[Content Note: Rape, Murder]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.
Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions
When we last left Edward and Bella, he was explaining how he rage-quit to Alaska after being tempted by her scent in that first Biology class before then turning around and coming home because he missed his family and apparently they couldn't be arsed to join him for a year or two until Bella left for college or whatever.
And, oh yeah, this is all meant to be very flattering to Bella on the grounds that she assumed she could never, ever affect handsome Edward as profoundly as he has affected her. Except that we're talking about an impulse to murder her, not gather her up in his arms and cover her with puppy kisses or whatever. So that's a bit of an Analogy Fail, but moving on.
“It was unquestionably a complication that I couldn’t simply read your thoughts to know what your reaction was to me. I wasn’t used to having to go to such circuitous measures, listening to your words in Jessica’s mind . . . her mind isn’t very original, and it was annoying to have to stoop to that. And then I couldn’t know if you really meant what you said. It was all extremely irritating.” He frowned at the memory.
A recurring theme of Twilight is how unlike-Bella and "unlikeable" most of the other women in the 'verse are; particularly the romantically unattached women who could represent a sexual threat to Bella if Edward were suddenly inclined to shop around. And because a lot of this supposed unlikableness is flatly informed to us by Bella and Edward rather than allowed to blossom naturally in the text, it has the probably-unintentional side-effect of making Bella and Edward seem like particularly nasty people.
We've already seen that with regard to the Port Angeles Hostess/Waitress duo, where Bella was consigned to stew in her low self-image while Edward heaped food and attention onto her and utterly ignored the women waiting on him like the natural-born child of privilege that he is. (Pro-tip for decent people: do try to be at least marginally nice to your waitress, please. And tip properly.) And we've seen this as far back as Bella's first day at school where Jessica was intuited-by-Bella as being still angry at Edward for his previous rebuff of her advances -- a theme that will be repeated again with Rosalie and then again with one of the Denali vampires. (Because why not recycle and repackage the theme that women throw themselves at Edward but Edward only throws himself at Bella? That could never get old or problematic.)
I think this trope was intended to bridge a perceived romantic gap between Bella's "plainness" and Edward's hotness, and to reassure readers that this is lasting True Love and not merely a passing fling. It seems not unusual to me that a girl who has always thought of herself as plain and not particularly attractive would be surprised to suddenly have an impossibly-hot boyfriend materialize out of thin air, even if that boyfriend does have a bit of an undead condition. It also seems not unusual to me that the same girl might grapple with a touch of anxiety that perhaps Edward's eyes might wander a little, especially if she's still considering retaining her mortality while he retains his eternal youth. So I can understand wanting to make Bella seem extra-desirable to Edward, and one way to do that -- a very problematic way, but a way nonetheless -- is for the narrative to parade a steady stream of gorgeous women in front of Edward for him to utterly ignore while gazing lovingly into Bella's eyes.
But the message -- like so much else in Twilight -- is utterly muddled for me because this Bella Is Best theme isn't confined to Edward's internal assessment of the world around him. Instead, it is imposed onto everyone and everything as Objective Truth. Mike, Eric, Tyler, and (if Edward is to be believed) every male person at school is enamored of Bella for her Objective Betterness over all the other girls. (And please note again the deeply problematic heteronormativity in Edward's statement.) Whether that Objective Betterness is a matter of permanent factors like superior beauty or temporary factors like novelty is not the point; for at least some space-time location, Bella is Objectively Better than all other women in her vicinity. So now it is no longer especially reassuring that Edward likes her best; it's just him following along with the crowd -- his love becomes commonplace rather than unusual. (Which is okay; love doesn't have to be unique and special snowflakey. But it means we've departed from the Beautiful Because True Love theme.)
And additionally, since Bella isn't Objectively Better because she's the smartest, prettiest, cleverest, funniest Mary Sue in all of Mary Sueland, but is instead Objectively Better because all the other women are catty, common, gossipy, lower forms of life (while Bella is a silent enigma), there's suddenly a lot of serious unpleasantness introduced into the narrative. Edward becomes a jerk for grousing about Rosalie's "pigheadedness" (hey, people who live in glass houses, buddy!), Mike becomes a jerk for treating Jessica like she's a consolation prize at the world's shoddiest State Fair ring toss, and the whole world becomes deeply patriarchal for objectively treasuring female silence and female submission over chatty and/or pigheaded women who know what they want and choose to go after it without apology. (And while Bella does go after her wants and desires in her own times and in her own ways, her methods are usually deeply passive and often self-destructive. It should be remembered, for example, that part of her checklist in preparation for this day out with Edward was to make it as easy as possible for him to kill her without consequence.)
“Of course, then you were nearly crushed to death in front of my eyes. Later I thought of a perfectly good excuse for why I acted at that moment — because if I hadn’t saved you, if your blood had been spilled there in front of me, I don’t think I could have stopped myself from exposing us for what we are. But I only thought of that excuse later. At the time, all I could think was, ‘Not her.’” [...]
