(Spousal) Abuse in Historical Fiction… or “Bear with me as I rant about why excusing abuse as ‘part of the times’ does injustice to the victim, the abuser, and the period.”
For those of you who do not enjoy rants about social justice or feminism, I’m sorry. I’ll return to my regular blogging very soon.
Recently, I did a review of Diana Gabaldon’s historical fiction/romance novel, Outlander, in which I clearly outlined my reasons for condemning the book as sexist. About half way through the book, the protagonist, Claire, is violently beaten by her lover/husband, Jamie, as punishment for endangering him and his clan. While I could have accepted the scene as a pivotal point in Claire’s character development or point of tension between the main characters, I could not bear the fact that: 1.) Jamie admits to enjoying beating her, 2.) Claire forgives him almost instantly, 3.) Jamie proceeds to rape her the next day, and 4.) after said abuse, Claire tells Jamie she loves him for the first time. For these reasons, I stopped reading the book about halfway through.
Now, I have also voiced my support for the TV show, Outlander, as I believe it shows promise of taking what was originally a very engaging and unique story and removing the problematic elements. Characters in the show have said that they despise rape and hopefully, that has set the tone for the rest of the show’s run. Other interviews have also showed that the show’s lead actress has feminist values, and in general, the Starz series is praised for being more feminist than Game of Thrones.
However, I am still wary and will continue to be wary until I see how Starz handles the infamous beating scene. While some sources claim that the beating scene will be included, there is no indicator of how it will be handled. My hope is that they change their mind and cut it (since it hasn’t been filmed yet) or they handle it in a way that does not romanticize violence and domestic abuse.
Supporters of Gabaldon’s book and the scene excuse the behavior as “part of the times,” and yes, spousal abuse did happen in the 18th century.