Twilight: Wounded Pride

[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 vampire-boy and human-girl, Edward was confessing how strongly he had been tempted to kill Bella when they first met, and how this temptation included the desire to kill various other witnesses as collateral damage to Edward's overwhelming lust (for which Bella blames herself, obviously).

   “But I resisted. I don’t know how. I forced myself not to wait for you, not to follow you from the school. It was easier outside, when I couldn’t smell you anymore, to think clearly, to make the right decision. I left the others near home — I was too ashamed to tell them how weak I was, they only knew something was very wrong — and then I went straight to Carlisle, at the hospital, to tell him I was leaving.”

This entire confession scene is very difficult for me to parse because it breaks lore all over the place as it pertains to the Cullens, their powers, and their family dynamics, but it's also (somewhat paradoxically) the first we really see of the Cullens, their powers, and their family dynamics. So this passage is basically breaking lore that hasn't been introduced yet, which makes it tricky to bite into yet also painfully par for the course. So take a deep breath and we'll dive in.

The Cullens have existed -- and, for the most part, existed together -- for a fairly long time. All of this is in the book, spread over the next couple of chapters, but for simplicity's sake I'll pull from the Official Illustrated Guide:

  • Carlisle transformed in 1663 at age 23. 
  • Edward transformed in 1918 at age 17. 
  • Esme transformed in 1921 at age 26. 
  • Rosalie transformed in 1933 at age 18. 
  • Emmett transformed in 1935 at age 20. 
  • Alice transformed in1920 at age 19. (Joined the Cullens in 1950.)
  • Jasper transformed in 1863 at age 19. (Joined the Cullens in 1950.)

If you can tear your eyes away from the startling display of youth in that list -- and it might take you a moment, because holy fuck nuggets, Carlisle is a 23-year-old man masquerading as the father of 20-year-old Emmett, why are they pretending to be children again when they could all be college roommates of the Seventh-Year Senior variety for forever without anyone ever noticing or caring one whit -- you will note that Edward and Rosalie and Emmett have been siblings for the better part of seventy years. Alice and Jasper were added into the mix some fifteen years later and therefore the entire family has been a functional unit for about fifty-five years. And while the Cullens haven't always lived together as a family, they've stayed in close touch for almost their entire undead lives.

Think about the people you are closest to, the people whose history you know, whose body language you can read, and whose thoughts you can sometimes almost seem to sense because you're so intimately familiar with their thought patterns and historical actions and modes of bodily expression. Now: How long have you known those persons? Ten years? Twenty years? How much of that time have you actually spent in their company, versus time spent away at school or at work or in sleep?

Edward's family has known him intimately for anywhere from fifty to almost one hundred years. Not only that, they know him more intimately than any human family could: every member of his "family" never sleeps and rarely leaves the group, so they've had more close contact than most humans could physically manage. Add to that the fact that one of his sisters can literally see his future, and one of his brothers can sense (and manipulate) his emotions at will, and you'll probably see why I'm having difficulty wrapping my head around the assertion that his siblings "only knew something was very wrong".

I can't see how this statement can be logically true. Alice must have known what was going on; Edward tap-dances around hints that she saw Bella coming, and knew that she would affect him deeply. It's utterly implausible that Rosalie or Emmett would not have turned to Alice the moment Edward ordered them all out of the car in his strained voice and asked her, "Alice, what's wrong with the knucklehead driver?" Jasper, too, must have known at least a little of what was going on, given that the text states that he can sense emotions -- he must have sensed at least a little of the turmoil that Edward was grappling with, and would probably have picked up enough emotional vibes from Alice to piece together a reasonable picture.  

Furthermore, Emmett -- who understands blood-lust, its symptoms, and its bodily manifestations; and who has already encountered and killed his own personal brand of heroin -- would surely have been able to deduce that Edward was aroused, even if he couldn't understand why or who the focal point was. And while I can imagine that Rosalie might not have understood what was going on, I can't really picture her meekly getting out of the car and walking the rest of the way to the house just because Edward said to. This does not mesh with anything we will see of Rosalie -- even Edward states that her supernatural power is "pigheadedness". Pigheaded people generally do not just do as they're told without question.

