The resilience of Claire Fraser

Claire in Outlander Episode 708

Please join OUTLANDER fans worldwide in wishing a very happy 105th birthday (believe it or not!) to our favorite time-traveling Sassenach, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser! She was born on October 20, 1918.

In honor of Claire's birthday, here's a brand new quote collection! This one is a bit different from the ones I've done in the past, because I decided to focus on a single aspect of her character.

I have been thinking a lot about resilience in recent days, and how people recover from traumatic events. The resilience of Diana Gabaldon's characters is one of the things I admire most about them. The major characters in these books -- all of them -- are adept at "rolling with the punches", dealing with whatever life throws at them. Even in the face of traumatic and life-altering events, they never give up. Eventually, with time, with the help of friends and loved ones, they pull themselves together and move on with their lives.

This is one of the qualities I like best about Claire. In this post, I'll explore some of the many ways in which she has demonstrated that resilience over the course of her life. I hope you enjoy it!


If you haven't read all of Diana Gabaldon's OUTLANDER books, you may find SPOILERS below! Read at your own risk.

1) Claire learned resilience at a very young age. Her parents were killed in a car crash when she was only five years old.

I knew what it was now, that ancient distress. It was that phrase overheard, the words by chance the same that a small girl had once heard spoken, whispered in the next room by the strangers who had come to say her mother would not be coming back, that she had died. An accident; a crash; fire. Burnt to bones, the voice had said, filled with the awe of it. Burnt to bones, and the desolation of a daughter, forever abandoned.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 53, "The Frenchman's Gold". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Young children are amazingly adaptable, but still, that tragedy must have shattered her whole world! Claire was lucky that her Uncle Lamb took her in. She had an unusual upbringing, traveling the world with him, but her memories of that period of her life are generally happy ones.

Young Claire in Outlander Episode 101

As Claire recalls in OUTLANDER:

[Uncle Lamb was] my family, and all I knew of love as a child. A man who had never spoken love to me, who had never needed to, for I knew he loved me, as surely as I knew I lived. For where all love is, the speaking is unnecessary. It is all. It is undying. And it is enough.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 38, "The Abbey". Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

No doubt the certain knowledge that she was loved helped young Claire recover from that early trauma, establishing a pattern that would continue all her life.

Claire just after she goes through the stones in Outlander Episode 101

2) When Claire first goes through the stones, she recovers pretty quickly from the shock of finding herself in the 18th century. Part of this can be attributed to her experience as a combat nurse during WWII, but not all of it, in my opinion at least. I like this next quote because it illustrates her mental state, on that first morning at Castle Leoch. She's frightened, disoriented, and badly shaken by the realization that she's really in 1743, but she's thinking very fast and very clearly, and she manages to get herself under control by the time Colum begins questioning her.

Quite beyond ordinary scruples by this time, I shamelessly rifled the olivewood desk, keeping an ear out for returning footsteps.

I found what I supposed I had been looking for in the central drawer. A half-finished letter, written in a flowing hand rendered no more legible by the eccentric spelling and total lack of punctuation. The paper was fresh and clean, and the ink crisply black. Legible or not, the date at the top of the page sprang out at me as though written in letters of fire: 20 April, 1743.

When he returned a few moments later, Colum found his guest seated by the casement windows, hands clasped decorously in her lap. Seated, because my legs would no longer hold me up. Hands clasped, to hide the trembling that had made it difficult for me to stuff the letter back into its resting place.

(From OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 5, "The MacKenzie". Copyright © 1991 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Except for that first night at Castle Leoch, where she weeps in Jamie's arms, we don't really see Claire feeling sorry for herself in those early days, or spending a lot of time thinking about how much she misses her life in the 20th century. Within a few days, she's established a sort of routine for herself at Castle Leoch. I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't think I would have adjusted that quickly if I somehow ended up in the 18th century!

Jamie and Claire in Outlander Episode 207

3) There are times when Claire's own inner resilience is not enough. Claire has always depended on Jamie when she's going through bad times. In times of crisis, he gives her emotional support, reassurance, the knowledge that whatever she's going through, she needn't do it alone. And in the aftermath of the miscarriage in DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, it's Jamie -- who feels the loss of Faith as deeply as she does -- who pulls her out of her grief and anger and depression, forcing her to face those emotions head-on, no matter how painful they might be.

