Content Note: Abusive Relationships, Ableist Language
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 11, Edward and Bella will experience strong physical feelings for one another and will get to know each other better as they traverse a new daily routine.
Twilight, Chapter 11: Complications
Now that Edward and Bella are officially together and a couple, it's time for their youthful love to flourish and grow and deepen, ideally in a manner that explicitly underscores that this is an Epic Love Affair against which all other love affairs seem but a dim and pale copy. Obviously the best time for this all to happen is during the commute to and from school, and with short bursts of familiarity between the two lab partners in their biology class under Mr. Banner's not-so-watchful eye.
I struggle with analyzing this chapter because any criticisms I could make against it -- such as the criticism that Bella and Edward seem to be moving into a deep intimacy too quickly for my tastes and in a manner that personally strikes me as potentially unhealthy, given all the other considerations at work here (such as Edward's attitude, behavior, and undead nature coupled with Bella's history, personality, and long-standing loneliness) -- can well be leveled by the assertion that this is how some romances do indeed unfold, and some of them manage to work out quite well and who am I to say otherwise, etc.
But having made that caveat, I will say that it is interesting to me, personally, that much of this chapter describes the deepening physical attraction between Edward and Bella, even more so than the growth of their emotional attraction. The duo spend two tense afternoons in Biology class, fighting against the surrounding darkness of "movie day" (from whence they are not expected to remember anything; Mr. Banner is clearly taking a rest week here), their fists painfully clenched to keep from losing control and touching one another:
And then, as the room went black, I was suddenly hyperaware that Edward was sitting less than an inch from me. I was stunned by the unexpected electricity that flowed through me, amazed that it was possible to be more aware of him than I already was. A crazy impulse to reach over and touch him, to stroke his perfect face just once in the darkness, nearly overwhelmed me. I crossed my arms tightly across my chest, my hands balling into fists. I was losing my mind.
The opening credits began, lighting the room by a token amount. My eyes, of their own accord, flickered to him. I smiled sheepishly as I realized his posture was identical to mine, fists clenched under his arms, right down to the eyes, peering sideways at me. He grinned back, his eyes somehow managing to smolder, even in the dark. I looked away before I could start hyperventilating. It was absolutely ridiculous that I should feel dizzy.
The hour seemed very long. I couldn’t concentrate on the movie — I didn’t even know what subject it was on. I tried unsuccessfully to relax, but the electric current that seemed to be originating from somewhere in his body never slackened. Occasionally I would permit myself a quick glance in his direction, but he never seemed to relax, either. The overpowering craving to touch him also refused to fade, and I crushed my fists safely against my ribs until my fingers were aching with the effort.
I really, really do not like that Bella's increasing attraction for Edward is framed in terms of mental illness, but setting that aside for the moment, I really do recognize this feeling. I've been in the throes of new love before, I've been in times and places where all I've wanted to do is touch and gaze at another person, and have had to restrain myself because it wasn't the right time or place. What I'm saying is, I recognize this.
But I also have some distance from this. I can see it as an ah nostalgia and ooh young love and find it touching without seeing it as an epic love story of mega-grandness. And, based on S. Meyer's writings about Edward Cullen and Bella Swan being star-crossed lovers of awesomesauce from the very get-go, this rings a little hollow to me. Their physical passion here, though realistic in the depiction, doesn't really undo or assuage all the abuse and problems that have come before.
And while I deeply appreciate a meaningful treatment of female gaze and female desire, I don't know that I like the conflation of that desire with capital-l Love. Is the awesomeness of seeing female desire depicted as a legitimate thing diminished by that desire being immediately and irrevocably conflated with Good Girl True Love? I don't know, but I wonder. I'd prefer to see female desire presented as separate -- possibly not forever, but at least initially in the relationship -- from monogamous love. It almost feels like Bella isn't allowed to get her lust on if it's not itself a symptom of True Love and therefore okay and totally not sinful.
