Feb 12 2014 5:30pm

A Love Letter to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander

Why does reading Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander create such ardent lovers out of so many of us? We end up soaking up—and relishing the plunge—just about everything in the 800 plus pages. It’s not only Jamie and Claire that get us, it’s also dialects that seemed impenetrable at first peruse, leisurely descriptions of daily 18th century Scottish life down to the medicinal plant-picking and impossible sanitary conditions. But we love it, and we actually kind of dream of the Outlander world as though there were something about it that would drive us throw away a life of flushing toilets, antibiotics and tampons, if we were just given the chance.

Well, one answer is that love is seductive, itself. And Outlander is kind of a love letter to, well, love. But it is also a love letter to the novel form, to the imagination, to the senses that can be aroused simply through words in a story.
Outlander has the characters necessary to really wallop us with idea of what romantic love can be, if only in a novel. Other love stories have been written, even of love across the centuries, but it’s hard to find a story that stirs feelings of ardor and attachment to its protagonists the way Outlander does. Jamie and Claire seem to have what everyone wants and then some, with her brains and delicate toughness and his wild muscularity and refined intellect. How many languages does the man speak?

They’re both brave but vulnerable, with that vulnerability creating the lovely bare intimacy that comes when all guards are abandoned. Storytellers like to do that, don’t they? And Gabaldon has pretty much done a tome’s worth of it with delightful and delicious results.

They’re also both selfish, or, at the very least unwilling in the most stubborn ways to do as the other wishes if it goes against what they require. Claire continually brings danger to herself and others. Jamie tells Claire that he’ll tell her why he married her when he wants to and only if he wants to. Aaaaaargh! Who does he think he is? And, yet, isn’t that part of his charm?

So, really, Outlander celebrates—and raises to high form—some of the conventions that make love stories great. Need. Turbulent times. The couple thrown together, lovers with good and bad in them who really seem human and are, therefore, more befitting the terms ‘hero’ and ‘heroine’ than so many other novels’ characters, just as colorful, but just not as ‘true.’ To create a story so expressive of the best in adventure and romance is, in itself, an expression of love and appreciation for storytelling. It’s a love letter.

Then there are the seemingly little things.

It’s all well and good for a romantic coupling to infect us with a fevered love bug, but how does one explain the pleasure of reading pages and pages about Claire’s work in the dispensary? How is it that something so seemingly mundane can suck us into the world as effectively as pagan rituals, dirks and swords, and family intrigue? How do we eat up the heavily-accented voices? That can be so cumbersome to the enjoyment of a novel, but here it is just one of the many details that permeate the novel to create a vacuum effect. Into the story we go.

Gabaldon seems to delight in every word. Don’t you get the feeling each was lovingly put down on paper? I imagine the reality has a bit more to do with intellectual elbow grease and a good computer, but it seems like a labor of love. It seems like Gabaldon’s imagination sweat the story onto the paper. And now we have something wonderful in our hands just waiting to be cooed over. Those are the long-term results of an effective love letter.

Finally, there are the love scenes themselves, which work with the story to evoke enough emotion to make the reading almost difficult sometimes. And they are extremely effective in revealing character. The love scenes actually manage to drive the plot forward by affecting the characters. Everything in the novel contributes somehow—to mood, character development, the plot. And, so, Outlander seduces us.

Just as a good love letter should.

Can't get enough Outlander coverage? Check out Heroes and Heartbreakers's Diana Gabaldon's Outlander Collection for more books and screen coverage.

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Aniko Eva Nagy reads, teaches and writes in Boston, Massachusetts, which she is happy to call her hometown, perhaps one of the best cities for a book lover. Head over to her blog,, for thoughts on the joy of books, and a bunch of general bookishness.

