WARNING: This article contains spoilers.
Fraser – shall I curse him for stealing my wife, or bless him for giving me my daughter? I think these things, and then I stop, appalled that I should be giving a moment’s credence to such a preposterous theory. And yet… I have the oddest sense of James Fraser, almost a memory, as though I must have seen him somewhere. Though likely it is just the product of jealousy and imagination – I know what the bastard looks like well enough; I see his face on my daughter, day by day!
That’s the queer side of it, though – a sense of obligation. Not just to Bree, though I do think she’s a right to know – later. I told you I had a sense of the bastard? Funny thing is, it’s stayed with me. I can almost feel him, sometimes, looking over my shoulder, standing across the room.
Hadn’t thought of this before – do you think I’ll meet him in the sweet by-and-by, if there is one? Funny to think of it. Should we meet as friends, I wonder, with the sins of the flesh behind us? Or end forever locked in some Celtic hell, with our hands wrapped round each other’s throat?
(Excerpt from Frank’s letter to Rev. Wakefield in Drums of Autumn, Ch. 71)
I had suspected long before, but this letter cemented for me the possibility that Frank Randall is a reincarnation of Jack Randall. Before proceeding, let me add that this theory focuses on the Western concept of reincarnation in the context of lessons learned by the soul/personality/ego. It is not the intent to debate or promote a religious significance to the concept of reincarnation. Instead, reincarnation is proposed as an interpretation or explanation of events within a within a work of fiction as they relate to fictional characters.
My initial research failed to produce any comments by Diana Gabaldon on this theory. However, in an interview she responded to a question on her thoughts of reincarnation:
Well, I’m a Roman Catholic, and we don’t officially believe in reincarnation. On the other hand, we do believe that ‘anything is possible,’ and I for one would certainly not be telling Him that this or that can’t ever happen.
Her response leaves the possibility open that she might at least suggest it in her fiction. However, since first posting this theory on tumblr, I received an anonymous message claiming Diana Gabaldon had commented on her CompuServe account that there is no reincarnation in her Outlander Series. Regardless, I am invoking the “Dead Author“* approach to literary analysis and criticism and drawing my own conclusion.
The reincarnation theory initially occurred to me as a passing thought when Claire first encountered Jack Randall. What was the point, other than shock value, of having Jack be a spitting image of Frank? Obviously, reincarnation does not require that a current incarnation be a physical identical to a previous incarnation, but there are claims of such things. It could be explained by the two characters sharing some familial DNA traits even though Frank is not a direct descendent from Jack.
The similarities between Jack and Frank don’t end with the physical characteristics. They share similar careers and interests as well. Both serve in the British Army as officers involved in intelligence or at least covert operations, Jack with the Duke of Sandringham and Frank with MI6. Also, albeit for different reasons, both are obsessed with Jamie Fraser.
In keeping with the Western ideas of reincarnation, we can presume that the spirit of Jack Randall, an incarnation living in “darkness” and happy to be there, leaves that dark incarnation to one more compatible with “light” in the life of Frank Randall. While Frank still enjoys a military career in intelligence and covert operations, he, like Jack, is greatly affected by that life. Frank at least has a conscience, and his greatest work of light is that he is able to accept a child he knows is not his and raises her as his own. Though he withholds critical information from Claire and Bree about Jamie’s survival at Culloden and Bree’s true parentage, suspecting they would one day try to return to Jamie, he leaves a clue and teaches Bree the skills needed to survive in the seventeenth century. That is a karmic debt marked paid to Jamie Fraser. This is not to say that Frank is now a perfect person, as we know he has faults, we all do, but he has to some degree made amends to Jamie Fraser.
Some reincarnation theorists believe that unexplained physical ailments, conditions, or pains can be traced back to an illness or injury in a previous incarnation. Jamie and Jack’s duel resulted in Jack’s suffering a wound to his reproductive organs. Since Frank and Claire were unable to conceive a child but Jamie and Claire could, clearly it was Frank who was infertile. Could the cause of his infertility be the wound he suffered in the dual with Jamie?
At various points in the novels and some of the novellas, Jamie exhibits significant psychic skills. At one point when Jamie is injured and hallucinating, he can’t distinguish between visions of Jack and Frank. As one reader pointed out, Jack, Frank, and Jamie are “intertwined.” For years Jamie continues to have nightmares about Jack and at times senses Frank’s presence, as do Claire and Bree.
