In the Society of the Women of “Wilmington”…a reflection on Outlander episode 4.8

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It was difficult for me to think of anything else as I sat down to write my reflection. I can hardly remember Claire and Jamie gazing lovingly at baby Germain.  Claire’s emergency surgery, Murtagh’s being in real and immediate danger, a tender love scene… and an ugly quarrel, all faded in significance to that image of a trembling hand. The image I’m still thinking of this morning is of Brianna reaching for her boots neatly placed outside the door of where she was pitilessly raped.  The weight of meaning in the gesture that placed those boots side by side is grotesque.

Some how shifting the focus to the inn’s common room and the reaction of its inhabitants made what was happening behind those doors even more monstrous. I am grateful that they did not show the actual act, but I cannot say it made what happened less brutal. I’m not sure which was more shocking, the rape or the indifference. A soul WAS “as rare as hen’s teeth” in that inn. Her pleas for help went unheeded by people in the next room. They barely seemed to acknowledge what they all knew was happening. They knew and did nothing, nothing except laugh, smirk, go on about their concerns and …tidy up.

My heart broke for Bree as she sat up from the table her hair in disarray, her nose bloodied, her shock obvious.  As her mind slowly tried to make sense of her surroundings, her body took over and she gathered her belongings. Stephen Bonnet’s comments about having had a more lively ride, her lack of virginity, and his being an honest pirate incensed me, but they were just so much noise to her.  As she reached for that ring, I thought of how tarnished it was.  That beautiful symbol of Jamie’s love for her mother was now a symbol of violence and loss.  In the same day, she lost her virginity and her agency.  The rabbit hole is a violent wretched place for women.

I wondered at a society where the rape of a young woman was so common place and accepted that it would go virtually unmarked. As I looked for answers, I kept going back to the theater and Claire’s remark about the society of the wives and the Governor’s wife’s assurance that she would help her navigate the waters.  I believe the women of “Wilmington” have a lot to say about how rough the seas are for women then and I would argue…now.

Agency Down the Rabbit Hole

There were a lot of different women in this episode, some accepting of their assigned roles, some pushing at the expectations placed on them, but all without complete choice of their own decisions and lives. Agency is based on the idea of choice.  Personal agency is in direct proportion to your ability to take action, be effective and influence your own life. We make personal choices that then lead to us taking responsibility for those choices. It seems to me that the women of this time had little choice, and therefore little agency and little control of their own lives. Women at this time were subservient to men and their roles were dictated by a patriarchcal society.

Marsali

Marsali practically glowed when she talked about being a mother.  As a mother, I understood her heart full to bursting with love.  But, I also felt the double-edged sword of motherhood she described.  I understood the fear of what we cannot control and our need to protect our children that would allow us to sacrifice for them.  Even as I felt pity for Claire and her inability to even acknowledge her own motherhood, I recognized the prophetic truth of her words.  We cannot protect our children from everyone and everything. And, it seemed to me that women of that time must have felt even more helpless due to the lack of agency. Marsali seems happy with her role as homemaker and mother and that is great. However, I am completely aware of how her circumstances would change if she did not have a man in her life.  Her choice in how she would earn a living and provide for her child would be limited.  Without extended family she would most likely be destitute.

Lizzie

Lizzie is a perfect example of what can happen to a woman who is poor and without a man to  protect her. Lizzie has basically been sold.  She belongs to someone else and if it were not for her father begging Brianna to buy her terms of indenture, she would most likely be the property of a man who would use her against her will and make her his legal sex slave as a “concubine”. And, NO ONE would blink an eye because of the patriarchy of the time.

Martha Washington and the Governor’s wife

Life for a poor woman like Lizzie is indeed bleak, but money still does not equate with agency for the women of Wilmington. Case in point? Martha Washington and the Governor’s wife.  There were so many little moments and off- hand comments that illustrated the lack of power women had over their own lives at this opulent event. The women’s interaction with the men at the theater was limited to polite and expected “small talk” and praise for the nobility of the men. The Governor introduces Jamie, but not Claire. He seems truly bothered that Claire keeps inserting herself and her opinions into the conversation and condescendingly urges her to let Fanning’s “physician” take care of him. I love the knowing look that happens between Jamie and Claire when the Gov. decides to ditch Claire to his wife and the society of the women.  I love Jamie for letting Claire know he knows her value even if they don’t.  I’m not sure exactly how far they can buck this system and still function as part of this society, but they do buck it when it comes to Claire’s healing.

