Why Laoghaire Matters

Okay, my friends, shall we finally tackle Laoghaire? 

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Not literally, of course, although I know many of you would do so if given the chance. No, let’s examine Laoghaire for her character, her place in the Outlander canon, and why she matters. 

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Because she does matter. Love her (like few fans) or hate her (like most fans), Laoghaire (exquisitely played by Nell Hudson) is one of the most believable characters Diana Gabaldon created. We all know, or have known, women like Laoghaire— women who never mature, who never engage significantly in their community, and who carry their bitterness around to the detriment of others. 

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Readers have previously commented with disapproval whenever I express any sort of empathy for Laoghaire, so let me be clear: I do not think she has many redeeming qualities. She raised two intelligent and competent daughters, which maybe speaks well of her parenting, but otherwise I’m in agreement with most fans that she is not a great person. As with Geneva, however, we do not have to like Laoghaire but we should strive to understand her. By holding her in contrast with the other female Outlander characters we can see how clearly she is lacking— and how she is a cautionary tale of what not to become. 

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So, let’s aim to understand her just a bit. Our limited glimpses of her father suggest he’s probably a jerk, willing to have her beat for “inappropriate behavior”…which, I mean, show me an adolescent who hasn’t engaged in inappropriate behavior. She’s a teenager when she falls for Jamie and, given the way he heroically takes her beating and then participates in a tongue wrestle with her in the alcove, she’s not too off-base in assuming he cares for her (at least hormonally).

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She waits for him to return from rent collecting, eagerly anticipating more alcove face-sucking action, only to be shocked by the news he has married a Sassenach. She’s married and widowed twice, and it’s suggested in the novels and the series that at least one of her husbands was abusive. She finally marries Jamie in middle age, only to find the marriage lacking and unsuccessful. And, to rub salt in the wound, Jamie’s first wife shows up after twenty years to take him back.

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Wallowing in her own self-pity, Laoghaire never rises above any of these setbacks or challenges. Her world view is myopic, never really extending beyond how it relates to Jamie Fraser. 

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And that’s a dangerous position for any woman. We never individualize if we only ever define our worth as how it relates to a romantic partner. When we stop viewing women as friends, and instead view them as competition, our world gets very small indeed. With such a narrow focus we never mature and we never grow. We run the risk, as a brilliant man once opined, of being lassies when we are fifty.

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My dad was an army pilot and he is fond of saying “Get your head out of the cockpit,” meaning if you don’t see the big picture- whether in flying or in life- you’re putting yourself in danger. And that’s Laoghaire’s problem- she let herself become too insular and never saw beyond her own short focus. She never saw her own life as anything beyond how it relates to Jamie. She never saw the big picture. 

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Part of that is her own inherent immaturity, some is likely attributed to the uncontrollable circumstances of her life. Regardless of the reasons, if we compare her to the other women of Outlander we can see how obviously she pales in terms of loyalty, friendship, and support of others. While Jenny takes in extra mouths to feed (despite short resources), and Claire never hesitates to help the sick or wounded, Laoghaire never extends herself beyond the minimum. In Drums of Autumn, as we may also see in Season 4, she is constantly asking for more— not because she needs more, but because she doesn’t want others to have what she cannot. 

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That doesn’t make Laoghaire very admirable, but it certainly makes her very human— and realistic. How often are women fed this false narrative- by movies, the media, politicians, CEO’s, etc- that there are limited positions for us? There is only one good man, only one spot at the corporate table, and room for only one woman at the top. All too often we are led to believe that there is only one way to achieve anything, and that is to fight other women for it.

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It’s a common myth into which we buy, but examination of our own experiences reveals that women are strongest when we support each other. Think of the times in your life when you have needed others— a meal train after a new baby, a potluck during a wake, a neighbor to help watch the kids during an emergency— chances are those lending hands belonged to women.

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There is a passage in Written In My Own Heart’s Blood that I find particularly moving for its accuracy. For non-novel readers I will leave out some details to avoid spoilers (I ask that you please do the same), but in this scene the characters have gathered for the funeral of a child:

“The women clustered…hugging and weeping, then gathering in small clumps with their friends, drifting back to the tables to rearrange things or put out more bread or cakes.”

Women, as clichéd as it sounds, knit the fabric of community.

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We, as women, have to support each other; if we don’t there is no substitute. We have to believe women when they tell us they’ve been abused, because the chances are extremely high they are telling the truth. We have to support the decisions we make as women. We need to show up for women who decide to have children, but we cannot criticize women who decide to pursue careers; we also cannot judge women who choose or have to do both. We need be present with listening hearts for all women- marginalized women, women with whom we disagree politically, and even for women we will never meet. It is the only way we will ever achieve anything; this world is hard enough without us being hard on each other. 

