I’ll say right off the bat, I’m going to anger a bunch of fans. Lest you make the incorrect assumption that this somehow makes me less of a fan, consider that I devote much of my free time to this blog. Please also note the only cover that is curling in the above photo. But my love for all things Outlander aside, I’m going to anger you because I’m going to criticize both the book and the show.
Simply put, in 18th century Scotland – especially in the upper-echelon of the clans – it was uncouth to beat your wife. Nevermind beating your wife publicly. I’m sure it happened on occasion, but it was not something men like Dougal MacKenzie, or especially Ned Gowan, would have encouraged. Those who DID beat their wives in the 18th century were much like those who beat them now.
That is to say, they were nothing at all like Jamie Fraser. Here’s why…
The strapping scene is both out of character for the Jamie Fraser we know and love, but also out of character, historically, for a high-born highlander associated with one of the most influential clans in Scotland.
To prove why Jamie would NOT have beaten Claire, this article will be broken down into three parts.
1. The idea of an enlightened Clan.
2. Demystifying cultural tropes of Clan culture.
3. Historical context unable to justify the creative choices of the beating scene.
CLANS AND ENLIGHTENMENT
Over the course of Outlander, throughout the book and the television series, both Diana Gabaldon and Ron D. Moore have gone to great lengths to set James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser apart from the rest of the clan, as it were. He was different. Jamie would’ve been one of the “Enlightened.”
While I don’t deny their efforts to differentiate Jamie from everyone, I do question the jump in logic DG makes when she tries to defend the strapping scene by saying it’s included because it was historically accurate.
Wait, does that mean the strapping scene is historically INACCURATE? According to Dr. Katie Barclay, yes – it’s inaccurate.
In her detailed work: ‘Love, Intimacy and Power: Marriage and Patriarchy in Scotland, 1650 – 1850’, Barclay states that Scotland’s domestic relations were advanced compared to those in England, as was northern Europe.
Scottish marriages assumed to be similar to the English experience, despite Scottish marital law taking a different shape from England, the Kirk holding different beliefs from the Anglican Church and having a more significant level of social control than it’s southern counterpart, and Scotland having a different social, cultural and economic environment. In many ways, Scotland had greater similarities with the northern European states than it did with it’s southern neighbor…While there is little written on the Scottish situation, there is a significant literature on family life in Western Europe. – Katie Barclay
So Scotland is more like northern Europe because the church held stricter social control. No, not political control, but social control. In other words, the church believed in many ways that you probably shouldn’t be hurting each other. Thus, it’s reasonable to assume that due to the church’s strict social control of the area, “not hurting each other” would be a highly valued principal.
Granted, that’s a tad bit of a generality so let’s take a closer look this concept.
What does it really mean in context of married life in 18th century Scotland according to Ms. Barclay?
She found that many historians believe that, “unlike in early modern England, the dialogue of male authority in Scotland tended to be part of a wider discussion of gender roles and responsibilities, rather than an attempt to emphasize and enforce patriarchy as a concept.” So, are we saying that there were actually conversations happening between wife and husband in Scotland, instead of beatings? Yup.
Not only was that the case, but Barclay further states that there were churchmen like Richard Allestree who “reduced the austerity of the command to obey by limiting compliance to those commands that were scripturally lawful.” Allestree took it even a step further by saying women were not disobedient if they didn’t follow their,”husband’s instructions if they were unreasonable, as long as they did so calmly, quietly and accepted his final decision.” But this was the word of man in the church, maybe you’d argue he was a little biased? Perhaps. Do we have any other proof of this reasonable relationship between husband and wife from sources other than the church? You bet.
According to Barclay, even in 1761, a highborn woman of the time, Lady Sarah Pennington, “noted that wives should obey their husbands as long as their commands were scriptural and did not leave their wives open to censure by the world.” Barclay continues by saying that Lady Pennington essentially doubled down on this idea when, “she argued that it was not wrong for wives to question their husbands’ decisions as long as they did so in a ‘strong, plain good-natured manner.'” Ultimately, women had the freedom to not obey their husbands, and husbands were ok with that as long as it was done in the proper manner. This doesn’t sound like a culture whose men would beat their wives at the drop of a hat because they were disobeyed.
One of the tenets of world building I’ve heard touted over and over again by the excellent folks over at Story Wonk is that “reality is no defense of fiction.” We’ve all heard it, but what does it mean?
