[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.
Extra Content Note: Invisibling of asexual people, Heteronormativity, Fat Hatred, Rape, Self-Harm]
Twilight Summary: In Chapter 15, Bella gets to meet the Cullens.
Twilight, Chapter 15: The Cullens
So we're standing in the White House (not the one in the United States capitol; the one in Forks, Washington) and are about to meet the White People who live amongst this vast expanse of white carpet. We'll start with mom and dad:
I’d seen Dr. Cullen before, of course, yet I couldn’t help but be struck again by his youth, his outrageous perfection.
Just so we all recall, Bella has seen Dr. Cullen because he was the physician who attended to her after the Van Incident, and his interaction with her was predominantly an attempt to gaslight her into believing that Edward didn't use super vampire powers to save her and also that these aren't the droids she is looking for.
In that context, I kinda feel like I would be struck by more than just his good (and unnatural) looks. Even if Bella doesn't remember that day with any accompanying trauma, I think it would be realistic to note the difference between that Dr. Cullen and this one. Seeing him relaxed and comfortable where before he was nervously lying would introduce both continuity and the recent change that Edward has undergone now that he doesn't have to hide his nature from Bella. But wev.
At his side was Esme, I assumed, the only one of the family I’d never seen before. She had the same pale, beautiful features as the rest of them. Something about her heart-shaped face, her billows of soft, caramel-colored hair, reminded me of the ingenues of the silent-movie era. She was small, slender, yet less angular, more rounded than the others.
Slender, yet rounded. Sure.
That's not an impossible standard of beauty all over again.
And don't ask how annoyed I am that Esme can't just be "rounded" without the reassuring "but slender!!" appended on to make it very clear to everyone that we all agree fat people can't be sexy and certainly can't be immortal impossibly-beautiful vampires. We have standards around here, after all, etc. Ugh.
For that matter, the "ingenue" thing is kinda creepy too. Considering that an ingenue is essentially supposed to be an innocent virgin, with all the openness and wholesomeness and honesty and lack of intrigue or guile that the V/W dichotomy carries around with it. Bella is basically meeting Edward's mom--and an immortal woman who has spent one hundred years having sexy vampire sex with her husband--and thinking how much she looks like a virgin girl. That's... kind of a weird thing for Bella to think.
Having said that: I am choosing to chalk this up to one of those very rare flashes of Bella's personality. (Which, as usual, may instead be a flash of authorial knowledge, but nevertheless, I'm keeping it.) Bella watches silent movies in her free time. Bella watches silent movies in her free time and is up on the meta-lingo for those movies, since "ingenue" isn't something that every 17-year-old knows. (I suppose it's possible that this is school-knowledge instead of hobby-knowledge, but I beg you let me have this. I so much want a personality for Bella, replete with hobbies.)
I'm not entirely sure how she accomplishes this; I know that the antenna-ears local TV in my area didn't show such things in the 1990s because there was too low a demand for it to justify taking up valuable broadcasting time. I doubt even basic cable had that many silent movies in the 1990s, but considering that Bella has repeatedly emphasized her and Renee's relatively poorer style of living, I'm not sure if we're to assume they had basic cable anyway. But we do know that Bella visits the library, so I'm thinking either the library has these films for her to view in her free time, or she inter-library loans them. (Maybe not the latter, though, since she thought she had to drive to Seattle to get better books.)
And... on the one hand, I like this, because it fleshes out Bella's personality and even sorta kinda fits: she likes old things. Books, trucks, Edward, and now movies. (How she will fit in with the Cullens, who like new things, I am unsure, but maybe she'll be a fresh perspective for them to engage with. Diversity of thought, etc.) But on the other hand, we're still fleshing out a stereotypical Good Conservative Girl. Bella reads classics, predominantly about white women with class privilege finding husbands. She watches movies, but not those modern ones where the girls wear leather and kill zombies--she watches the ones where the women are silent and innocent and virginal and good.
And since she likes these things and is pursing her hobbies for enjoyment (rather than because Charlie and Renee make her, or ban Harry Potter from the house, or whatever), she's Winning At Patriarchy again, because the things she wants to do just happen to coincide with the things the patriarchy expects her to do. Which is, you know, great for her but not so much for anyone else.
Anyway. Back to Esme.
They were both dressed casually, in light colors that matched the inside of the house. They smiled in welcome, but made no move to approach us. Trying not to frighten me, I guessed.
[...] Esme smiled and stepped forward as well, reaching for my hand. Her cold, stone grasp was just as I expected. “It’s very nice to know you,” she said sincerely.
“Thank you. I’m glad to meet you, too.” And I was. It was like meeting a fairy tale — Snow White, in the flesh.
...and now we also know that Bella doesn't read fairy tales as a hobby, because if there's a version of Snow White with "caramel-colored hair", I'm not aware of it. (I also very much doubt that Esme's bloodless vampire lips are "red as blood".)