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Perhaps Diana Gabaldon will redeem Laoghaire in some meaningful way before the series completion— we’ve already seen some glimpses of it in An Echo in the Bone, when Laoghaire seeks help from Claire with some degree of humility (again, no spoilers please). Regardless of her eventual fate, Laoghaire is a lesson in the power and destruction of toxic jealousy. So, with that message in mind, I implore my fellow women to encourage and sustain each other. Listen, empathize, help, and empower. The community and equality we can build together is a beautiful thing, but we will never achieve anything if we show up waving our proverbial weapons.

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Slàinte.

photos: STARZ

 

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12 thoughts on “Why Laoghaire Matters”

  1. You write so well and exactly how I feel too. I am no fan of Laoghaire but I felt sorry for her when I read the books as well as in the show. She wanted what she could not have and once she had him, she did not want him nor knew what to do with him when he was in her presence as her husband. I wanted to smack her silly!

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    1. Thank you for reading! Yes, I do feel sorry for her if only for the way she let her feelings and jealousy waste her life. She’s no angel, but she does get a fairly sad life.

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  2. She was the master. She played them all perfectly. She got to try and kill
    Claire, which’s didn’t seem to matter much to Jamie as he married her knowing it (in the series), she got him for as long as she wanted him as per his explanation to Claire as he felt it was appropriate to delve into their ‘sexual dysfuntion’ with the woman whose life she tried to end, then ended up with a daddy for her kids and years of financial support. So leggy didn’t lose. She’s the big winner here. She ended up with the man she really did want in the end, money and a daddy for her kids. Who was the loser again? Lol.

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  3. Thank you once again for your thoughts. You seem to be able to put into words what many of us think. I feel sorry for Leoghaire; she was a product of her time and place. Without characters like her what sort of a one-sided story would we have? It’s like Claire said to King Louis, without the dark how can we see light. It’s the same with Leoghaire. She was living in the only world she knew and because of her obsession with Jamie could not see any reason. In Echo she tells Jamie all she wanted was for him to need her. Is that so bad? It’s her lack of insight and that obsession that prevented her from behaving differently. I’m not saying she didn’t behave badly but I think she did so without realising what the eventual outcome would be. I hope her character is able to mature as the books proceed. I think this is Diana’s strength; she knows people and how they interact and develop.

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    1. I totally agree- I think a lot of Laoghaire’s shortcomings exist in her ability to see the full extent of consequences; she never really matures out of that. She’s a complex character- I’m interested to see what happens to her in the last two novels.

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  4. I enjoyed your remarks and find them particularly timely as I watch my granddaughters struggling with “mean girls” at school. I also experienced an interesting phenomenon working as a nurse with many women in a stressful hospital setting. I have come to conclude that women when put into a war-like setting will oddly attack one another rather than the common enemy. I can only conclude that biologically we are programmed to fight for the male that would be the best for us reproductively.
    I really believe it’s time for this nonsense to cease!
    We truly need each other, perhaps emotionally even more than males. When I’m in trouble I first think of my female compatriots….not a male, even when I was married.
    All of us need more love, more compassion, more understanding, more humans showing up for us. Thank you for the reminder that we should stand up for the ones that will likely show up…..other women.

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    1. Thank you for reading! I’m sorry about your granddaughters- somehow watching or own children or grandchildren deal with social relationships brings back all these memories and feelings and insecurities about our own social experiences.

      I have to hope things are changing as more women learn to lean and count on each other.

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  5. When i read your musings i think to myself how did she see inside my thoughts lol. I think you already know that i am a frequent defender of Laoghaire. It doesnt mean that i approve of what she does, it just means that i have compassion for her at times and i understand where she is coming from at times.

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  6. Well written and so insightful!
    I cringe at the vitriolic comments often made about Laoghaire (and sometimes indirectly targetting TV series Jamie’s character too). Neither “Book” nor TV Jamie didn’t stop to ask about her character before standing up in her place to take punishment, and I suspect that his chivalry would have been unchanged, even if someone had told him that he was making a rod for his own back. His refusal to be judgemental of Laoghaire persists throughout the books (with the one exception of his outburst when Claire eventually revealed L’s involvement in the Witch Trial business). Maybe we can all take heed of his example.
    Thanks you so much for this piece. I enjoy all your writings.

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