Twilight: Centering Edward

[Content Note: Murder, Ableism, Suicide]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 13, Edward and Bella spend the weekend alone together in the woods.

Twilight, Chapter 13: Confessions

Okay. Deep breaths. We're going to get through this chapter. We just need to pace ourselves, keep our eye on the finish line, and remember to keep breathing. Not unlike Bella, actually, as she struggles to survive her exciting new relationship.

When we last left Bella and Edward, everything was all misty and romantical because Edward had confessed that inconveniencing his vampire family was (shockingly!) better than murdering Bella. Obviously because she's so important and not because being a murderer is a terrible, terrible thing to have to live with for eternity. And plus that particular ship has already sailed for Edward, though I'm not sure that Bella knows that yet.

   “Isabella.” He pronounced my full name carefully, then playfully ruffled my hair with his free hand. A shock ran through my body at his casual touch. “Bella, I couldn’t live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don’t know how it’s tortured me.” He looked down, ashamed again. “The thought of you, still, white, cold . . . to never see you blush scarlet again, to never see that flash of intuition in your eyes when you see through my pretenses . . . it would be unendurable.” He lifted his glorious, agonized eyes to mine. “You are the most important thing to me now. The most important thing to me ever.”

I find this confession interesting because the traits that Edward lists as making up the sum of what Bella is and what about her he is attracted to are traits which are unique to humans. Did Edward/S.Meyer notice this oddity, or was this dialogue recycled from a boilerplate romance novel: the sort of thing that Edward/S.Meyer thinks a Man In Love should say, as opposed to being specifically Edward's actual feelings right here and now? I can't say. What I can say is that Vampire!Bella is going to be very still, white, and cold, and she's not going to be doing much blushing over the remainder of her eternal life.

Maybe this admiration for Bella's humanity is deliberate rather than the recycling of a common trope: a reassuring sign that Edward isn't already plotting to turn her into his vampire bride. This deliberate celebration of Bella's humanity would also theoretically be in-character for Edward, since he resists turning Bella for the longest time on the grounds that he doesn't like vampirism and doesn't want to inflict it on her. It's even possible that a vampirized Bella isn't someone Edwards would be initially attracted to, given his own self-hatred of his nature -- maybe this is one of the reasons why Edward has remained uncoupled all this time rather than because Rosalie et. al. are inherently "defective" or "less than" Bella. (Not that there's anything wrong/bad/unusual or otherwise worthy of explanation about Edward remaining single thus far.)

But! Maybe the idea of a vampirized Bella is something Edward has to be reconciled to for more than the pious reasons he gives in text: perhaps there's an element of a selfish motive (which would be realistic, especially given Edward's observed personality) inspired by a desire to keep Bella attractive to Edward according to his standard of beauty rather than just a concern for Bella's soul. If this were the case, we'd have an interesting (if squicky, because Consent and Self-Determination and Bodily Autonomy) battle of preferences as both Bella and Edward struggle to maximize her attractiveness according to wildly divergent standards of beauty: she thinks vampirism is sexy and he thinks humanity is gorgeous.

One problem with this, though -- because the Consent and Self-Determination and Bodily Autonomy -- is that Edward doesn't consistently celebrate humanity so much as he celebrate Bella as being an exceptional, Othered human. Part of this, of course, is because Edward can't notice women in-text because he's supposed to be wholly consumed with noticing Bella, and he can't notice men in-text without being angry and jealous over their lustful Bella-oriented thoughts, so Edward pretty much has to hate all humans based on the stylistic choices made by the author. But while all this is already problematic on its own -- it sets Bella up as an Exceptional Women; it trashes other women in order to make Bella Objectively Better than them; it embraces a patriarchal "ownership" ideal of romance so that Edward can be angry over male mental trespass on his "property"; etc. -- it's additionally problematic since we're seeing an inter-species / inter-racial romance that is predicated on all members of X race being icky except this One Person whose racial traits are now going to be not merely appreciated but actively fetishized. And we'll see more of this later, obviously, when we get to Jacob.