Then, too, it's hard to shake the impression that all this physical longing is being presented in place of any real emotional connection. I'm already skeptical of an emotional connection between Bella and Edward, since 90% of their in-text conversations seem to revolve around Edward showering Bella with abuse, mockery, condescension, and/or simmering barely-contained anger. I absolutely know that it's possible to feel a physical attraction to someone who is a jerk to you, but I struggle with the idea that any emotional or intellectual connection would soon follow -- or that such a thing would be a basis for a lasting, healthy, epic romance.
To be fair, Chapter 11 does try to provide an basis for an emotional connection between Edward and Bella -- Edward spends the better part of two days relentlessly quizzing Bella about her likes and dislikes. But the speed and frenzy of the quizzing, coupled with Edward's established annoyance at not being able to read Bella's mind for quick-and-easy answers, doesn't sit will with me. I recognize again the attempt here at the heady days of new love, and the urge to learn everything you can about each other as quickly as possible. But that urge isn't tempered here by lingering over Bella's answers and exchanging information together so that they can each learn about the other; instead, Edward hops from topic to topic, gathering all the information that he can and leaving Bella in the dark about how he would answer the same questions, and whether they have answers in common:
It continued like that for the rest of the day. While he walked me to English, when he met me after Spanish, all through the lunch hour, he questioned me relentlessly about every insignificant detail of my existence. Movies I’d liked and hated, the few places I’d been and the many places I wanted to go, and books — endlessly books.
I couldn’t remember the last time I’d talked so much. More often than not, I felt self-conscious, certain I must be boring him. But the absolute absorption of his face, and his never-ending stream of questions, compelled me to continue. Mostly his questions were easy, only a very few triggering my easy blushes. But when I did flush, it brought on a whole new round of questions.
Such as the time he asked my favorite gemstone, and I blurted out topaz before thinking. He’d been flinging questions at me with such speed that I felt like I was taking one of those psychiatric tests where you answer with the first word that comes to mind. I was sure he would have continued down whatever mental list he was following, except for the blush. My face reddened because, until very recently, my favorite gemstone was garnet. It was impossible, while staring back into his topaz eyes, not to remember the reason for the switch. And, naturally, he wouldn’t rest until I’d admitted why I was embarrassed.
“Tell me,” he finally commanded after persuasion failed — failed only because I kept my eyes safely away from his face.
“It’s the color of your eyes today,” I sighed, surrendering, staring down at my hands as I fiddled with a piece of my hair. “I suppose if you asked me in two weeks I’d say onyx.” I’d given more information than necessary in my unwilling honesty, and I worried it would provoke the strange anger that flared whenever I slipped and revealed too clearly how obsessed I was.
But his pause was very short.
“What kinds of flowers do you prefer?” he fired off.
I sighed in relief, and continued with the psychoanalysis.
This rapid-fire stream of questions makes me think that this is Edward's fall-back approach to not being able to read Bella's mind: he can't grab the answers immediately and be assured of their complete truthfulness, but he can ask a dozen questions a minute and leave Bella little-to-no time to hedge and edit. Possibly this is meant to be sensual -- look how much Edward wants to know every little thing about Bella! -- but for me it just feeds back into the sense that Edward needs complete control over every little thing in his life. If he can't read Bella's mind, he'll do the next best thing in order to maintain that control.
Edward's two-day-long lie detector quiz is really the only chance we see in this chapter to see the couple grow together emotionally. Bella describes the beauty of the Arizona desert, and Edward tells her how twilight (name-drop!) is the safest-yet-saddest time for vampires -- safest because they can see the light without sparkling in the fading rays, and saddest because it's another sleepless night in the eternal stretch of time that is their lives.
And I really do think that this whole thing is meant to show the couple connecting on an emotional level, as well as a physical one -- I think these obsessive trivia conversations are meant to be the glue that holds this couple together beyond just the physical, overwhelming lust aspects. But it strikes me as interesting that these sessions are not conversations in the classical give-and-take sense, with both persons contributing and each learning about the other. Instead, they're almost one-sided info-dumps; Bella provides insight into her mind, while Edward shares bits and pieces of what it's like to be a vampire.