And yet, somehow, we are apparently meant to understand that Edward drove most-of-the-way to their secluded forest home, put the car in park, ordered everyone out -- a Future Seer, an Emotion Manipulator, an Aggressive Bear Man, and Miss Piggy -- and they all compliantly filed out of the car and walked the rest of the way home without a single protest or a serious question or a guess at what was going on based on their intimate familiarity both with Edward himself and with their shared vampiric nature as a whole. And they gave him this privacy and space, all the while knowing for a fact that if he were to do something impetuous and blow their cover in the process, the Volturi will roll into town and literally light them on fire. (Not to mention that Esme will make a sad face.)

Sure. That seems perfectly plausible to me. And then Edward drove to the hospital and apparently no one in the Cullen clan had the time or inclination to call Carlisle to warn him that something was Very Wrong with Edward because I get the impression that this surprise visit was something of a surprise.

   “I traded cars with him — he had a full tank of gas and I didn’t want to stop. I didn’t dare to go home, to face Esme. She wouldn’t have let me go without a scene. She would have tried to convince me that it wasn’t necessary . . .
   “By the next morning I was in Alaska.” He sounded ashamed, as if admitting a great cowardice. “I spent two days there, with some old acquaintances . . . but I was homesick. I hated knowing I’d upset Esme, and the rest of them, my adopted family. In the pure air of the mountains it was hard to believe you were so irresistible. I convinced myself it was weak to run away. I’d dealt with temptation before, not of this magnitude, not even close, but I was strong. Who were you, an insignificant little girl” — he grinned suddenly — “to chase me from the place I wanted to be? So I came back. . . .” He stared off into space.

And this isn't plausible either. I'm not sure if this embedded map will work, but if not here is a direct link.

It takes 45 hours to drive from Forks, Washington to the Denali National Park in Alaska where the Denali coven lives. If Edward left in the late afternoon and if we guesstimate that time to be about 4 pm, that means he had 16 hours between 4 pm and 8 am the next morning to drive. Even if we place him somewhere south of that mark in, say, Juneau, Alaska under the assumption that "in Alaska" doesn't mean he'd reached his final destination, he'd still need a good 40 hours if he plans to drive to Juneau in a car (as opposed to vampiric sprint running, which I presume is somewhat faster).

Of course, that estimate is based on him driving the speed limit; knowing Edward, he presumably shaved several hours off by driving recklessly fast, but even with that it still seems unlikely to me that he could manage the trip in as short a window as he has here: apparently he was able to greatly exceed the speed limit, not stop for gas (the trip to Denali is ~2300 miles, and Carlisle's Mercedes S55 AMG gets 19 miles per gallon on highways, which I think means Carlisle's "full tank of gas" must have held about 120 gallons), and didn't once go through a police speed-trap. (Which Edward of course could have sensed in advance and slowed down through in order to avoid the ticket, but that still would have necessitated him slowing down.)

The logistics of this trip are interesting to me because the impossibility of Edward's swift flight is clearly supposed to indicate his urgency. And yet, it would seem just as clear in the text that his urgency doesn't stem from his horror that he's being tempted to commit murder in general nor that he is being tempted to commit murder against Bella in specific. Instead, his urgency appears to stem from the fact that (1) he's not confident of being able to resist Esme's pleas for him to stay, and (2) his wounded pride at not being as strong as he previously thought he was. Which ... are kind of shitty reasons for Edward to flee with such haste to Alaska.