Basically, even if you are basing something in your story on a real-world scenario – be it historical precedent or a freak accident which happened to your brother’s sister’s cousin – if it rings false in light of the characters you have created, the real-world scenario cannot be used to defend your fictional choices. End of story.
In other words, you may think that Claire’s disobedience may not have been in the “proper manner”, and you may even be right, but given the way DG writes Jamie in every other facet of Outlander, it is easy to see it’s not in Jamie’s character to harm a woman he loves.
However, when Diana, herself, uses the defense of “well, that’s just the way things were, historically”, she then tethers herself to the actuality of a real world defense, and in this case, her arguments may not hold up.
So let’s tackle why this may not be the best argument for DG to use.
Given the obvious effort by DG and RDM to set Jamie apart from the rest of his clan as an enlightened individual, it’s also reasonable to assume, like Dr. Barclay does, that Jamie would have been one of the “seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Scots [who] preferred negotiation and discussion when trying to manage their relationships with their spouse, rather than violent force.” Why is this easy to assume? Well, we all know Jamie as the honorable man who treats Claire, his wife, differently than the rest of his clansmen treat their wives.
This kind of moral compass would make it hard for Jamie, “when such violence was made visible to the wider world, [because] it undermined models of masculinity based on honor, self-control and good management of the household.” Suffice it to say, Jamie would not have let his honor be sacrificed, or tarnished, at the hands of trying to dominate his wife.
Jamie beating Claire simply doesn’t make sense for his character, both in terms of his person, but also in terms of the story. As an “enlightened” character (which we can call Jamie at this point since we have already established the huge efforts of DG and RDM to paint him in that light) Jamie undermines himself, and his own story, by beating Claire. True, he may have been a little proud and stubborn, but like Barclay says:
The use of violence to exercise power within the family indicated a fundamental breakdown in the operation of the household for Enlightenment thinkers, and reflected more than a simple need for discipline. Adam Smith explicitly denounced violence ‘when a son seems to want that filial reverence which might be expected to his father . . . The sufferer can only complain and the spectator can intermeddle no other way than by advice and persuasion. Upon all such occasions for equals to use force against one another would be thought the highest degree of insolence and presumption. . . The inner morality and self-control of the elite man should overcome his instinctual anger.
Since this was hard for the entirety of the population to put into practice, Barclay states that Enlightenment thinkers, “advocated turning control of punishment over to the State. Abused wives were also directed to seek justice from the State.” Woah, hold up here – women could go to the state for protection during this time?!
Barclay continues her thoughts when she describes the notes of one William Alexander:
[W]hen a husband from maliciousness of temper or resentment or any other cause’ beats his wife, she could take refuge in the law (although he does not discuss violence as a form of discipline for wives). It was the motive behind physical acts of violence that determined their meaning and their legitimacy into the nineteenth century. . .in the later eighteenth century, marital violence towards elite women had become generally unacceptable, putting the onus on men to justify their behavior. Enlightenment thinkers never entirely denied the right of men to discipline their wives – always leaving a space for marital violence to occur – but at the same time, they reduced its cultural legitimacy.
Basically, rather than “proving” himself to the clan, as one might expect, this move by Jamie (beating Claire) makes him appear weak in a real-world setting.
In a normal fictional world, sure, you can do away with actual history and make up your own set of rules. Yet as I stated previously, Diana’s defense has always been that the beating was historically accurate, so she HAD to write it that way so as to give us a true sense of the danger of the time.
Most people just swallow this, hook, line and sinker. The evidence, according to DG, is printed in black and white.
But, Katie Barclay’s study, which has the voracity of not having anything to do with Outlander, is an unbiased study, focused on ONLY the real history of the time.
The problem arises when people just take someone else’s word for it. Valerie Estelle Frankel’s ‘Scots, Sassenachs and Spankings: Feminism and Gender Roles in Outlander‘ purports to be an unbiased look at this and many other instances in Outlander, but it really only amounts to a massive rehashing of other sources . . . most of them being media sources with no actual basis in history.
Frankel posits in her book that, “Jamie comes from a barbaric time, not only of wife beatings but of lashings, primitive medicine, infant death, and poor hygiene.” Sure, some of this is true, but most of it is simply backed up by Diana, herself, who paints an unsupported view of marital relations in Scotland at the time. Is it Frankel’s fault? Heck yes. She should know better as an author than to just rehash unsupported claims. Is it Diana’s fault? Not necessarily.
