Twilight: The Dangers of Idol Worship

Twilight Recap: Bella has returned home after her second day of school in time to start dinner and answer her email before Charlie gets home. 

Twilight, Chapter 2: Open Book

   "I had decided to read Wuthering Heights — the novel we were currently studying in English — yet again for the fun of it, and that’s what I was doing when Charlie came home."

I'm going to admit up front: I'm not a huge fan of English literature in general and the Austen/Bronte stuff in particular. This was rather awkward when I was an English major in college and the only girl in the department who wasn't an Austenite, but we all agreed to disagree on the relative awesomeness of Austen and the Bronte sisters and managed to get along fairly well.

So with that understanding of my own personal bias, I'm having a hard time with this characterization of Bella re-reading "Wuthering Heights" for fun. Realistic for a high school student, particularly one of her general character thus far, or pretentious literary name-dropping? Discuss.

   "Bella?" my father called out when he heard me on the stairs.
   Who else? I thought to myself.

Some of you have been floating the utterly delightful theory in the comments of these posts that Charlie is, in one way or another, associated with the Cullens since their initial move into Forks. I like the theory not just because it tickles my darker fanfic fancies, but because in some ways it makes sense that the Cullens would seek out and cultivate a relationship with the chief of police in whatever doomed town in which they settle.

No matter how careful the Cullens are with their hunting and no matter how well they hide the blood-drained bodies of the animals they hunt, it stands to reason that eventually someone is going to see something. The Cullens' cover just doesn't add up: they keep to themselves, they socialize very little, they disappear into the woods for long weekends and surprise out-of-school excursions. And that doesn't even get into their shopping habits, which are almost invariably going to feature some oddities: bushels of toilet paper for the liquid diet family, and three women who never seem to need feminine hygiene products? Even if people don't consciously put the pieces together, it seems to me that on some level, there's going to be some suspicions.

So knowing that someone, somewhere, sometime is going to see or hear or find something to make them suspicious enough to go to the local police, it stands to reason that the Cullens would do everything in their power to get to know Charlie Swan. It would make sense, after all, to make certain that the local police chief isn't going to give a lot of credence to whatever outlandish story someone brings to him the first time they see Edward streaking stark naked through the woods after a frightened bobcat.

The real question ultimately becomes whether or not Charlie knows he's being influenced and manipulated by the Cullens -- tips in the FOOD MONEY jar? emotional spikes from Jasper? -- and whether or not he knows they're actually dangerous. His question here upon hearing a creak on the stairs -- "Bella?" -- is particularly poignant. "Who else?", Bella thinks, but those of us who have read ahead know that several inhabitants of Forks can enter and leave Charlie's house on a whim.

   “Thanks.” He hung up his gun belt and stepped out of his boots as I bustled about the kitchen. As far as I was aware, he’d never shot the gun on the job. But he kept it ready. When I came here as a child, he would always remove the bullets as soon as he walked in the door. I guess he considered me old enough now not to shoot myself by accident, and not depressed enough to shoot myself on purpose.

And now let's talk about gun safety. Charlie keeps a loaded gun in the house and doesn't even bother to mention to his newest housemate that, hey, gun over here, loaded, don't touch. Apparently Charlie seems to think that these finer points -- gun, here, loaded, no touching -- can be assumed to be understood by everyone in the household, in which case he is ignoring every basic gun safety rule I know which is to not assume stuff like that.

What's worse is that Bella is famous to everyone she meets for being the clumsiest, most accident-prone person in the whole world. Edward will even comment later that Bella can't walk across a perfectly even surface without finding a way to trip and fall. Charlie must know this about his daughter; it's impossible to be around her for more than a few minutes before she somehow manages to fling herself into harm's way, so why is he okay with hanging a loaded gun from the coat rack or wherever? It's really just a matter of time before Bella trips, flings out an arm, and discharges the gun by accident. Gah.

   “What’s for dinner?” he asked warily. My mother was an imaginative cook, and her experiments weren’t always edible. I was surprised, and sad, that he seemed to remember that far back.

My only real experience with divorce is second-hand: my husband has two teenage children from a previous marriage, and his relationship with the children is significantly closer than that between Charlie and Bella. Even so, I continue to be astonished by the implications in text that Charlie hasn't seen or spoken to or of Renee in the last 16+ years.

Every time Charlie mentions some fleeting personality detail of Renee -- in this case that she likes to cook experimentally -- Bella is bowled over in utter shock that her father's memory has preserved this detail for so long. The only way this makes any sense is if Renee and Charlie have such bristling animosity towards one another that they never speak on the phone, not even about Bella or to arrange her visits, and when Bella does visit Charlie, the entire visit passes without a single conversation about Bella's life in which Renee features even a tiny bit. Only in this way -- with Charlie living in a little insular bubble with zero contact from Renee and no information about her second-hand from their daughter -- does it make sense to me that every little detail Charlie remembers about Renee can be treated as this epic love over which he eternally pines.

