Twilight is not a vampire story

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Twilight is not a vampire story per se but a romance—and a very well marketed romance at that.” (p.268)

I’m taking this statement out of context, but it struck me as such an interesting one… can you not read Twilight (and its literary fellows) in multiple genres at once…? What is ‘a vampire story’ then? I really liked Mercer’s article, but this statement kind of intrigued me.

Mercer does clarify her approach to ‘classifying’ this text, writing that “I identify Meyer’s books within the genre of teen romance fiction. Milly Williamson’s (2005) study of vampire fiction suggests, however, that the more appropriate genre for making sense of books like Twilight (her work pre-dates Meyer’s), given the existential- and self-reflective turn of contemporary vampires, may be melodrama. Williamson notes the literary appearance of what she terms the “sympathetic vampire” with whom female reader-fans identify rather than fear: “[the vampire’s] entire unwanted ontological status is his flaw, and thus his flaw is excessive and taken to the extremes appropriate to melodrama. His unwelcome vampirism is not a sign of evil, but of victimhood. . . .[F]emale fans do not identity with the vampire’s female victims, but rather, empathize with the sympathetic vampire figure itself”” (p.268)

On this note, (and in the same part of her discussion), Mercer also quotes one of the girls she interviewed (14 yrs) as saying: “I guess she [Meyer] could have written it with some other kind of creatures but having vampires makes it more focused on their bodies.” (p.268) … which is also an interesting statement on its own – and one she consequently  affirms in a more academic fashion, noting that “the character of the vampire becomes a literary device for attention to bodies, playing directly to a young female readership’s culturally encouraged (over) focus upon their own bodies.” (p.269) Still, in context of the above statement, I find this acknowledgement of the importance of the vampire to this text curiouser and curiouser.

Ref: Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

Vampires and spirituality in Meyer’s Twilight

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From mythic vampires’ earlier incarnations as objects of (negative) fascination amidst horror, at least some of today’s vampires appear to have morphed into creatures of positive moral character and objects of romantic love. What accounts for the current widespread appeal of vampires to teen girls in the US?” (p.264)

“The affinity between girls and vampires is not new. Large numbers of the teen viewers of the 1960’s gothic vampire television soap Dark Shadows were girls. And vampire characters long existed in fictional literature and film as coded representations of sexuality sometimes in the form of irritable male vampires such as Dracula who seduce women with their gaze; other times as a cinematically safe way to depict “illicit” lesbian relationships, as in the early film Dracula’s Daughter, or somewhat more recently in The Hunger. In earlier times when women’s desire was even more suspect than it is today, vampires were a helpful trope for getting it onto the page or screen, as it was the irresistible vampire’s fault, and not the woman’s, for being seduced. Vampires have longed served this useful purpose in legend and fiction.” (p.264)

What makes it possible to walk up to a girl in a bookstore or library and expect to start what can become a brief yet substantive conversation about Twilight? My conversations with girls happened in the context of two interesting social developments among U.S. youth. The first of these concerns the widespread acceptance within mainstream U.S. culture of interest in fantasy, paranormal encounters and the possibility of experiencing supernatural forces. Several decades of film and the recent popularity of fantasy fiction works such as J.K. Rowling’s seven novels published between 1997 and 2007 as the popular Harry Potter series (Rowling 1999a, b, 2000; Rowling and GrandPré 1998, 2003, 2005, 2007), and television programs such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Whedon, 1997) paved the way for interest in vampires and supernatural phenomenon to be treated as mainstream and “normal” rather than as an odd dabbling in the occult.
The second development is related: the widespread experience of increased religious pluralism in the US creates and supports an openness to (or at least tolerance of) a wider variety of religiously oriented beliefs and practices, such that interest in supernatural creatures is no longer treated as necessarily oppositional to dominant religious groups such as Christian churches. Lynn Schofield Clark’s (Clark 2003) ethnography addresses young people’s fascination with supernatural phenomenon in relation to American evangelicalism in the late twentieth century, suggesting that the popularization of supernatural characters through the media led to a general acceptance of such figures. I would contend, following Clark’s argument, that for many people supernatural figures such as vampires, witches, and ghosts, became religiously insignificant during the twentieth century.…” (p.265)

