Blog of Eternal Stench (blogofstench) wrote,
Blog of Eternal Stench

A vampire romance train wreck: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

I eagerly devoured Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, which I mentioned in a previous entry, and hoooooo boy, it was even better than I expected, which is to say that it was gloriously horrible!
The narrator Bella kept whining, tripping over things, fainting, making uninformed decisions and brushing off her human friends in order to be with the vampire Edward. All other characters both mortal and immortal hovered around Bella adoringly, but I don't know why. She was just a zero with strongly suicidal impulses who defined herself solely in relation to Edward.

As for Edward, he was constantly described as a paragon of physical beauty who was good at everything he did, from schoolwork to sports to music, but he didn't have much personality. Despite Bella's insistence on his charisma, goodness and gentleness, however, he was severely lacking in redeeming qualities. Moody, unpredictable, domineering, condescending and supercilious, Edward constantly laughed at Bella, teased her for her weakness and spouted sexist, macho assumptions that he should take care of her by dictating her every movement. Never has such a supposedly perfect exterior concealed such an amazing black hole of character development.

Because Twilight so clearly follows the lineaments of a modern romance novel, as I read, I constantly compared Twilight to Warrior's Woman by Johanna Lindsey, one of my favorite books that I love to hate. It's a romance novel about a police officer from a liberated egalitarian society who crashes on a planet full of hierarchical hunters whose society subjugates and controls women. She meets "dominant maleness personified" [that's a quote from the book], and they spend most of the book torturing each other physically and psychologically until they finally admit that they really enjoy this sadomasochistic lust. In a very general sense, then, Warrior's Woman provides the template for Twilight's plot, in which a woman feels a burning attraction for "dominant maleness personified" and, after fighting internally, finally admits that she likes being possessed and objectified.

Warrior's Woman differs from Twilight, however, by making this plot actually work. No matter how much the characters piss me off with their sexist assumptions, they always remain psychologically consistent and therefore believable. Most importantly for me, Tedra in Warrior's Woman relishes the attention from Challen, no matter how torturous it seems. She looks cheerfully forward to reaming him out and to him punishing her; therefore the entire story is basically her telling her inner feminist objections to shut up so she can be happily dominated. Whether you agree with Tedra's mindset or not, Lindsey takes pains to show the reader that Tedra and Challen both enjoy his dominance, her submission and their adversarial relationship. They eventually agree that they prefer their kinky master/uppity slave relationship, and they accept it.

Frank from RHPS would like to remind you, "Don't judge a book by its coverrrrrrrrrr!"

By contrast, the domination/submission plot in Twilight never really works because Meyer never convinces the readers that Bella consents to this type of relationship with Edward. Bella is an independent, assertive character, at least in the beginning; she chooses to move by herself from Arizona to Washington to live with her dad. She toughs it out at a new school and takes over kitchen duty from her dad, all actions that suggest a person with grit, stubbornness and a need to control her life and the lives of those around her. She's used to caring for other people, and she gives no indication that she wishes for someone to be "dominant maleness personified" for her.

So, initially, Bella has no interest in or predisposition toward a submissive role. All of this flies out the window, however, when she hooks up with Edward, who rescues her, physically overpowers her, tells her what to do and otherwise keeps forcing her into the submissive position. Her great lust for him short-circuits her assertiveness, but she always feels uncomfortable when her dominates her. For example, all throughout the book, Bella makes it clear to everyone in earshot that she doesn't want to go to the prom. Naturally, because he's some sort of second-guessing, mind-fucking idiot, Edward surprises her by dragging her to the prom at the end of the book [p. 484]:

My face and neck flushed crimson with anger. I could feel the rage-induced tears starting to fill my eyes. ... "You're taking me to THE PROM!" I yelled.

It was embarrassingly obvious now. If I'd been paying attention at all, I'm sure I would have noticed the date on the posters that decorated the school buildings. But I'd never dreamed he was thinking of subjecting me to this. Didn't he know me at all?

...He pressed his lips together and his eyes narrowed. "Don't be difficult, Bella."

..."Why are you doing this to me?" I demanded in horror.

...I was mortified...

I'd guessed there was some kind of occasion brewing. But PROM! That was the furthest thing from my mind.

The angry tears rolled over my cheeks...

If you pay attention to the bolded phrases, you'll notice that Bella does not want to go. She is furious at Edward because his assumptions about her prove how little he actually knows her desires. She also feels terrified because she is being forced to do something that she obviously doesn't want to. Edward beats her down by beguiling her with the Captivating Vampire Eyes of Magical Hypnotism, but that doesn't erase the fact that Bella was absolutely panicked. This sort of thing happens throughout the book -- Bella says she doesn't want to do something, but Edward forces her into it anyway -- but never so disturbingly as in this passage. Bella's long-standing objection to prom, her terror when she realizes that she's being taken, even her framing of the event -- something she is "subjected" to -- suggests a violation and deep betrayal akin to rape. This is why Twilight's plot of humiliation and submission doesn't work. We have no indication that Bella accepts the role placed upon her. In fact, she vehemently rejects it, but, for some reason, Meyer thinks it's romantic to violate and betray her heroine over and over again.
Tags: books, feminism, twilight, vamp books, vampires
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