There are other clues that could be perceived as more than simple coincidence. Why would Frank be compelled to have his and Claire’s wedding in the Scottish Highlands? Why is Frank so obsessed with learning about his ancestor, Jack Randall? Why is Frank so familiar with the Fraser Prophesy? Is it a coincidence that Frank seeks out Dr. Quentin Beauchamp (Uncle Lamb) for information on French philosophy as it related to Egyptian religious practice? Is it a coincidence that Frank is the officer that recruited Jeremiah Mackenzie (Roger’s father) into a covert operation that ultimately led to his disappearance and a visit to Jeremiah’s wife where he first meets young Roger? So many events and characters are so extraordinarily intertwined that they beg consideration of a deeper connection.
Certainly there are arguments pro and con on this application of reincarnation, and this is only my interpretation. Admittedly, I have a tendency to think outside the box. However, in a book series fraught with metaphysical, mystical, and mythological events and characters (e.g., Druidry, faeries, changelings, magical stone circles, time travel, water horses, creatures of The Wild Hunt, witchery, clairaudience, astral travel, spontaneous disappearance), the notion that one character may be a reincarnation of an ancestor seems quite logical and even plausible.
Surely there are additional thought-provoking events not addressed here. What are your thoughts?
*”Dead Author” http://outlanderamerica.com/2016/09/21/death-of-the-author-a-theory-by-roland-barthes/
For further similarities and parallels between Frank and Black Jack Randall, please read Lenny’s post below. http://lenny9987.tumblr.com/post/136675282965/parallel-lives-frank-and-black-jack-randall
One of the things that struck me about @deesdiaries Reincarnation Theory post (which I feel belongs with @gotham-ruaidh‘s Endless Loop Theory as far as theories are concerned) was all the parallels she was able to pull between Frank and Black Jack Randall beyond their strong physical resemblance – though Claire’s moments of confusion suggest there are mannerisms beyond simple appearance that add to that resemblance and that it’s those that are part of what trip her up when it comes to her interactions with Black Jack.
I had had ample opportunity to judge Randall’s true character, both from the stories I had heard and from personal experience. But there were those damnable flashes of Frank that kept showing through the gleaming, ruthless exterior.
Having several put forth in her post, additional parallels began to jump out. So first, a quick run-down of the parallels @deesdiaries put forth first but since some of them are spoilery, everything’s going below a cut.
Spoilers for Dragonfly in Amber, Voyager, Drums of Autumn, A Breath of Snow and Ashes, andWritten in My Own Heart’s Blood below.
-Both Frank and Black Jack are involved in British military intelligence (to differing degrees)
Black Jack’s intelligence involvement seems less linked to serving the military than to serving the Duke of Sandringham in whatever his aims may be while Frank’s are undoubtedly part of his war efforts. That said, they appear – in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood – to have lingered or carried over into his life post-war.
-Both men are unable to father children, Black Jack because of the injury Jamie inflicted during their duel and Frank is simply sterile (do we ever find the direct reason? did he have measles or some other disease as a child that can leave a person sterile?)
Arguably, the biggest difference here is that Black Jack never expresses a desire to father children while Frank does want a family with Claire. He begins with serious (and insensitive) reservations concerning adoption but when he learns he can’t father a child biologically and that Brianna is likely to be the only child he could act as father to, he begins manipulating the situation to ensure that he will remain her one and only father, concealing the truth of his discoveries about Jamie from Claire (and Brianna).
-Both men become – to different degrees and for very different reasons – obsessed with Jamie Fraser
Jamie Fraser means very different things to these two men but there is a degree to which their lives end up revolving around him. For Black Jack, Jamie’s defiance in their initial encounter sparks a deep desire to break the man, the possess his soul. Everything that happens at Fort William and the strength Jamie shows in resisting him only makes him want to break him more. At Wentworth when Claire shows up to break him out, Black Jack becomes aware of new “tools” at his disposal and he finally achieves what he set out to do – or so he thinks. After he learns that Jamie survived, his obsession returns but it lacks that violent edge. He broke Jamie but somehow he healed – and Black Jack doesn’t understand how that could be. Granted, the circumstances are very different in France and Edinburgh in Dragonfly in Amber but I for one don’t feel the same violent tendencies towards Jamie – though he does mentally play with Claire a bit. But I almost feel that it springs from a desire to understand how his accomplishment managed to be undone, to understand how anyone could come back from where he had put Jamie. Perhaps this is only so that he can find a way to break that once and for all but he doesn’t have the chance to experiment further (thank god).