“The first reason […] that girls like vampires so much is because the advertising industry stimulates their desires for them, and then provides a way to (temporarily) satisfy those desires through consumerism.” (p.266)

A second reason girls today are so drawn to vampires and to Twilight has to do with the power of reading/viewing as a social practice. Reading popular young adult fiction is not merely an individual activity for girls even though they may engage in it principally in private settings. Rather, reading is a social practice (Cherland 1994) of which sharing the “book world” with others is an important dimension in situating the identities of readers. […] the social practice of reading/viewing Twilight situates girls in a set of activities that are “approved” for girls: fantasy and star-fandom are socially acceptable ways for young teens to experience and express their desire even as these activities function to cement the bonds between young women who share the experience.” (p.266)

“As Pierre Bourdieu (Bourdieu and Passeron 1990) notes concerning social practices, choices such as which genre of fiction one reads may appear to be “arbitrary,” but in fact these choices take place within a habitus of social practices that give them legitimacy and participate in the construction of subjectivity in ways that tend to reproduce unjust power relations between women and men. Who reads (and who does not), and the types of literature encouraged (or discouraged) for different groups within the society are not random matters, but are practices that participate in structuring the positioning of groups in relation to one another, such as women and men.” (p.267)

“Power relations are embedded in the ways society structures reading. That is, reading is not a politically neutral activity but a social practice in and through which people are differently positioned.” (p.267) “As a social practice, part of the appeal of reading Twilight comes from the ways girls use it to support and enhance their relationships with each other.” (p.267)

I think it is worth noting, having quoted her quite a bit here (I really liked her thinking!), Mercer concludes: “When I step back from it all, I find myself more than a little concerned about desire’s distortions. I worry, for example, that many young women reading books like Twilight will not have thoughtful companions who can help them distinguish between anger and care when sexual desire seems linked to both. It concerns me that young people with spiritual hungers may only be offered weak or broken cultural images, such as fictional vampire characters in teen romance fiction, around which to wrap their deep longings for communion with Divinity, when in fact what they need and seek are far more complex symbols that invite participation in their meanings. At the same time, though, I understand that girls make multiple uses of these books: some simply enjoy them as romance fiction; others read them more critically.” (p.277)

Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

ABSTRACT: “Fantasy fiction long has been read for its capacity to narrate religious meanings and themes for young readers. Since its publication in 2005, Stephenie Meyer’s young adult series Twilight, in which an adolescent girl falls in love with a vampire, has become a pop culture phenomenon among U.S. teen girls. Although vampires usually represent dangerous desire, rarely have these creatures been treated as spiritually attractive figures. Using feminist perspectives on the psychology of gender and Christian feminist theology, this article offers a critical exploration of Twilight’s constructions of intimate relationships, supernatural masculinities, and girlhood, arguing that Twilight’s girl-appeal stems from its ability to tap into both the sexual and spiritual desires of girls.” (p.263)

feminism in Meyer’s Twilight series – two discussions

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Much of the discussion around Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is based on feminist criticism…  I just happened to read these two articles (Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) and Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)) the same day and enjoyed what they had to say (quite differently in some ways but both from a position of feminist critique) about Meyer’s Twilight series. They both consider the social reception of these books, the relationship between Bella and Edward (and how that relationship has been read), as well as the place of Bella’s pregnancy in this text… they make for mutually beneficial readings (and are both excellent in their own right, too).

