I keep re watching the clip from Outlander’s next episode “All Debts Paid”. I find myself mesmerized by Lord John Grey. I have to laugh at myself because I know these characters so well that I’m all up in what’s going on in Lord John’s head when he sees Jamie. I’m already interpreting his facial expressions and body language! This is one of the big issues we book fans turn TV series fans have to deal with…knowing too much! My knowing what Lord John is thinking is actually kind of ironic because I’m pretty sure this actor, David Berry, did not know as much about his character at this point in filming the story. I believe I heard him say he got the role one day and was on set the next. An actors’ life is a strange one to be sure. So, how did he manage to embody that character so quickly? It’s gotta be magic or Kismet or some other kind of cosmic luck or a casting department that are clairvoyant geniuses! Seriously, their track record deserves its own olympics! I KNOW Cait and Sam had no real idea just what kind of plum roles they had landed. I think I remember reading about Sam telling a director/friend that he had just gotten something he thought might be a big deal. I’m pretty sure he knows now that it was. However, that whole first season, I continued to wonder if they truly knew what great characters they were going to get to play. Did they know they were going to get to play characters that struggled with real issues, made hard choices, lived with integrity, and evolved? Do they know it just keeps getting better?
We fans have had eight books to get to know these characters intimately. In Lord John’s case, Diana felt he was interesting enough to give him his own book series. His character arc of being a gay man in the 1700’s is interesting. What would life be like for a gay man in a time when knowledge of your sexual orientation could get you killed and ruin the lives of everyone you care about? Some would say not so different than now. Lord John is definitely one of my favorite characters. I’ve written before that I think he might actually rival Jamie in honor, integrity and loyalty and Claire for being caring and kind.
Recently, I read some research on the topic of loneliness. I thought about that research this week after watching Outlander ‘s last episode “Surrender”. Jamie, Claire, and Frank were all suffering from loneliness. The research I read suggested that loneliness was monstrous in its effects on the people who suffer it, mentally, spiritually, and physically. They went on to distinguish what is true loneliness vs transient feelings of being lonely. They concluded that the cause of loneliness was a want of intimacy. I believe one of the deeper looks that Diana gives us in the life of Lord John Grey is also one of loneliness and a want of intimacy.
Psychoanalyst Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, an early researcher in the topic of loneliness, claimed that the lonely person was just about the most terrifying spectacle in the world. She suggested that we often guiltly avoid the lonely because it “touches on our own possibility of loneliness”. The research, I read, suggests that there is a high frequency of loneliness in those who feel other, different, those that feel discriminated against. When the HIV epidemic was at its zenith, scientists found they were able to predict which patients would die sooner. It wasn’t those who lacked family or support systems, as they expected. It was those who were still in the closet. The inability to be yourself and be accepted for who you are can have devastating consequences. Lord John Grey is a man who must be in the closet and that takes its toll. When you are forced to present yourself as someone other than who you are every word must be watched, every look practiced, every touch measured, and every piece of information about yourself policed. A person forced to stay in the closet lives in constant fear of exposure or blackmail. Intimacy and even friendships can, and at times must, be limited. Diana Gabaldon’s Lord John gives a look into the loneliness these sharp limits can create.
When these two men, Lord John and Jamie Fraser, meet again in Ardsmuir Prison they are both lonely. They are both in positions that require them to keep themselves somewhat separate from others. Lord John is the governor of the prison and as such, holds a position of authority that makes few his equal. Jamie finds himself in a similar predicament. The men in the prison look to him as their leader and chief. As governor and as MacDubh, both men hold a position that naturally places them in a higher “social” station if you will.
Jamie has spent the years since he lost Claire in some type of “prison”. Ardsmuir has provided him with more company than he has had in years and believe or not more freedom. He is no longer being hunted, he is no longer a danger to those he cares about, but he is still without the intimacy that would relieve some of his loneliness. The prisoners give him something to care for and about, but they look to him as a leader more than friend and treat him with deference. He is different and apart from them. John’s prison is the secret he must keep. John has family and friends, but other than his occasional lover, he has no one with whom he can be himself. He is different and apart from everyone even his own brother. John has to measure every word he speaks and hide his true self from everyone. He craves intimacy.
Despite, the difference in their stations and the odd circumstances under which they interact, it is not surprising that they would strike up a tenuous friendship. Had they met under different circumstances, they would have found they had a lot in common. John and Jamie are both learned men who share a love of books and philosophy. They are both soldiers who have had the responsibility of leadership. They get each other’s sense of humor. They are both fiercely loyal and protective of those they love. And, I think as men of integrity, they recognize the honor in the other.
Lord John has the misfortune to fall in love with Jamie, a man who can never return his feelings. Jamie has very real reasons for associating homosexuality with the abuse he suffered at the hands of BJR, and his reaction to John’s revealing of his desires is nothing short of violent and complete rejection. The fact that they are able to be friends after all, and in the end, speaks volumes about both men. I can’t help but believe that Lord John’s friendship became the most important of Jamie’s life and his for John, as well. I believe that each was able to help the other heal.
John challenged Jamie’s beliefs about love and friendship and made him a more tolerant and empathtic man and Jamie gave John the acceptance he craved and a purpose of sorts, someone worthy to love.
Could you call a man who would never touch you- would recoil from the very thought of touching you- your lover? No. But at the same time, what would you call a man whose mind touched yours, whose prickly friendship was a gift, whose character, whose very existence, helped to define your own?
I am so looking forward to watching this relationship develop, watch the show handle another difficult subject with sensitivity, and wonder at the power of acceptance and love.