Home Is *When* the Heart Is

Would you go back through the stones?

As the evening star began to glow among the black pines’ branches, I concluded that in this situation reason was of little use. I would have to rely on something else; just what, I wasn’t sure. I turned toward the split rock and took a step, then another, and another. Pausing, I faced around and tried it in the other direction. A step, then another, and another, and before I even knew that I had decided, I was halfway down the slope, scrabbling wildly at grass clumps, slipping and falling through the patches of granite scree.

~ Claire Beauchamp in Outlander

If you’re fan of Outlander, and Jamie Fraser has totally ruined you for other men, you might occasionally find yourself debating the pros and cons of life in the 1700s. I never can figure out what takes Claire so long to settle into the era because, in her own words after surveying her new husband’s sleeping form: damn. It seems to me that the opportunity to share life with Jamie Fraser is well worth giving up a few minor conveniences, and who the hell is Frank anyway?? I forget.

In the later books, I envy the simplicity of life on Fraser’s Ridge. No computers, no commuter gridlock, no technology on the fritz, no 24/7 barrage of non-stop noise from advertisers and gas-powered engines. The freedom to spend my days taking care of my own homestead, cooking and gardening and sewing—the things I grew up watching my mother and grandmothers do.

It is so tempting. But really, what choice would we make if we were in Claire’s enviable shoes—would we go back to be with Jamie in the 1700s? What would our daily lives be like during that time, once we got beyond the obvious lack of modern addictive electronic gadgets and household appliances? The legal realities of being a female in that era are fairly sobering, when you stop to think about them. They might even be harder to accept than the lack of indoor plumbing and heating.

So I asked the Wench Outlanderholics how they felt about it. Because talking to them about Outlander is always way more entertaining than the chores I’m supposed to be doing at any given time.

After the jump, see what we had to say about Claire’s choices. Would we go back through the stones? And what would we pack?

Note: Mildly spoilery for those who haven’t read the books.

When I was growing up, most mothers were full-time homemakers. Then I emerged from the halls of academia, college degree in hand, into a perplexing world where women were still expected to do all that homemaking—in their spare time—after working a full-time job outside the home. And by the way, where were all those Prince Charmings on white horses I’d heard so much about from Disney, ready to sweep me away from tedium into romance and adventure? Life turned out to be a wee bit different than what I’d envisioned.

So my thwarted childhood fantasies were easily lured by Diana’s vivid vignettes of pioneering life on Fraser’s Ridge, complete with its own Prince Charming King of Men, and I longed to be there. Then suddenly, a character sickened and died in a single afternoon without warning. Or Diana overwhelmed me—with the sights, the sounds, the aches and pains, and OMG the smells—of food preparation or laundressing or, particularly dear to my heart, outhouse visits and personal hygiene during long, freezing winters in the mountains—and the realities of life on a pioneer farm suddenly loomed large.

Was the relative tranquility worth the uncertainties and difficulties common to that time? What did my fellow Outlander addicts enthusiasts think—those currently in the throes of their first read and those who have had a few years to ponder the possibilities? Was I merely mesmerized by Jamie’s beautiful blue eyes, or was it normal to seriously ponder these important questions, just in case we ever hear the stones begin to sing?

I asked two early fans, Donna and Merit, and two of our latest victims converts, Beta and Angela what they would do. We’ve all been dabbling in Outlander lately—reading or rereading—in anticipation of the newest installment in the series: Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. And we’ve had some verra interestin’ chats about our reactions to numerous scenes and situations, which are as varied as can be. That’s why I thought it would be fun to talk about whether we have what it takes to transition from modern career woman to a time when women were generally seen and not heard. Let’s see what they had to say.

What do you think would be the greatest challenges that you would face adapting to life in the 1700s?

