In my last post, I talked about the effects of war on Frank and Claire. In this one, I’m focusing on two characters who at first glance seem to be completely dissimilar–Jamie Fraser and Jack Randall.
In spite of their obvious differences, Jamie and Jack do have certain things in common. Both men come from lower rank aristocratic families, both are second sons, not expected to inherit, and both men have their lives changed by war.
It’s interesting to speculate about the fate of these two characters if the second Jacobite Uprising hadn’t happened. Jamie’s path seems clear. He would have inherited Lallybroch, married a nice girl, brought up a pack of kids, taken care of his tenants, worked the land, and otherwise lived the life of a Scottish noble.
Jack’s alternate path is less clear, in part because we know less about his early life. He might have still purchased a commission and gone into the military, but would he have stayed in or would he have been court martialed by now, perhaps ending his days as a mercenary or a “remittance man”–an embarassing relative who receives a stipend or remittance from his family on the condition that he go abroad and stay there? Hard to say.
In Jamie’s case, it’s easy to see what radicalized him and lead him to become a professional soldier and a revolutionary. That reason can be summed up in three words: Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Randall’s requisitioning vist to Lallybroch–nothing like government-approved looting to make the populace love you–ends with him flogging Jamie, attempting rape Jamie’s sister, Jenny, and having Jamie thrown into prison on trumped up charges.
Randall follows this up with even more conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentlemen. He propositions Jamie and, when Jamie refuses, has him flogged again, a flogging so protracted (and so clearly unnecessary) that one of his own men faints and the entire audience of townspeople is reduced to tears. Jamie escapes from prison and fights as a mercenary in France before returning to Scotland to clear his name which is when we meet him.
Let’s back up for a moment now and consider the man who gave his name to sadism–the Marquis de Sade himself. Today, the Marquis has undergone something of a rehabilitation–people think of him as a free-love libertine who enjoyed a little naughty mutual spanking with his fellow aristos. It’s more accurate to view him as what he was–a hardcore sexual predator who preyed upon the weak and the powerless (servants, beggars, prostitutes), never on his social equals. Even for 18th century France, his behavior was considered beyond the pale and he spent most of his life in various insane asylums.
The open question about Jack is was he always a sadist or–and this is the more frightening option–was he a regular guy who became a sadist because of his experiences in the military? The Marquis de Sade attributed his love of pain to the beatings that he received at boarding school. Did something similar happen to Jack?
It’s easy to see why a military career would appeal to someone with Jack’s sadistic tendencies. Not only are there civilians to terrorize and prisoners to torment, it’s also easy to make the lives of the men you command a living hell and do it all under the guise of discipline as we see when he pins down his terrified aide-de-camp and comes within a hair of cutting the corporal’s throat.
The only moment that Jack appears halfway sympathetic is when he bursts in on the commanding officers’ dinner in “The Garrison Commander”. For about five seconds, we get to see him in a positive light–a competent mid-ranking officer, fresh from the trenches, dust of the road still on him, plagued with idiot superiors. Jack treats said superiors with barely concealed contempt and he’s right–they are a contemptible lot. Lord Thomas and the rest are a bunch of entitled good old boys, too busy throwing fancy dinner parties and sneering at the Scottish savages to get the job done. It’s up to the lower rank field officers–Captain Randall and Lt. Foster– to keep order and enforce the King’s Peace.
This illusion of competence doesn’t last long. Just a few scenes later, listening to Jack tell Claire about Jamie’s flogging, you get the sense that this man’s mind is unraveling. Are his commanding officers really blind to the fact that Jack is no longer fit for duty? Are they so short-handed that they can’t afford to ship Jack back home or has he made himself so disliked that they keep sending him out on patrol again and again in hopes that he’ll get himself killed?