Ambigu-Wonk: Outlander

OK, if no one else is going to say it, I am. One of our favorite romances of all time—Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander—is a Wonkomance.

Maybe. I’m not sure.

In support of the argument, Outlander has:

  • A virgin hero
  • An older heroine
  • A modern heroine pushing her feminist views on a historical alphahole
  • A little spousal abuse and a debate about its merits
  • More than one thwarted M/M love subplot
  • M/M sadomasochistic rape
  • Politics up the wazoo (Claire’s magic wazoo, that is)
  • A subsequent series that skips merrily from HEA to disaster and back again with reckless disregard for genre rules.

Or, to put it in Gabaldon’s own words (if these look familiar, it might be because you have, as I do, a copy of Outlander from Gabaldon’s keynote at RWA 2011), “Within these pages of Outlander you will find it all … ‘history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul … you know, the usual stuff of literature.’”


Or is it? On the flip side, Claire and Jamie are oddly conventional. He’s big and strong, entirely capable of dominating Claire physically and more than able to manage the demands of 18th century Scotland and the American colonies. She’s bright and cheerful, undaunted by challenges, the sort of woman you’d resent in the same measure you adored her. Neither Claire nor Jamie seem to suffer from attacks of existential angst, at least not ones that outlast the moment. At its darkest moments, Outlander is way too optimistic to be called “dark.”

So, yeah, or not so wonky.

What do you think? Can we claim it?




About Serena Bell

Serena Bell writes stories about how sex messes with your head, why smart people do stupid things sometimes, and how love can make it all better. Read more >
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10 Responses to Ambigu-Wonk: Outlander

  1. Whoa, I don’t know. After she rescues Jamie from you know who at the end of the book, that was pretty dark. That seemed pretty existential to me, lasting longer than a moment. He was pretty darn down and it took a lot of soul-searching and magic woohoo-ing to bring him back from the brink….

    I think we can claim it! Does it have to be dark to by wonky?

  2. Serena Bell says:

    You’re right–that was seriously dark. I think I’d blocked that moment (maybe because when I read it I didn’t want Jamie’s innocence lost to that extent, and I still don’t!). And no, I don’t think it has to be dark to be wonky necessarily (Nerd in Shining Armor!)–just has to mess with our romance-readerly expectations. One funny thing for me about Outlander: I read it before I had expectations, because it was quite literally the first romance I’d read (since age 15 or so). As far as I was concerned, they were ALL going to be just like that.

    • Outlander spoiled you for future books! Or maybe that’s why you seek out wonkomance? Yeah, I wanted to block that whole period from my mind too!

      I STILL need to read NERD. I can’t believe I haven’t yet. Okay, heading to Amazon to buy….

  3. Ruthie Knox says:

    Definitely wonky! I read Outlander when I wasn’t reading romance yet, either, and it both delighted me and confused me mightily. It *has* to be wonk when it’s possible to read the whole first 100 pages or so without realizing that Jamie is going to be the hero. (Probably not possibly for someone attuned to romance conventions to read it this way, but *I* did, and then when it came time for the marriage of convenience, I was like, WHOA? Really? It was a more innocent time.)

    And the longer the series goes on, the more wonked it gets, really, from the obsession with Jamie’s missing finger to Claire getting raped and Jamie failing to protect her in one of the later books. Plus, there’s the whole aging thing. And the way we’re supposed to root for the romantic/sexual happiness of Claire and Jamie’s daughter, which I’m really not 100% able to get behind. And all the m/m attraction, as you said.

    Totally a wonkomance.

    • Serena Bell says:

      I don’t think Gabaldon had the slightest idea she was writing a romance, and I think conventions were the furthest thing from her mind. Given how successful it has been with both romance & non-romance readers, we writers should possibly take this as a model … :-)

  4. Kate D. says:

    Totally a wonkomance! My mom gave me Outlander to read as I recovered from having my wisdom teeth pulled when I was about 15 or 16. I hadn’t started reading romance yet, so at the time I didn’t fully appreciate how wonky the book really is. I was, however, totally scarred by the scene at the end with Jamie and you know who! And, Ruthie, I totally agree with you about Brianna. Her storyline always kind of annoyed me.

    Also, can I just say that every time I read this blog I’m struck by how you ladies-of-wonk seem to be like my doppelgangers? It’s a little weird. And totally awesome. But a little weird.

  5. Serena Bell says:

    Brianna — eh. But on the other hand, I don’t think Gabaldon could have sustained the whole series with just Claire and Jamie. Perhaps they could have given birth to a less aggravating heroine, though.

    Welcome to doppelgangerhood. It’s always weird and awesome to me, too, to realize there are other readers like me (especially because I imagine many of the devoted readers of wonkomance spent their adolescences wondering if there was anyone else like them on earth … or maybe I’m just projecting :-)).

  6. A Voracious Reader says:

    I’m 44 and have only just discovered Outlander. I’m only to chapter four though. As far as Nerd in Shining Armor goes…Loved! It!

    • Serena Bell says:

      And you have so many volumes of Outlander awesomeness still ahead of you–I envy you that! Although … I will probably have to reread the first seven before the eighth comes out. :-)