In the Company of Women: Friendships as seen through Outlander’s Claire Fraser
There is something mystical yet earthy about our friendships with women. Oftentimes our girl friends are so like us in many ways, but just as often they are so very different. Throughout a woman’s lifetime, we may discover friendships that enrich a specific time in our lives or fulfill a particular need. Those friendships might be fleeting but it doesn’t matter because they were there when we needed them and perhaps, when they needed us. And, then there are those of us fortunate enough to have life-long friends unearthed perhaps as far back as the paddling pool or the playground or sitting across from each other on our mothers’ laps. Those friendships are rare and prized.
I identify with Outlander’s Claire Fraser in many ways, especially when it comes to her female friendships and the seasons of her life that find her wanting and needing different things from very different women. We see in Claire a fiercely independent woman, raised essentially without a mother figure and surrounded by strong men most of her early life. However, when Claire pierces the veil of time, she encounters several women in her 18th century life that profoundly impact her. And, it can certainly be said that Claire’s female friends find their friendship with Claire life-changing in many ways as well. Let’s see if you can relate to the various friendships that Claire discovers in Scotland and throughout her travels as we seek to explore her friendships with women and the transitional moments she shares with them.
When Claire meets Geillis Duncan, however, she recognizes in her a kindred spirit of sorts. There is a chemistry between these two women, a secret they share although neither fully understands this at the time of their meeting. They are both strong willed and as we find out later, survivors – both having to make their way in a strange, new world. They both possess a passion for herbs and healing and it’s where they find their initial spark of mutual interest and kinship.
Upon her arrival at Castle Leoch and the weeks and months that followed, Claire needed a friend. Yes, Jamie became a friend to her but it was Geillis’ company that Claire initially sought as she began to embrace her role as healer as a means to gain the trust of the MacKenzies and potentially, her way back to the 20th century. With Geillis, Claire felt more like herself – more like she was before she passed through the stones. In Geillis’ company, she was not constantly scrutinized nor made to feel like the Outlander – the Sassenach.
Admittedly, there was a curiosity displayed by Geillis about Claire. Her intuition was telling her that Claire was unlike other women she knew in the village or among the clans. The two women shared confidences and when they found themselves accused together of witchcraft, they were each other’s support and – frankly – each other’s savior. Long days and cold nights in the thieve’s hole awaiting trial proved difficult for both women, yet they found comfort in finally sharing with each other secrets of past and, indeed, future lives. The two women became inextricably linked the day that Geillis sacrificed herself for Claire and Claire became indebted to the mysterious Geillis Duncan who, Claire instinctively knew (“1968”) had much more in common with her than she even dare imagine.
Claire and Geillis’ friendship was grounded in a bond borne from confusion, crisis and more than one significant and transitional life moment. Claire needed Geillis now. Alone, not of the time, uncertain and under constant scrutiny, Claire found in Geillis a warm and secure ally – someone with whom she could be herself and let her guard down and someone who was as smart and self-reliant as she was. As women, sometimes the ONLY person that can truly understand and empathize with you is another woman. Amidst the furtive glances at Leoch and the suspicious paranoia of the townspeople of Crainsmuir, Geillis was an anchor in a storm for Claire.
In life, we often find ourselves needing the company of a kindred spirit. Someone who can relate to the tempest that confronts us whether that is an illness, injustice, infidelity or seemingly insurmountable problem. Sometimes these friendships last but only the time needed to get us past this phase in our life. However, they remain as significant and important a relationship as those we maintain over long periods of time. Just as Claire never forgot the kindness and unselfishness of Geillis during her time at Leoch and during the witch trial, as women we also look back and remember the safe haven a friendship provided us when we needed it the most.
And, when Claire needed her friend the most – post still-birth of Faith – Louise provided a safe refuge for her at Fontainebleau. Indeed, the television adaptation illustrated this most poignantly when it was only Louise who could pull Claire from her grief and allow baby Faith to be taken from her and finally put to rest. It was that brief flicker in Claire’s eyes as she looked up to see her friend, and the growing life inside her, that Claire finally agreed to accept the loss of her own baby.
Two women managing some extraordinary circumstances – life altering circumstances – and it is to each other, they turn. One might argue it’s the only course they have. Claire’s husband is unavailable due to his imprisonment and Louise is imprisoned by both her station in life and her adultery, which for a woman in those times, was a not only an egregious sin but also a criminal act.
Claire was never again to see Louise De Rohan after leaving Paris. But, this long season in her life where so much tragedy and sorrow occurred was marked by a most extraordinary friendship with an unlikely supporter. For Claire, both Louise and Geillis were a vital need that she had. How fortunate she was to have experienced this kind of brief yet meaningful friendship that forever marked this fateful time in her life and made it more bearable.
We all hope and pray that when desperate times come, we have these kinds of friendships upon which to lean. They can be brief, but what they provide in return can last a lifetime. Inspiration, courage, perspective and non-judgmental compassion are things we all need in abundance, but it is sometimes only our women friends from which we can accept these affirmations without objection. These kinds of friends remind of us of our true selves and why we are significant despite life’s foibles.
It was an inauspicious first meeting when the two most important women in Jamie Fraser’s life met outside the Fraser family home. Claire was called the 18th century version of the word “slut” by Mrs. Janet Fraser Murray in the heat of the moment. Claire took it quite well. Probably better than I would have. And, as those first few days at Lallybroch unfolded, Claire was further iced out by the current mistress of Lallybroch, who remained skeptical of both Claire’s English ways and intentions towards her only brother. It would seem at first that the two women had little, if anything, in common save for their affection for James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.