Well, the other possibility is that Bella is an absolute ditz and doesn't realize that after 16+ years of entertaining her father with "cooking fiasco" stories over their summer vacations, it might not be that epic when he recalls Renee's traits as an experimental cook.

The two eat in silence through dinner until -- getting up for seconds -- Charlie finally asks if Bella is liking school. She name-drops a few people, namely Jessica and Mike, and Charlie provides some rousing and rather unnecessary backstory for Mike, whose father "makes a good living off all the backpackers who come through here." And then Bella finally works up the courage to bring up what's really bothering her: the Biology Incident.

   “Do you know the Cullen family?” I asked hesitantly.
   “Dr. Cullen’s family? Sure. Dr. Cullen’s a great man.”
   “They . . . the kids . . . are a little different. They don’t seem to fit in very well at school.”
   Charlie surprised me by looking angry.
   “People in this town,” he muttered. “Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon who could probably work in any hospital in the world, make ten times the salary he gets here,” he continued, getting louder. “We’re lucky to have him — lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town. He’s an asset to the community, and all of those kids are well behaved and polite. I had my doubts, when they first moved in, with all those adopted teenagers. I thought we might have some problems with them. But they’re all very mature — I haven’t had one speck of trouble from any of them. That’s more than I can say for the children of some folks who have lived in this town for generations. And they stick together the way a family should — camping trips every other weekend. . . . Just because they’re newcomers, people have to talk.”
   It was the longest speech I’d ever heard Charlie make. He must feel strongly about whatever people were saying.

And now I have to think that the penny drops and we finally see that either Charlie is intentionally covering for the Cullens or he's been manipulated into being their dupe and just doesn't realize it. None of what he says here in this pro-Cullen rant seems natural; the flow of the whole thing feels forced to me.

"People in this town" would seem to indicate that Charlie is aware of gossip about the Cullens and is angry and disgusted about it. This is further indicated by his immediate jump to the defensive when Bella brings up the Cullens; instead of expressing surprise at her statement that they don't seem to fit in ("Oh, really? I hadn't heard.") or doubt ("That can't be right, honey, you must be mistaken."), he leaps to angry and upset. It is, of course, entirely possible that the town has quite a few malicious gossipers, but it seems odd somehow that Charlie would so quickly and so strongly discount the opinions of people he must have known all his life -- or at least the last 16+ years -- in favor of a new family of rich-but-odd strangers that, in all fairness, don't seem to be making an effort to fit in. It's not like they're inviting people over for dinner, and they're frequently yanking the kids out of school and insisting that they date within the family -- those things are going to seem a little anti-social in even the most favorable light.

"Dr. Cullen is a brilliant surgeon" also seems unnecessarily defensive. Carlisle may be a good surgeon, and there's nothing wrong with people saying so, but on what basis is Charlie saying that Carlisle is brilliant and could work in any hospital! anywhere! at ten times the salary! I'm genuinely curious on what Charlie is basis this assessment -- did the hospital provide Charlie with Carlisle's resume? It seems unlikely that Carlisle would have a long resume or list of accomplishments, considering that the Cullens are living "off the grid"; it seems equally unlikely that Charlie would have looked them up on a whim. The "we're lucky to have him" seems almost personal, but if Carlisle has been saving lives left and right since arriving in Forks with his Mad Surgical Skillz, then why are people hostile against the family? Something doesn't add up here.

"We're... lucky that his wife wanted to live in a small town," reads awkwardly as well. I suppose this is a veiled rant against Renee, but then again as far as we know Renee never had a problem with small towns -- her problem was with perpetually rainy towns. How does Charlie know that Esme "wanted" to live in Forks? Is that the Cullen cover story for the brilliant doctor being in a small town -- that his wife wanted it? Or is Charlie just assuming that Esme must want to live in Forks because otherwise she'd take off like Renee did? But even if this is the case, I'm having a hard time seeing how Esme's love of small, rainy town is extraordinarily "lucky". There are lots of women who live in Forks and Charlie should have met some of them, what with having lived there his entire life -- does he assume that most of them don't want to live in Forks, but they just don't have the resources to move?

Lastly is Charlie's strange assumption that "all those adopted teenagers" would automatically be trouble, and his interesting assertion that the Cullen children are all "well behaved and polite". Side-stepping the ageism that Teenager = Trouble as cutesy characterization for a hard-boiled police chief, I'm interested in knowing what contact Charlie has had with the Cullen children at all, other than "not getting arrested for stuff". As for their supposed virtues, only Carlisle's quick thinking and smooth explanations have kept the children from being reported as truant for their many missed days of school, and the children as a group are anti-social to the point of notoriety -- they do not hold jobs, do not regularly attend their classes, do not socialize outside of their family, do not date outside of their family, and do not smile much or give the time of day to anyone. It seems like the only way Charlie could call the Cullen children "polite" or "well behaved" would be by never interacting with them at all.