Fulfilling her assigned role as hostess, the Governor’s wife comments on Martha Washington and calls her the face that launched a thousand ships and filled them with tobacco.  Her wealth and wit seem to set her above the other women of the Governor’s wife’s acquaintance. I don’t know why exactly, but I got the feeling that the relationship between Martha and George approached equality. I think it was the way he paid attention to what she said. However, she will never and historically was never more than the “woman behind the man”.  Money and wit are not enough to gain her complete choice and agency.  She is still just a woman.

Claire

Of al the woman of Wilmington society, Claire is the one who pushes the envelope of patriarchy the most.  She continues to act like the physician and capable woman she is despite the obvious shock and disapproval of the men around her. Once again Jamie’s complete trust in her skills and abilites to naviagite ANY rough waters they face is evident. He leaves her knowing she will do what needs to be done.  They are truly partners and equals.  The reactions and panicked concern of the Govenor and the doctors was a fantastic illustration of male attitudes toward a woman who dares to go above her assigned role.  My favorite line was uttered by the doctor who thought all we really needed was to blow smoke up someone’s ass!  The moment that bothered me the most? The clapping for her.  They came to see a performance and she gave it to them.  The play wasn’t that great, but the trained monkey doing surgery was amazing!

And, Bree…

There were a lot of callbacks to the relationship between Jamie and Claire in the intimate scenes between Brianna and Roger including the fight at the river. Jamie thought Claire should do what he said because she was his wife and 200 + years from that fight Roger thought his wife should do the same. When it was all said and done, Roger didn’t fair very well in the treating his wife like an equal department.  I will give him a break as things are said in hurt, fear, and anger we don’t always mean.  However, the fight at the river ended in forgiveness if not complete understanding.  That didn’t happen here despite it being obvious that everyone’s “guts” were being torn out.  That Roger left without a word didn’t sit well with me and I am wondering why this particular part of the story was changed. I’m not happy with this Roger.

As we watched Bree walk through the dark streets back to the inn, it was impossible to not experience a premonition.  She moves about this world as if she is in her own time.  She truly doesn’t know where she is and what the rules are for women.  She tells Bonnet he has mistaken her.  It is she who is mistaken. She thought she was Brianna Randall.  She forgot she is just a woman in Wilmington.

 

 

 

 

 

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43 thoughts on “In the Society of the Women of “Wilmington”…a reflection on Outlander episode 4.8

  1. Marge

    So much of what happens to women in the 18th century – and before – is antithetical to our more recent history, mostly. We still have the muslim women who must wear a burka, cover their heads and often faces and get stoned to death. Brianna would have done well to check the history before she went. Roger should have checked the 20th century for how to behave towards women, although in the 1970s it still wasn’t that great. While we were justifiably horrified by the rape (don’t forget Jamie’s rape in season one by BJR) Diana has said that the horrible makes the good stand out. It is like in a movie they said Life can be a Merry Go Round and boring or it can be a Roller Coaster and be exciting. Diana’s stories are full of love and excitement! thanks for your blog!

  2. Sad but true. The arranging of Bree’s boots was an amazing moment. I think I shuddered. I am still eternally grateful to be a woman alive now, in this time (even with present day issues), rather than then or any time in between. There is still plenty of road to travel. I think your point of “agency” or choice is a good one. I would say that I am one who chose to step away from my career to put my husband, children, and home first. Sad that that particular choice is frowned upon by some folk today. But, at least I had the right to choose that road for myself, and I have not regretted it. The women of Wilmington, in general, did not have the opportunity at all. Again, just so sad. And yet, many AMAZING women lived it and gave their daughters hope for a better future. As always, Beth, thank you for your insights. – Dawn

  3. Donna R. Brown

    As always Beth…VERY well said! After the episode aired, there was a “spoiler” commentary in the “Directors room” where they explained the deviations from the book and why….I always watch those after the episodes, because like you, I ALWAYS want to know WHY a particular part was changed or removed from the source material….

