie has a good touch and if she were a horse she’d let him ride her anywhere…although, to be fair, that IS a kid of exercise, too.) 😉

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  4. Great article! The very real behaviors of everyday living outlined in the book bring it to life. I remember when I read the part about Claire waxing, I told my husband,”Jamie’s pissed cause Claire waxed her pits”. He laughed and asked what Jamie said. My husband read the first book with me so we both feel like we know these characters as real people because they are so human. Thanks to Diana Gabaldon for crafting such a wonderful piece of literature.

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    • When I was re-re-re-re-reading the books lately, I was reading through Voyager and it occured to me to wonder whether or not Claire stopped shaving before she went back through the stones, since she *knew* Jamie’s thoughts on the matter.

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  5. I’m an older lady, so my grandmothers were born in the horse-and-buggy days. (One grandmother was actually born in a barn when my great-grandmother went into labor during a buggy ride.) When I was a teen, my grandmothers tried to convince me to SINGE the hair off my legs instead of shaving. They told me that’s what girls in their era did to stay smooth, and assured me that if I’d just singe off the hair, it would never come back. I stuck with my razor, but I always think of that now when I read a historical romance and the heroine’s legs stay smooth.

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    • I have never heard that! That’s is incredibly interesting; however, admittedly, mostly just on the days that I think I might mmmmphmmm.

      I do, very much, love how Jamie loves and accepts ALL of Claire. He loves her hair even when puffed up like milkweed. He loves her in her ridiculous looking gardening hat.

      May we all know that kind of all encompassing love (whether we shave our leg hair or no–not judging).

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  6. My dear gingerlovinmind, that particular episode in DIA was also one of my favorites and one that also made me laugh out loud when Claire said “Bob’s your uncle!!” I laughed so hard my hubby asked what was so funny. There have also been other parts of the books that have made me guffaw and cry and develop a snotty nose — too many to mention here!!!!

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  7. They may have ‘great sex’ in their 50’s (and 60’s!) but Jamie does sometimes require a little “warm up” and lubrication to get things rolling, which I think is very true to life as people age – so great that it is in there. In The Bronze Horseman Trilogy, my other favorite book series, Alexander and Tania are also fastidious w/ teeth cleaning, as well as a lot of other earthy details, such as cleaning up after sex. Not to get too graphic or gross, but hey, sex is messy – I had a small quibble w/ “The Wedding Night” on Starz when Claire jumps up almost immediately after their first time and starts heading out the door to get something to eat. Really? The “King of Men” has just finished and you have no hygiene issues to attend to first? Not that you’d show something like that, but . . . .. but then, most romantic scenes in tv and movies ignore that reality as well.

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  8. My favorite part was, I believe in Echo, where they find Fanny alone in the house with her husband who had a stroke and was rotting, and Claire talks about the smell being so putrid all she can do is breath with her mouth open. Every time I read that scene, I find myself breathing mouth agape like a damn idiot. 🙂

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  9. Other books seem very two dimensional once one has read anything by Herself! Jack Whyte’s Skystone series comes the closest to DG’s brilliance! I can’t watch the TV show as so much is changed or missing. DG posted a snippet of the next book the other day on Facebook and the whole world fell away! Blissful joy!! I felt like I’d reconnected with my friends again!

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  10. There are so many reasons why I fell in love with the writing of Diana Gabaldon. There is the mulch-genre story line, but sooo much more. The richness of detail whether it be about landscape, flora, fauna, everyday items, medicine, architecture, history, the list just goes on and on. The vocabulary. But most of all, I am fascinated with the conversational dialogue!

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  11. Ahh the imperfect perfect Jamie (or Claire.) If hubbies have trouble being measured against the King of Men, imagine how it might be if he did not have the warts and farts, etc to make him just like our very own King of Household!! I love all the very tiny details DG writes – though at times her long scenery descriptions get passed through quickly so I can keep on with the action. Re reads are where you get so many more of the minutia of everyday life.

