Welcome back! This is a political post…opt out now if you prefer not to mix politics with Outlander.
Oof. There is no other way to say it except this year has exquisitely sucked. My children have been home since March. I’ve watched close friends and their families battle (and be hospitalized from) COVID-19. I’ve seen our country grapple with centuries-old injustices, listening to Black voices shouting just to be heard. In the last few weeks my area of California has been surrounded by fire…the smoke congesting our air for weeks on end, while the sky literally snowed ash for days at a time. And, just when our air seemed to finally clear, our country lost a Supreme Court justice…a woman who was one of the last bastions of truth in our increasingly fragmented political landscape.
And that’s where we might begin this conversation about Geillis— by examining the concept of truth. Because Geillis is many things, but at her core she is a political zealot; there is perhaps no better way to examine “truth” than in the way we lose sight of it in the name of extremism.
Zealotry implies an extreme or excessive devotion to a cause and it exists in all facets of life, from religion and politics to high school sports to…wait for it…television or novel fandoms. But its ubiquity doesn’t make it any less dangerous— as one moves along the spectrum of a cause from “enthusiast,” to “fanatic” to “zealot,” there is a correlating loss of understanding of the world beyond that narrow scope of devotion. As our world focuses down to a singular cause we fail to see a larger picture. Geillis’s death, as created by Diana Gabaldon, is nothing short of brilliant— in the end Geillis has figuratively and literally lost her head.
Zealotry extends beyond ourselves, however. More often than not, we lose empathy for others as our attention is consumed by our fervor. If we have not experienced something ourselves— if it does not relate directly to that about which we are passionate— there is the risk that we view the experiences of others as less legitimate.
And this is nothing new, whether a global pandemic is deemed a hoax, or racism is dismissed outright, or misogyny is excused as “locker room talk.” In the same way a red-headed time-traveler assumes others are willing to die for a Stuart on the throne, zealotry numbs us to the needs of others— pain isn’t real unless it’s our own or until we’ve experienced it ourselves.
Some of that is human nature, some is willful ignorance, and some is intentionally malignant. So what stops us from barreling down that rabbit hole…what keeps us from losing our perspective? How do we attempt to keep our heads?
As in most things Outlander, the answer is love. Jamie and Claire’s actions, especially in Season 2, serve as a nice foil to Geillis’s motives. Whereas both parties endeavor to change history as it is written, they attempt to achieve their goals with entirely different approaches: Geillis is willing to kidnap, murder, and poison her way to success while the Frasers, conversely, rarely compromise their morality with their efforts. While Geillis sacrifices the lives of many for one purpose, the Frasers aim to save the lives of many by sacrificing their one cause. As Geillis increasingly loses her grasp on reality, the Frasers seem to sharpen their knowledge of the world and each other. By the time we are left with Jamie, Claire and Ian embracing each other outside of Rose Hall, the contrast is clear: the moral characters are elevated by love while the immoral one is left for dead alone in the dark. In the end, Geillis’s efforts were in vain…in every sense of the word.
Perhaps that is why we see Geillis over her lifetime constantly seek the truth from others. Why are you here, she implores of Claire in Seasons 1 and 3, beseeching her fellow time traveler for honesty. Twenty years of zealotry have left her unmoored from reality…she seeks truth from others because she no longer trusts anything beyond her cause.
I’ve sat on a thought piece about Geillis for awhile, but writing about her this week (and this year) seems apt. Perhaps no other Outlander character would slip so seamlessly into our current zeitgeist. It’s incredibly easy to imagine Geillis weaponizing social media, adopting the attractiveness of an Instagram influencer while peddling dangerous conspiracy theories. Her Facebook posts would contain articles of dubious origin or outright propaganda, their lack of veracity about which she may or may not be aware. And much of what she might say or promote would seep through to the masses, because our system is designed to believe and protect beautiful white women first and ask questions later (or never at all). Like our modern pundits, she would have her fair share of critics, but she would also likely enjoy a large fan base…her own zealous following. Her intentions would be debated, her honesty argued, her morality questioned.
I’m not sure that Geillis’s morality is all that ambiguous, however. In one column we have her sacrifice for Claire, her belief in Scotland’s independence, and her willingness to help women in terms of their reproductive rights. In the other column, we see all those things outweighed by her predilection for homicide, abduction, and pedophilia. She lies, owns slaves, and abuses nearly all of those around her. She clearly falls in the “not a good person” category.
But if there is anything good to glean from Geillis, perhaps it is her willingness to imagine a different world…her unwavering belief that things can change and we can act as the instrument of that change. Geillis never saw herself as just one person. Rather, she envisioned herself as a sort of savior for Scotland…one person capable of making a profound difference.
And that’s where I’ll leave this post, as we head into an election here in the United States. When we vote this November, vote with love. Vote with empathy. Vote to take away the pain of others. Do not let our zealotry consume us. Lead like the Frasers, with intentions that extend beyond our own needs or passions. In other words:
“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you” -Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Rest in power, RBG.