Importantly, I think, in this context, Rachel Hendershot Parkin reminds us that: Newspaper articles and book reviews are quick to accuse the series of anti-feminism in scathing (yet often non-specific) terms, and Twilighters frequenting forums, blogs, and other discussion boards are not far behind. It is important to note that Twilight fans are indeed sophisticated readers capable of critical and detailed analysis.” (Hendershot Parkin, p.66)

However, Parkin also points out that: “Despite the clearly mapped romance structure of the Twilight saga, the books are not marketed as such, and it appears that some fans are not familiar with the genre and thus fail to include such elements in their horizons of expectation. Meyer’s own comments indicate that her understanding of the books as feminist in their own right fits into current romance scholarship, which suggests that the genre represents women’s freedom rather than their bondage in love (Regis xiii).” (Hendershot Parkin, p.65)

Meyer makes her opinion of Bella and Edward’s relationship clear—it is a healthy and natural one, if a bit unusual, and is based on Meyer’s understanding and interpretation of the nature of true love. Meyer’s rebuttal certainly resonates with contemporary readings of the romance genre. Like Phillips, Meyer seems to believe in a heroine who “possesses all the softer qualities traditionally assigned to women but who has none of a woman’s physical limitations because his strength now belongs to her” (58). Meyer also turns to choice to define feminism, arguing that she always understood the term to indicate that women had the right to choose how to live their lives. So for Meyer, Bella is not anti-feminist because of her choices, but rather an empowered heroine in that she does make choices, ones that allow her to draw strength from Edward. Clearly, Meyer’s horizon of expectation for her own saga is just as firmly fixed as the fandom’s alternative horizon of expectation.
Ironically, however, while Twilighters may not recognize the series as part of the traditional romance genre and criticize it for its romantic elements, they often devour it for those same reasons. Twilight fans swoon over Edward Cullen. Many fans do not feel Bella’s space or privacy is violated when, in Twilight, he spends every night for months sneaking into her bedroom and watching her sleep. Rather than interpret Edward as a stalker, fans gush about his devotion to Bella. Female Twilighters do seem to delight in the prodigious care Edward takes of Bella and willingly accept his assertive, domineering character, a common feature in romance [-p.69] novels. At the same time, however, many of those readers resist the passive elements of Bella’s nature. These contradictory responses are, in Hills’s view, characteristic of fandoms. We can see that such dualisms abound in the Twilight saga’s reception, through the fandom’s acceptance of some romance tropes and rejection of others.” (Hendershot Parkin, pp.68-69)

Meanwhile, Joyce Ann Mercer spoke to a number of teenage girls about their engagement with the text and found that:

“These girls enjoyed fantasizing about Edward and Bella, as they used the story to fantasize about their own “perfect first date” or “perfect relationship.” One girl blushing a bit whispered, “It would be so cool to be able to feel totally sexy with a guy on a date and trust that he would be the one to worry about keeping things safe and good.”” (Mercer, p.268) This approach to Edward’s sexual reticence felt like an alternative (adolescent feminist) response to me from the ones Parkin was dealing with – and which I had encountered before reading this article…. It suggests Meyer is taking the pressure off her female heroine (to keep her virtue intact) and placing it on the hero instead… I hadn’t thought of this. Anyway, ….

Mercer explains her position: “These books give the appearance of being the antidote to the “hook up” culture of normless casual sexual encounter Donna Freitas (Freitas 2008) cites as sadly common to American college life. Instead of depicting its characters hooking up, page after page of Twilight centers on the thrill of anticipation, of desire unfolding and intensifying, which is surely its own kind of pleasure.
Meyer writes into the relationship between Bella and Edward a number of characteristics that go against stereotypical gender scripts. Most notable among these gender-bending story elements is her depiction of Edward as the person in the relationship who holds the more traditional sexual values—he insists that they be married before they do anything more than kiss. In a sometimes-amusing reversal of what many women and girls experience in dating, Edward must continually monitor his ability to handle physical contact with Bella. He puts the brakes on the degree of sexual intimacy expressed in the relationship, at one point even telling Bella she should stop taking her clothes off because he wants to wait until they are married. The narrative effect of this device is that teen girl readers, placing themselves in the position of Bella, can imaginatively “give themselves over to their own desire” and let someone else worry about the morality and safety of it all. It becomes Edward’s burden rather than Bella’s to “just say no.”” (p.272)