“Claire,” he whispered. “Please. Let me give ye comfort.”

“Comfort?” I said. “And how will you do that? Can you give me back my child?”

He sank to his knees before me, but I kept my head down, staring into my upturned hands, laid empty on my lap. I felt his movement as he reached to touch me, hesitated, drew back, reached again.

“No,” he said, his voice scarcely audible. “No, I canna do that. But...with the grace of God...I might give ye another?”

His hand hovered over mine, close enough that I felt the warmth of his skin. I felt other things as well: the grief that he held tight under rein, the anger and the fear that choked him, and the courage that made him speak in spite of it. I gathered my own courage around me, a flimsy substitute for the thick gray shroud. Then I took his hand and lifted my head, and looked full into the face of the sun.

(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 28, "The Coming of the Light". Copyright © 1992 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Resilience doesn't mean you have to bounce back all by yourself, after all. Jamie's love for Claire has helped her through many crises over the years.

Claire pregnant Outlander Episode 302

4) When Claire returns to the 20th century after Culloden, pregnant with Jamie's child, we see her at one of the lowest points of her whole life.

I couldn’t think, and tried not to feel. The return was much more terrifying than my venture into the past had been, for there, I had been shrouded by a protective layer of doubt and disbelief about where I was and what was happening, and had lived in constant hope of escape. Now I knew only too well where I was, and I knew that there was no escape. Jamie was dead.

(From VOYAGER by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 3, "Frank and Full Disclosure". Copyright © 1994 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I think for those first months after she came back, she wasn't really living, just existing, one day at a time, keeping herself going only for the sake of her unborn child. So how do you pull yourself out of a depression like that, if mental health counseling is out of the question? In the end, I think it was Brianna's birth, focusing on someone else's needs, that began the process of recovery. Her decision to go to med school also helped tremendously, allowing her, for the first time in years, to be the healer she was meant to be.

I love this quote from DRUMS, in the scene where Jamie and Claire discover the site of Fraser's Ridge, because it shows how far Claire has come from those days.

“[While] ye were there--in your own time--I was dead, no?”

I nodded, wordless. Even now, I could look back and see the abyss of despair into which that parting had dropped me, and from which I had climbed, one painful inch at a time.

Now I stood with him again upon the summit of life, and could not contemplate descent.

(From DRUMS OF AUTUMN by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 16, "The First Law of Thermodynamics". Copyright © 1997 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Claire and Jamie in Outlander Episode 512

5) My favorite example of Claire's resilience in the whole series is her reaction after the abduction and rape in ABOSAA. (This is also, not coincidentally, one of my all-time favorite Claire quotes.)

"I have lived through a fucking world war,” I said, my voice low and venomous. “I have lost a child. I have lost two husbands. I have starved with an army, been beaten and wounded, been patronized, betrayed, imprisoned, and attacked. And I have fucking survived!” My voice was rising, but I was helpless to stop it. “And now should I be shattered because some wretched, pathetic excuses for men stuck their nasty little appendages between my legs and wiggled them?!” I stood up, seized the edge of the washstand and heaved it over, sending everything flying with a crash--basin, ewer, and lighted candlestick, which promptly went out.

“Well, I won’t,” I said quite calmly.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 29, "Perfectly Fine". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

If that's not resilience, I don't know what is! Despite everything she's been through, she's determined not to be shattered by it.

I also like this conversation between Claire and Young Ian, on the morning after she returned home.

[Ian] took me by the shoulders and turned me into the sunlight, pursing his lips a little as he inspected me at close range. I blinked up at him, imagining what I must look like. I hadn’t had the nerve to look into a mirror yet, but I knew the bruising must be going from blacks and reds to a colorful assortment of blues, greens, and yellows. Add in assorted knobbly swellings, flecks of crusty black for the split lip and the scabby bits, and I was undoubtedly quite the picture of health.

Ian’s soft hazel eyes peered intently into my face with no apparent surprise or distress, though. At last he let go, and patted my shoulder gently.

“Ye’ll do, Auntie,” he said. “It’s still you, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. And with no warning at all, tears welled up and overflowed. I knew exactly what he’d meant, and why he’d said it--and it was true.

I felt as though my center had turned unexpectedly to liquid and was gushing out, not from grief, but from relief. I was still me. Fragile, battered, sore, and wary--but myself. Only when I recognized that, did I realize how much I had feared that I might not be--that I might emerge from shock and find myself irrevocably altered, some vital part forever missing.