Aside from surviving the time immediately post arrival when you had to figure out just what and when was going on—without raving about things like cars and phones that might get you burned at the stake, that is. Let’s assume you found yourself living in a thriving community like Castle Leoch, or walking into the bustling little “metropolis” of Edinburgh with some money in your pockets, so you weren’t worried about food and lodging right away—what would be hardest for you?

Merit: I try to imagine myself without my e-reader, computer, iPhone, and coffee machine. I would suffer, I know. No car, NO kitchen appliances, no TV (maybe that’s a blessing).

I think one of the most difficult things to adjust to would be the filth and bad smells. Sanitation was unheard of; refuse and garbage were burned or simply dumped into the streets and waterways.

Today we do so many daily tasks without thinking; they are so automatic and regular. Calling friends with our mobile phones from any location, or texting them, even if they are on the other side of the globe—it is so easy! But in the 1700s, I couldn’t even call my neighbor on an “old-fashioned” wall phone. Oh yes, I could shout out and hope they heard me, but the nearest neighbor might be miles away. I couldn’t just open the fridge to get milk for my coffee, either. I know, I’d have tea, but I need my double espresso or cappuccino.

Really, I’d love the opportunity to live on Fraser’s Ridge and make my own future there, despite the dangers, hardships, and smells. And if, or better when, I do find my Jamie, nothing of the above will matter, ’cause I’ll stay forever.

Kathi: I used to approach this debate from the perspective of Jamie Fraser vs. indoor plumbing and issues related to personal hygiene. But before long, I began to realize a more insidious issue would most likely trip me up before I even had time to use many “facilities”. If I were in Claire’s shoes, I probably wouldn’t have survived the first day without saying something so completely era-inappropriate for my gender that Mrs. Fitz would be smoking hams over my smoldering remains.

I’ve come to consider Claire’s ability to quickly assess situations and then respond as if she were from that time—without losing her modern sensibilities—as perhaps her most important quality. In the time it would have taken me to irrevocably put both feet into my mouth and seal my fate, she manages to figure out how not to get killed by two groups of men with opposing political objectives who assume she must be guilty of something sinister simply because she’s a woman wandering around alone (and, to their mind, half dressed).

Most of us lucky enough to live in modern economies are so used to our basic freedoms that we can’t imagine living without them. The idea that I could not speak for myself legally, attend school, travel independently, or own my own stuff is so ludicrous it doesn’t enter my mind. Being completely at the mercy of men and unable to decide things for myself would get old really fast; it required a level of diplomacy from Claire that I’m not sure I could muster up quickly enough to help me out.

One of the things I love about Claire is that she does speak her mind—loudly and often—and never once shies away from using her intelligence or skills whenever they are needed. And one of the things I love about Jamie is that he loves Claire’s strength, intelligence, and skills—so much that we forget they are an issue for others living at that time. But without Jamie’s unwavering protection, these qualities that are the very core of Claire’s identity would probably have led to her execution or imprisonment, and she definitely wouldn’t have been allowed to work undisturbed as a healer.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t go back through the stones (or stay if I were already there) to live with Jamie—because HELL YES, I WOULD GO!!!—but the fact that I’d have been killed shortly after arriving the first time would preclude the necessity of making that decision. :-)

Donna: Scotland was a dangerous place in the 1700s. Rebellions, English curs, famine, war, beheadings... if it weren’t for those minor problems—sure, why not go through the stones?

There would be a lot of things to give up. Just think of how easy it is to get food and clothing nowadays. Can you imagine having to make the cloth and then make the clothes? Grow your own food? If you lived at the laird’s castle, would you be a member of the family or a servant? (I have a nagging suspicion I’d be a chamber maid.) I take things like hopping in my car to get around for granted. What would I do? Walk, travel by horse or carriage, or not travel anywhere? If I went back in time, I would have a hard time remembering not to talk about things that hadn’t happened yet. Bathing, toothbrushing, dental care—sigh!