However, Mercer concludes that: “The Twilight saga does create a space for girls to experience and explore sexual desire in the safety of a narrative imagination in which they personally are neither exploited/objectified nor asked to become party to normless, unfulfilling sexual expression. At the same time, however, in Twilight the contours of female desire take shape within the rather conventional, subordinating tropes of romance fiction that constitute female desire through the act of being made the object of ownership or the exercise of authority. Masculine desire takes shape through narcissistic rage and entitlement. Here, desire’s hunger to be met and chosen by a desiring other’s equally strong yearning and wanting must play itself out through the power arrangements of male control and possession, rather than in the free play and abandon of a jouissance shared by two.” (Mercer, p.275)

“When I started out in this investigation of vampires, desire, girls, and God, I read Meyer’s books, and began to formulate my critique of them, largely based on a feminist critical account of gender construction and the role of the Mormon religion in promoting the worldview found in Twilight, a worldview authorizing women’s subordination. And then I began talking to girls reading Twilight. The more my informal ethnography brought me inside the experiences of these young women, the harder it became for me to simply dismiss this book as hopelessly sexist and merely “really bad for girls.” For in spite of Twilight’s distortions of desire, in spite of the horribly circumscribed world of women in Twilight, as a feminist ethnographer I found myself having to take seriously—to listen differently—to the power of the narrative for girls.” (Mercer, p.275)

Refs: Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) ‘Breaking Faith: Disrupted Expectations and Ownership in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter, pp. 61-85

Joyce Ann Mercer (2011)  Vampires, Desire, Girls and God: Twilight and the Spiritualities of Adolescent Girls Pastoral Psychol. 60:263–278

Reference is also made to:  Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 2003.

Twilight’s fandoms and critically interactive readerships

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Some really great critical material came out of the phenomenon that was ‘Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga’. One of those pieces, by Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010), looks at the way the Twilight Saga evidences a particular kind of relationship between author and reader – a particularly critical, interactive readership. Here are a couple of the points Hendershot Parkin makes:

The Twilight saga’s enormous popularity is closely tied to its author’s tense relationship with her fans. Meyer’s frequent interaction with fans via online media disrupts their expectations and leads to competing interpretations.” (p.61)

“I would suggest that, […] the more fans interact with and read the books, the more the constructed world of the texts becomes collectively defined and anticipated. When the fandom’s collective vision of the textual world is undermined, fans personally feel deceived and misled and resist the altered structure. The fandom then turns to the most accessible outlet for its frustrations—the Internet—which gives a united voice to its displeasure and a venue for its action against author and text.” (p.61)

The constant scuffling and ensuing stalemate between Meyer and the Twilight fandom encourages us to consider the Twilight saga as a model for thinking about how online media has changed horizons of expectation and equalized textual ownership. In Textual Poachers, Jenkins argues that “fans operate from a position of cultural marginality and social weakness” (26) and that, in inhabiting such a weak position, “fans are peasants, not proprietors” (27). In his more recent study, Convergence Culture, he admits that fandoms have grown into a more participatory culture, rather than remaining in a culture of isolation. While he certainly captures the essence of online fandoms with the term “participatory culture,” he still fails to recognize the real power to influence ownership that fandoms have garnered through co-operative Internet use. The Twilighters certainly do not exist as “peasants.” Full-fledged “participants,” they enact a constant tug-of-war with Stephenie Meyer for proprietorship of the Twilight saga.” (p.81)

feminist criticism and the discussions between author and fans over how to interpret the texts…

The friction between Meyer and the Twilight fandom appears most visibly in feminist responses, which are in turn complicated by a connection to the romance genre, and in disagreements over what is “canon” in the series. Online communities and conversations, then, develop a sense of ownership in fandoms by creating a more shared horizon of expectation that is centred on its fans. As Meyer shows us, the result is that, by engaging with fans, authors actually empower their fandoms in a way that tips the balance of power and the ownership of text toward the reader.” (p.62)

“In an interview with MTV, Meyer admitted to enjoying questions about Bella and feminism because they give her the opportunity to set the record straight by explaining her version, an indication of the level of control Meyer likes to retain over her creation.” (p.67)

remaining faithful to the internal canon of the series – fans’ reactions to the pregnancy and what it shows about the author-text-reader relationship