His eyes flashed up to mine. “I was appalled. I couldn’t believe I had put us in danger after all, put myself in your power — you of all people. As if I needed another motive to kill you.” We both flinched as that word slipped out. “But it had the opposite effect,” he continued quickly. “I fought with Rosalie, Emmett, and Jasper when they suggested that now was the time . . . the worst fight we’ve ever had. Carlisle sided with me, and Alice.” He grimaced when he said her name. I couldn’t imagine why. “Esme told me to do whatever I had to in order to stay.” He shook his head indulgently.
I noted at the time of the car accident how poorly the Cullens were prepared to deal with the incident; Carlisle's behavior towards Bella in the hospital was stilted and awkward, rather than (as he should have done, were they as good at the Masquerade as they are supposed to be) clapping Edward heartily on the back and praising his son for all those years running track meets paid off. Rather than gaslighting Bella properly, they resorted to hissed non-threats and stupidly suspicious behavior that did nothing but confirm that she was On To Something and hadn't imagined Edward's super-human capabilities.
All this was presumably necessary because if Bella was properly gaslighted in the hospital, then the story wouldn't have continued with her sexfully interrogating Jacob and then the money scene with the hot Google action. But the Cullens' unpreparedness to gaslight Bella -- as well as their utter unpreparedness to explain the situation had there been any other witnesses -- underlines the fact that saving people from car crashes and other fatal accidents is simply not something they do. Ever.
I've talked in the past about how uncharitable the Cullens are with their money and time -- they don't give to charity and they don't volunteer at orphanages and soup kitchens -- but it's also worth noting that they don't give of their super-human powers. Alice, for example, uses her powers to monitor the stock market and keep them rolling in fancy cars and moon mansions, but she apparently doesn't see a need to call in anonymous tips to the police in Texas searching for a kidnap victim. Nor do any of the Cullens apparently see any need to use their enhanced speed and reflexes to save people right in front of them -- either they just don't care about the welfare of humans or they've judged that the risk of discovery is just too high to ever intervene, no matter how safe it might seem.
Probably this detail wasn't included in order to make the Cullens seem so self-involved that the reader might reasonably question why they want to be around humans in Forks so much rather than on their pretty private island. Probably also this detail wasn't included in order to make them seem deeply morally ambiguous and only interested in their own concerns to the total disinterest of all human death and suffering. I suspect this was included as another way of making Bella out to be special: she's not just one in a series of humans saved by the Cullens; she's the only one. She's so special that Edward broke the super-secret vampire code in order to save her -- and he didn't even agree to a do-over when the others demanded that he kill her. (Because that would definitely have made people less suspicious than they would have been if head-concussed Bella were saying that she saw someone move Really Fast during the car accident. Sure.)
But, once again, all these details added to make Bella seem special (in general) and Special (to Edward) don't really do the job of making her seem valuable so much as making him seem like a jerk. Edward has lived one hundred years and this is the first time he's considered risking his personal safety in order to save the life of another. All those rape victims he supposedly saved? He only "saved" them in order to satisfy his own hunger, and then only when the circumstances didn't ask him to jeopardize his own safety. Edward oscillates between complete indifference to the humans which surround him and total disdain for them -- and has come terribly close to suggesting that the only reason he feels differently about Bella is because she smells as good to him as some random hiker once did to Emmett plus the fact that he can't rummage around inside her head like he can with everyone else.
I think these physical charms of Bella -- her mental silence and her sexy smell -- are supposed only to be the things that caught Edward's attention. I think his True Love is supposed to have blossomed naturally for Bella after his attention was caught, but not because of why it was caught. He came for the sexy smell and mental silence but stayed for her engaging personality and fearless courage. Or something. But I have to say "or something" there because I never really get a good feel for why Edward loves Bella. For all the narrative focus on all the women Edward doesn't love because Bella Is Better, I don't really feel like we're ever told, specifically, how she's better. Possibly she's simply better because she takes all this vampire stuff in stride; I can see how that would be a legitimately good quality in a mate for Edward.
But in that case, I struggle with interpreting this story as one of world-shaking True Love so much as about reasonably good romantic compatibility. And once my mind has wandered down that path, I'm forced to consider that for all of Bella's acceptance of vampirism, there's still an awful lot of incompatibility between her and Edward. For all that she is Special to him, there are plenty of times where he treats her no better than he would treat "common" Jessica. For all that he wants to Save her life, he's not interested in making her life secure (particularly when he abandons her to the tender mercies of the local Forks vampires carrying a major grudge because apparently one hundred years and a lifetime of mind-reading has not been enough to inform Edward of the concept of "revenge").
And ultimately for all that Edward Loves Bella, he frequently acts like he doesn't even like her.