Twilight: Asking Permission

[Twilight Content Note: Murder, Abusive Relationships, Winning At Patriarchy.]

Twilight Summary: In Chapter 19, Bella flees town.

Twilight, Chapter 19: Goodbyes

There's a lot of Chapter 19 left, but it all conveniently follows the same theme of Bella's consent being entirely disregarded by the Cullens, so I think we can whip through it all very quickly. When we last left Bella, she was flouncing out on Charlie while pretending an intent to drive to Arizona, which is a 24 hours drive under the best of conditions (i.e., not stopping to eat or sleep or buy gasoline).

   “I’ll call you tomorrow!” I yelled, wishing more than anything that I could explain everything to him right then, knowing I would never be able to. I gunned the engine and peeled out.

I'm pretty sure that Bella (a) never fulfills this promise and (b) doesn't even intend to. Which, I mean, to a certain extent? Fine. My personal morality is perfectly comfortable with lying about a phone call if necessary to save someone's life or something. But, as several of us have already noted, Bella driving out of town and then instantly disappearing off the grid--no phone calls, no witnesses, no credit card trail of gas stations tracking her to Arizona, not a single person who has seen or heard of her--will naturally lead her father (and the other local authorities) to assume very bad things have happened to Bella.

It's frustrating how unclear it is whether Bella and/or the narrative understands this. I can imagine that Bella might not have worked through how this scene will look to other people; empathy with viewpoints other than her own and Edward's doesn't seem to be a huge strong point for her, and additionally she's under a lot of stress and this plan was very spur-of-the-moment. But the Cullens are supposed to be old-hands at quickly clearing out of town, and it's extremely bizarre that things like "wait, if the cover story is that she drove down there, how are we gonna deal with the time difference of flying her down there driving her down there at 'twice the legal speed' in our own car, and also what do we do with her truck that we keep up here?"

All of this leads to the feeling that this part of the narrative wasn't really thought out; it feels rushed and like the characters have intuited that everything will work out for the best over the remaining five chapters. Inasmuch at writing must inform characterization, even when the writing is bad or lazy or mistaken, this makes the Cullens look (a) extremely bad at their masquerade attempts and (b) cruelly incurious of what will happen to Charlie Swan when Bella disappears in a manner that very much looks like she didn't leave Forks alive.

   Edward reached for my hand.
   “Pull over,” he said as the house, and Charlie, disappeared behind us.
   “I can drive,” I said through the tears pouring down my cheeks.
   His long hands unexpectedly gripped my waist, and his foot pushed mine off the gas pedal. He pulled me across his lap, wrenching my hands free of the wheel, and suddenly he was in the driver’s seat. The truck didn’t swerve an inch.

I don't even know how this is possible. It would seem that the truck seat must be a bench seat in order to accommodate this; I can't imagine this working if Edward also had to maneuver his butt around a gear shift. And all this "the truck didn't swerve", my god, the tracking on this exceedingly-old and heavily-rebuilt vehicle is now impossibly impressive. Apparently Jacob Black restores vehicles to better than factory settings, because clearly the perfectly straight movement of the speeding vehicle isn't due to Edward's steering, seeing as how his hands aren't actually touching the wheel.

But really, the short version here is that we're manhandling Bella (again) rather than explain the situation (supposedly she can't find the Cullen house in her truck and verbal instructions like "take a left here" are insufficient) and getting her consent because consent is for babies.

   Lights flared suddenly behind us. I stared out the back window, eyes wide with horror.
   “It’s just Alice,” he reassured me. He took my hand again. [...] “The tracker followed us. He’s running behind us now.”
   “Can we outrun him?”
    “No.” But he sped up as he spoke. The truck’s engine whined in protest.
   [...] I was staring back at Alice’s headlights when the truck shuddered and a dark shadow sprung up outside the window. My bloodcurdling scream lasted a fraction of a second before Edward’s hand clamped down on my mouth.
   “It’s Emmett!”