Simply put, the research hadn’t been done when she wrote Outlander, 28 years ago. Katie Barclay’s book was published in 2011 and Barclay includes this introduction as a disclaimer:
“In the context of Scottish history, research on women’s and family history is scarce for the period 1650 to 1850. While there is a growing body of work on women and the family in the medieval period and in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, until recently the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have been largely ignored. A collection of essays published in 2008 on the Scottish family contained new research on the early modern period, indicating that this picture is beginning to change. Yet, even this vibrant collection is relatively silent on experiences within marriage and the nature of the conjugal unit. Marital relationships have been included in wider discussions of Scottish families or Scottish women, such as by Lynn Abrams, Keith Brown, Eleanor Gordon and Rosalind Marshall, but have received little attention in their own right.” – Katie Barclay
To Gabaldon’s credit, there is a major contradiction between Jamie’s secured place among the Scottish Enlightenment, spear-headed by Adam Smith, and the Feudal system of the Highland clans.
DEMYSTIFYING CLAN TROPES
So now that we have established Jamie as an enlightened thinker as well as the historical precedent for enlightened thinkers’ actions of allowing wives to disobey (as long as it’s done correctly), and that it may not necessarily be DG’s fault for not knowing this, let’s at least analyze Jamie’s actions within the context of the story, and how we can relate some of his direct actions to direct historical context.
In her work, Barclay continually references a text by Arthur Herman: ‘How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe’s Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It’. I took that as an invitation and picked up a copy.
Herman’s work is imminently fascinating and creates a most interesting dichotomy. While Frankel is correct, the clans were brutal, their brutality was balanced by both the Enlightenment and the strict pecking order of clan society.
First, Herman goes out of his way to clarify many perpetuated myths about the barbarous “tribal” highland clans:
The oldest, and most persistent [myth], is that the rising of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745 symbolized a cultural clash between a Celtic ‘Jacobite’ Highlands, steeped in primeval tribal loyalties, and a modernizing, photo-industrial ‘Whig’ Lowlands. Scottish Whigs actually encouraged this view. It implied that they and their English allies were engaged in a virtual crusade for civilization, a war against an anachronistic social order left over from Scotland’s barbarous history. The clans were an anachronism, all right, except that they were a holdover from Scotland’s feudal, not tribal, past. The bonds that held the clan together were land and landholding. Their origins had as much to do with French-speaking Normans as with ancient Celts.” – ‘How the Scots Invented the Modern World’ by Arthur Herman, Chapter Five (A Land Divided).
Again, we’re establishing the context for Jamie’s world, and how his clansmen weren’t as barbaric as Frankel implies. Herman goes on to further debunk the myth of the family clans, bonded by kinship:
The term clan, of course, comes from the Gaelic clann, meaning ‘children.’ It implied a kinship group of four or five generations claiming descent from a common ancestor. And clan chieftains encouraged their followers to believe that they were indeed bound together like a family. Men such as the Duke of Argylle of the Campbells or Lord Lovat of the Frasers routinely demanded a loyalty from their tenants not unlike that of children for a father. But it was entirely a fiction. The average clan – and there were more than fifty of them in 1745 – was no more a family than is a Mafia ‘family.’ The only important blood ties were those between the chieftain and his various carporegimes, the so-called tacksmen who collected his rents and bore the same name.
Herman later states that clan loyalty to the Stuart line has been largely romanticized and was in large part a result of mutual back-scratching, but that’s another story for another day.
But as enlightened as most of the highland clans were, notice how Herman mentioned this really curious bit of info – “The average clan . . . was no more a family than is a Mafia ‘family.'” The Mafia? Like, The Godfather kind of Mafia? “I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse,” kind of Mafia?
Yes. That kind.
It’s a rather odd marriage between the two ideals, and the mafia comparison seems a little below the lofty notions of clan enlightenment. But in light of the following stories, it’s hard to say he’s wrong…
“Once a woman was brought before MacDonald of Clanranald, accused of stealing money from him. He ordered her tied by the hair to seaweed among the rocks, until the Atlantic tide came in and drowned her.
Another chief, Coll MacDonnell of Barrisdale, required all fishermen on his land to pay him one-fifth of their catch. Those who failed to pay up found themselves tied to a device locals dubbed the “Barrisdale.” Iron rings held a man flat on his stomach while a large stone weight was strapped to his back, and a steel spike placed under his chin. If the miscreant failed to support the stone’s weight, the spike would drive up through his chin to the roof of his mouth.” – Arthur Herman
Pretty brutal, right? It’s the Highland equivalent to a pair cement shoes. “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fishes.”
