Outlander Summary

Diana Gabaldon


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Outlander Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.

The first in a sequence of novels that combine historical fiction and romance with elements of science fiction and fantasy, Outlander explores themes of love, loyalty, gender, and power through the tale of a young woman who accidentally travels through time back to the 1740s. The story begins in 1945 with the protagonist, Claire Randall, holidaying in Scotland with her husband, Frank. Claire and Frank have been apart for much of their marriage as Claire spent the Second World War working as a British Army nurse while Frank worked in military intelligence. As a result, they are treating this holiday as their second honeymoon before they move into a new home in Oxford where they intend to settle down and start a family. However, this plan is interrupted when Claire touches some pagan standing stones and loses consciousness.

When Claire comes to, she sees men in kilts speaking traditional Gaelic and later, a man who looks like her husband dressed in old-fashioned military uniform. When she confronts him, he identifies himself as Captain Jonathon Randall. Claire tries to run from him but he catches her and sexually threatens her. However, he is attacked by highland warriors who take Claire hostage themselves. Although she is their captive, Claire uses her modern nursing skills to help Jamie, a handsome young man with a badly injured shoulder. As they travel to the highlanders’ base, Claire increasingly accepts that she really has traveled back in time. When they arrive, she helps Jamie with his wounds and sees the scars from a savage flogging on his back. He explains that it was done by Black Jack Randall (as Captain Jonathon Randall is known to the highlanders) after Jamie tried to stop soldiers raping his sister.

The next day, Claire is given more appropriate clothing and learns that she is in Castle Leigh, the stronghold of Clan MacKenzie. Claire’s medical skills impress the MacKenzie clan and she is largely treated courteously. However, the disabled leader of the clan, Colum MacKenzie, suspects her of spying for the English, and she is confined to the castle or kept under close supervision at all times. Claire hopes to escape and find a way to return to her own time but also gradually starts to adapt to her life in the eighteenth-century. When Claire is allowed to accompany Jamie and Colum’s brother, Dougal, while they go out collecting rent and donations for the Jacobite rebels, Claire hopes she might escape to the stones and return home. However, these hopes are crushed when Dougal takes her to see Black Jack Randall, who interrogates her about her origins. Later, Dougal reveals that he has been ordered to surrender her for further questioning and punishment, but also helps her by saying that she will not have to if she becomes a Scottish citizen by marrying a Scottish man. At Dougal’s suggestion, Claire agrees to wed Jamie, and the two marry and spend their wedding night making love.

As the group travel back to Castle Leigh, Claire and Jamie grow physically and emotionally closer. However, Jamie asserts his authority over Claire, insisting on gratification even when Claire does not want to have sex and telling her what to do. Jamie tells Claire to hide in the bushes while he goes off to an important meeting but Claire leaves and is captured by English troops. She is taken to Black Jack Randall, who again threatens her. Jamie manages to rescue her but is incredibly angry, accusing her of getting captured on purpose by leaving the bushes. They argue over Jamie’s chauvinistic, patriarchal views but resolve things to a degree when Jamie says how much he would sacrifice to save Claire. However, they still argue periodically and their relationship is tumultuous and full of passionate lovemaking and impassioned rows.

Back at Castle Leigh, Claire’s knowledge of medicine continues to impress, and she becomes close friends with the healer Geillis Duncan. However, after Geillis’s husband dies suspiciously, her knowledge of medicine means that she is tried as a witch; Claire is also considered guilty because of her association with Geillis. Both women are flogged but Jamie stops them and insists Claire be released. Geillis then confesses to poisoning her husband and distracts the crowd so Claire and Jamie can escape. Before Geillis is killed, Claire sees that she has a scar from a smallpox vaccination on her arm, proving that she is also from the future, but she is still unable to save her. Overwhelmed by Geillis’s sacrifice and the pain of her own flogging, Claire tells Jamie how she came from the future. He takes her to the stones, giving her an opportunity to escape, but she declines because she does not want to leave him. Instead, they go to Jamie’s ancestral home Lallybroch.

Jamie reclaims his traditional title of Laird of Lallybroch but is betrayed to the English and arrested. Claire manages to persuade members of the MacKenzie clan to try to free him. They break in and Claire finds Jamie but, before she can free him, Black Jack Randall captures her too. Jamie bargains for her freedom by offering to do anything Randall wants, and Randall accepts because he desires Jamie and wants to rape him. After she has been released, Claire meets Marcus MacRannoch, a friend of Jamie’s family. Claire, Marcus, and Marcus’s men drive cows through the prison and break Jamie out in the ensuing confusion, after which Marcus reports that Randall was killed by stampeding cattle. Jamie is badly hurt and, even though he downplays the pain of his rape, he reveals that the degradation and humiliation he suffered from Randall made him wish for death. They flee to an abbey in France where Jamie slowly recovers from his physical and emotional injuries. In the closing moments of the novel, Jamie leads Claire down to the abbey’s sacred hot springs where they cleanse themselves of past troubles and make love, after which Claire reveals that she is pregnant.