Beta: My greatest challenges? Where should I start? Seriously, there would be so many things to give up. Claire says that she doesn’t have a “way with objects” and “no impulse either to acquire or to decorate” and well, I do love to decorate, but I don’t need a lot of things around me and they don’t have to be fancy, so that wouldn’t bother me much.

I’d miss TV and my e-reader at first, but I think I’d get used to not having either pretty quickly. Hot baths are something I haven’t had the luxury of for years, so I can well be without those, but I would miss the hell out of hot showers. Let’s assume I can deal with the “eighteenth-century hip baths” that “were barely more than large barrels; one normally bathed in segments, immersing the center of the body first, with the legs hanging outside, then stood up and rinsed the upper torso while soaking the feet. More frequently, one bathed from a pitcher and basin, with the aid of a cloth”—but boy, would that be hard!

But to my greatest challenges: Transportation or the LACK of it, no electricity, how long it takes to get in touch with someone, all the ways you can get sick (or die) and the lack of medications and treatments, uncomfortable clothes and the lack of good shoes... And speaking of clothes—NO washing machines! Oh boy, doing laundry is usually not my favorite thing, so it would be very challenging having to do it the old-fashioned way (I think I need to go and hug my washing machine now). No modern toilets and soft toilet paper, quick just flush, and voila, peepee and poopoo gone!

What else? Oh yes, I’d probably miss most of the food and drinks I currently enjoy, especially because there are no fridges or freezers. Sure, I like cooking and baking, but not ALL the time. Or cleaning—and God forbid I’d suggest that the man could also be of some help in the kitchen or around the house...

Which leads me to the part about being a woman in the 18th century, the lack of respect and how superior men behaved over women at that time. I don’t think I could handle that for a week. No matter how respectful and thoughtful and wonderful Jamie is... I couldn’t handle most of the other men. I think me and my big mouth would get me in trouble in mere days. Plus always having to watch out not to say anything out of the ordinary, no talk of things from the future. Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, I don’t know how Claire does it!

It is said that “home is where the heart is,” and that is what I think of when I think of Claire and Jamie’s love. Given the same circumstances, I can only hope I’d look at it like Claire and say that the real issue was the people involved. For her, the greatest challenge would’ve been to continue being without Jamie... even after 20 years of not knowing what kind of man he’d become, not knowing (or thinking about) if he had another family, not knowing what awaits her on the other side, and not knowing for sure if she’ll make it through. And yet she goes back to her Jamie. Even when it means she has to leave her daughter behind. I know these are fictional characters, and I know that time travel isn’t real (?!), but when I imagine myself facing the same situation, I can only hope to have Claire’s bravery and not to mention Jamie and Claire’s love.

18th-century medicine chest
Angela: What would I miss? Modern medicine!!! When Claire goes back through the stones, she takes something very precious, antibiotics. To the 18th-century human, such an item would have been unheard of, given that they weren’t discovered until 1928, and even then it was a purely accidental discovery by Sir Alexander Fleming. Only since the 1940s, antibiotics have played a large role in our lives battling bacteria. Sadly, it seems that we are now building up a resistance to this wonderful discovery, partially due to over prescribing and partly due to how quickly germs can mutate. I can just picture myself in Claire’s shoes and shuddering when she realised how vulnerable people were through the stones. When you are used to the level of personal hygiene that we have grown up with, it’s hard to imagine the 1700s and what life must have been like. While the outside toilet may have made me giggle when I read about it, and you can still find them today, it is definitely not something I like to use. I have this irrational fear of falling down one. Thanks, Diana, as this kind of scene does occur in the books. Give me my porcelain toilet any day. So would I survive in the medically challenged world of the 18th century? Probably not.