It’s likely a scenario that many can relate to with in-laws and family. The “no-one-is-good-enough-for-my-brother” situation is a familiar one when families merge and/or a marriage takes place. Jenny had essentially raised Jamie given his mother, Ellen, had passed away when Jamie was still a wean. Then there is the fact that Jenny and her husband had been single-handedly managing the estate since Jamie left (unwillingly, but left nonetheless) more than four years ago only to have their place usurped by the returning Laird and his Sassenach bride. It didn’t seem as if these two – Jenny and Claire – would truly ever get along other than to awkwardly coexist. However, Claire threw herself into learning how to be mistress of the estate and when Jenny’s baby came, Claire proved herself more than fit as a midwife. Plus, it became most obvious to Jenny that Claire truly loved Jamie.
And eventually, as sometimes happens with unlikely friendships, we finally prove ourselves to each other. Bound at first by a mutual love for a husband and a brother but later by respect and a recognition that common interests and similar traits far outweigh disparate backgrounds and unfounded distrust. These types of friends see us for who we are – overlooking our shortcomings – and who love and care for us anyway. But, it wasn’t until both women found the strength and the courage to set off in search of Jamie that the friendship was truly cemented. The Frasers had their fair share of family drama but it’s during these predicaments that one can truly take the measure of a friend.
How many of us have experienced this type of friendship – either for the better or the worse? Sad to say that sometimes friends disappear in time of crisis, finding themselves unable or unwilling to share the burden or offer support. The ones that stay – that disrupt their own lives – in order to be present for their friend and provide for whatever needs may arise, is the type of friend we cherish – no matter how unlikely the beginning of the relationship may have been.
In Claire, Jenny found a companion, another woman with which she could speak of her pregnancy, her hopes and fears for herself and her children as well as concerns about her future and that of her land and her family’s legacy. In Jenny, Claire found an emotionally intelligent equal, someone almost as hard-headed as herself and someone who loved Jamie as deeply as she did. It will become a friendship that sees itself through several seasons of both women’s lives, despite the span of time and some deeply held misunderstandings and actions on both sides.
As they say, you can’t choose your family. You can, however, hope that mutual love of those you hold dear and, eventually, mutual trust and respect borne from shared experiences, might result in the type of friendship displayed between these two women; one which seemed improbable if not implausible.
But, what if we could short-circuit that learning curve? What if we could save someone from the inevitable pain and confusion that comes with growing and learning the tough lessons of life’s hazards? And, alternately, what if opening ourselves up to seeing the world through a younger lens, we again find the joy and freshness in a life worn down by disappointments, desertions and disillusionment? There is a mutual benefit to a May-December friendship, although both sides have to be open to it and both have to commit to suspend beliefs from time to time in order to appreciate the full measure of the relationship and what it offers.
Claire becomes even more intrigued by the young ingénue when she realizes the girl has an important link to her own past/future. Despite what seems to be manipulations to the contrary, Claire cares for Mary and tries to be a source of wisdom and knowledge for her as Mary attempts to balance the foreboding of an arranged marriage with that of her giddiness over her budding love affair with Alex Randall. Claire sees in Mary the exuberance of young love, but also someone completely unprepared to manage the consequences of challenging society’s expectations.
As mentioned previously, Claire grew up without a mother and as an only child. And, we all know Claire’s survival instinct is superior to most – certainly to the immature English girl who found herself removed from her family and her home and facing an uncertain and frightening future. Claire had a sense of purpose when counseling Mary and a strong drive to protect her when she was injured and facing both physical injury and shame as a result of the sexual assault she suffered on the streets of Paris. Again, Claire needed to be needed and Mary offered her a chance to try and shield the young girl from some of life’s harder lessons.
The truth is, mentoring friendships are not the easiest. Mentees rarely take advice without resistance. And, mentors must often stand by and watch their friend make the exact mistakes they made themselves – sometimes with worse outcomes. It can be a frustrating experience for both parties but, ultimately, any and all small victories can make the effort meaningful. And, I have often found that these relationships mature in time. If a mentor can positively influence a mentee’s thought or action – even if that thought or action occurs far in the future – then the friendship was worthwhile for both.
Mary Hawkins gained strength from her relationship with Claire Fraser. We saw this as time went by and as Mary was faced with difficult circumstances around the illness and eventual death of her lover. Had Mary not met Claire in Paris and not been the subject of Claire’s tutelage, this may never have come to pass and the girl would have likely ended up a pauper or worse.
There is a season for finding and making friends for which to mentor. It’s part of our role as women, I think. Life can be hard enough, but not to have the wisdom and experience of other women upon which to draw would make it even more grim for most of us. Mentoring is the type of friendship that can lead to great highs and great lows but, ultimately, we know we tried for purely selfless reasons to ease another woman’s path and that is a thing to be celebrated.
As a post-script, I want to thank my fellow staff writers at the Outlander Cast Blog for their friendship, their inspiration and their unwavering support. They are all extraordinary women. They are articulate, compassionate, wise, hilariously funny, and full of life and joy. I didn’t know until one of them told me, that September was “Women’s Friendship Month.” How ironic that it was September of this year when several of us met in person for the very first time. It had been over a year since we had started together as writers. I felt like I knew them as we frequently talked virtually, asking advice about our various posts for the blog and other things that women talk about!
But, it was astonishing when we all met. It was an instant chemistry. It was exciting and emotional and empowering. I’ve never felt such an instant kinship with a group of people in my life. I don’t know if these women will be friends for a season, friends for a reason or friends for a lifetime, but I am glad I have the wisdom to recognize that these friendships are to be cherished and that we must make each day we have with each other count in case we find ourselves one day adrift again. Thanks to you, ladies (you know who you are) for enriching this season of MY life.
If so, what were some of the things you learned from that friend?