“…a large body of the fan reaction to Breaking Dawn was […] acerbic and accusatory, indicating the personal level at which the fans felt betrayed by Meyer’s alleged departure from her canon. The Twilighters’ horizon of expectation had grown so concrete and was so disturbed by the last book that they rebelled against it. […] As Bella’s pregnancy is confirmed and her attachment to the unborn child grows, the fandom’s attachment seemed to sever. Instead of leaving the fan community and the books behind to move on to more satisfying reading, however, many Twilighters continue to participate in the fandom by expressing their disappointment and by focusing on their love of the first three books in the saga.” (p.71)

An overwhelming fan consensus on Renesmee’s birth suggests that Meyer’s failure to prepare fans for the possibility of Bella’s pregnancy, coupled with her insistence that the vampire-fathered child fits into the established Twilight canon, created a sense of betrayal. Between accusations of stealing from fan fiction, physiological problem solving, and comparisons with other vampire media, Meyer emerges from the Breaking Dawn release not as a celebrated author of the final instalment of a saga with a cult-like following, but rather an author accused of unfaithfulness to her own canon—accusations, it should be pointed out, made possible and even forcible through massive online agreement in forums, blogs, reviews, and other such discussions.” (p.73)

choice, free will and Bella’s easy out – how this evidences fans unique relationship with the series…

The first three books of the Twilight series revolve around choice, namely Bella’s life-altering choices such as pursuing a relationship with Jacob or Edward, getting married, and changing into a vampire, suggesting a privileging of free will in the series’ canon.” (p.74)  “…in the first three books, autonomous choice plays an integral role in plot development and establishes itself as an important canonical feature of the Twilight saga.” (p.75)

“There is a strong feeling in the Twilight fandom that besides taking the final choices away from her [Bella], Meyer rendered her previous choices less meaningful by the happy ending to the saga, in which she gets everything and everyone she wants.” (p.75)

“Summing up these common fan responses, K. Bray writes that “Breaking Dawn betrays the story of Eclipse and makes Bella’s struggles and difficult choice almost meaningless—she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything after all.” While online discussions offer a multitude of different views on how the saga should have ended and what exactly Bella should have been forced to give up, the common thread that ties them together is the feeling that she should have given up at least something. All these reactions in their many and varied forms, from respectful to flaming and biological to comparative, show how closely fans adhere to canonical precedent and the horizon of expectation and how such adherence fuels ownership claims throughout the fandom.” (p.76)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Rachel Hendershot Parkin (2010) ‘Breaking Faith: Disrupted Expectations and Ownership in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight Saga Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, Volume 2, Issue 2, Winter, pp. 61-85

Some of the critics she refers to (and which sounded interesting) include: Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Summarising the Twilight product

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Firstly, I like the way Happel and Esposito summarise the production of Twilight

“The movie Twilight, directed by Catherin Hardwicke and produced by Summit Entertainment, was released in November of 2008. The screenplay was based  in the 2005 novel of the same name, which was the first of four novels in a series written by Stephanie Meyer. Meyer’s book series has sold more than 42 million copies worldwide, and it has been translated into 37 languages. The novel was adapted for the screen by Melissa Rosenburg in 2007. The popularity of the book series led to the overwhelmingly positive reception of the film. Following the books, the film was an immediate success; it grossed 70.5 million dollars on its opening weekend, and has since grossed over 310 million in box office sales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twilight (2008 film)).

The film has been very popular with young adults, and it has been marketed heavily to preteens and teenagers. Besides the usual movie marketing strategies, the marketers of Twilight invested heavily in online marketing that specifically targeted young adults. The advertising for Twilight was Web savvy, and it included easily accessible trailers of the movie, along with advertisements in heavily trafficked young adult online spaces such as Myspace, I-tunes stores, Facebook, and YouTube. The age-specific marketing strategies, along with the popularity of the book series, have facilitated the tremendous popularity of the film. Indicative of its popularity among young adults, the film was nominated for seven MTV movie awards and won five of the awards in June of 2009. Given the film’s popularity, and also its spawn of material goods and related products, we view the film as an important part of youth’s lives and, thus, a site in need of critique. We need to [-p.525] understand the ways the film speaks to, for, and about youth. It is for these reasons we have chosen to review the film. We argue that, although this movie works to interrupt some stereotypical notions of gender, overall, it sexualizes violence. We see the movie as one way in which young girls are taught to romanticize sexualized violence and, as feminists within the field of Education, we believe it is vital for those of us working with youth to critically engage patriarchal messages being sold to young girls.” (pp.524-525)