It seems strange, almost suspicious, for Charlie to be a mouthpiece for the Cullens with so little apparent interaction with the family. This isn't like his relationship with Billy Black, where he spends long weekends on fishing trips at the reservation -- Charlie doesn't even know the Cullens' names and ages -- in chapter 17, he will 'comically' mix up Emmett and Edward, while mistakenly calling the youngest Cullen "Edwin". It's apparent from every other scene in this book, every in-text interaction between Charlie and the Cullens, that the chief of police of Forks knows almost nothing about this new family -- or at least is pretending to know almost nothing about them -- and yet at the first reminder that the people he lives around and grew up with have disparaging remarks to make about this family, he will fly into an utterly uncharacteristic rant. Why?

   I backpedaled. “They seemed nice enough to me. I just noticed they kept to themselves. They’re all very attractive,” I added, trying to be more complimentary.
   “You should see the doctor,” Charlie said, laughing. “It’s a good thing he’s happily married. A lot of the nurses at the hospital have a hard time concentrating on their work with him around.”

Maybe there's a simpler explanation here. Maybe Charlie loves Carlisle not because he knows the first thing about Carlisle, but rather because he wants to be Carlisle. He's a brilliant man, and the town is lucky to have him! His beautiful wife wants to live in the small, sleepy town of Forks! His children are well behaved and polite!

It's the dream Charlie always wanted to live and instead of being jealous of Carlisle, he idolizes a man he barely knows. The fact that this unfounded idolization will indirectly cause Charlie to lose his only daughter to undeath is, perhaps, the most tragic aspect of all this.


Hannah M said...

I read a lot of classic literature for fun when I was in high school. Not so much the Brontes or Austen, but I loved Shakespeare and Victor Hugo, and from sophomore year on, my favorite book was the French play Cyrano de Bergerac. So I'd accept that Bella reads Wuthering Heights for fun. 

However, I do *not* accept that she's unenthused about studying them in school. I know I got excited when one of my favorites was on our reading list. Any excuse to reread and discuss and share my thoughts on these books was great.

The fact that Bella is bored by these books being on her curriculum makes me think that she doesn't really *enjoy* them - she just enjoys thinking of herself as the kind of person who would read these books. Bella herself is just a literary name-dropper. She's the worst kind of pretentious snob, the kind that won't even let themselves enjoy the art they choose.

Cupcakedoll said...

Aaaaaand now I'm mentally mixing the overly-bishie Carlisle with Dr. House.  x_x

In high school I wanted badly to be a literary name-dropper, the kind of girl who read Shakespeare for fun.  (The fact that the two cutest guys in school were in drama was probably part of it)  It didn't work.  Aspiring to higher tastes did not change the fact that I just don't enjoy literature that much.

If Bella is indeed aspiring to high tastes, I wonder what for.  It can't be to impress anybody; she wasn't impressed BY anybody in Phoenix, not enough to even mentally compare them to Edward.  My suspicion is that she was aiming to look/be more intelligent and cultured than ditzy Renee, who I imagine reading a steady diet of harlequins.  (The ones with Fabio on the front!)

Sabayon said...

My best friend in high school loved Jane Eyre and would happily read it or Wuthering Heights over and over, so it's not unheard of.  However, the fact that she is sooooo bored by them yet still re-reading them, doesn't make her sound either like a lover of Gothic literature or a literary name dropper, just a really boring person.  I know at her age if I had a book for school that I had already read and was bored by I would just, you know read something else.  I mean, my reading list was always long and even though we were broke there were always books in the house, mostly library books (I promise, there is a library in Forks, Washington, it's even pretty well endowed and part of a good system, I applied for a job there at one point).  This description just makes Bella sound listless and whiny to me.
Personally, at her age while I might not have been a literary name dropper (okay, yes I was); I did restrict myself to "proper" literature; no sci-fi or fantasy and certainly no young adult (although is it just me or had young adult fiction improved by leaps and bounds in the last decade? -- present company excepted of course) because that did not fit my image of myself as a smarty-pants bluestockings.  I devoured magic realism because it is "proper literature" but still satisfied my repressed fantasy yearnings.  I loved my classics, and still do (and would like to point out that Jan Austen and the Bronte sisters are totally different genres thank-you-very-much), but I have since learned there is a lot of great literature in genre, even *gasp* comics.Also, this post has made me want to write Charlie/Carslisle ship.  

Amaryllis said...

I was very fond of Jane Austen's books when I was in high school-- and still am!  I re-read Jane Eyre every now and then-- and still do!