  4. Lorraine Grzena

    As I watched this episode I was complacent to the way women were treated. I knew that in the 18th century women were thought of as property. Somethings have changed now, but as you said in many ways they have not.
    It’s too bad folks are thinking of Outlander as just a romantic tale, and not the thought provoking one it is. I don’t remember the books being as pronounced on the women’s issues, but I know some of it was there.
    My question is why have we let the unequally issue go on for so many centuries. I’m going to join the Amazons. Watch out Wonder Woman!

  5. Jude

    Very insightful Beth as always, thank you. I also worry about Roger but them I’m unhappy with quite a lot of the writing this season….ah well. The saddest part of this particular episode is that, in 200 years, sometimes I feel we haven’t come so far at all……..

  6. Excellent post, Beth; you’ve summed up the core of this episode. Being a woman in that time was not an easy role.

    And oh, Roger. You couldn’t tell Brianna that you were calling her to tell her about the obituary when you found out she had left? That would have been true enough. You seem pretty bone-headed here.

    I realized while watching this that in the books, we had seen a lot from Roger’s point of view while he was falling for Bree. That made me appreciate Roger more than I do in the television series.

    Merry Christmas, Beth!

      • Julia Kennedy

        TV Roger and Bree did not seem to be so different as much as they were “more” of what they were in the book. TV Bree has more bad temper and be even more forgetful than early Clair about the need for caution.
        She had studied history with her father but seemed to have no idea of the vulnerability of women in the eighteenth century, or the contempt directed at them by many men. Maybe it was the visuals in the TV series that heightened that effect and made her seem even more obtuse about Roger than she was in the book. And TV Roger seemed to be shown as a bit more 18th than 20th century in his manner toward Bree. I don’t see that exaggeration of his male insensitivity and her temper tantrums does a service to the story. We have been shown their better qualities in their first appearances in the earlier books. They were quite likable then even with their faults. I understand some things have to change for the TV drama, including getting the characters defined. Exaggeration is no substitute for a more gentle treatment that informs rather than misleads the audience.

      • Eileen Cobb

        I will have to think more about Roger’s character. It may be that I have been skipping past the more problematic aspects of his character in the books (like his kissing tendencies and blind spots and old-fashioned ideas) because I love his intellectual but strong and emotionally connected self. But it’s also possible that the TV writing doesn’t do him justice. Something I will be tracking this season!

    • Lisa Furey

      I just watched this episode tonight a little behind her in Ireland! One thing I do think the writers got right was the sense of wanted to knock Brianna and Roger’s heads together I remember feeling the same when I read the books! But I have to give credit although Briannas rape is revealed in a very different way in the book this episode made me cry for Brianna something I didn’t do in the book. I wasn’t sure about this season especially the first couple of episodes but I think it’s getting better with each episode

  7. Patricia Taylor

    So intuitive- thank you. I also did not like Roger’s departure but watching the segment after the show matt brown said he did not like it but the female writers wanted Brianna strong- so that’s the explanation

    Sent from my iPhone

      • Lizzie Bee Gee

        Me too Beth! Both Roger’s & Bree’s actions are so questionable for me throughout this ep. I read the bks too. But I just hate tv Roger to the point I question why she agreed to the handfast. Re the boots after the rape, I imagine the barmaid maybe did that out of guilt & her inability to have done more.

        TY always Beth for sharing ur insights & Happy Holidays 😘

  8. tabby1249

    It’s disorienting, frightening, and angering to feel “less than” as women then and women now often feel. As you said, Brianna never thought about the ramifications of walking at night alone on the streets of 18th century Wilmington just as women today often don’t consider the consequences of being out alone at night, failing to keep an eye on their cocktail, choosing a first floor apartment or walking to their car without their head being on a swivel in watchful concern. The “blind eye’ disregard of the tavern patrons while Bree was being brutalized was chilling but no more so than the victimization of rape survivors as a defense strategy for their attackers. Women have always had to play by a different set of rules and adjust their actions, attitudes and existence to suit societal expectations for appropriate female behavior or risk being told “you brought it in yourself.”