Moving on with this or we'll never get done:

   “You already know how I feel, of course,” I finally said. “I’m here . . . which, roughly translated, means I would rather die than stay away from you.” I frowned. “I’m an idiot.”
    “You are an idiot,” he agreed with a laugh. Our eyes met, and I laughed, too. We laughed together at the idiocy and sheer impossibility of such a moment.


You know? I get this. I get what S. Meyer was trying to do. I get that this whole LUL UR STOOPID exchange is meant to be a bit of a tension-breaker, a bit of poking fun at the genre as well as at the fourth wall. This sort of thing is like an authorial wink to the audience: Yes, it says, it's not in Bella's best interests to stay here. Yes, if she were acting smarter, she'd run away. But can you really blame her for risking it all to win big? I get it.

But. If this were just one time in the text, it wouldn't be such a big deal. Except that it's not just one time. This isn't the first time Edward has said that Bella is stupid or ignorant or unwise or too stupid to live. I don't even think it's the second or third time. And so this stops being an authorial wink and starts being actual characterization: Edward puts Bella down. And he does it even in her most vulnerable moments, even when she's considering the prospect of her own mortality.

Twilight asks us to believe that Edward and Bella are taking the same risks for this relationship, and that they are therefore equal, but that's a lie. If the worst case happens, Edward becomes responsible for something horrific that he will then have to live with or commit suicide over. Bella, on the other hand, gets killed in an utterly horrific way: violently murdered at the hands (or, more accurately, teeth) of the man she loved and trusted. The text asks us to consider these things the same because they both end in death, but I refuse to accept that they are. (In large part because Edward could be doing way, way more to control his thirst yet he isn't. They aren't employing chaperones or cages or sex-restraints or tranquilizers; if Willow and Oz could make this sort of thing work, there's no reason why Edward and Bella should be presented as utterly lacking in options.)

So Bella is saying she's stupid because she's literally risking her life. And Edward is saying she's stupid because... she's literally risking her life. And then everyone has a good laugh over it. This can't be cast as two equals commiserating over their shared plight because their plights aren't equal. Instead, it's a deeply marginalized woman facing her own violent death being mocked by a deeply privileged man facing the fact that he might violently harm her. UGH.

   “And so the lion fell in love with the lamb . . . ,” he murmured. I looked away, hiding my eyes as I thrilled to the word.
   “What a stupid lamb,” I sighed.
   “What a sick, masochistic lion.” He stared into the shadowy forest for a long moment, and I wondered where his thoughts had taken him.

Without casting any judgment -- because tattoos can be very personal and I have no wish to judge people for their body modification choices particularly when I have zero insight whatsoever into the factors informing the decision -- I will note that this line has resonated so deeply with some Twilight enthusiasts that it is one of the more common Twilight tattoos I've seen posted online. 

It doesn't resonate with me, partly because I don't understand why Edward and Bella are saying it. The line is a reasonably common Biblical allusion to Isaiah 11 (which also has wolves and leopards and goats in it, and probably "leopard" and "goat" would have been better analogies for Edward and Bella given that he's the fastest thing alive and she faints at the slightest provocation, but hindsight is always 20/20 isn't it?), but I don't know that it's common enough for a teenage girl who apparently has no religious leanings whatsoever (do we ever see Bella going to church? I think not.) and for a vampire who has an extremely complex and conflicted relationship with Christianity.

And the allusion itself is kind of ... off because I've never, ever heard any pastor suggest that the lions and lambs in this metaphor are "in love" with each other (and they wouldn't anyway, because the lamb is paired in the verse with a wolf, not with a lion -- the lion gets a threesome with a calf and a yearling). If this were a racier novel, I might suspect Edward of deliberately interpreting "lie down with" (the most common rendition of the metaphor that I've heard) as "have sex with" in an attempt to introduce the subject to Bella, but I really can't imagine we're supposed to interpret the scene this way. So frankly the line feels very out-of-place to me, given what little we know of Edward and Bella's characters, but maybe that's just me.