For Frank, his obsession with Jamie is centered on how it has changed his own life – his relationship with Claire, the fact that he has Brianna in his life, and keeping things from changing again. Claire tells Frank and the hospital staff about her journey through the stones and Jamie until it becomes clear to her that they 1) don’t believe her and 2) her insistence on it was causing them to question her very sanity (which wouldn’t help her or anyone). Still, he knows that someone fathered Claire’s child and her insistence that she love him (Jamie) is obviously something that stuck with him – to the point where at some point, he began to consider and then believe the truth about her journey through the stones. Whether his interest was sparked after Brianna’s birth from a fear that whoever the man was might reappear and try to take her away or because of the ways that Claire’s time with him (Jamie) had changed the way she treated Frank doesn’t really matter. Claire’s relationship with Jamie changed how she viewed her love for Frank and her understanding of what a marriage could be – though we don’t get to see much of it first-hand in the narrative, it’s a pretty safe assumption that she didn’t treat him the same way she did before her journey through the stones. Watching Brianna grow, he had to wonder whether certain attributes/traits came from the mysterious father. Whenever he decided to start looking into Jamie Fraser, one thing leads to another and he learns that Jamie survived Culloden – a fact that, if Claire’s story is true (which he has to admit is a possibility, however much he doesn’t want it to be), then it means there’s a possibility that Claire (and maybe Brianna) could go back to him. Learning everything he can becomes as necessary as controlling that same information (keeping it from Claire and Brianna, deciding if, how, and when to tell them about any of it – the gravestone, the letter to Brianna, etc.).
In both of these obsessions, the men become not just obsessed with Jamie Fraser, but with controlling him in some way – physically and psychologically for Black Jack, narratively for Frank.
(wow, that got long and a little tangential towards the end; thanks for sticking with me so far)
Beyond these parallels @deesdiaries highlighted briefly in her post (and which I’ve expanded on more than was necessary), there are other parallels/similarities.
There’s the relationships both men have to their wives’ children. Frank raised Brianna as his own – a child he knew was fathered by another man. He actively wanted Brianna to believe he was her biological father and raised her as his own. Though Black Jack died at Culloden, he was talked into marrying his brother’s lover so that the child she bore would have the Randall name and he [Alex] could be sure the child was well cared for.
(Had he not died at Culloden, what kind of father do you all think BJR would have been to his nephew? He had affection for Alex but the nature of that affection is the subject of much speculation, given his relationships with other men named Alex – I don’t think DG used that name for the characters she did as an accident or a whim.)
From the beginning of the first book, both men are associated with “artificial” fragrances. Claire brushing her hair uses Frank’s favorite perfume L’Heure Bleu and he nearly uses it on himself. We all know that lavender is associated with Black Jack and it is one of the first things that Claire notices upon running into him when she first comes through the stones (it is also the first Claire notices the physical resemblance between Black Jack and Frank).
My captor, whoever he was, seemed much taller than I, but rather noticeably strong in the forearms. I smelled a faint flowery scent, as of lavender water, and something more spicy, mingled with the sharper reek of male perspiration. As the leaves whipped back into place in the path of our passage, though, I noticed something familiar about the hand and forearm clasped about my waist.
These don’t feel like such a strong parallel except for the way they both contrast with the descriptions of scent that surround Jamie and the other Scots. Blood, sweat, musk – natural odors accompany their descriptions. This might be considered related to Frank’s and Black Jack Randall’s preoccupation with appearances.
It’s slightly different in the television show where Black Jack is less concerned with physical appearance as some of his comrades in arms and he’s quite open with Claire about his dark nature. But in the book, Black Jack makes a bit more pretense with appearances both physically and when it comes to his actions with his prisoners/victims. He’s brutally honest when it comes to telling them what he’s about/what he wants to do to them, but there seems to be a greater effort made to conceal the truth from others, especially his colleagues. The circumstances of his association with the Duke of Sandringham are a little fuzzier in the books. The nature of Jamie and Claire’s appeal to the Duke differs from the show – the petition is not against Black Jack so much as for a pardon regardless. Black Jack’s association with the Duke seems to be rooted more in intelligence work and family friendship than the Duke protecting Black Jack from facing the consequences of his abuses (which doesn’t seem to benefit the Duke as much as Black Jack in the show’s adaptation). Without that more deliberate protection, Black Jack takes a few more precautions to maintain appearances himself.