Also, their framing of Twilight in terms of postfeminism is interesting. It’s only a short article and they don’t get into any deep criticism, but still …. Their criticism of the film is based largely on what they describe as its postfeminist representation of Bella as having the right to choose any kind of relationship, even a dangerous or violent one; they explain:

Twilight’s main theme, Bella’s love for a boy who wants to kill her, sexualizes violence. Throughout the movie, Edward warns Bella about the dangers of being around both him and his family, yet she continues to put her life in jeopardy because of her love for him. The movie is consistently sensual, and the eroticism seems to be heightened during scenes involving violence. Bella’s body language during violent scenes throughout the movie is noticeably sexual; she often appears breathing heavily with her mouth open and her cheeks flushed. Also, the movie suggests that there is a correlation between her love for Edward, and how dangerous he is to her. This sexualization of violence is related to postfeminism in that postfeminism claims that women have the power and agency to choose any kind of relationship for themselves, even relationships that have the potential for danger and/or violence. Postfeminism’s insistence on individualism and assumed equality is the foundation for the audience to view Bella’s relationship with Edward as an innocuous choice that does not need to be contextualized in histories of violence against women. This ahistorical and decontextualized presentation of sexualized violence through the employment of postfeminism actually serves to uphold and perpetuate patriarchal [-p.530] (and highly dangerous) notions about love, sexuality, and gender roles. Because postfeminism assumes that women have already fought for equality and won, Bella’s choice to be with Edward is seen as a personal choice that was made autonomously, and therefore should be respected and not challenged.” (pp.529-530)

“Like Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the [Rihanna being beaten up by Chris Brown] incident encourages girls to help tame their beast, to make him into a better man. We believe Twilight encourages a similar message.” (p.530)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Alison Happel & Jennifer Esposito (2010): Vampires, Vixens, and Feminists: An Analysis of Twilight, Educational Studies, 46:5, 524-531

Gender Norms in the Twilight Series

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Just collecting the discussions… Rebecca Hayes-Smith had the following complaint about Meyer’s Twilight series…

“Among tween girls and their moms, these books have achieved tremendous popularity. On the one hand, I understand it. The books are entertaining (I read all four in a little over a week), and the romantic vampire story is somewhat beautiful and mysterious.” (p.78)

“What nags me is how, as a sociologist, I find it difficult to ignore the underlying message of gender conformity in Meyer’s books. As a society we have multiple ways to communicate how men and women should act in order to be happy. These messages play an important role in the marginalization of women and girls, and Twilight reinforces these messages in several ways: through traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, and intersecting stereotypes of race, class, and gender. / Throughout the series, women are weak, passive, and in need of protection, while men are strong and violent.” (p.78)

“[Bella’s] insecurity is what makes her easy to identify with, but how can we change women’s (and society’s) views without challenging the romanticization of victimhood?” (p.78)

“In the real world, most female victimization occurs between intimate partners, and this theme is prevalent in Twilight. When Bella has “sex” with Edward (if that’s what you can call it), she walks away from the event literally injured…. The expression of dangerous love-making in other vampire-themed novels is likely similar, but at least in those, the vampires are considered evil.” (p.79) [I thought this last point an interesting one, the ethical  thread of which is also in the following statement….] “In the end, Edward maintains his masculinity by acting aggressively even in a situation that is supposed to be about intimacy and love. The subtle message is that as long as you’re in love or at home, violence is not objectionable.” (p.79)