But there are Brontes and Brontes. I slogged through Wuthering Heights once, and have never been able to pick it up again. But now I come to think of it, if I am recalling that very unpleasant cast of characters correctly, they were all wrapped up in themselves and their own feelings and what they wanted, regardless of morality or social norms or harm to anybody else. Doesn't that sound like our Bella, with her implacable determination to be with Edward at any cost? No wonder it's her favorite book.

I don't think I'd realized that Carlisle Cullen is a surgeon. Isn't that rather a risky choice of occupation for a vampire on a restricted diet? Wouldn't he find it hard to be around all that human blood and not partake? HE should have stuck with dermatology, where he could stay on the outside of other peoples' skins.

Ana Mardoll said...

@bf60f79e5dd23978e276c0af61c914ec   I think you have a very awesome point that Bella is being contradictory by "reading for fun" something that she was disappointed to see on the school reading list. I'd forgotten that.

@309c56667ee9b28daec59e51eb5bc586   I love your point that Bella may be trying to distinguish herself from her mother -- that seems like such a likely scenario, that it's practically canon-in-my-head from the moment I read your post.

Sabayon   You're completely right that Austen and the Brontes are very different; I'll admit that I combined the Brontes with Austen mostly because Bella starts dropping Austen's name later. It's funny you mention Charlie/Carlisle slash -- it crossed my mind myself when I was writing this. I guess it's my backup theory if the idolization one gets shot down.

Amaryllis   I don't remember WH very clearly, but I feel like that twinge of irony is probably correct. Alas, I would imagine that any point along the lines of "don't be a self-absorbed monster like this cast of characters" would probably fly over Bella's head. :P

mercredigirl said...

I'm one of those people who can't stand Jane Eyre - I'm a postcolonial and it rubs me the wrong way completely. But if a book which I felt strongly about in either direction were on the curriculum, good luck shutting me up! I agree that Bella's supposed fannishness (heh) doesn't ring true at all.

In Charlie's assertion about 'all those adopted teenagers', I wonder if there is also an unconscious assumption being made about adopted children - from what I understand, there would definitely be an undercurrent of classism and racism in associating them with 'trouble' automatically.

Kit Whitfield said...

Possibly Charlie associates gossip about outsiders with people who used to make nasty comments about Renee? If that's the case, his admiration of the Cullens is rather sad. Dr Cullen has exactly what he wished for himself - a family that sticks together, a wife who wanted to live in a small town - and despite all his opportunities, he actually chose to live in Forks. Maybe he sees the Cullens as living proof that staying in Forks doesn't make him a loser; that the Cullen clan is a central part of his self-esteem because it shows the life he wanted was, if nothing else, a possibility and not an unrealisable dream - which means Charlie was unlucky not to get what he wanted, but not an idiot for wanting it. 

Kit Whitfield said...

I'm inclined to believe that the references to the Brontes and Austen is more about intertextuality than characterisation; it's a nod at supposed 'great romances' to highlight this book's romantic status. 'Wuthering Heights' is a mightily problematic choice as a 'great romance', but it's one of those books that's frequently misremembered as such (though you might argue that Edward has things in common with Heathcliff from a cynical point of view: moody, destructive, supposedly powerful but incapable of winning any conflicts that actually matter and entirely under the sway of a self-centred woman). 

It's a funny thing, actually: Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Austen's novels, are all steel-tipped when you read them closely. The Brontes are full of severe power struggles; Jane Austen is very funny and suspenseful but she's kind of evil as well (no novelist can hate like Austen when she's got her game on*). There's a lot to be said about the oblique aggression of Twilight, but all those classics are extremely aggressive as well. 

If anyone's interested, I wrote a blog post called 'Misremembering the Brontes' a few years ago on the subject ( 

Oh, and reading the comments, I found a quote from Carol Shields's biography of Austen that seems relevant to Bella's attitude towards Edward:

The young often read Austen's novels as love stories. Later, more knowing readers respond to their intricate structures, their narrative drive, their quiet insistence that we keep turning over the page, even though we know the ending, which is invariably one of reconciliation and a projection of future happiness in the form of marriage. But what did marriage mean in the context of these novels? Not a mere exchange of vows repeated in church. Marriage reached beyond its iterative moment of rhetoric and gestured, eloquently and also innocently, toward the only pledge a young woman was capable of giving. She had one chance in her life to say 'I do,' and these words rhyme psychologically with the phrase: I am, I exist.

What's interesting about Bella is that she has other chances to say 'I do' and she doesn't want them...