Okay, that might not be particularly clear but when it comes to Frank and keeping up appearances, things get clearer. Beginning with Claire’s return, he refuses to leave her because of how it would look.
“I couldn’t leave you at the first – pregnant, alone. Only a cad would have done that.”
They move to Boston in part to start afresh with each other, but it also serves to cloud people’s understanding of Brianna’s parentage. Surrounding themselves with people who aren’t familiar with Claire’s disappearance and the timing wouldn’t think twice about who Brianna’s father was -they would simply assume it was Frank, creating the appearance of a happy family. That image extends to how he wants Claire to see him – the dutiful husband. Of course, we learn inVoyager about Frank’s affairs but one of Claire’s observations is that during those affairs, Frank was the epitome of discretion (she suspected but it was the women coming to her that put doubt from her mind).
“I thought I had been most discreet.”
“You may have been at that,” I said sardonically. “I counted six over the last ten years – if there were really a dozen or so, then you were quite the model of discretion.”
During that infamous fight, Frank accuses Claire of adultery with her friend Joe, not because it might be true so much but because it looks like it might be true (further evidence he doesn’t understand Claire as well as of his underlying prejudices). The accusation he threatens to make would also further his case for custody of Brianna – using appearances (in a manner similar to Black Jack) in order to gain his own ends.
I guess, for me, that selfishness is perhaps the biggest similarity/parallel between Black Jack and Frank. The nature of that selfishness is different – Black Jack enjoys hurting others and it’s what he intends to do while Frank hurts other inadvertently on the way to maintaining his own sense of comfort/personal identity. But they both approach situations from a self-centered place and it affects their ability to sympathize with and understand others.
Finally, Black Jack and Frank seem to haunt the characters/text long after they’re dead in the narrative. Though they don’t actively speak about Black Jack in those terms, Claire and Jamie do occasionally allude to Frank and his memory as such and I always think of them both as part of the “ghosts” Jamie refers to in A Breath of Snow and Ashes when he tells Claire:
“We’ve ghosts enough between us, Sassenach. If the evils of the past canna hinder us – neither then shall any fears of the future. We must just put things behind us and get on. Aye?”
Jamie actively contends with nightmares from Wentworth throughout his life. Those events also haunt his relationship with Lord John, affecting how he reacts to his friend’s sexuality and especially to his position at Ardsmuir in the wake of learning about that sexuality. Frank and the disappointments of her marriage to him similarly haunt Claire. She knows that neither of them were satisfied with their marriage and regrets that there was nothing more they could find to do to “fix” what they had or make each other happier than they did. Frank’s memory haunts Brianna especially as she struggles to come to terms with having two fathers and reconciling her feelings for both men (affection, loyalty, frustration, etc.). I’d argue Frank is the more haunting presence as we continue to learn more of what he knew and what he did through the series – the gravestone from the letter at the end of Drums of Autumn, the letter Brianna finds in Written in My Own Heart’s Blood regarding the Fraser Prophecy, etc.
I’m interested to see how the show continues to adapt these two characters as they’ve already gone a long way towards establishing and emphasizing the similarities they have (look at the Frank-fiction in Episode 8 and how easily Frank crossed over into violence). I know a lot of people aren’t looking forward to seeing more Frank, but I wouldn’t mind a bit more of his and Claire’s relationship during the 20 years she was separated from Jamie. As it is, we only get a few glimpses from Claire’s memories while we have a much more solid and first-hand feel for what that time was like for Jamie.
*I do think it is important to remember that while there are a lot of similarities and parallels between these two characters, they are not the same person/character. Frank wasn’t perfect by a long shot and could be a complete ass about some things but I don’t think anyone would argue that he is as bad as Black Jack with his well documented tendency towards sexual sadism and torture. Textually, they are strong foils for Jamie, Claire, and their relationship with one another but even in their similarities; their characters and the circumstances they help create/helped create continue to impact the Frasers and the series’ plots and relationships. But Black Jack and Frank have strong and significant differences to balance those similarities explored above (though that would be a post for another time).