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Laura Bracken
1. Night -owl
I loved this love letter to Outlander! Beautifully written, and so true. Only Diana Gabaldon can write about beeswax candle making, and have you turning the page for more.
Carol Bryson
2. Carol Bryson
Beautifully written! Thank you for putting our thoughts into words! I do love these books and am constantly amazed at how well written they are and how nothing can compare to them.
Carol Bryson
3. kahintenn
I started the series in January and just finished The Fiery Cross (book 5). The love stories are wonderful, and the descriptions of daily life (and especially the lives of women) in the late 1700s are amazing. I'm enjoying the series very much, and will have finished books 6 and 7 in time for the release of Written In My Own Heart's Blood in June. Can't wait!
Carol Bryson
4. anieva
Night - owl, thank you so much for your your kind comments. Candle making - exactly! :-)

Carol Bryson, that's so kind of you to say. Thanks!

Kahintenn, Five of the books since January? That's so amazing! I wish I could do that, but I find them so intense (in a great way) that I'm super slow. I envy you!
Ruth Goldstein
5. ruthgold18
I've been sucked into her world since the beginning (1991 or so) - never leaving!
Carol Bryson
6. Heatherc
5!! there are 5 books! im on Voyager..
Carol Bryson
7. CFerguson
There are actually 7 books, plus a new one out in June.
Carol Bryson
8. LeslieL
I started these several months ago and I am just about to the end of the 5th book as well. I cannot get enough! Thank you for putting into words what how the rest of us feel about these books.
Carol Bryson
9. SherryJL
Yes, great article...exactly what I've been saying for many years!
Carol Bryson
10. Peggy Whyte
I would like to thank Diana for her awesome series, I am not a fan of romance books but this series is one of the most spellbinding books I have enjoyed in a long time. It was a matter of not being able to stop reading page after page book after book. I have already reread them the 3 times and I know I will read them many more times to come. THANK YOU SO MUCH
Carol Bryson
11. Debra E. Marvin
Very well put. Transporting fiction at its best.
12. lauralee1912
Diana was active in CompuServe's writing and books forums years ago and I had the pleasure of "meeting" her there. She puts a lot of work and her heart into her stories. I am so looking forward to seeing the series this year. It's been over 20 years since everyone started speculating who should play Jamie and Claire....
Carol Bryson
13. Lost in Love
While I've truly enjoyed these books from beginning to end the love and romance is nothing compared to what I have. I find it fascinating when people comment about the "hot and romantic" scenes.
But I'm not sure how boring folks love lives are if they are compelled to say how hot this book is.
Carol Bryson
14. BethanyNolet
I re-read them every year. All seven of them. I always find that I miss them by the time summer comes around! So excited for the new book!!!
Karen Barnett
15. LadyBarnett
I am very lucky to have met Diana a one of the Scottish Games that we hold every year here in Phoenix, Arizona. I don't think she will even remember me there were soooo many people trying to get her attention. But Diana is one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. She is very down to earth and just a very likable person. But I can't wait for the series to get here. I only have one problem, I don't get STARZ and the husband won't change our package, says it will cost to much. What am I to do??
Carol Bryson
16. Debra Leibowitz
Thank you for your beautifully written love letter. When I tell people I read 7 books, some of them over a thousand pages, in a month, they just don't get it. You do! I was so drawn in by the characters and especially the love story of Jamie and Claire that I read for hours just to be with them. I felt such a loss when I finished the series! Thank goodness the next book and the tv show will be coming along.
Carol Bryson
17. SireesAnwar
This was a beautiful love letter to Outlander. This perfectly expresses the love and devotion to the Outlander series.
Carol Bryson
18. anieva
Thank you for reading and for the lovely comments! It's so, so nice to hear that we all share these feelings!
Carol Bryson
20. Jovita
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Carol Bryson
21. Laura Buch
No one mentions this in any comments I've seen, but Diana is brilliant at describing how things smell . It really helps me to recreate the scene in my mind when people smell of jam and biscuits, or the outside has a faint whiff of pig fat, pine needles and turpentine. Love that she does this.
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