Twilight: White Carpets for White Cullens

[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.
Extra Content Note: Parental / Patriarchal Abuse, Bullshit Gender Roles, Rape Culture, Unconsciousness, Ableism.]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 15, Bella gets to meet the Cullens.

Twilight, Chapter 15: The Cullens

Edward has decided to take Bella to meet his family, and all that Bella really knows about them (apart from name, rank, and superpower) is that a fair lot of them bet on Edward killing her, which would indicate that her well-being is nothing more than a joke to them and certainly not something that they are seriously concerned about. (Since, if they were seriously concerned, they'd be taking measures to protect her instead of placing bets on the outcome.)

She also doesn't really know what Alice sees in her future, since the whole "why anyone would bet against Alice" thing was ambiguously stated. Maybe Alice has her getting mauled by Edward five minutes from the house; whatever she's seen in Bella's future, Edward is stubbornly not sharing.

Naturally, because this is Twilight, the fact that Bella could be scared of the Cullens is going to swept aside into a cozier version where she's worried she'll disappoint them or not be a credit to Edward. Once again, Watsonianly, Bella is free to deal with this stressful situation in whatever manner she chooses--if worrying over what to wear is her pressure valve for being served up to a house full of vampires, so be it. But also once again, from a Doylist perspective, this is ramming home a message that self-care is less important than earning approval from the privileged upper-class that Bella seeks to join.

   It was hard to decide what to wear. I doubted there were any etiquette books detailing how to dress when your vampire sweetheart takes you home to meet his vampire family. It was a relief to think the word to myself. I knew I shied away from it intentionally.
   I ended up in my only skirt — long, khaki-colored, still casual. I put on the dark blue blouse he’d once complimented. A quick glance in the mirror told me my hair was entirely impossible, so I pulled it back into a ponytail.

WHEN DID THIS COMPLIMENT OCCUR, WAS IT WHILE HE WAS GIVING YOU THE SILENT TREATMENT FOR WEEKS, OH FUCK IT NEVERMIND. I think the salient point here is that when your boyfriend compliments your shirt, you need to file that away in your precious limited brain cells because it's not like you can just haul him up to your closet and say "What do you think I should wear to meet your family," because obviously picking out clothes isn't something a MAN can do, etc. 

   “Okay.” I bounced down the stairs. “I’m decent.”
   [...] “Wrong again,” he murmured in my ear. “You are utterly indecent — no one should look so tempting, it’s not fair.”
   “Tempting how?” I asked. “I can change . . .”
   He sighed, shaking his head. “You are so absurd.” 

ARGH THIS WHOLE CONVERSATION IS WRONG. This whole context is wrong. This is like a dress-up-in-business-casual-so-that-your-besotted-boyfriend-can-call-you-irresistible-even-though-you-don't-feel-like-you-are, she-don't-know-she's-beautiful scene lifted from a non-paranormal romance and levered into this one. This doesn't work. Bella should be worried, at least a little bit, about the vampires eating her. Edward, if he is to have any consistency of character at all, should be furious at Bella for not being more worried about vampires eating her.

Instead we get this oh-I-didn't-realize-I'm-gorgeous standard trope affair, because the one unpardonable sin in a pretty girl is to somehow know she's pretty and also it makes the self-insertion for the reader easier if the character doesn't believe she's pretty but secretly is without her knowing. So now in order to appease the patriarchy, you have to be both pretty AND worried about being pretty (as evidenced by committing compliments to memory so that you can re-create the pretty later) but through all this you have to nurture an innocent unawareness of your pretty. That's totally not an impossible standard at all, and also Ross Geller sucks.

   “Shall I explain how you are tempting me?” he said. It was clearly a rhetorical question. His fingers traced slowly down my spine, his breath coming more quickly against my skin. My hands were limp on his chest, and I felt lightheaded again. He tilted his head slowly and touched his cool lips to mine for the second time, very carefully, parting them slightly.
    And then I collapsed.
   “Bella?” His voice was alarmed as he caught me and held me up.
   “You . . . made . . . me . . . faint,” I accused him dizzily.
   “What am I going to do with you?” he groaned in exasperation. “Yesterday I kiss you, and you attack me! Today you pass out on me!”

Amy's (pixystyk02) Bucket, which is also delightfully animated

I remember, like, ten chapters and two years ago when people were all like, Ana, you're not hard enough on Bella and I was all just you wait, it's coming and WE ARE NOW HERE. This is so awful. I don't even know how to approach this. If I approach it from within the text, if I get down on the same level as it, I am all GET THIS GIRL TO A DOCTOR because clearly there is something wrong with Bella's blood pressure or inner ear or something and also apparently she's so afraid of setting Edward off that she won't breathe when he's near for fear of being eaten and so she's passing out from lack of air and THIS IS NOT HEALTHY.