(From A BREATH OF SNOW AND ASHES by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 30, "The Captive". Copyright © 2005 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

It will take time for the physical and psychological wounds to heal, but the core of her personality remains intact, and that's reassuring.

6) How exactly do you begin to recover, when something horrible and/or traumatic happens? Claire has been through this often enough to be able to give some advice to Young Ian, after he accidentally kills Mrs. Bug.

“And then, he said, ye live with it,” he said softly.

He rubbed a hand across his face.

“But I dinna think I can.” It was a simple statement of fact, and scared me badly. I had no more tears, but felt as though I looked into a black, bottomless hole--and couldn’t look away.

I drew a deep breath, trying to think of something to say, then pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and gave it to him.

“Are you breathing, Ian?”

His mouth twitched a little.

“Aye, I think so.”

“That’s all you have to do, for now.”

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 3, "Life for Life". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

I think this is excellent advice for anyone who's been through a traumatic experience. Just keep breathing. Take things one day at a time, one hour at a time if you have to.

7) In the depths of grief and depression, when you feel as though your whole world has come apart, how do you keep yourself from just giving up? In AN ECHO IN THE BONE, we see Claire clawing her way back from the brink of suicide in the wake of Jamie's supposed "death", by thinking of Bree and the others who still need her.

I let my hand fall back, exposing my wrist, and placed the tip of the knife midway up my forearm. I’d seen many unsuccessful suicides, those who slashed their wrists from side to side, the wounds small mouths that cried for help. I’d seen those who meant it. The proper way was to slit the veins lengthwise, deep, sure cuts that would drain me of blood in minutes, assure unconsciousness in seconds. The mark was still visible on the mound at the base of my thumb. A faint white “J,” the mark he’d left on me on the eve of Culloden, when we first faced the stark knowledge of death and separation.

I traced the thin white line with the tip of the knife and felt the seductive whisper of metal on my skin. I’d wanted to die with him then, and he had sent me on with a firm hand. I carried his child; I could not die.

I carried her no longer--but she was still there. Perhaps reachable. I sat motionless for what seemed a long time, then sighed and put the knife back on the table carefully.

Perhaps it was the habit of years, a bent of mind that held life sacred for its own sake, or a superstitious awe of extinguishing a spark kindled by a hand not my own. Perhaps it was obligation. There were those who needed me--or at least to whom I could be useful.

(From AN ECHO IN THE BONE by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 94, "The Paths of Death". Copyright © 2009 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Grandfather Mountain, NC

8) Finally, since we're talking about resilience, I think it's appropriate to end on a hopeful note. Here's Claire, returning home to Fraser's Ridge for the first time in two years. (The image above shows Grandfather Mountain, NC, near where Fraser's Ridge is supposed to be located.)

[As] we reached the summit of the final pass, I thought I might explode from simple joy at the scent of the late-spring woods, an intoxicating mix of pine and balsam fir, oaks mingling the spice of fresh green leaves with the must of the winter’s fallen acorns, and the nutty sweetness of chestnut mast under a layer of wet dead leaves, so thick that it made the air seem buoyant, bearing me up. I couldn’t get enough of it into my lungs.


I realized at that moment that I had been resuming my identity as we walked, that step by step as we climbed the mountain, smelling its scents and harvesting its plenty, I had sloughed off a few layers of the recent past and become again what I had last been in this place. I had come back.

(From WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART'S BLOOD by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 137, "In the Wilderness a Lodging Place". Copyright © 2014 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)

Her joy at being back is just infectious, and I think it's a sign that she has (more or less) recovered from the traumatic events of recent years.


I hope you enjoyed this collection. Please leave a comment here or on my Outlandish Observations Facebook page and let me know what you think.

Happy Birthday, Claire!! Many thanks to Diana Gabaldon for creating such an amazing character, and to Caitriona Balfe for bringing her to life on TV.


Anonymous said...

This is perhaps my favorite of all your blogs. For me, resilience is the reason I love Claire and Jamie. Resilience (and humor) are the greatest gifts some of us have been lucky to have been given. They make all the difference in life.

Karen Henry said...

Thank you so much!


Anonymous said...