But moving past that for the moment, I would like to point out that here Edward is continuing to center his own pain over Bella's pain and danger and how deeply problematic that is. I remain deeply furious that Edward's entire take of this whole situation is how painful it is for him that he has fallen in love with a human, as opposed to the hugely more painful situation she is in where she has to trust him minute-by-minute to not turn on her in the most horrific manner possible. And where she has to police her every action with perfect precision or it'll be the last mistake she ever makes. Speaking of: 

   “Tell me why you ran from me before.”
   His smile faded. “You know why.”
   “No, I mean, exactly what did I do wrong? I’ll have to be on my guard, you see, so I better start learning what I shouldn’t do. [...]
   He smiled again. “You didn’t do anything wrong, Bella. It was my fault.”
   “But I want to help, if I can, to not make this harder for you.”

This is perfectly reasonable of Bella: she's actively working to minimize the chances of her death. But given that they are talking about her probable death, it would be super-nice if Edward actually acknowledged the risk she is taking in a grateful way, rather than just relying on contempt and insults when he's not ignoring it altogether in order to center his angsty-vampire-pain. 

   “Well . . .” He contemplated for a moment. “It was just how close you were. Most humans instinctively shy away from us, are repelled by our alienness. . . .

“I’m the world’s best predator, aren’t I? Everything about me invites you in — my voice, my face, even my smell. As if I need any of that!”

Cat by yi chuang
Caption: Oh look. A plot hole.
   My blood was racing, and I wished I could slow it, sensing that this must make everything so much more difficult — the thudding of my pulse in my veins. Surely he could hear it.
   “The blush on your cheeks is lovely,” he murmured. He gently freed his other hand. My hands fell limply into my lap. Softly he brushed my cheek, then held my face between his marble hands. [...]
   I don’t know how long we sat without moving. It could have been hours. Eventually the throb of my pulse quieted, but he didn’t move or speak again as he held me. I knew at any moment it could be too much, and my life could end — so quickly that I might not even notice. And I couldn’t make myself be afraid. I couldn’t think of anything, except that he was touching me.

Edward continues to compliment Bella for her human traits as opposed to anything which might make her personality stand out as distinct from the reader's. And then there's a LOT more of this longing and barely-not-quite-almost-sorta touching and breathing and listening and looking. If you like abstinence porn, this is probably the chapter where you will get your money's worth with Twilight; if you don't, then all this is probably going to read as highly tedious and not nearly as tense as it's supposed to. (It's not like Bella is going to get killed with half the book left to go, I suppose.)

One good thing about this -- though I won't quote it Because Space -- is that after Edward gets to long at Bella, she asks/tells him to lie back and hold still and she examines him all over with her fingers and longs at him. And that's nice, to see a woman allowed to express longing and physical arousal (within the confines of abstinence porn, obvs) and particularly physical arousal based on the sight of an attractive body. Yay for small victories. (And this is one of those points where Twilight is kinda-sorta "feminist" for a very strict practice of the term that is largely only beneficial to young white women raised in sexually oppressive conservative environments, so it's nice that it does that much yet disappointing that it fails so spectacularly in so many other ways. It's like a flaming train-wreck flying into a bottomless pit, but on the way down you notice that the train compartment you're in does have a really well-stocked mini-bar so at least there's that.)

    He opened his eyes, and they were hungry. Not in a way to make me fear, but rather to tighten the muscles in the pit of my stomach and send my pulse hammering through my veins again.
     “I wish,” he whispered, “I wish you could feel the . . . complexity . . . the confusion . . . I feel. That you could understand.”


   “I’m not used to feeling so human. Is it always like this?”
    “For me?” I paused. “No, never. Never before this.”

