Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is pretty hardcore.
Okay, I’m a Gothic fiction fan – I’ve written a Gothic / Paranormal Fiction and I’m writing the sequel. And yes, there will be vampires. I even did an enthusiastic thesis on Interview with the Vampire for fourth year uni. It was about how being immortal undermines the modernist narrative of the life journey (beginning, middle … end?). Anyway, it was pretty fascinating as you can imagine (insert sarcastica font here). Anyway, I love Gothic Fiction. I respect that sex and violence are pretty much part of the scenery. So when I say the Twilight series is creepy, I’m not just being a big wuss.
These books make me edgy and sometimes a little mad. I’m not talking about the materialistic fantasies that permeate the work of both Meyer and Rice – as if (despite their all-consuming hunger) a vampire’s number one priority is making successful long-term investments in order to enjoy the thrill of owning a wide selection sports cars in about two hundred years. Deep breath. No, it’s the insidious violence.
These are not the most violent novels you will find, even among often watered-down best-seller lists. The violence in Ann Rice and Poppy Z. Brite is more extreme, but perhaps less disturbing because it isn’t normalised in the same way. We know that it’s a pretty screwed up world those characters are living in. We know that they’re not building happy little families.
There’s something a bit different about Meyer’s books because of the way they domesticate violence and bring it into a Sweet Valley High world – as if every teenage girl is dreaming of a frothy, white wedding dress and a murderous husband. Please let this not be true.
If you think I’m being a bit extreme, consider this scene as Bella wakes up after making love to Edward on her honeymoon:
‘I’d definitely had worse. There was a faint shadow across one of my cheekbones, and my lips were a little swollen … I concentrated on the bruises that would hardest to hide – my arms and my shoulders’ [p. 95 Breaking Dawn]
I’m excited to see how they make this work in the film!
I really wouldn’t mind if it was a consensual free for all. But what makes it really disturbing (I think) is that Edward feels so bad. His self-disgust, comes off as a perfect rendering of an abusive husband. Really apologetic the next day. And I think, given the way Meyer treats it, that this guilt is meant to be romantic.
Before you say, well it’s just a fantasy, I think there’s actually plenty of knowing social commentary in these stories. For example, there’s a strong emphasis on avoiding the evils of pre-marital sex. But out of control violence? On this occasion, Bella is less concerned about her black and blue body and more concerned that her hair is full of feathers from the ruined pillows. And, of course, she does her best to make Edward feel better. Creepy.
The other thing that disturbed me about this series was that way that Bella used the threat of suicide to try to draw Edward back to her. Very romantic! It wasn’t as if this plot line took the course of likely real events (e.g. an ugly injury, a death, or at best a resentful and emotionally blackmailed partner). It seemed to work quite well for her. Again, fantasy. But why would you want to fantasise about this?
Okay, I don’t want to rant here, but what can you say about this heroine in general? Bella Swan can’t even walk without assistance. I seem to recall one book where she needs to be carried by a burly man on at least three occasions. Teenage girls deserve better heroes than this. Her transformation into a vampire is a bit of a relief frankly. Although, truth be told, her main source of pleasure seems to be that she’s suddenly really, really dishy.
I’m not saying we can’t enjoy a dark fantasy. If there’s any place for violence to belong these days, it’s in our heads. And Meyer writes a good best-seller. You want to keep turning the pages. I finished all the Twilight books pretty quickly and they were very readable. Great holiday reading (if I could just stop rolling my eyes).
I just feel there is something a little insidious in the way this love story romanticises abuse to a near-soppy extent, with so little concern for its dark side. Both a girl’s violence against herself and her husband’s violence against her are inserted into a kind of weird, white wedding fantasy.
At least Rice’s Lestat ended up estranging himself from his loved ones due to being just plain evil (at least, for a high percentage of the time). We loved that he was wicked. It was part of the fun. But Edward somehow holds on to his untarnished golden boy status. Sure, sometimes otherwise nice boys just get carried away during sex. No big deal. Just do your best to make them feel better, girls. They don’t really mean it!
Oh, call me old fashioned (ancient Gen X that I am) but I miss Buffy! She always had a good one-liner for misbehaving vampire boys:
“Sorry, Angel. Changed the locks”