Thank you, Karen, for the blessing of this post. In these challenging times, it is comforting and bolstering to reflect on the various passages of all that Claire has faced, and recall her path of healing and recovery.

Marlene Merritt said...

I loved this post, Karen. Thank you for extracting these quotes from the series.

Karen Henry said...

Thanks, Marlene! Really glad you enjoyed it!


Karen Henry said...

Anonymous - thank you, I appreciate that very much!


Diana Gabaldon said...

A wonderful blog, Karen! Thank you so much!

Karen Henry said...


You're very welcome!! I'm so glad you enjoyed it!


Pat said...

Thank you Karen. What a wonderful blog!!

Karen Henry said...

Thanks, Pat! Glad you liked it!


Martha said...

Excellent post, Karen. Thank you !

Karen Henry said...

Thanks, Martha!


Alison Stewart said...

Resilience and humour are two of the most admirable characteristics which define Claire. Even though the book series evolves into a saga about more than just Claire and Jamie’s life, Claire is central, and her ability to adapt, accept and find humour in the situations she finds herself in make for reaffirming and riveting reading. We would like to think we could be like Claire in our emotional responses to things and not panic or be petty minded but clear-headed and analytical. But Diana has written Claire to be human as well and to have weaknesses and doubts which also help us identify with her even if we can’t match her strength. Having a partner like Jamie who accepts and believes in her is also very helpful indeed. I think this is one of the main reasons we love Jamie.

One of the failings in the TV series which you have previously commented on, was the aftermath of the abduction and rape - the ether disaster which dominated the season! It really was a divergence from the character Diana had written … but then, so was the original event itself and it doesn’t reflect well on the need for TV to have the sensationalism of a gang rape versus the focus on abduction and the pathos of what really happened.

Claire (and Diana via her writing) have given us a wonderful role model for dealing with real and excessive dilemmas and your collection of quotes to support your analysis demonstrates this. Thanks again for a great blog.

G. Shepard said...

Reading the excerpts from the Outlander stories makes me want to get out of bed and go and get the first book and start reading the whole series over again. It’s been about a year since I’ve read all the books. Diana‘s words are almost hypnotic to me. They draw me in to a place where I am surrounded by scenes and characters who are so familiar that they are almost like family. Her writing is extraordinary. Her books have never saved my life, but at times they save my sanity.

Jacki Wolverton said...

This is exactly what I needed to read this morning. Bring a strong woman means so many things. It’s all in there. Sadness. Joy. Grief. Angst. Fear. But to sit with all of that and pull through it is what you have encapsulated in Claire. Good job.

Sally said...

Well done.

MCatherine said...

Yes!! Resilience. Intestinal fortitude. Humor. "It ain't the weight that gets you down; it's how you carry it." (Lena Horne) Thank you for focusing on resilience and the reminder.

Christine Dodge said...

You have truly captured the essence of Claire in choosing these quotes. Many people complain about her stubbornness and, sometimes, irresponsible actions. But her ability to maintain her inner strengths and resilience should be a model for us all. Thank you for this posting. You have no idea how much it has helped me.

Janet said...

Thank you Karen for this wonderful post. One of your best ones yet. I tend to focus on Jamie mostly, and this brings intro remembrance just how both strong and vulnerable she was in the books. So endearing. Again, great job.

Lone Star said...

Bloody woman! You went and made me cry!

Isabel Morales said...

Moltíssimes gràcies per recordar-me tantes i tantes vegades que la Claire ha demostrat la seva resiliencia, és un personatge únic.
La meva família i amics sempre em valoren lo forta que sóc (he tingut molts entrebancs a la vida)Per tirar endevant cada vegada que la vida m'ha colpejat, però jo els dic que potser si que hi tinc una part de fortalesa però jo crec que el que més tinc és resiliencia. M'hi adapto ràpidament als canvis, no em fan por els canvis.
Em molesta força la gent que critica el personatge de la Claire i crec que ho fan perquè en el fons no l'entenen . Segurament si llegeixen aquest escrit els ajudarà a entendre molt millor el personatge.
De nou moltes gràcies.

Marty Izaguirre said...

Wonderful tribute to Claire as wel las a sweer reminder of some of her best moments in the books and TV series. Thank you!

Ирина Береза said...

Спасибо за такой детальный анализ. Клер - замечательный литературный персонаж, у нее много чему можно поучится.

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