Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Drums of Autumn (Outlander #4) by Diana Gabaldon

The love affair between the highlander Jamie and his Sassanach Claire continues.  Having successfully reunited and finding themselves in America, it's time to build a life together at last, after a twenty year separation.  Though Claire and Jamie love each other, their life path certainly cannot run smooth and whether it is the Indigenous people of the area, the untamed land, or the continual threat from the English, they must stay on their toes.

For her part, Brianna is having trouble reconciling the fact that her mother is gone. Due to the difference of time between them, Claire is technically long dead but for Brianna, her mother remains alive in many ways.  Chief among Brianna's concerns is to discover whether Claire found Jamie and if they are happy in the life they share together.  Brianna must also deal with the growing love she feels for Roger but before she commit her life to him, she must find her parents, no matter how dangerous the journey is.

The POV for Drums of Autumn changes several times but the story remains easy to follow, even if the characters seem to become more and more despicable with each word they utter.  Gabaldon continues along with the homophobia, racism and yes, rape that we have become accustomed to in this series. At this point, I believe that Gabaldon must deem these problematic elements necessary to her story.

Having the Frasers in the New World and exposed to Indigenous people gives rampant opportunity for racist behaviour.  To some degree, Jamie is a man of his time and has a racist attitude towards the Native Americans; however, this didn't have to happen this way simply because the Outlander series is a  historical fictional novel.  Obviously, even then, there were those who saw the humanity of the indigenous communities and it would not have broken the tenuous historical setting of the series to have Jamie see people of colour as his equals.  Jamie and Claire both consistently refer to the Native American tribes with which they interact with as savages.  Claire however does not have the same excuse as Jamie, because having lived in 1968, she is completely knowledgeable about the disastrous effects of colonization on the Indigenous peoples of America. Claire is only interested in the Indigenous tribes to the degree that she can learn about herbs from them.

Since the Frasers are in pre-revolutionary America, slavery as an institution is flourishing.   For her part, Claire continues to be extremely against  slavery and considering the problems Jamie has had with the English, he is not in favour of it either.  Jamie turns down a large inheritance, in part because it would make him the owner of a large amount of slaves.  Don't get excited, remember whose series this is.  Claire and Jamie's daughter Brianna feels akin to her parents on the issue of slavery and also attempts to reject the same inheritance her father turned down to avoid becoming the owner of slaves.  Brianna, however, is partial to the way she benefits from slavery.
"She ought to feel guilty at being waited on by slaves, she thought drowsily.  She must remember to, later.  There were a lot things she didn't mean to think about until later; one more wouldn't hurt." (841) 
 Owning slaves is wrong but having them do labour for you apparently isn't all that bad.  Yeah, for soul crushing white supremacist institutions, as long as those near it can manage to twist the narrative away from their privilege and culpability.

Since the Outlander series is at its heart historical fiction, in Drums of Autumn we are offered what at first seems like the star crossed love affair between Brianna and Roger.  Roger, like Frank, is a historian and, like Jamie, he is a horrible love interest by any stretch of the imagination.  When Roger pursues Brianna and asks her to marry him, she refuses and instead suggests that they have sex. Roger is quick to reject the offer and slut shame Brianna.
"What d'ye mean by making me such an offer - and you a nice Catholic girl, straight out of Mass! I thought ye were a virgin." (341)
Keep in mind that this is happening in 1968 and not the 1700's and yet Roger is scandalized.  Instead of considering the offer or reasonably turning it down,  Roger pulls Brianna into an embrace and forces a kiss on her, though she kicks struggles and even bites him.  Isn't he romantic folks? Nothing screams romantic like a man being horrified by being propositioned for sex and then forcing himself on you because he wants to mark his territory.

That's right, Brianna is a virgin and Roger has had his dalliances.  So much for the earlier subversion of Claire and Jamie.  Roger is absolutely insistent that he and Brianna marry before they have sex. Brianna's virginity will feature largely in the story.  In many ways, Brianna is little more than a possession to Roger.  When Brianna travels through the stones to find her parents, Roger swiftly follows, fearing that Brianna isn't prepared to deal with harsh life in pre-revolutionary America. When the two are finally reunited, Roger's first instinct is to threaten violence.
He slid a hand down her back and got a firm grip on one round buttock. She wore no underclothes beneath the loose breeches.

“I mean that were I a man of this time, instead of my own, nothing would give me greater pleasure than to lay my belt across your arse a dozen times or so.”

She didn’t seem to consider this a serious threat. In fact, he thought she was laughing.

“So since you’re not from this time, you wouldn’t do it? Or you would, but you wouldn’t enjoy it?”

“Oh, I’d enjoy it,” he assured her. “There’s nothing I’d like better than to take a stick to you.”