In some ways, almost every relationship is built at least a little on info-dumps: people share bits and pieces of their lives, their thoughts, their histories, their experiences, or some combination of the above. But at some point the info-dump has to stop and the give-and-take conversation has to take its place, if only because there is usually only so much history we can share before we run out of it. And I wonder if we can ever get to that point in Twilight, and if it's even possible.
What can Bella, high school student and precocious outsider, really have in common with a century-old vampire who resists change with a passion unless that change comes wrapped up in a shiny sports car? Chapter 11 makes a big deal that they have a shared taste in music -- Bella recognizes Debussy and Edward listens to the same Linkin Park CDs as she! (and presumably because of Happy Coincidences and NOT because he's been in her room multiple times and has had plenty of chances to scope out her music collection!) -- but beyond that, do they have anything in common together? (I think this is one of many reasons why the Otherkin Vampire version of this love story is more compelling to me; at least then the two have something in common in terms of their essential natures.)
S. Meyer and Bella both claim to be familiar with Austen's books, with Bella already spending some time in Twilight re-reading "Sense and Sensibility", so it's amusing to me that Chapter 11 reminded me enough of a quote from Elinor that I took the time to dig out my copy and spend some time with the search function. After untrue lover Willoughby calls on Marianne for the first time, and after Marianne indecorously plies him with numerous questions and thereby shows plainly her strong attraction to him, Elinor gently teases her sister:
"Well, Marianne," said Elinor, as soon as he had left them, " for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported, under such extraordinary despatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favorite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."
Elinor is not quite right; Marianne and Willoughby find more than enough to converse about during their courtship because they do have so much in common. And of course the point is eventually made that Willoughby, though a seemingly perfect match for Marianne because of their shared temperaments, is an unsuitable husband because his underlying character is weak. Colonel Brandon, though older than Marianne and with fewer initial shared interests, proves a more suitable husband because of his constancy and his willingness to share in her interests over time.
Perhaps this is what Edward is supposed to represent: an older man who chooses to be deeply faithful to Bella and learns to have things in common with her. Certainly this can and does work for many couples. But in Twilight there is the very small problem that Bella seems to have no interests. She likes Linkin Park, and she can recognize Debussy, and she reads Jane Austen, but beyond that we see very few definite pleasures in her life. The paucity of Bella's inner life becomes almost conspicuous on the page, to the point where her childhood seems to have been denied her; her lack of overt interests seems based in her relative poverty, her having to effectively raise her infantile mother, and her having to do all the cooking and cleaning for her housework-adverse father.
Then, perhaps, the fantasy of Edward is that of finding new interests. He represents complete freedom: as Edward's wife, Bella will have infinite money, infinite youth, infinite free time. Thanks to magical plot-armor, she can study anything she pleases, be any career she wants, and take up any hobby that interests her. The appeal is obvious, even taking in consideration my deep loathing for Edward.
But if Bella is a stereotypical Good Girl, and is with Edward not for the infinite money and eternal youth and physical chemistry, but rather for True Love, then where is the True Love coming from? The two have nothing in common, and Bella has no established interests for Edward to share. Edward's own interests are either unreachable for Bella (he is a master physician and accomplished pianist, but she can't hope to catch up to his level of skill) or distasteful and outright dangerous to her (such as his love of sports cars and unsafe-for-her driving).
Once Edward memorizes all of Bella's answers to his psychology test questions, what do they have left to talk about? Do they talk about the high school drama? (Shades of Scott Pilgrim dating a high schooler.) Can that even be satisfying when Edward can cut through all conversational speculation with a quick peek into the subject's mind? Once Bella has asked all her questions about Edward's vampire nature, what do they have left to discuss that they can meaningfully talk about? The issue to me here isn't that Bella is as "boring" as she fears, so much as that the two seem to have very little actual connection outside of their physical lust and apparent imprinting bond. And so we come to one final Elinor (mis)quote:
"Perhaps," said Elinor, "one-hundred seven and seventeen had better not have anything to do with matrimony together."