Bidding farewell to a loved one in the 18th century was a constant test of the bond holding them together, coupled with the strength to carry on without them until they returned – if they did. You couldn’t call, or text. All you could do was wait, wonder, and worry. How does one channel that fear, panic, and possible finality when watching them leave may very well be the last time you see them (in this world, anyway)?
In “The Watch,” Jamie is forced to accompany the men on a dangerous raid, but Claire does her best to make light of yet another painful separation. “You heard your sister – haste ye back, or else.” The barely-there nod between Claire and Jamie speaks volumes as a testament to their faith, love, and commitment to each other, along with the hope that this separation isn’t permanent. Coming from a time when at least there were telephones, Claire’s been thrust into this world of unknowing – what emotions flood her heart and soul when she watches Jamie turn and leave?
This time it’s Jenny who has to face separation from her brother Jamie as he travels with Claire to Beaufort Castle (home of their grandfather, Lord Lovat). She’s parted from him plenty of times before, but it doesn’t seem to get any easier. “If you don’t come back, brother, I’ll never forgive you.” Bull-headed Scots they are, but Jamie reassures Jenny as best he can. “Never is a very long time.” She stands, stoic, in the archway of Lallybroch, but Ian knows what’s really happening inside his willful, headstrong wife.
Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh know that battle of Prestonpans will be victorious for the Scots, but at what price? Claire knows the battle will be won, but nothing of the casualties. There’s no time for a private goodbye – they’re surrounded by the women preparing the makeshift hospital and the men waiting for Jamie to accompany them. One brief moment, a passionate kiss, and that nod that says what words cannot. “On your way, soldier,” Claire whispers, and with a bow and a bit of a grin, Jamie is gone.
What happens in that moment? How does either of them accept the fact that they may never see each other again? If it were me, I’d collapse on the floor in a sea of tears, unable to come to grips with the possibility that I may have just seen the love of my life for the last time. As book readers and/or show watchers, we know Jamie survives the Battle of Prestonpans and returns unhurt (except for that bit about the horse stepping on him). But Claire doesn’t know that when she watches Jamie leave for the battle. How did people face separation in times like these? What did they draw upon to see them through the unknowing and uncertainty that inevitably followed?
It seems the pain of separation is a common theme. In the film, “Out of Africa” (set in the early 1900s), Karen Blixen says, “It’s an odd feeling, farewell. There is some envy in it. Men go off to be tested for courage. If we’re tested at all, it’s for patience, for doing without, for how well we can endure loneliness.”
Do you think enduring the pain of separation and the loneliness that follows is more of a female affliction? Or do men just hide it better?
2 Comments Add yours
An interesting essay and observation. Without the instant connections we have now, I sense that very likely many had a sixth sense of connection with those who were away. Even today, men react to separation in many ways. Sometimes in anticipation of a trip by a close family member there are changes in behavior. And when someone very close leaves forever, the experience can be internalized, or seen in a change in behavior. I have seen this in personal relationships.
Thank you, Alma! I really enjoyed your reaction and insight.