Again, yes, I know – this seems to take all that Scottish Enlightenment business and toss it right out the window. But, as with all things, don’t judge a book by the cover.
Let’s look at why this historical context about the mafioso tendencies of the clan from Herman is important, what it actually means, why it’s important to Outlander, and why it’s specifically important to Clan MacKenzie..
According to Herman, the clan chieftains maintained absolute control of life and death over any member of his clan, much like a mafia Don. (see: Marlon Brando as Don Corleone). As such, when it came down to doling out punishment, there was only one person who could order such a thing. The clan chief.
In the context of our story, our Don Corleone would’ve been Colum MacKenzie.
What happened when members of the Mafia, or even the Clans, took matters into their own hands instead of bringing the matter before the Don or chief? Just ask Tommy at the end of ‘Goodfellas‘ Oh, that’s right! We can’t . . . because he’s dead . . . for whacking without permission.
Where am I going with all of this?
Well, before you claim my Goodfellas reference as a loose comparison with no precedent, you should know that Diana sets the precedent herself, right in the very text of Outlander!
We find a similar situation to the Goodfellas comparison during the scene in the Great Hall, where Colum dispenses justice to Laoghaire.
A major problem this scene sets up is that Laoghaire is brought by her father to Colum for discipline. Her father doesn’t do it himself because that’s not the way the clan works. He needs permission. This is just in the eyes of the clan, yet Jamie steps in to stop her from being shamed in front of them.
And herein lies the ultimate problem/continuity error/ paradox of Jamie’s choice to beat Claire.
Jamie saves Laoghaire of shame, yet thinks nothing, however, of beating the hell out of Claire in a room directly above Colum’s tacksmen (men of great importance to Colum) and bragging that he expects they’ll be able to hear her screaming “in the next village”.
The other obvious logical problem is that Jamie (in light of our historical context of the Don/Chief comparison) wouldn’t have been doling out the punishment himself. They were on their way back to Leoch, and Claire (again, based not only on clan rules but on the rules established by Diana in the Outlander text itself) would have been formally brought before Colum to dispense the proper justice.
Keep in mind that Jamie was not just a proponent of the Scottish Enlightenment, he was also someone who had been flogged to within an inch of his life. He would not have taken any type of beating lightly and he certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed it, as he clearly is shown to have done.
If you want to say he didn’t enjoy inflicting pain so much as he enjoyed her fighting back, be careful! This is one of many reasons some men prefer to get their sexual exploits without bothering with that whole pesky “consent” thing. They don’t enjoy it unless the woman is fighting back. Don’t believe he enjoyed it? Let’s take a stroll back to text again, shall we, and Jamie will tell you that, himself.
“You barbarian! You . . . you sadist!” I hissed furiously. “You’re doing this for your own pleasure! I’ll never forgive you for this!” Jamie paused, twisting the belt . . . He replied levelly, “I dinna know what’s a sadist. And if I forgive you for this afternoon, I reckon you’ll forgive me, too, as soon as ye can sit down again.” . . . “As for my pleasure . . . ” His lip twitched. “I said I would have to punish you. I did NOT say I wasna going to enjoy it.” He crooked a finger at me. “Come here.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings)
“What I can’t forgive,” I said, my voice rising slightly in spite of myself, “is that you enjoyed it!” . . . “Enjoyed it! Sassenach,” he said, gasping, “you don’t know just how much I enjoyed it. You were so . . . God, you looked lovely. I was so angry, and you fought me so fierce. I hated to hurt you, but I wanted to do it at the same time . . . Jesus,” he said, breaking off and wiping his nose, “Yes. Yes, I did enjoy it.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings)
What we’re left to ponder, here, is how any of this can be seen as even remotely sexy, and yet, it’s clearly treated in the text as something akin to sex-play at least in Jamie’s point of view.
Bravo to RDM, and his staff on the show for toning that bit of nastiness down. In the book, however, we’re left with these contradicting viewpoints which clearly create a problem, and it’s one which has been prevalent in bad romance novels since the 70s.