Really, I am thoroughly baffled by this sentence in its entirely. Why is Esme like Snow White, excepting the white skin, and how is she any different from Alice and Rosalie, and why would it be a nice thing to meet Snow White in general, and why did Bella's mind go there? Why, in short, is she comparing her boyfriend's mother to young girls who would surely have more in common with Bella than with a 100+ year old woman who has had a baby and been widowed and drunk human blood and remarried and 'raised' four vampire children.
Is this some kind of reassurance from the author that you can be a one hundred year old Vampire Mom and yet still pass for a young girl straight from the mists and legends of fairy tales and silent movies?
“Hey, Edward!” Alice called enthusiastically. She ran down the stairs, a streak of black hair and white skin, coming to a sudden and graceful stop in front of me. Carlisle and Esme shot warning glances at her, but I liked it. It was natural — for her, anyway.
“Hi, Bella!” Alice said, and she bounced forward to kiss my cheek. If Carlisle and Esme had looked cautious before, they now looked staggered. There was shock in my eyes, too, but I was also very pleased that she seemed to approve of me so entirely. I was startled to feel Edward stiffen at my side. I glanced at his face, but his expression was unreadable.
“You do smell nice, I never noticed before,” she commented, to my extreme embarrassment.
Pausing here to note that I like this. It would have been easy to set Alice up as another antagonist, a la Rosalie, but instead she's friendly to Bella. And I consider that valuable in a novel where literally every other female character has been set up as ditzy, stupid, catty, etc. I realize that Alice will have her own issues later, but for now I like her and I like that she and Bella are/will be friends.
I do wish it weren't quite so thickly layered with Bella seeking approval from the upper-class vampires, but I at least recognize Bella's eagerness to please in social situations as natural and naturally written (imho).
No one else seemed to know quite what to say, and then Jasper was there — tall and leonine. A feeling of ease spread through me, and I was suddenly comfortable despite where I was. Edward stared at Jasper, raising one eyebrow, and I remembered what Jasper could do.
“Hello, Bella,” Jasper said. He kept his distance, not offering to shake my hand. But it was impossible to feel awkward near him.
By which Bella means that Jasper can (and clearly will) manipulate your emotions without your consent. Which, you know, I would have feels about, but I'm all out for the moment because all I can think is that at least he hasn't carried her all over the house without her consent like Edward probably would if Jasper wasn't there spreading calm vibes all over Edward. So Jasper can benefit from my dismally low expectations.
Then there's some stuff about Rosalie and Emmett not being there because Rosalie doesn't "approve" and I'm skipping over that for now to get to Esme and Edward:
“Thank you,” Esme said. “We’re so glad that you came.” She spoke with feeling, and I realized that she thought I was brave.
[...] My eyes wandered again to the beautiful instrument on the platform by the door.
[...] Esme noticed my preoccupation.
“Do you play?” she asked, inclining her head toward the piano.
I shook my head. “Not at all. But it’s so beautiful. Is it yours?”
“No,” she laughed. “Edward didn’t tell you he was musical?”
“No.” I glared at his suddenly innocent expression with narrowed eyes. “I should have known, I guess.”
Esme raised her delicate eyebrows in confusion.
“Edward can do everything, right?” I explained.
[...] Esme pushed him toward the piano. He pulled me along, sitting me on the bench beside him.
He gave me a long, exasperated look before he turned to the keys.
And then his fingers flowed swiftly across the ivory, and the room was filled with a composition so complex, so luxuriant, it was impossible to believe only one set of hands played. I felt my chin drop, my mouth open in astonishment, and heard low chuckles behind me at my reaction.
I don't really know the physics of whether vampiric speed would make it possible to play more complex melodies than humans, or if the piano wouldn't be able to keep up, and I don't really care enough to google it. Edward plays a song that he composed himself and it's Esme's favorite and whatnot. Then he plays another song--a lullaby--that he says Bella "inspired", so I guess that's her song now. (All I can think of is when Scott Pilgrim plays a song he wrote for Romana Flowers and she says she "can't wait to hear it when it's finished" and he's all whut. because he assumed that a few lines was good enough, really. Heh.)
“You inspired this one,” he said softly. The music grew unbearably sweet. I couldn’t speak.
“They like you, you know,” he said conversationally. “Esme especially.”
I glanced behind me, but the huge room was empty now.
“Where did they go?”
“Very subtly giving us some privacy, I suppose.”
[...] “Esme and Carlisle . . . ?” [...]
“Are happy to see me happy. Actually, Esme wouldn’t care if you had a third eye and webbed feet. All this time she’s been worried about me, afraid that there was something missing from my essential makeup, that I was too young when Carlisle changed me. . . . She’s ecstatic. Every time I touch you, she just about chokes with satisfaction.”
And this is the part where I just rage-splode all over my keyboard. Like, I want to just end the post with ewuwiofhkajsnfkw iio qwiowey sfjkah khdf wqoep wjkahfjkfhjksfyuweqr qwr and call it a night. Because, I mean, do I really need to explain how fucked up this is? (Answer: Yes, I do. But it's also fucked up that it needs to be explained at all.)