“Yes, these are novels: should feminists and scholars lighten up? These books might simply be innocent entertainment, or potentially harmful to young women. Plenty of research describes how people construct their social reality depending on the cultural messages around them. This is especially important when considering the sheer volume of media images young people now constantly absorb (both actively and passively). It occurs at all ages, but is especially important among teenagers who are navigating the in-between years of not quite being an adult, yet not a kid anymore. My concern is that the most popular young adult books of the last few years are repeating stereotypes sociologists have been debunking for decades.” (p.79)

Ref: Rebecca Hayes-Smith (2011) ‘Gender Norms in the Twilight Series’ Contexts 2011 10: 78

Another take on Bella’s submissiveness in Twilight

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Interested in the way Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, like Harry Potter, ‘combines several kinds of appeal’, Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger analyse the series’ adoption of conventions from various genres and traditions; they explain: “In the Twilight saga, we find a similar amalgamation of various different literary genres – fantasy fiction for young adults, vampire story, gothic romance, and Arthurian legend. It is a medley, a generic crossing that is – not least due to its focus on an active young heroine – bound to entice a primarily female readership.” (np)

Much of what they say echoes what is being said elsewhere (comments on the Byronic hero, the sympathetic vampire, etc. – I’ll put a couple of quotes below), but I did find their take on Bella (and what others have criticised as Bella’s lack of feminist agency) interesting. I think these authors are the first I have read who see Bella’s transformation into vampire not as a  device or a plotline, so much as a logical trajectory within the YA fantasy genre and a reworking of the vampire tale. I liked their reading of her growth!

According to Klaus and Krüger:

“Bella, who, on the one hand seems to be presented as the femme fragile or damsel in distress concerning her physicality, but, on the other hand, represents a figure of identification for female readers as the independent, strong-willed hero of young adult fiction.” (np)

“Bella’s metamorphosis into a vampire illustrates not only an inward but also an outward ripening, a growing-up-process from teenager to adult that is also manifested in her final motherhood.” (np)

“…the major emphasis of fantasy fiction for children and young adults lies on the heroes’ quests. The same holds for Meyer’s saga as the relatively short battle sequence at the close of the fourth book underlines. Meyer’s main focus is not so much on the final trial of power between the two enemy parties as on her heroine’s inner test of strength in the course of her maturation from an insignificant teenager into a self-confident lover, wife and mother. Meyer casts the spotlight on her female protagonist’s internal struggles with themes like outward appearance, virginity, marriage and child rearing.” (np)

“Bella, like Catherine in Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, is, as Carol Senf points out in The Vampire in Nineteenth-Century English Literature, a new kind of female victim and female vampire, “[a]ssertive, strong, intelligent, and independent, she clearly wants to control her own life although that desire often brings her into conflict with those who wield authority within her society” (Senf 83). Against the fears of her father and the warnings of the Quileute werewolves, Bella keeps up her relationship with Edward. Her “defloration” is not an act of destruction but a consequence of her own free choice and, what is more, it takes place before she is finally turned into a vampire, which actually is a rescue and not a damnation. Bella’s delicate nature is not her ruin, as it is for so many other female characters, but a reflection of her disposition for becoming a vampire and thus ultimately for the fulfilment of her destiny. As a vampire, she clearly embodies a new trend in late 20th- and early 21st-century vampire literature: the un-dead state is not a punishment for sins committed in life but a very attractive “parallel lifestyle” (Hughes 148-9). Jancovitch argues that “the pleasure offered by the [vampire] genre is based on the process of narrative closure in which the horrifying monster is destroyed or contained” and the “original order is re-established” (qtd. in Wisker 168). Twilight does not kill the monster but elevates it to an ideal of female desire. A new order is established which clears the way for fascinating, never-ending romantic opportunities.” (np)

“Bella Swan, the average and inconspicuous girl who so far has never found her niche within society and does not relate well to people her age (Twilight 9), embodies the “new kid in school” motif commonly found not only in realistic teenage fiction but also in late 20th and early 21st century teenage high school movies such as Sara Sugerman’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen (2004) or Ed Decter’s The New Guy (2002). Just as these popular movies feature the difficulty of new pupils fitting into an existing school culture, “[c]rucial establishing scenes for both fictional school stories and school memoirs deal with the departure from home and parents, the first trip to the new school, and the arrival in a scary new place” (Manners Smith 80). Although the school story is fundamentally a British phenomenon, the focus has shifted from depicting boarding schools towards state-funded day schools – most evidently observable in the huge success of Walt Disney’s blockbusters High School Musical and Hannah Montana, both of which are set in American high schools.” (np)