*I'm listening to her on audio while settling the baby, and while it's keeping me entertained, it's an interesting experience. Among other things, Austen really hates children. Whenever she describes a child being in the room, it's all about how the child is an impossible brat and anybody who seems to like it is either ridiculously foolish and partial or else manipulating the parent. Even when the children are adults, she's not always sympathetic: I particularly remember how in Persuasion, she insists that Mrs Musgrove's apparent grief for her dead son Richard is completely fake because he was so useless that his death was really a relief to her. Yep, according to Austen, an emotionally normal woman doesn't necessarily feel sad when her son dies . 

Ana Mardoll said...

@Kit_Whitfield:disqus   I'd not noticed before how Austen feels about children, but now that you say so, I can't think of a counter-example. How interesting! I know that I, myself, am very ambivalent towards children in writing (and how so many plots HAVE to end in pregnancy by law) because I cannot have children myself... I wonder if Austen felt similarly, or if she just outright didn't care for them in general.

Knowing this, it makes Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters even MORE funny to me:

"On every formal visit a child ought to be of the party, by way of provision for discourse, or in extreme cases, if someone needs to be thrown overboard to satisfy the piranhas trailing the boat."

Julezyme said...

Yep, intertextuality. Edward as brooding bullying narcissist Heathcliff, Bella as brooding bullying narcissist Cathy. (Alice as Kate Bush?)
It gets worse. In a subsequent book they read (Spoiler!) Romeo and Juliet. Unironically.

Ana Mardoll said...



I had forgotten about that and now that you remind me, I'm just kind of speechless. I cannot -- CANNOT -- believe that Meyer read recently the books she keeps name-dropping; I have to assume she just remembers all these pieces from high school through rose-colored literary glasses.

I just... I don't think most adults can read "Romeo and Juliet" and not have it impressed upon them that the title characters are not meant to be sympathetic in the "oh, what a powerful and tragic love!" sense. If at all, the teenages are sympathetic in "oh, what a stupid and pointless waste of life!" sense, but it's pretty clear from the reading that the two kids are infatuated with each other and that it's really the struggling against their parents that causes the relationship to have any long-term traction. I'm sure it seems thrilling reading the play in one's youth but after you've been through the infatuation-cooldown cycle a few times, it's a very different play altogether.

I mean, I can't be the only one who reads it that way? That's how everyone else reads it, right?

Brin Bellway said...

I'm sure it seems thrilling reading the play in one's youth but after
you've been through the infatuation-cooldown cycle a few times, it's a
very different play altogether.

When you describe it like that, the lacking-theory-of-mind bit of me wonders how anyone could have made it to high school without having already been through the infatuation-cooldown cycle a few times, just not romantically. (I am told by those who have experienced both that infatuation feels similar whether boy or book.)

I mean, I can't be the only one who reads it that way? That's how everyone else reads it, right?

Actually, that might be another reason for the age difference. I don't know how common this is, but little-kid!me was told Romeo and Juliet was a romance, and teenage!me is told (and not just by you) that it's infatuation leading to pointless waste of life, and this will obviously affect how I interpret it myself. If most teenagers don't hear about the "pointless waste of life" interpretation until they're older...

Kit Whitfield said...

Well, the other possibility is that Bella is an absolute ditz and doesn't realize that after 16+ years of entertaining her father with "cooking fiasco" stories over their summer vacations, it might not be thatepic when he recalls Renee's traits as an experimental cook. 

This might also be character writing. Bella's only sixteen herself (or is it seventeen?) - anyway, she's very young. To her, sixteen years is literally a lifetime; even ten years back, her memories are going to be fairly blurred. She can't remember any details of Renee and Charlie's marriage, so it's possible that, with the limited insight of a girl in her mid-teens, she doesn't really get that to an adult, sixteen years is not an abyss of time that will swallow all memories. 

If that's the case, it suggests one of two things about her attitude towards Edward, who can remember back a century: either she just doesn't have very much respect for Charlie as a human being separate from her and assumes, in a teenage way, that he couldn't possibly know anything she doesn't, or else she regard's Edward's long life as a kind of 'slow time' which didn't last a hundred-odd real years. I'm inclined to go with the former. 

Ana Mardoll said...


Actually, that might be another reason for the age difference. I don't know how common this is, but little-kid!me was told Romeo and Juliet was a romance, and teenage!me is told
(and not just by you) that it's infatuation leading to pointless waste
of life, and this will obviously affect how I interpret it myself.

This makes sense, and it may also be a function of how comfortable one is with unreliable narrators. If you take everything a character says at face value, then you have to believe that Romeo is correct when he says that Juliet is the love of his life; if you tend to mistrust character interpretations, you're more likely to note that Romeo had JUST finished saying that about...ah...Rosalie? Rosamund? (Something. I'm too lazy to look.) And thus one is more likely to notice a trend of infatuations...


Then again, some people really are just jerks about children.