Okay? And if I approach the text from above, as a critical reader and/or attack pigeon, I'm all HOLY FUCK WHAT IS THIS because Edward is so heady and romantic that just being kissed by him makes Bella pass out like a fainting goat? NO, I am not okay with that, that is creepy to me, all kinds of shades of problems surrounding unconsciousness and OF COURSE this is all going to happen again on the infamous wedding night where the sex is so great that Bella passed out somewhere in the middle of it and Edward just failed to notice so obviously it was really enthusiastically consensual sex NOOOOOOOOOOO. *cries forever* *shakes with fury* *hides under desk*

And, I mean, as always: if this is your fantasy, that's okay! But this is being sold as, like, feministy and winning at patriarchy and just... NO! Argle bargle fug.

   “Do you feel sick?” he asked; he’d seen me like this before.
    “No — that wasn’t the same kind of fainting at all. I don’t know what happened.” I shook my head apologetically. “I think I forgot to breathe.”
   “I can’t take you anywhere like this.”
   “I’m fine,” I insisted. “Your family is going to think I’m insane anyway, what’s the difference?”

I guess you could read that as Edward saying that he can't take her anywhere while she is sick and fainting, which might possibly be a good idea (though speaking as someone who faints semi-regularly from medication, this is a tricky line to walk and you need to walk it with care because overriding someone's will as a form of "protection" can still be bad depending on a lot of factors, NOT THAT EDWARD WOULD CARE) but it reads more to me here like annoyance: "I can't take you anywhere like this" feels a lot like Edward is irked at all his plans being disrupted over Bella's sillyness. In which case, obviously, fuck you Edward, et cetera.

I do love how it's not even brought up that Bella might be suffering panic or anxiety at the prospect of meeting a house full of vampires who have very recently bet on her time of death (and many of whom are motivated to kill her in order to preserve their secret). Because that might make the reader think the Cullens are anything less than vampire-angels. 

   “Look, I’m trying really hard not to think about what I’m about to do, so can we go already?” I asked.
    “And you’re worried, not because you’re headed to meet a houseful of vampires, but because you think those vampires won’t approve of you, correct?”
   “That’s right,” I answered immediately, hiding my surprise at his casual use of the word.
   He shook his head. “You’re incredible.”

"But not in a complimenty way. You're incredible in an insulting way. You're supposed to be terrified of my family, so that when we visit them--because of course we're still going to visit them; your comfort or discomfort with any given activity is not important to me--I can properly get off on your terror. It's terribly inconsiderate of you to not indulge my sadism, but I guess we're wasting cloud cover so we might as well go."

Anyway, the drive off into the forest or whatever to the Cullen Compound. 

   I don’t know what I had expected, but it definitely wasn’t this. The house was timeless, graceful, and probably a hundred years old. It was painted a soft, faded white, three stories tall, rectangular and well proportioned. The windows and doors were either part of the original structure or a perfect restoration. My truck was the only car in sight. I could hear the river close by, hidden in the obscurity of the forest.

This is probably a good demonstration of the power that movies have to shape narratives and override the original words on page. The Cullen house in the movie is a very contemporary house that was built in 2007 and, frankly, looks like it. Not that I disapprove of the house in the movies--I actually think it fits the Cullens' flashy-car, shiny-things, never-wear-the-same-outfit-twice personalities, but it's interesting to me that most people aren't now going to read the above passage and see the house that it invites us to envision.

Anyway, movie narratives vs. book narratives are a bit of a hobby horse I like to ride. Back to the awful.

   The inside was even more surprising, less predictable, than the exterior. It was very bright, very open, and very large. This must have originally been several rooms, but the walls had been removed from most of the first floor to create one wide space. The back, south-facing wall had been entirely replaced with glass, and, beyond the shade of the cedars, the lawn stretched bare to the wide river. A massive curving staircase dominated the west side of the room. The walls, the high-beamed ceiling, the wooden floors, and the thick carpets were all varying shades of white.

Twilight is light-fantasy, or bright-fantasy, or whatever the word is for fantasy that doesn't indulge too much in blood and guts and gore, so I am going to continue to be disappointed at the lack of details as to how vampirism works and how, by extension, Bella's life will work once she changes. On the one hand, that's okay--the author clearly wanted to write something bright and the fans wanted to read it. That's fine. But it is disappointing to me, because it's hard for me to cheer Bella on in her goal when I can't see very well what that goal will entail for her.

We know how the Cullens launder: they don't. (I don't remember who first brought up that Alice never lets them wear the same outfit twice and Google doesn't deal with Disqus, but thank you for that vital information. ETA: It was MimiJones, thank you!) We presume the Cullens don't go to the bathroom, since their bodies are supposed to (somehow) be static, unchanging things with little to do with, for example, bowel movements. All that is fine and somewhat expected in vampire literature. But how are they keeping the carpets clean?? Forget blood for a minute; they live in a bloody forest where it rains constantly and they like to go hiking. How is this a thing?

We've often wondered what the hell the Cullens DO with all their free time; apparently they're obsessively cleaning the carpets. That seems like a profoundly sad reflection on eternal life.


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