There was no anesthesia, except a hell of a lot of alcohol. Can you imagine having your leg amputated without being completely knocked out with gas? I can’t. So some of things I actually really love reading in Outlander are the medical procedures. I know, it’s weird. I’m a real wimp when it comes to undergoing medical procedures myself, and don’t get me started on when the nurse has to take a tiny bit of blood out of my arm. Still I stare at the page, as my stomach twists and I try not to feel nauseated. Can you believe I grew up on a dairy farm? I assure you I used to have a much stronger stomach before I had children. There is one scene where Claire treats a patient for piles. The amount of alcohol the patient has to consume before the procedure is mind boggling. Perhaps reading the scene wasn’t exactly the best for my stomach either. Yet I read each page slowly, fascinated by what was unfolding. Thank goodness Jamie went into the whisky-making business! Claire needs as much alcohol as she can find.

Let’s not forget Claire trying to teach her family about germs, and how dubious they are about the existence of these invisible attackers. Even when she has a microscope in her possession, you can tell Ian is still skeptical. Yet here in our world, we are bombarded with advertising about how to get rid of germs. There are lotions, soaps, liquids, sprays, and wipes, all designed to get rid of pesky germs. I shudder to think what it is doing to our immunity levels. Sometimes it makes you wish for a word when things were simpler. Yet simpler doesn’t usually mean easier.

Think about sterilisation. How often do we see Claire asking for water to be boiled? How meticulously she ensures her instruments are sterile. This is a time when people die from infection very easily. Just imagine being operated on by a surgeon at your local hospital who uses the same instruments he used 20 minutes earlier on another patient. Don’t worry, he wiped them down with a cloth that had already been used to clean other messes twice that day. Uh oh, I bet you really want that operation now. Gabaldon vividly paints pictures for us of the unsanitary conditions and of Claire “accidentally” helping surgeons sterilise their tools as she watches them operate.

What about vaccines? There weren’t any. The first vaccines as we know them were used by Edward Jenner in 1796 for cowpox. The first smallpox vaccine was developed in 1798. (Here is a quick history of vaccines, one of many historical medical details I looked up as I read these books.) Claire is still a little bit too far back for this discovery, and she walks a fine line between what she can and can’t do without drawing too much attention to herself. It’s mentioned throughout the books how relieved Claire, Bree, and Roger are to be vaccinated and the worries they have for Jem. Vaccinations are something the general population takes for granted, but in the 18th century disease was a killer. How many indigenous populations were decimated when Europeans arrived? In typical Diana Gabaldon fashion, the dangers of disease and infection don’t stop our heroes and heroines from putting themselves in harm’s way. How many times were you on the edge of your seat wondering if our favourite characters were going to make it out alive? How many times do our characters save each others’ lives? How many times can we survive being put through the literary wringer with them?

Disturbing 18th-century medical tools
In the light of 18th-century medicine, there were many things that both terrified and fascinated me. Claire was lucky that she eventually found Daniel Rawlings’s medical kit and his meticulous (though disturbing) medical notes.

So what were my favourite medical moments from the Outlander series?
  1. The resetting of Tom Christie’s hand.
  2. The leeches used on Jamie Fraser after the snake bite.
  3. The piles operation, which for goodness sake was done with an audience.

If you’d made up your mind and had a few days to prepare before that special date with destiny, what would you pack?

Merit: Solar batteries are a must, at least two. (For my e-reader, computer, iPhone, and coffee machine.) And because of the nasty smells, I’d need some perfumes, or maybe I would be able to make my own potpourri after I got there.

I would take my reading glasses, at least 3 pairs—the light at night would be poor by candles. Of course, toothpaste and brushes, toilet paper, shampoo, and body and face lotions. Panties and bras, water purifying capsules, medicines. Would I need my best winter coat, the very thin, warm one? Can I take bubble gum? Would that be rude? I really have to think about my daily routine in order to remember what I’d need.

Donna: A compass, a Swiss Army knife, books about first aid and natural remedies, a flint, a first-aid kit, a toothbrush, and a good pair of shoes.