That's true, and there's certainly a spectrum. On the one side you have folks who feel that people who bring children in public are being terribly unfair to everyone else; on the other side, you have parents who feel that their children are due every possible accommodation including the woman who sat behind us in the theater the other day who felt no need whatsoever to tell her 6-year-old to stop talking the entire movie. *sigh* Certainly, it's difficult to say how much the attitudes of each group reinforce the attitudes of the other.

I also wonder how much Austen may have just been frustrated with the subject over time -- I am not an expert on the time period, but surely an unmarried woman would then, as now, be bothered by "well meaning" friends and relatives extolling the virtues of children as a carrot to push her into marriage?

I do like that letter you quoted, though. Terribly harsh, but it tickled me.

It is interesting, though, that you point out her status as a childlike dependent... I've always felt a little ambivalent about her portrayal of Mr. Bennet in P&P... she seems quite tickled at how indulgent he is and she likes his verbal barbs at the "silly" members of the family, but ultimately quite a lot of what is wrong with the family can be laid at least partially at his feet, from a certain point of view, I think. In some ways, this increased my pleasure of PP&Z, because at least then Mr. Bennet has something of an excuse for caring so little about his family's behavior, namely, there is a gorram zombie apocalypse going on outside...

Sabayon said...

But it's notable that she doesn't actually quote children directly; we hear them described but don't hear them speak, almost as if they were animals. 
I believe this would have been a function of her time.  Before the Victorian invention of childhood, children were largely considered proto-humans with nothing interesting or worthwhile to contribute.  Certainly a parent would love their own children (and many Austen characters are praised for this affection, such as Emma's sister), but other adults were not expected to find them any more interesting or entertaining than a scampering puppy would be.  Children wouldn't be speaking characters in novels for a few more decades after she wrote.

Kit Whitfield said...

I am not an expert on the time period, but surely an unmarried woman would then, as now, be bothered by "well meaning" friends and relatives extolling the virtues of children as a carrot to push her into marriage? 

I doubt it; the main reason for a woman of that era and class to marry was to have somewhere to live and money to live on. Austen wasn't unwilling to marry - there was a man she wrote to Cassandra cheerfully predicting that he'd propose and clearly she intended to accept, but it didn't pan out; there was another proposal she accepted to have security but changed her mind, presumably because she felt that she just couldn't go through with it - so it's unlikely people would have been pressuring her on that score. If there was pressure, it would more likely have been unwanted advice about how best to attract a husband, not why it's good to have one: that would have been very clear to her. 

And yeah, I don't think a child is the same thing as diplomatic immunity; parents should try to get their kids acting civilised in public. But I've had one too many 'my luggage is more important than your baby' encounters to think that's an excuse for being a jerk to mothers. 

Amaryllis said...

I don't remember the details of Jane Austen's life, but in general, it was often convenient for a family to have an unmarried female relative around.  A daughter to take care of the old people, an aunt to help with the children...I remember, in Persuasion,  Anne's sister being a little miffed at the idea of  Anne marrying and not being  available whenever Mary had something better to do than look after children.

I believe it was  Louisa May Alcott who said something like it's a good thing there are "superfluous women," because it takes three or four women to get one man into, through, and out of the world.

Hannah M said...

I reread Romeo & Juliet for a Shakespeare class a few months ago. I wasn't a fan when I read it in high school, but reading it this time around, I had a blast. EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER who wasn't Romeo or Juliet responded to their teenage infatuation with the same snarky "You are stupid" attitude that I had toward them. The Friar in particular has some wonderful comebacks to Romeo's constant moping around. I laughed out loud a few times.

I also had forgotten how small a part the feud plays in their relationship. The story's so often thought of as destined lovers parted by their prejudiced families, but, really, Juliet's parents are very kindly disposed toward Romeo for the entire first half of the play. Nothing really prevents the lovers from getting together. It's their own reckless behavior that gets them killed off.

That made for a VERY different reading. An entire story set up as a comedy, snarking at two idiot teens who are following each other around like puppies. You keep laughing at them and thinking, "They need to get their act together" ...and then they kill themselves. It's so much more terrifying and devastating seen as a story of obsession spiraling out of control than a story of forbidden true love.

jetso said...

Just a quick note about Wuthering Heights. I love the book, but it's not a easy book and whilst I acknowledge one's mileage may vary greatly. It may be tedious and beautifully written. It may be emotionally draining or alienating . It may haunting or highly irritating. It can be many, many things, but I don't think it can ever be described as a "fun" read.

Silver Adept said...

I wonder if we can look at this particular piece from the predestination lens. Since Isaballa-writing knows about how things are going to turn out, perhaps she's exaggerating Charlie's later opposition to Edward (if he has opposition to Edward later - I only went through Twilight) in trying to make her story sound better. Which would explain the airs of rereading Wuthering Heights for fun, which may or may not be true.