And once again, we have to have it emphasized that this is their First Time because obviously if either of them were in love before, it would just not be acceptable because that's not how true love works. And I hate-hate-hate this view of love, and you see it everywhere as a trope and I hate it so much. Let's be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with being in love for the first time. But there's also absolutely nothing wrong with being in love for the fourth or fifth or fiftieth time. And in a culture where young people are taught in school that love and sex literally diminishes them, I don't like to see this It's Extra Special Because It's New wrongess enforced. For many people, all love is special, regardless of what has come before or after.

Anyway. Let's get out of all this.

   “I’ll show you how I travel in the forest.” He saw my expression. “Don’t worry, you’ll be very safe, and we’ll get to your truck much faster.” His mouth twitched up into that crooked smile so beautiful my heart nearly stopped. [...]
    “Come on, little coward, climb on my back.” [...]
   And then he was running.
   If I’d ever feared death before in his presence, it was nothing compared to how I felt now. [...]
   I was too terrified to close my eyes, though the cool forest air whipped against my face and burned them. I felt as if I were stupidly sticking my head out the window of an airplane in flight. And, for the first time in my life, I felt the dizzy faintness of motion sickness. 
   “Bella?” he asked, anxious now.
   “I think I need to lie down,” I gasped.

I could almost like this if we could get away from Edward being the Most Desirable Boyfriend Ever theme and just focus on him being alien and different and sometimes frightening to be around, not because he's a monster but because he's so unable to see things from Bella's point of view. He could be like the robot Bender from Futurama, who is always saying stuff like, "Oh, do you guys need air? I forget."

But then we have this and all my goodwill vanishes:

   “Oh, sorry.” He waited for me, but I still couldn’t move.
   “I think I need help,” I admitted.
   He laughed quietly, and gently unloosened my strangle-hold on his neck. [...]
   “How do you feel?” he asked.
   I couldn’t be sure how I felt when my head was spinning so crazily. “Dizzy, I think.”
   “Put your head between your knees.” [...] “I guess that wasn’t the best idea,” he mused.
   I tried to be positive, but my voice was weak. “No, it was very interesting.”
   “Hah! You’re as white as a ghost — no, you’re as white as me!”
   “I think I should have closed my eyes.”
   “Remember that next time.”
   “Next time!” I groaned.
   He laughed, his mood still radiant.

On one level, I get that this is supposed to be light-hearted and relieved and happytimes. Edward is finally able to be himself around Bella and she's being okay with it, so he's feeling the euphoria that comes with being honest and accepted for it. And plus this is supposed to be light after an afternoon discussing murder and metaphors for rape. Yet none of that changes the fact that Edward just traumatized Bella with no warning whatsoever, has failed to respond proactively to her resulting distress and illness, has expressed only the bare minimum of apology, and is in an unshakeable good mood totally unaffected by the pain she is feeling. That is really fucking self-involved of him, and this is being presented as "boyish enthusiasm" rather than "teflon privilege". 

They kiss and Bella switches to full passion mode before Edward backpedals fast and takes a moment to recover. Then they decide Bella is still dizzy and Edward says: 

   “Maybe you should let me drive.” 
   “Are you insane?” I protested.
   “I can drive better than you on your best day,” he teased. “You have much slower reflexes.”
   “I’m sure that’s true, but I don’t think my nerves, or my truck, could take it.” [...] “Nope. Not a chance.”
   He raised his eyebrows in disbelief.
   I started to step around him, heading for the driver’s side. He might have let me pass if I hadn’t wobbled slightly. Then again, he might not have. His arm created an inescapable snare around my waist.
   “Bella, I’ve already expended a great deal of personal effort at this point to keep you alive. I’m not about to let you behind the wheel of a vehicle when you can’t even walk straight. 

UGH. Because once again we need to center Bella's life in terms of how it affects Edward and in terms of how much it has 'cost' him to preserve it. I really do not have the words for how terrible this persistent privilege habit of his is, so instead I'll leave it to Sadie the Cat:

Sadie With Elizabethan Collar by Bill Kuffrey
Caption: Yes, please, let's make this all about YOU.
And that's the end of Chapter 13, or near enough to call it a day. We'll pick up Chapter 14 next time.


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