I did some more digging and Alex Townsend, in his piece ‘Tropes of Love: Gender Roles in Romance Novels’ addresses these issues. He doesn’t address physical abuse so much as unacknowledged rape, but the principles apply here, and I think you’ll be able to see the parallels as well:
“These scenes aren’t hot and they clearly aren’t meant to be. The man is angry. The woman is scared and in pain. She cries a lot. When it’s done the man often doesn’t even apologize to this woman he supposedly loves. Instead this is supposed to be the low point that the couple overcomes together, the place where Male Hero realizes he has to open up about his secret pain. Somehow the woman always understands the internal angst that led him to these actions and they never talk about the matter again . . . This is where bad romance novels cross the line. They go from being misinformed and silly to being visibly dangerous . . . the fact is I can’t open any romance novel without a hint of dread. I know with each book that there’s a high chance that I’m about to read something horrifying that will be passed off as romantic.”
This is compounded in drivel like ’50 Shades of Gray’, where sexual violence is intermingled with the control issues of a genuine narcissist in Christian Gray, and yet he is portrayed as a “troubled” romantic hero.
I’m not trying to vilify the BDSM enthusiasts out there, that’s what you’re into and that’s ok by me. But, there has to be consent.
How it relates to Outlander is this: Diana stumbles, here, because she seems unsure how to play it and leans towards sex-play, but there is absolutely zero consent.
One thing I’ve seen over and over again in defense of this scene is that Jamie only “spanked” her and that’s not technically beating. Do me a quick favor. Go to the text and find the place where it says the word “spanking”. I’ll wait.
Give up? That’s because it’s not there at all. Nor is the term “strapping”. We’ve mentally inserted this to soften it up and forgive some of the violence of it.
Still maintain he didn’t beat her? Let’s go back and count the number of times some conjugation of the term “beat” appears in reference to this scene. No, wait. I’ll save you the trouble.
Eight times (if you include the reference after Claire reveals the truth to Jamie after he rescues her from the witch trial.)
The most troubling quote (disregarding the part where he congratulates himself for not raping her directly afterwards) is this one:
“It had been a most unpleasant night. My reluctant acquiescence had lasted precisely as far as the first searing crack of leather on flesh. This was followed by a short, violent struggle, which left me half smothered in the greasy quilts with a knee in my back, being beaten within an inch of my life.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings)
For those who need a vocab lesson . . .
This is spanking:
This is beating:
And then you have the phrase, “beaten within an inch of my life.” Wow – when was the last time someone that was “spanked,” let’s say a child, or, heck, even a woman, then described the feeling as being “beaten within an inch of my life”?
Have you been spanked? Would you have described it as being beaten within an inch of your life?
No, I refuse to justify Jamie’s actions within the text by playing semantics. From Claire’s own perspective, she was beaten. She said it EIGHT TIMES.
So if Claire said she was beaten eight times, Jamie beat her.
And given the historical context we have from the likes of Barclay and Herman, it’s hard to imagine James Fraser would have taken a leather strap to any square inch of Claire’s body. It doesn’t make historical sense, it doesn’t make sense for the story, and it certainly doesn’t make sense for Jamie the character.
WHY CONTEXT PROVES THE BEATING SCENE TO BE PROBLEMATIC
Again, I love Outlander. Am I being a little hard on Jamie, and indirectly DG? Perhaps. But let me give you a little bit of backstory about how I first came to know about the show.
I first read Outlander some 15 years ago and fell in love with it. I was bothered by the strapping scene, but brushed it off, not being in an age of internet fandoms where something like that would be up for open discussion.
I tore through the first book and immediately dove into the second and the third and then stopped. Honestly, I can’t remember whether I didn’t know about the rest of the series or I got sidetracked, but either way, I moved on to other things, with the warmest of affection for Jamie and especially Claire.
I’d heard rumors about a series being made, but didn’t keep tabs on it and, before I knew it, the first 7 episodes had already aired. By that time, I had access to STARZ and quickly binged to keep up.
So when #Droughtlander hit, I went all-in.
I reread the first three books and continued on to tackle the rest of the series (I’m on book 6 right now) and started scouring the internet for all things Outlander, including podcasts. That’s when I stumbled on both ‘The Scot and the Sassenach’ and ‘Outlander Cast’. The first episode I was able to watch live was ‘The Reckoning’ and I made my very first call in to Mary and Blake to voice my frustration.
In essence, I’ve since realized this issue is a big deal for me, and it’s what hooked me into the fandom for a place to be heard. But here’s the gut wrenching truth:
I’ll be blunt; Diana Gabaldon treats women poorly in the Outlander series.