The Charlie/Carlisle relationship, however, is entirely rife with Dark Implications, the bribery aspect indicated by "Food Money" being one of them, and the other implications of how the Cullens keep Charlie in line (Jasper, Esme, et cetera) discussed in other posts.

To see Charlie defend the Cullens like this, though, it seems more like the more classic mesmer powers of vampires. Then again, perhaps in the intervening 16 years, Carlisle and Esme have been quite social with Chief Swan and haven't really needed to use much for powers, other than to make sure Charlie forgets that the teenagers have been there for sixteen years or so.

Or maybe Charlie owes Carlisle his life more than a few times, as Forks has been unnaturally violent in the sixteen years that Isabella has been away and the Chief of Police sometimes gets roughed up by what appear to be wild animals routinely, and sometimes shot at and violently attacked by dangerous criminals passing through his territory. It might be by Carlisle's hands that Carlie is still with us to be Bella's foil, and thus Charlie is going to be strongly inclined to defend him as both a "brilliant surgeon" and as someone to be thankful for for having teens that behave and a wife that likes the place. (Or maybe Carlisle's saved Charlie's friends from similar fates.)

Perhaps it's a little bit of all three - the Cullens have found a weak-minded Chief they can manipulate, and they make sure he's good and corrupted so as not to have him go suddenly moral on them, and they like this arrangement enough to want to make sure that he stays alive, even when his own stupidity should have rightly gotten him killed, or have had inquiries happen about the Cullens that would have been more difficult to quash.

Loquat said...

Isn't [surgeon] rather a risky choice of occupation for a vampire on a restricted diet?

As I understand it, Carlisle's surgical career is specifically chosen to show off how awesome and in-control-of-his-bloodlust he is. A lesser vampire would have trouble restraining himself in the presence of a human with a paper cut; Carlisle can perform open-heart surgery without even breaking a sweat. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. We all know sparkle vampires are far too perfect to do such a gauche thing as secrete body fluids.)

Man, Wuthering Heights - as a child, I somehow got the idea that it was about some great romance, and that Heathcliff and Catherine were madly in love but separated against their wills. It was such a let-down when I read the book in high school and realized I hated pretty much every character in it. Not to mention the English teacher's suggestion that Heathcliff was probably Catherine's illegitimate half-brother...

The Dread Pirate Matt said...

I always got the impression that Austen was as much satire of the romance novel (and indeed the mores of the landed gentry) as a romance in and of itself. Like a more subtle version of 'Silly Novels By Lady Novelists' by George Eliot (

My sister is a big fan of Austen and Bronte (she was the sort who read them in high school for fun) and seems to share that opinion. It's been a long while since I read any of them, however, so I'm prepared to yield on that point.

I don't know why, but the love of Georgian romance just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the characterisation of Bella, which makes me think that it's more about literary name-dropping than any sort of meta-commentary on the story. (My brain is failing me at the moment as to *why* I feel this way; if I find my way to an answer I shall inform.)

Pamela Merritt said...

I also think Wuthering Heights is literary name dropping; because Bella never says why she likes it. Everyone here who mentioned a classic they liked at that age at least mentioned why; and they are not characters in a novel, where Show Don't Tell is the first rule.

I can totally believe there are high school girls with an appreciation of literature; I can't believe that of Bella.

Redwood Rhiadra said...

 I mean, I can't be the only one who reads it that way? That's how everyone else reads it, right?

I certainly read it that way, but my English teacher didn't agree and insisted that R&J was about "True Love". Yes, I flunked a paper because of this, and yes, I'm still bitter 20 years later.

Ana Mardoll said...

Redwood Rhiadra

*sputters* You--- You're kidding me. Wow. That's... That actually really makes me sad. I get pretty upset sometimes with the way English is taught in schools these days because I feel like it's taught in such a way as to make kids hate it.

I know I hated English until I got to college, and a lot of it was because of one too many "One True Way" teachers. So I'm not surprised, but still that is just so frustrating and sad. I cannot imagine that teacher could have gotten through college without encountering that interpretation of R&J, so the idea that they would flunk you for it is very offensive to me.

Sue White said...

I'm trying to parse the bit about reading Wuthering Heights "yet again".  She's been in that class for two days - how much time could she have had to read it as part of the curriculum?

Brin Bellway said...

I'm trying to parse the bit about reading Wuthering Heights "yet
again".  She's been in that class for two days - how much time could she
have had to read it as part of the curriculum?

If I remember correctly, because her Arizonan school has already read it for their curriculum.

Evil Paul said...

