Sometimes books we love…characters we love…strike a nerve. Books tiptoe into territory that really should have a trigger warning (why has no one come up with a font called Trigger Warning that we could all easily identify?) Characters sometimes behave in ways that polarize readers. Books can divided and books can unite, and sometimes they do both at the same time.
Outlander is particularly good at doing this.
Yes. This is another Outlander post. Deal with it.
While Jamie Fraser is one of my favorite literary characters, there are times that I want nothing more than to throttle him. Normally I don’t feel conflicted as I am reading a story, but later—as my mind lingers on a scene while I am driving, or showering, or trying to tune out my children as they bicker–bits of a scene will float back up and I will re-examine it, turn it over, and prod at it. By now, I should know better than to prod things. Still, I prod. I am a prodder.
Earlier this week, there were some comments made on another one of my posts about the Lady Geneva kerfuffle. [SPOILER ALERT: If you don’t recognize the name Lady Geneva from the Outlander books, don’t read any further. You have been warned.] When I first read about the incident, I took it in stride. When I read, especially when I read the Outlander books, I have learned to try not to assume too much and to keep reading, because Diane Gabaldon has a way of making things Work Out. I trust her writing; I trust her story.
Anyway, back to Lady Geneva… (If you have strong feelings about Lady Geneva, what transpired, or how Jamie behaved, go grab your copy of Voyager so we can talk.)
(THIS IS WHERE THE TRIGGER WARNING FONT WOULD SHOW UP, IF I HAD ONE…)
I have a lot of conflicting emotions about this scene. First, I was horribly angry with Lady Geneva for blackmailing Jamie into bedding her. I was also angry at Jamie for not finding a way out of it. I kept waiting for him to out-think her, to out-maneuver her scheming, but he didn’t. I was unspeakably disappointed.
As I read, though, I felt a bit sorry for Lady Geneva. Just a wee bit, mind you, because she had no say in her life. She was arranged to marry a much older man whom she didn’t love. Her first sexual experience was to be with someone for whom she felt no feelings or attraction. While this was not an uncommon occurrence in that day and time, for an independent spirited woman like Lady Geneva, it must have felt unbearable. So she tried to take back some measure of control—she tried to fashion the “first time” that she wished to have rather than the one allotted to her. In another context, this might have been strong, independent, perhaps even admirable. The problem is that by blackmailing Jamie to behave in the way she desired, she took away his control.
It was actually Jamie’s tenderness (albeit somewhat grudging) towards Lady Geneva that made me feel some measure of compassion towards her.
There was some tenderness for her youth, and pity at her situation. Rage at her manipulation of him, and fear at the magnitude of the crime he was about to commit.
Even though he thought her a “wee bitch” for threatening him and his family, he still tried to instill in her a recognition of her of value. I tried to teach her, to initiate her, to guide her.
“A man should pay tribute to your body,” he said softly, raising each nipple with small circling touches. “For you are beautiful, and that is your right.”
Ah, but here is where things get tricky… (Feel free to go pour yourself a dram, if you like. I had to.)
Lady Geneva said, “Stop it.” She screamed, “Take it out!” Damn. That is pretty clear. By today’s standards (if this was not a scene in a beloved book) most women would consider that rape (remember: No means No!). Was Jamie’s behavior tantamount to rape? By 18th century standards, I’m not so sure. Certainly Lady Geneva didn’t consider it so. And, since she is the one involved, I think it is important to consider how she views the encounter. Well, it turns out, she is eager to get back on the horse (so to speak) and, a few pages later, she tells him, “I love you, Alex.” Hm. Okay. I’ll admit it. I am relieved.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not giving Jamie a pass. There is still the part of me that still feels like Jamie’s giving in to Lady Geneva’s demands somehow was a betrayal of me Claire. And it definitely was not one his finer moments. It wasn’t one of those Jamie Moments that you want to point out to your spouse or BFF and swoon over. But readers are a forgiving bunch, and they have a knack for making excuses for the characters they love. I wondered if I was guilty of this, too. This is what has been plaguing me. Was I making excuses for Jamie?
The thought rattled around my head for a while, when it finally bumped up against another thought. In my 42 years, I have heard time and time again that “Rape is about control.” Well, clearly Jamie lost his own self-control during the encounter, but was he trying to control Lady Geneva? Hm, well, considering he was the one being blackmailed, I don’t think so. Lady Geneva, however, did try to impose her own position of control over Jamie. He initially made it clear that he did not want to have sex with her. Does that make Lady’s Geneva’s forcing of Jamie to engage in sexual relations that he does not want tantamount to rape?*
Some believe that it is. Others, however, take it a step further. Not only do they condemn Lady Geneva for her actions, but they are quick to demand some form of punishment. Sure, what she did was reprehensible—seriously, blackmailing a man to bed you? Way to keep it classy Lady G.
I get the anger. But what I don’t get, and can’t condone, are some of the comments I have heard/seen that basically state that “She got what she deserved.” Hm. Well, true enough, Lady Geneva did ask Jamie to bed her. That, however, doesn’t seem to be their intent, however. Some think that Jamie should get a pass for forcing himself on her after she asked him to stop because she brought it on herself. Um, WTF? My 21st-century-self rankles at the idea of someone using a forced sexual act as a form of punishment. Rape = Punishment. It has to be said…especially with the increasingly common trend on social media for trolls to tell women who don’t agree with them that they deserve to be raped. *shudders*
Wentworth is far easier to talk about. Even though Jamie consented to the act, it is much easier to identify what happened to him as rape. Wentworth was brutal. Wentworth was degrading. Wentworth went beyond the bodily trauma. Wentworth was committed by that vile, damnable, broken, warped piece of shit Black Jack Randall**. Of course we can comfortably call it rape***. Rape was what happened to Jamie, not what he did.
Holy, mother of… Seriously? *sigh* Diana Gabaldon doesn’t make it easy for the reader. The characters are all too human. They are flawed and messy and piss me off and make me want to throw the damned book against the wall, and sometimes I do throw the book. But I have always picked it up again—because I have to know what happens. I have to see how it will all play out.
We don’t have to always like the characters. (Just as you don’t necessarily like your family…not you, Hubs. I totally love you. Please don’t ever have another heart attack.) For some readers, this scene was a deal breaker. Some threw the book and never picked it back up. But when you throw a book aside because you don’t agree with one moment, one act, one scene out of so, so many…you lose the chance to question yourself, and what you think you believe, and what you really think when you confront uncomfortable truths.
I don’t know that I have positively untangled all of my feelings about the Lady Geneva kerfuffle. Part of me still feels her ghost lingering in the books that follow. I think about her and want to shoo the thought away, but sometimes you have to acknowledge a ghost to give it peace and let it finally rest. And, honestly, she still haunts me.
*This is about the point where I want to give up and go pour myself another dram of Ardbeg.
**Just a reminder, I adore Tobias Menzies.
***Yes, I know that I didn’t cover ALL of the rapes in Outlander.