Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is pretty hardcore

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”

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5 thoughts on “Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series is pretty hardcore

  1. Don’t forget that Edward stalked Bella and watched her while she sleep at first without her knowing and later with her knowing. Creepy.
    The sad thing is so many people cannot see Edward for what he is. Forget that fact that he is a vampire, and he is just an abusive and controlling husband in the making. He forces her to give up her truck for a new car that he buys her.
    Plus, Bella annoys me. Her concept of self-worth relies on having a man at her side constantly.
    I miss Buffy, too.

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  2. Hrm.

    I, too, have a taste for gothic fiction. Vampire/paranormal fiction, in fact, and as a teenager I read a lot of great examples (L. J. Smith anyone?). However I have steadfastly avoided Twilight, and in light of this review I will do so with yet greater determination. Everything you’ve said chills me to the bone, and not in a good way.

    The sad fact is it sounds like it all passes inspection quite easily – proof that it’s possible to romanticise just about anything in the minds of (some) people who’ve never experienced anything remotely like it themselves. Puts me in mind of the so-called ‘misery memoirs’ in fact – harrowing stuff, but if it can be viewed from a comfortable distance there’s apparently some twisted form of enjoyment to be had out of moonlighting in the world of a seriously abused child/wife/vulnerable person.

    Never fails to sicken me.

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  3. I don’t want books to preach at me, but I also don’t like reading weird happy-ever-after fantasies about controlling men. Yes, that bit with the car really bugged me too. She doesn’t want your shiny, new car! I’d better go and take a soothing stroll around the garden now …

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  4. Late with the comment, but just came across this very good article!

    I also think it worth a mention that Bella’s alternative supposedly safer choice of male is also abusive. Jacob forces kisses on her. The scene where she gives in to this because he has threatened to get himself killed is very disturbing in the book (it is toned down in the movie). Jacob is often posed as the healthier choice of male; Bella’s Dad even applauds his attempt to force himself on her!

    Just like Edward Jacob is also a macho over-protective and manipulative bully. As well as offering no positive female lead, the book has no positive male role models. Meanwhile Bella incessantly feels terrible and blames herself for all that is wrong in the world. And there is the imprinting, oh my God that is beyond creepy!

    Help, these books make me rant so much!!!! Still at least we have Buffy in comics to keep us sane!

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  5. It’s true – both boys and girls use the self harm threat in these books. I can’t think of anything less romantic. There’s a fine tradition of characters performing desperate acts in the name of love – but telling your loved one beforehand in order to manipulate them into reciprocating is just … sad.

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