In the Castle Leoch scene there is a battle going on – Jamie doesn’t want a half hearted marriage yet he has known from the beginning that Frank is an ever present third party in his. He has been understanding of Claire’s grief over Frank. But, he doesn’t yet know that Frank is not really dead and Claire has the potential of returning to him. As he would see it, she is holding back from completely committing to him because of a dead man. Yet at the same time she throws a jealous fit over him and Laoghaire. Talk about mixed signals. So Jamie gives her a choice – does she want to make this a real marriage? Unsaid is the question “Will you let go of Frank and embrace me or not?” If not, he will let her go. She accepts and takes the ring he has had made for her.
Once she does so, he in effect asks her to consummate what is now to be a marriage in fact, not a marriage of convenience. He needs her to prove her choice of him in deeds not just words. She has after all already run away from him once after promising not to. Jamie does not force her to do so against her will. He asks her and for a second time she says “Yes”; as he is about to begin he warns her that he can’t be gentle and she nods again, her third yes. She does not say “No, let’s not do this now in that case.” She says yes three separate times.
Once they begin, when Claire starts to resist Jamie doesn’t stop because he believes that he is in a battle for Claire’s soul. He must break down her walls and get her to commit, not only in words but in deeds, if they are to be truly married. He expresses it as being her Master because that is the frame in which marriage is defined in his time and place. Claire resists him and voices a protest, but she never actually tells him “No”. In her own mind she knows that she is not resisting sex with him – she is resisting the idea of surrendering her soul to him.
It seemed clear to me from the beginning that she had never done so to Frank. Theirs was a somewhat emotionally distant marriage held together mostly by the physical connection of sex. Even though she loved Frank, Claire held something of herself back from him. This may speak to her loss of her parents at a young age and an unadmitted fear of ever giving herself completely to another, because people you love leave you and it hurts.
In her marriage to Jamie she starts out protecting herself emotionally just as she did with Frank. Jamie however doesn’t want that and forces her to open up to him emotionally as well as physically, and in the end she gives as good as she gets. She becomes as rough with him as he is with her – perhaps she is finally expressing her anger at her parents for leaving her, which she has probably held in since her childhood. This leaves her able to now take the chance of opening herself to truly loving another.
At the conclusion Jamie says to her “I am your Master… as you’re mine. Seems I canna possess your soul without losing my own.” This has been a mutual battle for dominance and it is one that neither of them has won. He understands that and is man enough to admit to it. Claire and Frank never had that – as she muses to herself “You’re too quick by half, lad…Frank never did find that out.”
So that is how I see that scene and why I have never seen it as a rape. Claire is a very strong woman and if she didn’t in some part of her want Jamie to force her emotional surrender she would have stopped him. She wanted to commit to him but she needed him to help her break down her walls so she could do so.
She also needed a man strong enough to accept her as an equal. And she needed a man who needed her. Needed her enough to prevent him from leaving her as her parents did. Frank wasn’t that man and Jamie was. He was equally damaged by his past experiences, and he needed Claire as much as (and IMO more than) she needed him.
So that’s why I read this scene as the foundation of their love story and I didn’t have the problem with it that others seem to.