Edward should be fleeing from Bella if he's a danger to her. This is like those Rape Prevention Tips for men that boil down to "don't rape women": if Edward finds himself tempted to rape murder Bella, then he needs to proactively take preventative steps to keep from doing that. (And those steps need to be effective steps that remove him from her presence and/or empower her and others to prevent his rapey murdery actions; as opposed to "just try harder" which is the only step Edward will ultimately ever take to protect Bella from himself.) But he should be fleeing because he doesn't want to murder somebody and because murder is wrong -- and not because it wounds his ego to realize that there's a woman out there capable of piercing his self-control. (Hello, Old Skool Romance trope!) The intent behind Edward's action just makes him come off as even skeezier.

And speaking of romance tropes, I find it amusing that the Denali coven he goes up to stay with -- who are not mentioned here in Chapter 13 by name, but will be fleshed out in greater detail later -- contains a Rival Love Interest. I will quote here from the Official Illustrated Guide in the chapter on Edward Cullen:
When the Cullen family lived in Alaska, Edward had another opportunity to find romance, this time with Tanya, the leader of the Denali coven, a group that also practiced a “vegetarian” lifestyle. Though Tanya was interested in Edward, he did not return that interest. It wasn’t until the Cullen family returned to Forks in 2003 that anyone captured Edward’s attention. There Edward met a human girl named Bella Swan. Bella was markedly different from every other person he’d ever met in two impossible-to-overlook ways: First, her blood “sang” for him the way no other human’s had; second, her mind was the first he’d encountered that was entirely closed to his mind-reading abilities.

And I will now quote from the Official Illustrated Guide in the chapter on Tanya of the Denali Coven:
When Tanya met Eleazar and Carmen, she was happy to explain her dietary choices. As the newcomers became closer and closer to Tanya and her sisters, Tanya naturally took her place as the leader of the whole family. She was delighted to meet Carlisle when the Cullens finally encountered them, seeing him as her peer in many ways. She also was intrigued by Edward, mostly because he showed no interest in her advances despite the fact that he had no partner. Tanya never gave up her lighthearted pursuit of Edward, which is one of the reasons the Cullens did not settle in Alaska with the Denalis.

Twilight is coy enough about the sexuality of its protagonists that I somewhat doubt there was a deliberate intention to suggest that Edward fled one form of arousal (Bella) into the waiting arms of another form of arousal (Tanya), though that is of course another romance novel trope in its own right. Instead, I expect this unrequited interest was retconned in later as part of the on-going theme of Twilight that Bella Is Awesome because Edward loves her and only her and not Jessica or Rosalie or Tanya or that Port Angeles Waitress or anyone else, and therefore Bella must objectively be better than all those women because that's how love works. (Note: That is totally not how love works.)


Whether that intent is there or not, we're left with the following sequence of events:
  1. Edward feels temptation to destroy an innocent life. 
  2. Edward flees the area, apparently propelled largely by his wounded pride. 
  3. Edward enjoys relative comfort in Alaska, while brooding over his wounded pride. 
  4. Edward collects his wounded pride and comes back to the innocent life he felt tempted to destroy.

I don't see any consideration for Bella as a person in this line of events. I don't think we're supposed to see such consideration. I think Edward's "insignificant little girl" dig is supposed to be so much wacky reversal antics to highlight just how deeply significant she is to him now. I think this is supposed to be flattering to Bella, to her ego, and to the hypothetical reader identifying with her. I think this is supposed to be romantic. And I can understand how it could be romantic (depending on personal preference, etc.) if we were not talking about hypothetical rape and/or murder but were instead employing this Flee The True Love trope in the sense that the male lead was startled at the idea of having his life turned upside down by the new girl in town whom he suddenly felt romantically drawn to against his expectations. 

But we're not talking about that. Edward wasn't shaken out of his complacency by a romantic attraction to Bella, he was shaken to the core by a murderous attraction to Bella. Which means that his coping mechanism of making this entire incident wholly about him and his family and not centering his potential-slash-intended murder victim even a little bit throughout this makes him a terrible monster garbage person.

And it also very aptly demonstrates why some romance tropes don't translate well across genres because an impulse to murder someone is very much not the same thing as romantic attraction.


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