What about a Swiss Army ring?
Kathi: After reading Donna’s excellent list, my mind is contaminated by all those practical items she is packing. (I hear she Googled what to pack when time traveling! How smart was that?) So I’m trying to remember what I had begun packing... I’d definitely take some medical supplies: antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and a basic first-aid kit with an instructional booklet. I’d be verra tempted to pack a flashlight—maybe a hand-crank emergency flashlight that doesn’t require batteries, but that still might get me burned at the stake. I’d take a Swiss Army knife. I’d take a flint and a book about natural remedies (sorry, I can’t erase Donna’s list from my mind!). I’d probably take something to write with and a little notepad. I’d be verra tempted to take a couple of photos of my family. And I’d dress in sensible layers and practical shoes. I loved that pocket Claire wore under her clothes, so I’d make a couple of those. And I can’t forget reading glasses, or I’d be in big trouble. And a few toothbrushes. And currency. And lastly, taking whisky is probably good. Jamie would appreciate it, and if I had trouble finding him, I would need it myself.

Beta: Hmm, what would I pack? Assuming that I’d have to pack light like Claire, I had to give it some thought. I’d wear good walking shoes and a warm coat that would have a couple of good pockets in it. I would write up some recipes on how to make things like soaps, shampoo, herbal tinctures, remedies, and handy stuff like that, and recipes for knitted or crocheted mittens and socks. I’d also bring a toothbrush. I would need to bring my glasses... if I had to buy or ask someone to make glasses that look 18th century-ish so I could wear them without being noticeable, then I’d do it! Not only do I have poor eyesight, but my sense of direction is crap, so I’d have to bring a compass... assuming I’d know which direction I had to go... hmm, maybe I should bring a map too... Oh and speaking of a compass, since I can’t bring a lighter I’d want to bring a flint (thank you Kathi, I did not know what that was called in English) to start a fire with if needed, very girl-scoutish, right? And lastly I’d bring some currency, and I’d love to bring Jamie either a small bottle of some fine whisky, or sheets to write, or just both!

Angela: I would need glasses; otherwise, I’m not going to be enjoying the 1700s very much. I don’t want to miss the scenery. Would love to take bras, but if they were discovered, they would be so out-of-context for the time. LOL I’m going through the stones with five pairs of bras on my chest! Maybe paper for Jamie, as it’s so precious in the 1700s. I’m now picturing myself going through the stones loaded down with a big box of paper under each arm. Maybe that’s not very inconspicuous, so I might just have to take a ream and Jamie will have to stretch it out. I think gold or currency of some kind would be very handy, and also my final two items would be tetanus shots for Jamie and chocolate. I want to savour that last reminder of home.

Now that we’re packed... it’s time to head for the stones!! But if you need a little more encouragement, here you go:

I tried to force all emotion from my mind and use reason. Jamie certainly had logic on his side when he argued that I should go back: home, safety, Frank; even the small amenities of life that I sorely missed from time to time, like hot baths and indoor plumbing, to say nothing of larger considerations such as proper medical care and convenient travel.

And yet, while I would certainly admit the inconveniences and outright dangers of this place, I would also have to admit that I had enjoyed many aspects of it. If travel was inconvenient, there were no enormous stretches of concrete blanketing the countryside, nor any noisy, stinking autos—contrivances with their own dangers, I reminded myself. Life was much simpler, and so were the people. Not less intelligent, but much more direct...

We seem to have considered the same issues that Claire did. So maybe the only question that really matters is this: Can you bloody well do without him?

What about you, Saucy Outlanderholics? Would you brave life in the 1700s for the chance to find Jamie Fraser? And what would you pack for your adventure?


  1. Thankyou ladies ! I enjoyed your blog very much ! I think more or less the same about what I'd pack for going back to the 18th century...but I can do (and in real life too) without e.reader, cellular, computer...and some other items too. If I had to take only 2 or 3 things, I'd say : reading-glasses, soap, some paper and a pen.

  2. Soap that is such a good one Christiane.

  3. Wow, I love this Swiss Army ring!


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