There are no excuses to be made for DG, no pointing at historical accuracy or inaccuracy to defend or condemn it – it’s just a fact. Women do not fair well in the series.
The fact of the matter is, and I said this when I called M&B, authors are creators. Fiction is world-building and when you build your world, YOU choose what happens in it. No one forces your hand. You populate it and you choose what happens to the people you bring to life.
With the highland historical context/precedent in mind, it appears that the strapping beating scene, both in the book, and the show, reflects less of a need to further character and growth, and more of a need to insert conflict to move the plot along and heighten the dramatic tension. This is very similar to the lackadaisical way in which rape is used to create conflict (usually to inspire some male character’s quest for revenge, utterly ignoring the victim).
As such, the strapping beating scene is there because we have newly-wedded bliss between Jamie and Claire and rather than some actually believable differences in politics or religion between the rather devout Jamie and the atheist Claire, we have a completely out of character action from Jamie which basically goes ignored until book six, apparently.
But I’m not singling out DG here. I told you I was going to criticize the show, as well.
Ron Moore took some obvious steps to lighten up this scene, but I believe the biggest change was his worst mistake. Setting the entire episode in Jamie’s perspective robs us of something essential we need to take from this, if the scene absolutely had to be included at all.
We needed to truly understand Claire’s fear. The book shows this plainly:
“I felt deeply betrayed that the man I depended on as a friend, protector, and lover intended to do such a thing to me. And my sense of self-preservation was quietly terrified at the thought of submitting myself to the mercies of someone who handled a fifteen-pound claymore as though it were a flywhisk.” – Diana Gabaldon, Outlander, Chapter 22 (Reckonings).
The decision to set the entire episode in Jamie’s POV was pretty much universally praised by fans. One of the main reasons I’ve seen for this was the fact that we get the line from Jamie saying he’d already forgiven Claire because he was falling in love with her. That’s great and all, but one scene later, he beats the crap out of her. How romantic!
We also get the insight of the “abuser” explaining away his actions. We see he’s put in a tough position and rather than standing up to the rent party, he folds like a lawn chair; Jamie, the Enlightened. We should see his discomfort with the “necessity”, but we do not. We hear him echo the classic victim-blaming spiel of “Why do you make me treat you this way?”. Forgive my disgust, but this is just the worst.
Yeah . . . this is “just” fiction, and it’s historical fiction at that, but if you can’t see how much this sets women back, then I’m not sure anything I say is going to be persuasive. The major problem with all of this is that Jamie is a romantic hero, dubbed by fans as “The King of Men”. This behavior, so easily brushed off because he is “dreamy” sets a terrifying precedent for real-life relationships.
But even if you didn’t want to take it that far, and you felt the need to devalue the impact a scene like this could have on romance/pop culture/real-life relationships, you at the VERY LEAST have to admit that the historical context proves beating was not a commonly used method, that Jamie was an enlightened man, that Jamie would not have used beating as a form of punishment unless it was approved by Colum, and that he probably wouldn’t have even done it himself anyway. That being said, the next logical statement is that DG’s argument of historical accuracy, and that she HAD to include it in Reckonings is also flawed because the beating is not necessarily historically accurate. To that end, it should NOT have been included in the text – or even the show for that matter.
But regardless of false historical justification, or character analysis, I think it’s fair to say that behavior like this, in ANY context, is absolutely inexcusable.
Nice men, good men, did not beat their wives, even if society allowed it. There have always been good men and cruel men, no matter when we are in history. In every single other respect, Jamie is a good man, who stands up for those he loves and for what is right. Not just what is right in the eyes of the clan, but what is right before the God he believes in and in his own heart. Thus why we see his acceptance of Claire being from the future, and why he vowed to never lay his hands on her again.
This beating is an anomaly. Not a character “oops” moment, but a majorly problematic contradiction.
If reality is indeed no defense of fiction, then even if all men routinely beat their wives, historically, Jamie beating Claire would still present a problem, because Diana created a character beat which strikes as entirely false to the character she’s meticulously constructed.
Bottom line: Jamie beating Claire is a writing flaw.
At the very least, it damages Jamie’s credibility as a character.
At worst, it creates a dangerous false reality where abusive men can be forgiven because of societal pressures.
So where do you stand, dear readers? Does wife-beating sit well with Jamie’s character, no matter what century we’re in or does it make your blood boil?