Esme has been worried about Edward, and concerned that something essential is missing from his personality / self / soul / whatever because he doesn't fuck girls. Oh, Twilight tries to dress it up as her being worried because he's so alone and doesn't have anyone (you know, the way Carlisle has Esme and Jasper has Alice and Emmett has Rosalie, or in other words, the way the men all have their own girl in this family), but that's fancy words for saying that Esme is worried because Edward doesn't fuck girls. At best, it's Esme worried because Edward doesn't fuck, and maybe (maybe) she'd be okay with him fucking guys.
But what if Edward is asexual? OK? There is nothing wrong with that. And for Esme to act like there is, and for her to actively worry about him all this time for one hundred years (especially knowing he reads her mind) is hugely fucked up. That's one hundred years of Esme pressuring Edward to be a sexual being and/or heterosexual being in order to conform to what she thinks he needs to be happy. That's supremely awful, that in all this time Esme has not been willing to accept the fact that Edward is just not that in to sexual relationships and that that's okay and that his happiness doesn't need to match her idea of his happiness.
Let's also unpack that Esme and Carlisle made Rosalie a vampire in the hopes that Edward would mate with her. In Chapter 14, Edward said:
“Carlisle brought Rosalie to our family next. I didn’t realize till much later that he was hoping she would be to me what Esme was to him — he was careful with his thoughts around me.” He rolled his eyes.
Rosalie's story, as told in her own words, is even worse:
“Then I was in a bright room, and it was warm. I was slipping away, and I was grateful as the pain began to dull. But suddenly something sharp was cutting me, my throat, my wrists, my ankles. I screamed in shock, thinking he’d brought me there to hurt me more. Then fire started burning through me, and I didn’t care about anything else. I begged him to kill me. When Esme and Edward returned home, I begged them to kill me, too. Carlisle sat with me. He held my hand and said that he was so sorry, promising that it would end. He told me everything, and sometimes I listened. He told me what he was, what I was becoming. I didn’t believe him. He apologized each time I screamed.
“Edward wasn’t happy. I remember hearing them discuss me. I stopped screaming sometimes. It did no good to scream.
“‘What were you thinking, Carlisle?’ Edward said. ‘Rosalie Hale?’” Rosalie imitated Edward’s irritated tone to perfection. “I didn’t like the way he said my name, like there was something wrong with me.
“‘I couldn’t just let her die,’ Carlisle said quietly. ‘It was too much — too horrible, too much waste.’
“‘I know,’ Edward said, and I thought he sounded dismissive. It angered me. I didn’t know then that he really could see exactly what Carlisle had seen.
“‘It was too much waste. I couldn’t leave her,’ Carlisle repeated in a whisper.
“‘Of course you couldn’t,’ Esme agreed.
“‘People die all the time,’ Edward reminded him in a hard voice.
So, just to be really clear, Rosalie refused medical attention, asked the Cullens not to revive her, and especially asked that she not be saved by being vampirized, and they did it anyway. It's not outright said, but given that people do die all the time (and so therefore it seems unlikely that the "waste" Carlisle was mourning was a waste of life), and given that Carlisle did intend her as a bride for his son, it seems pretty clear that what he didn't want to go to waste was her beauty. He stole her from her dying place and gave her medical care she didn't want, specifically because she was pretty and Carlisle and Esme hoped that she would tempt Edward to stop being asexual and to instead get his dick out.
I'm going to repeat that: Carlisle victimized a rape victim against her consent because he wanted his son to fuck her. And also because if Edward were to fuck her, then Esme would be happy because that would mean her son was 'normal' and not missing an essential part of himself. Carlisle and Esme would have been more certain that Edward was happy and healthy if he had tried to fuck a woman who was a rape victim who had been vampire'd without her consent than if he hadn't.
And now Esme is finally happy because Edward has revealed himself to have sexual interest in a girl. A girl who he is unusually and deeply drawn to in large part because of the scent of her blood. Esme must realize that this may not be love, that it may just be lust and hunger that Edward is mistaking for love. That this relationship could fizzle out and he could be left just as alone as before, but deeply hurt for the experience. Or worse: Bella might be killed, and Edward might spiral into a depression or commit suicide. (Spoiler: This nearly happens.) At the very least, for Edward and Bella to be together forever, someone has to end her life as a human. And Esme has to know that Edward has very strong feelings against being a vampire himself, let alone someone changing Bella.
But she's not worried about Bella's life or happiness. She's not worried about Edward's peace of mind or safety. She's happy. Because Edward has pants-feels for a girl, after all this time. That's completely fucking terrible priorities, but they're also completely common ones, and that is a problem.
The problem with this scene isn't that Esme is happy for Edward. The problem is why she is happy for Edward, along with all the terrible things she is ignoring (and the terrible things she has done and colluded with) in order to maintain her happiness here.