She was laughing. Suddenly furious, he shoved her off and sat up.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“I thought you’d found someone else! Your letters, the last few months…and then that last one. I was sure of it. It’s that I want to beat you for—not for lying to me or going off without telling me—for making me think I’d lost you!”

She was silent for a moment. Her hand came out of darkness and touched his face, very softly.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I never meant for you to think that. I only wanted to keep you from finding out, until it was too late. (pg 660)
So, he crosses space and time and survives the treacherous travel from Scotland to America to find her because he loves her so much but it would give him pleasure to beat her?

This isn't even the last time Brianna is attacked.  On her way to finally meet her parents, Brianna seeks to retrieve Claire's gold wedding band from a pirate and is raped for her trouble.  What would a Gabaldon novel be without rape? Like many rape victims, Brianna blames herself, wondering whether or not she would have been victimized if she had fought.  As a fellow rape victim, Jamie decides to assure his daughter that she could not have prevented what happened and of course, the best way to accomplish this is to physically assault her.  Nothing like re-victimizing a victim to make them feel secure I suppose (yes, that's snark).
With each repetition, he dug a thumb hard between her ribs.

“You fucking bastard!” she screamed. She braced her feet and yanked down on his arm as hard as she could, bringing it into biting range. She lunged at his wrist, but before she could sink her teeth in his flesh, she found herself jerked off her feet and whirled through the air.

She ended hard on her knees, one arm twisted up behind her back so tightly that her shoulder joint cracked. The strain on her elbow hurt; she writhed, trying to turn into the hold, but couldn’t budge. An arm like an iron bar clamped across her shoulders, forcing her head down. And farther down.

Her chin drove into her chest; she couldn’t breathe. And still he forced her head down. Her knees slid apart, her thighs forced wide by the downward pressure.

“Stop!” she grunted. It hurt to force sound through her constricted windpipe. “Gd’s sk, stp!”

The relentless pressure paused, but did not ease. She could feel him there behind her, an inexorable, inexplicable force. She reached back with her free hand, groping for something to claw, something to hit or bend, but there was nothing.

“I could break your neck,” he said, very quietly. The weight of his arm left her shoulders, though the twisted arm still held her bent forward, hair loose and tumbled, nearly touching the floor. A hand settled on her neck. She could feel thumb and index fingers on either side, pressing lightly on her arteries. He squeezed, and black spots danced before her eyes.

“I could kill you, so.”

The hand left her neck, and touched her, deliberately, knee and shoulder, cheek and chin, emphasizing her helplessness. She jerked her head away, not letting him touch the wetness, not wanting him to feel her tears of rage. Then the hand pressed sudden and brutal on the small of her back. She made a small, choked sound and arched her back to keep her arm from breaking, thrusting out her hips backward, legs spread to keep her balance.

“I could use ye as I would,” he said, and there was a coldness in his voice. “Could you stop me, Brianna?" (page 789)
And this cruel lesson to Brianna about not blaming herself for being raped, comes courtesy of her father Jamie, the male protagonist of this series.  To her credit, Brianna does become enraged by this assault; however, her feelings of anger don't last long because once she understands that she couldn't have defended herself against her rapist, Brianna breaks down in tears.  For his part, Jamie justifies the assault of his daughter, as teaching her lesson because she would have been to stubborn to believe him, if he had just used words. As a father, Jamie certainly is a winner isn't he? However did Brianna grow to be a capable young woman without his influence?

When it comes to rape, though as aforementioned, Jamie is a survivor himself, he initially questions Brianna about whether or not she is telling the truth about what happened to her. Jamie is determined to find Brianna a husband, so that she is not publicly shamed for being pregnant out of wedlock.
“The bairn must have a father. And if ye willna tell me the name of the man who’s given ye a swollen belly, so that I might make him do his duty by ye—”

“You think I’d marry the man who did this?” Her voice cracked again, this time with astonishment. His voice sharpened slightly.

“Well, I’m thinkin’—are ye maybe playin’ wi’ the truth a bit, lass? Perhaps it wasna rape at all; perhaps it was that ye took a mislike to the man, and ran—and made up the story later. Ye were not marked, after all. Hard to think a man could force a lass of your size, if ye were unwilling altogether.”

“You think I’m lying?”

He raised one brow in cynicism. Furious, she swung a hand at him, but he caught her by the wrist.“Ah, now,” he said, reprovingly. “Ye’re no the first lass to make a slip and try to hide it, but—” He caught the other wrist as she struck at him, and pulled them both up sharply.

“Ye dinna need to make such a fuss,” he said. “Or is it that ye wanted the man and he threw ye over? Is that it?" (page 788)
This isn't even the only time, Jamie doubts whether or not Brianna is raped. Thankfully for Roger, it's Jamie's doubt about Brianna being raped that stops him from killing Roger in cold blood.  Not only do we have a gratuitous rape, the rape is then denied by the man closest to the victim because well, some women lie.  Though Brianna is once again outraged, Jamie's response is framed as absolutely reasonable.