“Bella’s development throughout the four books is undoubtedly evocative of famous fantasy heroes, such as Harry Potter or Christopher Paolini’s Eragon. Just as M. Katherine Grimes describes Harry Potter as insignificant “Everyboy and Everyman” (Grimes 122) in the beginning, Bella seems to lack any signs of being special or chosen. Like other heroes from young adults’ fiction, however, she develops and matures in the course of the story. A significant parallel to popular stories for young adults is Bella’s choice of friends and fellows. Not only does she deviate from her human classmates by getting in touch with vampires, she also defies the vampires’ antipathies against their rivals, the Quileute werewolves, by maintaining her friendship with Jacob Black and his family. By letting Bella choose outsiders and initial foes as friends, the author reveals her protagonist’s positive virtues and makes explicit the importance of impartiality and candour.

“Stephenie Meyer creates a fairy-tale gothic romance with a vampire as the primary, very attractive, love object and an independent, active female heroine who, on the one hand, is still the fragile damsel in distress and, on the other hand, embodies the “new kid in school” motif common in young adults’ literature of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Bella befriends supernatural creatures, is confronted with difficult choices, sacrifices her normal life, and ultimately undergoes an inward and outward ripening, a maturation most significantly seen in her final metamorphosis. Through the use of Bella’s perspective and the combination of mysterious gothic, jolts of serious menace, happy versions of teenage normality, and nostalgic romance, Meyer draws away the focus from the traditional “malicious-vampire-versus-helpless-victim” relationship towards the interiority of the active female agent and thus distances the story from the traditionally male-generated vampire myth which reduces the female character to either victim or femme fatale.” (np)

Some other quotes:

“His Byronic nature is certainly one aspect of Edward’s success among female readers of the 21st century as it combines two ideals of the modern man: sensibility and strength.” (np)

“Edward owes many of his characteristics to literary figures of the 19th century. As Meyer admitted in several interviews, it was particularly the story of Emily Brontë’s Heathcliff and his relationship to Catherine Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights, which motivated her in the construction of Edward.” (np) … “The gothic villain is commonly from the upper classes or of royal blood. Even though Heathcliff’s ancestry is unknown he still holds financial power over the Earnshaw family estate. His economic power is mirrored in the lifestyle of Edward and his family, who can afford the newest cars, live in a remarkable house, wear designer outfits, and never have to worry about money. The Cullens financially certainly belong to the upper class among the vampire families and thus transfer the common class affiliation of the vampire into 21st-century classless America.” (np)

“Edward as vampire is highly fascinating particularly because the focus of the story is not concerned with Edward being a vampire but with Edward being a romantic who happens to be a vampire. Twilight is dominated by a male protagonist whose emotional state dictates his actions which primarily culminate in wooing and protecting Bella. This primary chivalric concern is derived from another genre, which Stephenie Meyer combined with her re-created vampire myth and which is particularly aimed at female readers [Arthurian Romance].” (np)

Despite the lovers being presented as meant for each other, the “knight’s difficult choice between eros and other allegiances” (Fuchs 45), which according to Barbara Fuchs can be found in classic Romance literature, is mirrored in Edward’s endangering his family’s secret by falling in love with Bella. As he points out, he is “breaking all the rules” (Twilight 174). His attempt to part with Bella in New Moon is evocative of the main narrative strategy of romance novels: the postponement of the union between the lovers (Fuchs 125 f.).  However, “the pull of romance towards concluding happiness” (Cooper 81) dominates in Meyer’s saga, which privileges destined love over all worldly problems.” (np)

Ref: Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger (2011) Vampires Without Fangs: The Amalgamation of Genre in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children’s Literature, Vol 15, No 1