Thank You, Nancy Bush

Original edition of Outlander and a knitted shawl
The original front cover is very romancey

Happy Friday Thursday, everyone!
[Edited to add: Oops. Still only Thursday.]

I hope you were all celebrating Banned Books Week. I sadly am not (bad librarian). Earlier in the year I broke out of my usual Everything as Long as it has to do With Victorians rut and tried out Vonnegut and Whitman. Do I get points there?

What am I reading instead? A popular book. Outlander. By all my own rules, I should not be reading this at all. First of all, it’s popular. When I worked in a public library, I had Rules. If popular books ever left the hold shelf, which they usually didn’t, anything so popular as to invoke mania in patrons had to be utter mind candy and an insult to English-language prose. Seventeen-year-old me, already a diehard Dickens fangirl, would have nothing to do with popular books. Except maybe Harry Potter.

Additionally, I was very suspect of series (except for the aforementioned Potter). Outlander won some points for being a short series, with new volumes arriving at a measured pace, rather than the book-a-minute approach taken by Messers. Clancy and Clark and Mmes. Clark and Evanovich. These points were promptly lost because my library didn’t have the first edition (pictured above and clearly expected to be a flash-in-a-pan romance novel for slightly more patient readers, by the cheap paper and mawkish still-life cover), it had the second edition. The one printed on nice thick deckle-edge paper, approximately the dimensions of a student dictionary and heavy enough to be a lethal weapon if it came off the top shelf. Trying to shoehorn more than one of these behemoths in on a tightly packed end shelf was an exercise of futility, every time.

Heck–maybe I should have read more big books when I was a page. It would have made my job easier. But at the time, according to my Rules, Outlander had no appeal. It was not until last month, when a friend described it with enthusiasm as something I’d like, that I decided to give it a go. The 23-year-old romance-novel-style edition came available before the ebook, and I’m glad: its tissue paper pages stay open perfectly while I knit.

My only gripe thus far, aside from the fact that I find it somewhat improbable that *both* protagonists are gorgeously perfect people, is the lack of knitting. Clothes come off and on left and right, but Gaboldon doesn’t give much time to the clothes themselves. Foaling, candlemaking, food, medicine and botany–we get plenty on those topics. But the clothes–the objects that identify people, constrain or enable all their running about in the Highlands, get taken off and put on more than once a day–these are mentioned only in passing.

I will admit to being a fiber enthusiast, but I am puzzled by the lack of clothing-talk because it was historically so time consuming. Nobody ran to the mall when their kilt hose got torn: they waited for the next pair, the one that had taken every step from sheep to fabric by hand, to be made. This couldn’t happen invisibly. With that much time involved, the making of fabric had to be pretty omnipresent. And yet Gaboldon doesn’t show it.

Worse, I spent the first four hundred pages wondering why on earth the kilt hose were checked. Gaboldon has the good grace to treat her readers as intelligent people, and does not bash them over the head with definitions of period dress (*ahem* Shannon Hale and your “pelisse”–I will never forgive you for putting that word in quotes), which means that you have to go figure out some of the more subtle things for yourself.

Hear ye, hear ye–everyone who doesn’t have a copy of Folk Socks handy: Nancy Bush says that woven kilt hose, cut and seamed, were quite common before the Battle of Culloden. She doesn’t go into the prevalence of knitting in the Scottish Highlands before the Battle of Culloden in great detail, but that’s ok. Folk Socks is a considerably slimmer volume than Outlander.

Thank you, Nancy Bush. I think I can finish reading Outlander now.

8 responses to “Thank You, Nancy Bush”

  1. There is some knitterly talk in later books (Jamie knits, and is bemused that Claire doesn’t know how to turn a heel on socks). Diana Gabaldon is a knitter herself, also.

  2. Loved this … I’m just the same … I’ve been known to shout at books when the author takes clothing for granted. To this day I remember with a shudder reading about (the book title escapes me/was clearly unmemorable) an Elizabethan lady of means getting dressed without the help of a single servant or apparently any pins.

  3. Off topic, but I’ve seen your green ceramic yarn bowl in several pictures on posts. Is it designed to be used for yarn or is it a candle holder? I just thought I may have seen one for candles and it just occurred to me that I should keep my mind open for re-purposing more often!

    • Good eye for detail! That is a yarn bowl (from the truly amazing Practical Art [not a paid endorsement, I have been known to clear out my wallet there])! Practical Art points out on their blog that the yarn bowl can be used as a luminaria, so if you find a nice hefty luminaria, I bet the same would be true in reverse!

  4. I loved reading those books. My mother-in-law introduced me to them about three years ago. Wonderful ever changing storytelling. They always kept me engaged.

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