Re: Gun Safety.  
If Charlie were supposed to be your average gun owner, then his behaviour might fit a (sadly) all too familiar pattern. A lot of people start off by following safety rules religiously and gradually slack off, eventually assuming that if something hasn't happened by now, then the rule couldn't have been that important.  I could definitely see someone like that being very careful around his infant/young daughter, but blissfully assuming that his teenage daughter doesn't need her hand held anymore.
But Charlie's supposed to be the Chief of Police.  Which would entail (I would assume) supervising the training of his recruits and deputies, as well as dealing with any firearms-related deaths or injuries that happen in the area.  I can say from experience (military) it doesn't take long to accumulate some really scary stories and become VERY paranoid about gun safety.  From the hunter who tried to drag a loaded rifle up the tree to his blind, to the recruit who turned away from the range to brag about his grouping and pointed his pistol down the firing line, Charlie should be acutely aware of just how suddenly things can go wrong.  
A more realistic scene should have Bella rolling her eyes as Charlie explains _yet again_ that 'the pistol is loaded and should not be handled by unqualified individuals, and is she sure she wouldn't want to take that hunter safety course they're offering down at the college?'

Sue White said...

Ah, I see.  That would explain why she's not thrilled about having it come up again. 

histrogeek said...

Oh I did hate Wuthering Heights, in large part because the central conceit was totally bizarre to me. Heathcliff never seemed remotely desirable so why all the fuss? I have read Austen and Charlotte Bronte for fun. I might even have done so in high school, but being an adolescent male, romances were more or less off the menu.

I'm thinking Charlie had a Manchurian Candidate event with the Cullens. "Dr. Culllen is the kindest, warmest, most loving human being I've ever met. And no I have never seen him sparkle..."  

Mark Trovinger said...

I am really quite surprised to see that Carlisle is even able to get a job as a surgeon, not because of the aforementioned bloodlust, but more due to the licensing issues that would certainly crop up. He is supposed to be what, 300+ years old? I kinda doubt any hospital HR department is going to be willing to hire a surgeon who graduated from medical school before the American Revolution.

In all seriousness though, I can't imagine how long he would be able to keep the wheels turning on thing. The kids keep going to high school everywhere they go, right? So, wouldn't Carlisle have to keep going to medical school every 20 years or so? How does he keep getting a license to practice medicine if he never changes his name or SSN? How does he maintain his license if he never completes any continuing ed?  

Scylla Kat said...

I'm all with this.  I always thought that the lesson of R&J was "Grownups, don't be stupid, cuz your kids will pay the price."  Yes, it's young, foolish infatuation, and you remember how you were at that age/when it happened to you, right? Obstacles only spurred your imagination.  

Yeah, anyone who can read Shakespeare and be convinced there's only one interpretation, and a purist, naive one at that, was asleep through their literature courses.

Otherwise, I didn't get enough sleep and all I have to say is that Bella rereading _Wuthering_Heights_ bit as though she was out to bore herself, that's confusing.  I think the author may have got herself and Bella confused here, which is why these books suck.  

(Team Austen! Bront√ęs suck! ;-)

Silver Adept said...

Mark Trovinger Most likely, "Carlisle Cullen" is either one of several pseudonyms set up, or he's "Carlisle Cullen II... III....IV" and so forth down the line, and he's good enough at forging his documents in advance such that he can just keep passing his own name down the line, "dying" every so often to activate his "son". And because they move every so often, enough generations go by that nobody really remembers that this Carlisle Cullen looks exactly like his father and his grandfather...

aravind said...

Loquat  "We all know sparkle vampires are far too perfect to do such a gauche thing as secrete body fluids."

Oh god, that's depressingly true. I was just going to comment on Ana's off-handed remark:

"And that doesn't even get into their shopping habits, which are almost invariably going to feature some oddities: bushels of toilet paper for the liquid diet family, and three women who never seem to need feminine hygiene products?

That's what "perfect" apparently means in the Twilightverse - without all the mess of biology. Especially for women, with their apparently icky woman parts "perfected" into less-icky or non-icky woman parts. It's hard to imagine a more misogynistic view of the female human body.

Gordon said...

Perhaps Charlie's negligence is born of him being used to being the only person in the house? I don't know... I think i have a bit of an inexplicable soft spot for Charlie, so there's a lot of bad things he does I'm willing to excuse.

My dad was the chief of police in our small town(in Texas, no less), and the only time I saw any of the guns he owned was if it was on his belt or if one of my siblings specifically asked to see one(I was never interested in them myself). And then we were only allowed to touch it because he carefully took the bullets out and left them in his room and then the thing apart so that it couldn't fire, even if there were bullets in it. He also made sure we never pointed it anywhere toward people.

He also had a couple of rifles from when he was younger, but they mostly stayed in his closet unless they were being taken out specifically for someone use.

In our home that it was an unwritten rule that there were certain things that under no circumstance were to be touched without specific verbal permission from my father(or more rarely, my mother, who knows how to use a gun, but doesn't like them). Failure to abide by said rule meant strict, harsh summary punishment from my mom, and then my dad got his shot at the remains when he got off work.

God help you if they were both home at the time of you transgression.

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