    We’d like to think we’ve gained some degree of agency over our lives but women are pretty much as vulnerable now as we were then and because of that our choices are often limited by the vulnerability encoded in our collective, gender specific DNA. I may be unduly cynical, but women today are only slightly less vulnerable than Bree. The “Me too” movement may have called atention to the inequities, sexual harassment and precarious position of women in the workplace but whether it will have lasting impact is yet to be determined.

  9. Beth, as always, you share insights I haven’t fully considered, and you are so correct about the contrast in this episode’s capture of the “women of Wilmington” in a moment of time. It is an important reminder about how dependent women back then (and largely now) are on the graciousness and compassion of the men in their lives, whether he is husband, father, or political leader. It does help to know Jamie and Claire have overcome many of their earlier misunderstandings to become the partnership they are – one can only hope that Roger and Bree’s impulsive actions, even more devastating than the book Roger and Bree, will also be redeemed. Thank you again for your thoughtful sharing.
    ~Emily

  10. Nancy C.

    So beautifully said, Beth. I’ve only watched the episode one time but what was clear is the dynamics of the women. Thanks for your putting all of them into perspective.

    For those who think Sophie Skelton isn’t right for the role should now feel sadly mistaken. My goodness, she just nailed it. I seriously wept for Bree. And Sophie was so amazing.

    Withholding comments about Roger. Maybe he left to take piss. Maybe to walk around the block.

    We only have 5 episodes left and then we get to spend many months agonizing. Let’s all agree that this is a great season! And there will be many more beyond 5 and 6. Right?

    • Lizzie Bee Gee

      I dunno. I imagine there will be no stopping Seasons 5-6. But for me S1 set the gold standard & those next seasons have only 12 eps each.

  11. Hi Beth, I totally agree with every word you said. You are right, Bree is acting as if she was still in the 20th Century and is totally ignorant of how perilous her position is. I loved how they showed B & R’s “wedding” it was tender and full of love. I don’t like how they are portraying Roger, I too don’t understand why they had to change that part of the story. They made him look like a complete jerk.

    I’m not sure why they felt it necessary to have the rape happen directly after B&R’s union. The non-bookies will have a field day trying to figure out who Jem’s Dad is. I’m so glad they didn’t show the rape scene. It was far more effective just hearing Bree’s pleas for help. Placing her boots so neatly as if nothing was amiss was brilliant, it made me shudder.
    I always find this section of the book difficult to read but just hearing the audio version made the violence of the attack more real and sinister it was gob smacking. The indifference of the men listening to the attack made me cringe. Things are not perfect for many women today and it’s hard to reconcile the fact that so many women are still treated like property in the 21st Century.
    This episode was very thought provoking. Sophie and Rik did a great job. Ed Speleer is something else – oh man he’s such a believable Bonnet.

    On a happier note. I wish you and your’s a Merry Christmas and wonderful 2019.

    • Nancy C.

      Seriously, didn’t it take at least a few more books to determine who Jems father was? I thought, for trying to include so much, that this episode was really great.

  12. SI Sharon

    You are my favorite Outlander blogger. I like to read your posts before any of the others because you always add something new to think about. Even if Claire had been able to prepare her,Bree would not be equipped to deal with women’s lots in the late eighteenth century. We saw how things worked in Scotland, France, England, the Caribbean, and in colonial America. Even the Native Americans had gender stratification. And each of the women in your post had to find ways to adapt and live in this world.. For me, watching these women use their intelligence and skills to survive, and for so many, flourish gives me solace and hope.

  13. Claire

    1). Why would Claire hide the fact that she has a child from Marsali, or anyone else, for that matter? It will be hard to hide the fact when Bree actually shows up. 2). Changing the way Roger leaves has an impact on the rest of the season. When he left to find gemstones for their return, it made much more sense. Briana now has no reason to expect to see him again, so would not want to keep waiting for him to return. 3). The drama and conflict in DOA is all about lack of communication…between Bree and Lizzie about what happened to her, and who did it, causing her to assume Roger was the culprit. Claire and Bree keeping things from Jamie about the rape, not showing Jamie the ring or telling him about Bonnet, Jamie and Ian keeping big secrets from Claire and Bree, even Brianna and Roger using both of their last names, causing people to search for Roger Wakefield, instead of MacKenzie.

