In this installment of En Garde, two staff members debate whether we should all love Jamie Fraser.
“You are safe,” he said firmly. “You have my name and my family, my clan, and if necessary, the protection of my body as well. The man willna lay hands on ye again, while I live.”
–Jamie to Claire, on the night of their wedding
At the risk of sounding heartsick, let’s face it: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser is the man we all wish was real. Jamie, as he’s referred to in Outlander, the groundbreaking historical series by Diana Gabaldon, is more than just immeasurable strength and chiseled features: Jamie is a man of substance. While it never hurts to have piercing blue eyes and a body rivaling that of Achilles, possibly Jamie’s greatest asset is strength of character. Jamie is a hero, and not in the Byronic, brooding and self-annihilating way, but in the other-people-respect-him kind of way. He heroically puts others before himself. He protects those he loves in the fiercest, bravest way he knows how.
Forget for a moment that he’s barely 23, he’s lost his mother and father, and he’s now an outlaw after being brutally whipped at Fort William for defending his family home —when Jamie walks into a room, people take notice. He’s a natural leader and, clearly, a charming rogue (think his intimate make-out sessions with the lovely, if conniving, Laoghaire). His handsome, tall, imposing frame fills the room. But more than this is his resilience, his calm demeanor and his ability to take risks when necessary.
While often bravery alone is enough of a trait to admire in any person, a more important quality about Jamie is his loyalty. Jamie is devoted to those he loves, and because of this is truly honorable in a most sincere way—he knows the right thing to do, and always does it, even at his own risk. He sacrifices, makes tough decisions, and ultimately is a better man for it.
When Claire is captured by Randall’s men and she knows for sure that there’s no way Jamie (or anyone else for that matter) will find her—he does. He returns to Fort William, the same place he was whipped within an inch of his life, to save Claire. He finds her. He doesn’t hesitate. He makes a clear decision to save her because he must. Because he swore he’d protect her.
When Laoghaire is brought before Colum in the MacKenzie Hall for what her father deems “loose behavior” with young men and was about to be beaten with a belt, it was the recently injured Jamie who came to her rescue. While he had just had his arm almost torn from his socket and more cuts and bruises than Claire could count, Jamie gallantly took Laoghaire’s punishment—a brutal beating. He left with a black eye, split lip, and more bruises.
Moreover, at The Gathering, one of the biggest events in the history of Castle Leoch, Jamie had to step up to give an oath to his Uncle, Colum, forsaking his own clan in the process. While he had no intention of doing this (and one could argue hiding in the stables might have been a tad cowardly) when he had to speak, he did; he told Colum that he pledged his loyalty to the clan MacKenzie, but that he was a Fraser through and through. James Fraser knows who he is, for better or worse.
This is not to say that Jamie is without flaw. He’s stubborn, often pig-headed to the point of near stupidity. He has a cunning sense of humor and sharp tongue that tends to get him in a fair amount of trouble (think of every scene with Black Jack Randall where Jamie was defiant but foolhardy in testing Randall’s anger). He has a quick and fiery temper that can erupt. He makes decisions so effortlessly it often appears he’s being brash—but really, these decisions are often thought-out and carefully strategized. He may act quickly, but that’s only because he works well on the fly.
Despite his flaws, however, what Jamie has more than anything is a true and valiant heart. He protects, honors, and respects those he loves. He is honest, empathetic, and kind. These traits are important for any person, but when combined with sheer bravery and intelligence, it adds up to the type of man women only dream about—he could give Prince Harry a run for his money.
I guess I should confess: I didn’t finish Outlander, and James Fraser is to blame. How is that possible? I can just hear the outpouring of rage now. He’s so dreamy! True. But if you take away his looks, what’s left to admire? Everything. Ugh.
Romances strive to write upstanding and heroic figures cut from a cloth that you not only admire, but want to rub over every inch of your body. I, for one, am sick of the heroic, handsome, and honorable male lead. It’s not Jamie’s fault that the genre dictates his perfection, but I’m holding it against him anyway.
Do people seriously still buy into the whole hurt/comfort trope? Man gets hurt, woman dutifully nurses him, and they bond over their shared time together. Here, the purpose could be to make Jamie vulnerable while giving Claire agency. But I think it’s more to demonstrate that Jamie’s willingness to put his life on the line makes him swoon-worthy. He saves Claire’s life and he fights tooth and nail to save his home without regard for his personal health or safety. Unfortunately, this means that scarcely a day passes where Jamie’s not breaking bones, being publicly whipped or beaten, and getting into bar fights. How is he not dead? I was far too distracted by the amount of hell he put his body through to get starry eyed at his selflessness. Typically when someone breaks a rib or gets stabbed, they need to rest. As it stands, I’m surprised he survived to adulthood.
Putting aside the whole perpetually injured thing, I have to say that his honor and nobility are more likely to make me roll my eyes than anything else. When he volunteers to get beaten in place of Laoghaire, he wants to get some action on the side out of it. But at the heart of the matter, he’s still taking the beating because he thinks she didn’t deserve it. Everyone knows strapping men addicted to pain are perfect in these situations. What if he hadn’t been allowed to be punished instead and then fretted over it later? What if his character was disgusting? What if he did something completely the opposite of noble and Claire liked him anyway? You know, like a real person.
He could even be a sexually experienced like a real person. Instead, he fits the romance rule that one member of the main couple has to be a virgin. Making Jamie the virgin instead of Claire does serve as a nice twist on the usual trope, but I found myself wishing that they were both experienced. His boyish innocence act and enthusiasm over having sex for the first time…eh. It’s sort of cute, but I also think his virginity simply plays into his honor problem. He might make out with Laoghaire in a closet, but he won’t despoil her. Don’t worry! No other women will stand in Claire’s way to victory.
Jamie is too good for his world. He’s the handsomest and noblest of all. He teaches Claire to fish. He protects Claire. He suffers silently. Couldn’t he be more of an obnoxious asshole, at least a little bit?