To make matters worse, Brianna in then slut shamed by her cousin and her father for the one time she had consensual sex with Roger before she was raped.  According to Ian, Brianna's consent meant that she "played the whore". Brianna is once again forced to defend herself.  Claire for some reason freezes like a deer in the headlights because the Fraser temper is paralyzing.

After reading all of this, it would be easy to feel pity for Brianna but just as Brianna is oppressed, she certainly doesn't mind oppressing others.  After  seeing Grey sneaking out of the slave quarters and his lack of attraction to her, Brianna guesses that Grey is gay.  In order to avoid marrying the man her Aunt Jacosta has chosen for her, Brianna decides to blackmail Grey into marrying her.
She felt mildly sick, but she'd have to do it.  She'd hoped it could be avoided, but there seemed no other way.

"If you don't agree to marry me, " she said, "I'll expose you."

"You'll do what?"  His usual mask of urbanity had disappeared, leaving puzzlement and the beginnings of wariness in its stead.

She was wearing woolen mittens, but her fingers felt frozen.  So did everything else, except the warm lump of her slumbering child.

"I know what you were doing - the other night, at the salve quarters.  I'll tell everyone; my aunt, Mr. Campbell, the sheriff.  I'll write letters," she said, her lips feeling numb even as she uttereed the ridiculous threat. "To the Governor, and the Governor of Virginia. They put p-pederasts in the pillory here; Mr. Campbell told me so
It's only when Brianna learns that Grey was once married to a woman and she fears that he might want sex out of the arrangement she is blackmailing him into, that Brianna begins to back down and apologise.  And while Grey is enraged, he does agree to fake an engagement with Brianna until Roger can be located.  Of course, Grey has to be accommodating and forgiving to Jamie's child because of his long unrequited love for Jamie.  Yes, roll your eyes now.  It's also worth noting that Grey could not have had a consenting relationship with a slave because no slave would have had the ability to consent to Grey's sexual overtures, making Grey yet another gay rapist in this series. I suppose we can just be thankful that the rape was not depicted as graphically as all of the other rapes in this series.

The other gay character in this series is Mr. Alderdyce and he appears long enough to attempt to trick Brianna into marriage at the behest of his mother.  Mrs. Alderdyce wants the marriage precisely because Brianna is pregnant and she has come to realise that her gay son marrying a woman who is already pregnant, is the only way she will ever get a grandchild. Thankfully, this is the last of the GLBT representation in Drums of Autumn.

I know that thus far, this review has been horrible.  I have in fact quoted extensively from the text for the sole purpose of  illustrating exactly how bad this novel is in terms of representation.  Gabaldon does however redeem herself a little bit with Jamie's Aunt Jacosta.  After the death of her husband, Jacosta runs a huge plantation by herself, outwitting the English government every step of the way.  Though blind, Jacosta even rides horses.  Of course, all of her ability to negotiate the world is only possible because of the way that the slaves help with even the minor details of placing something as insignificant as a glass, in a specific manner, to insure that Jacosta never so much as stumbles even slightly.  Much like Collum, from the first book, Jacosta is in complete control of her environment, logical and strong willed.  It's hard not to like her.  She is perhaps the only shining spot in this massive pile of shit.

With the Drums of Autumn complete, I am now halfway through this series.  If it were not for the continual denial of the heinous nature of this series, at this point I would certainly give it up, having found nothing redeeming in it.  I have heard this series described in glowing terms for its treatment of women, and GLBT characters, even as it is of course absolute the opposite.  In this book, Brianna is assaulted three times and two of those times are by men who claim to love her. Claire has to fight with Jamie about giving Brianna the option to have an abortion because Himself (read: Jamie), sees abortion as murder and most importantly, though the child may be the product of rape, he is directly related to Jamie through blood. Even though Jamie is well aware that carrying this child to term could mean death for Brianna and will stop her from returning to her own time, for Jamie, it's still murder.  Claire fighting for Brianna's right to choose, is the only remotely feminist moment in the thousand pages I struggled through.

Almost every time the story turned to a marginalized character, I found myself flinching, knowing that something bad was coming.  None of it could even be said to have been necessary to the plot.  For instance, why couldn't Brianna just have gotten pregnant from consensual sex with Roger? Why did she have to be raped?  There is just no justifying the gratuitous rape in this series.

I suppose now that I am at the halfway point in this heinous series that it can only get better from here but I suspect that the gratuitous rape, sexism, homophobia and racism are ingrained elements in the Outlander series and will continue until it's finally over.  To that end, if you have been reading these reviews and have yet to start the series, consider yourself saved from 4,000 pages of some of the most offensive tropes, masquerading as historical romance.