  14. Lisa Nappi

    Beth, I agree with your final comments about how you don’t understand why the story was changed by Roger leaving. Moreover, what was more horrifying (as you’ve said) — Brianna’s rape or the complete acceptance of it by all who were present in the tavern? Brutal. All that said, wonderful acting by Sophie and Richard in this episode, and a totally engrossing, sexy love scene. Well done. I look forward to your comments each week — you totally get this show! Thank you, and Happy Holidays.

  15. Bev in Boulder

    “I believe the women of “Wilmington” have a lot to say about how rough the seas are for women then and I would argue…now.” I completely agree with this sentiment. Despite the Me Too movement women who report assaults still aren’t believed. The recent SCOTUS confirmation hearing proved that.

    In general I loved your comments on this episode. I understand why non-bookies (I love that expression!) dislike him so much and I would too if I wasn’t a reader. Can’t understand why the show leaves out important, plot-driving details like Roger knowing that Bonnet having the jewels. The way they’ve left it now, Bree has absolutely no reason to be expecting Roger to show up at the Ridge. I’m reserving judgement because they may be going to fix some of that on Sunday. I seem to remember Roger yelling up at Brianna’s window in the tavern in the book. That could still happen.

    Lizzie Bee Gee, I like your thought, but don’t think there’s anyway Jamie would ever allow that to happen.

    ps. I will always regret that this series didn’t get made 20 or more years ago because Sean Bean was born to play Stephen Bonnet. He even fits the book physical description where green eyes are an important plot point.

  16. Jacquelyn Kerner

    Terrific essay, Beth. I think both the book Roger and the show Roger, just didn’t understand, as Brianna didn’t, just how dangerous it was there and that time. Despite recent experience, I’m not sure if the reality of past has entirely sunk in. For Brianna it does shortly after, but if Roger was thinking clearly, he wouldn’t have left in either situation.
    It was a tough episode to watch.

  17. PattyCakes

    This episode was great for showing just how bad the women did have it. And the boots was significant–it was another woman who cares enough to nearly set them to one side. I am always thankful I live in this time. My generation was a mix of the stay at home moms, those who have struggled from lack of higher education (I know from personal experience, always showing on the resume that I have some college but no degree), and yet forged on to have careers. I have been single forever, by choice, because I did not like the choices of the men who were available. I carved out a career and did as well as I could expect. However, as the youngest child, and female, it was silently “expected” of me to care for our aging parents, which I did. Thus, it didn’t give all of the opportunities I needed or wanted. I have enjoyed a good life, just not the one I had hoped for, while also a lot better than it could have been. I watched the equal rights marches and bra burning on TV not daring to get involved (no support from family and friends if I did), and we still earned more respect over the decades. Life isn’t great, and we women have taken many hits in the past couple of years, but I know our fight continues with the younger generations listening and acting. We have come a very long way in the past 200+ years and we will never go back. We learned a long time ago that we can pick up those stones thrown at us and throw them back with great accuracy.

  18. Susan Mills

    I think we all know how difficult it was for women back then but can never really understand it. I think this is what Brianna is experiencing. She is young and thinks she knows but reality hits her hard. It was super painful to watch and I had to block my ears as I could not stand to hear her cries for help. Incredibly well done scene that hits the nail right on the head. I don’t think they would have conveyed the brutality of it any other way.

  19. Lisa Furey

    I just watched this episode tonight a little behind her in Ireland! One thing I do think the writers got right was the sense of wanted to knock Brianna and Roger’s heads together I remember feeling the same when I read the books! But I have to give credit although Briannas rape is revealed in a very different way in the book this episode made me cry for Brianna something I didn’t do in the book. I wasn’t sure about this season especially the first couple of episodes but I think it’s getting better with each episode

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