The Help and Claire Beauchamp

My book club recently discussed Kathryn Stockett’s debut novel about three women from Jackson, Mississippi who find themselves unexpected players in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. It’s a page-turner, and an entertaining read that led to a discussion of how people seek to right a societal wrong — and what a person of 2010 sensibilities would do if she found herself back in the ’60s.

On that note, I’d like to (re)introduce you to what has become my favorite series ever: Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.

Claire Beauchamp is a 20th-century feminist who finds herself in 18th-century Europe and America addressing the respective roles of women, government, and religion in society. She confronts wrongs, such as slavery and persecution of those believed to practice witchcraft, and she does so in a way that comes across as completely real. Each person can have an impact, but it’s a limited one, and one that has its own consequences, some of them unintentional and undesirable.

The scope of these novels is so vast that I can’t even summarize them. Pretty much any issue you’d run into in real life seems to get addressed at some point or another. The character development and storytelling are outstanding; in my mind, Gabaldon does the best job I’ve seen of describing realistic relationships and exploring the nature of love, commitment, and honor. And she does it all in a context of extensive historical research that brings the past to life.

If you’re looking for a good, lasting read, give Outlander a try. Only one caveat: if you’re especially sensitive to intermittent scenes of graphic violence, this may not be your bag.

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