The Faces of Conflict

War is an ongoing theme in the Outlander series of books by Diana Gabaldon. We are introduced to Claire and Frank Randall on the tail end of World War II. Claire was an Army combat nurse during the six-year conflict, and Frank, an historian in civilian life, served as an Army intelligence officer for MI6.

From the trailers and from Ron D. Moore’s own lips, we will be seeing more of Claire in her WWII role during the television series than was covered in the novel. Not only will be seeing her up to her elbows in blood and guts, it appears we may be witnessing her and Frank’s departure at the start of the war – a tender scene to be sure.

In my posting entitled Sassenach, I cover my opinion regarding Claire’s adaptability to the 18th century because of her experiences in the war. Another interesting note I’d like to make is with respect to Claire’s keen demands for a sterile environment and her never-ending experiments to produce penicillin.

Penicillin was a significant discovery made by a Scottish scientist by the name of Alexander Fleming in 1928 but was not introduced onto the battlefields of WWII en mass until just before the invasion of Normandy in 1944. During WWI and at the beginning of WWII, topical antiseptic therapies were the primary preventative measure available to doctors and nurses to fight infection, but according to Fleming’s observations in WWI surgical theaters, the early benefits of usage to reduce the rate of infection were outweighed by the overall adverse effects.

In The Fiery Cross, I’m sure you recall Claire’s frustration having to apply her homemade penicillin to Jamie’s snake bite topically, after it had gone untreated for more than a night and a day. She had no way to inject it – until Brianna’s ingenious invention.

The reason I mention the significance of penicillin, besides its obvious benefits, is because of the mortality rate in World War I, and previous wars, due to early onset infection. Bacterial infections took more lives than did injury, regardless of severity. Needless to say, this is something Claire would have known and thus her fastidious demands.

The history of the treatment of wounds is a fascinating subject and deserves more attention than I give it here. One of my most useful sources is mentioned at the end of my post. Feel free to leave a comment with any corrections!

One other mention I’d like to make is for the following book. A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer is an historical fiction novel set during the early days of World War II. Incidentally, the main character’s name is Claire Shipley, a photojournalist covering the story of America’s involvement in the race to develop penicillin for the war effort. The novel is set in New York, rich in history and details from Claire’s perspective. It’s a well told story filled with intrigue, espionage, murder, and romance – all fictional, but still exciting. I don’t necessarily recommend the book as a a history lesson in the development of penicillin, but the author made an effort to be historically accurate – so check it out if you’re so inclined. It’s a good read.

Though the war has ended for Claire in the 20th century, she travels back to an era when battles and skirmishes are a part of everyday life. The year 1743 is a dangerous time in Scotland, being on the brink of war with England. This is Jamie Fraser’s world, and he has the scars to prove it. Born a Highlander, he learned the art of war at an early age. Unfortunately for him, it becomes a lifetime companion from the 1745 Jacobite Rising to the battlefields of the American Revolution 30 years later. Of all the roles he must inhabit, I believe this to be his least favorite. But, he’s a born leader, a laird of men, so to battle he charges whenever he must.

For today’s poetry, I’ve selected the faces of Claire and Jamie in their bravest roles. The first poem is entitled The Face of War and describes the burden of Claire’s struggle in her fight to save lives.

Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is a WWII combat Nurse.
Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is a WWII combat Nurse.

The second poem, entitled The Face of Battle, is about Jamie and his charge to call.

James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is a Highland warrior.
James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is a Highland warrior.

Source: A History of Infections Associated With Combat-Related Injuries by Clinton K. Murray, MD, Mary K. Hinkle, MD, and Heather C. Yun, MD from The Journal of TRAUMA Injury, Infection, and Critical Care

2 thoughts on “The Faces of Conflict

  1. Candida reading on my lunch hour. This is one of the great perks of reading Diana’s books. We get to learn things. We definitely take for granted penicillin and it’s ilk. Just had personal experience with this last weekend. If my six-week old had been born previous to the development of these cures would have lost her. There are so many examples in the book of ravages of infection. Loved when Mrs. Fitz says, “aye I know what you mean, but are you saying you know what to do for that?” And then that leads us into how Claire’s ministrations may have lead to changes in the future…nope not going there today, but maybe fodder for a later post?

  2. Claire Shipley’s interest in the development of penicillin is personal as her character had a 6-year-old who died due to an infection. It’s a wonderful element to the story, and while fictional, represented millions of parents of her generation.

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