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  12. She also mentions the lack of yeast/bladder infections due to lack of undergarments. I always loved that observation. And am jealous of the accessibility of kilts and 18th century garments. 😉

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    • I have always loved kilts, and my husband wore his tartan at our wedding, and we did have our hands bound (no blood vows, though, darn it!). I recently found a couple of etsy shops that have some amazingly crafted and reasonably priced corsets. I gotta say, I feel pretty Claire-ific in it.

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  13. This was one of my favorite “laugh out loud” moments of the book also. However, I enjoyed the first part of that conversation more. Amidst his sneezing fit, after she showed him her underarms, he asked, “Why would you pluck your hairs?” (or something of the like, don’t blast me) She replied, “errmm, it smells better?” When she stripped down and was washing off the lavender, he noticed she had done her legs. He says, ” Why would you do your legs, they donna smell like anything!” One of my favorite scenes in all the books. I guess by next favorite would by when they lived on the ridge and Jamie gave Claire a small bouquet of flowers and such. The wording was such..that it just made you giggle. “Sorcha..” I called softly. Or, She ran into the house clutching the wee besom to her chest like a gift. Then he ends up with poison ivy. LOL. Brianna gave me her own brand of humor. We could tell she was related to her parents. These stories have given me great joy and great sorrow. A book that can make ME cry is worthy of it’s binding.

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  14. I love your observations. I think the addition of bodily “issues” is the third dominion of the story. It is what breathes life into the characters. And yes, you are a hoot for daring to go where few bloggers have gone before.

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  15. I recently thought about the various odours while watching the show during the episode where Jamie is busy pleasuring Claire and Murtagh was banging on the door. When Jamie finally gives up and answers the door, he is speaking to Murtagh from about 6 inches away. All I could think of was give the man some wine to rinse his mouth out! There were certainly no secrets as to what they were just engaged in! Even though it isn’t a scene directly from the book, it read so much like Diana’s writing that I believe she must have written that scene! Do you think their sense of smell is dulled from being in so fragrant of a world at all times?

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  16. I love that Diana put this up on Facebook! She knows of good stuff! I first read this when I was still a SM lurker and didn’t have the courage to reply to the amazing writers I was introduced to! As you well know, I’m not so shy anymore! I always loved the part where Jamie requests that Claire not remove the hair from her “oxters” again (Ha, ha! Autocorrect keeps trying to change it to “otters”). Such a great term! And yes, it’s those little bits of universal humanity that make for the best characterizations and keep me returning for an umpteenth re-read!!

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  17. Congrats on Herself posting this on her FB page! You should know by now I most always love your thoughts – so close to my own usually! LOL Drives my guy nuts when I say ‘but they are so REAL’……….to him they aren’t and that is the end of it! To have characters that seem like you could step across the street and find them to ask for a cup of sugar is so cool. And that they are ‘just people’. Jamie isn’t perfect – neither is Claire………….thank God

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  18. Hi – found you via DG on fb. Love your insight! Following you on twitter and fb now. I’ve been reading Outlander etc. since a coworker introduced me to the books in the early noughties.

    Also @Libbi – I had a thought about the “fewer yeast infections because no undies” idea this past month when rereading. I agree that a lack of undergarments / abundance of fresh air is a likely reason, maybe; but I’d also bet on the lack of antibiotics as another big reason.
    Regular/over use of antibiotics kills off a body’s beneficial bacteria as well, and those wee buggers keep down the level of yeasty beasties.

    Looking forward to more of your thoughts, and the conversation with your readers.

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  19. I think DG has written somewhere that if a writer can describe things that appeal to at least 3 of the 5 sense, the scenes seem more real to the reader. I’ve occasionally stopped while reading to admire her craft in that regard.

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  20. I am snorting over your genius comments! Love this. When I was a stressed much younger working mom, I stumbled onto Outlander as a diversion from the madness that is life replete with a career, family, travel and everything else we all deal with. Still loving the books and the Starz show lo these many decades later.

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  21. Absolutely brilliant article! Diana Gabaldon humanized all of the characters. We fart, they fart, we have snotty noses, we have snotty noses, so true to real life. This is what partly makes DG the amazing writer she is! Kudos!!

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