I can't help but feel that maybe Bella would be more comfortable on this frenzied flight for her life, Edward, if you actually communicated to her using words. Like, "Charlie is okay, the Tracker followed us, Alice is in the other car behind us, and Emmett is about to leap into the back of the truck, don't be startled."

And, ugh, this is kind of a soft spot for me because if there is something that I feel almost religiously about, it's the importance of communication within any kind of relationship. To a degree that's almost verging on the moralistic. Bella is clearly worried--even terrified--but she's having to drag information out of Edward question-by-question. You could maybe argue that he's not used to using his words, what with being a telepath, except that the entire rest of his family isn't telepathic so there went that excuse.

If I wanted to be really extra-super-charitable, I could see maybe Edward being so attuned to mental (rather than verbal) questions that he instinctively interprets the "blank" reading he gets from Bella's impenetrable mind as her not needing further information (where "no questions mentally asked" means "she perfectly grasps the situation") except that (a) I don't think it's asking too much for him to get past that impulse soonish, and (b) he doesn't treat Bella with that level of respect for her mental abilities in any other context, so he doesn't get to use I Just Assumed She Understood Perfectly as an excuse here for why she has to drag information about their plan out of him.

Basically, Edward is just perfectly happy to let Bella have a heart attack rather than keep her informed about his precious little plan.

   “I didn’t realize you were still so bored with small-town life,” he said conversationally, and I knew he was trying to distract me. “It seemed like you were adjusting fairly well — especially recently. Maybe I was just flattering myself that I was making life more interesting for you.” 
   [...] “That was the same thing my mom said when she left him. You could say I was hitting below the belt.”

Oh. My. God.

One million things to talk about in order to distract Bella--hell, you could let her start thinking about which privately-owned Cullen-palace or Cullen-island or Cullen-mountain she wants to go vacation on after they leave Arizona, which would at least be a bright spot in all this awfulness--and he dives straight for "HEY NOW, I THOUGHT YOU SAID I WAS MAKING YOU HAPPY. WERE YOU LYING TO ME THEN OR TO CHARLIE NOW?" Edward is basically calling her a lying liar who lies and demanding to know which version is the truth: his version or the version Charlie just got.

This is incredibly selfish and self-centered for a number of reasons, not the least being that Bella probably doesn't want to dwell on a blow-by-blow of the lies she just told in order to save her father's life from an unstoppable vampire bound and determined to do whatever it takes to flush her out.

   “Why did this happen?” I asked, my voice catching. “Why me?” 
   [...] “I got a good look at his mind tonight,” he began in a low voice. “I’m not sure if there’s anything I could have done to avoid this, once he saw you. It is partially your fault.” His voice was wry. “If you didn’t smell so appallingly luscious, he might not have bothered. [...] He thinks of himself as a hunter and nothing else. His existence is consumed with tracking, and a challenge is all he asks of life. Suddenly we’ve presented him with a beautiful challenge — a large clan of strong fighters all bent on protecting the one vulnerable element. You wouldn’t believe how euphoric he is now. It’s his favorite game, and we’ve just made it his most exciting game ever.” His tone was full of disgust.

It's already been pointed out--I believe by Chris the Cynic, but I'm having trouble sweeping the comments on the previous post, so someone please correct me on this if I'm misattributing--that James is Alice's missing unknown maker about whom she knows nothing and that if Edward picked this up (and it seems impossible for me to believe that he wouldn't, what with Alice being right there for James to see and recognize), then he is being a colossal asshole by not letting Alice know.

He is additionally being a colossal asshole by telling Bella that it's "her fault" that James is hunting her and her entire life is ruined and she will never see her friends and family again because she is just too damn sexy smelly. Repeat after me on this one, Edward: RAPE IS NOT A COMPLIMENT. Even Edward vaguely seems to get that as he does go on to state that James is really approaching this as a power-game to be played with the Cullen coven, so haha clearly it's just a joke that it's entirely Bella's fault for never being able to see her friends and family again except double haha that is not funny.

   “I don’t think I have any choice but to kill him now,” he muttered. “Carlisle won’t like it.”

*keyboard smash*

I love Carlisle's much-vaunted "compassion", which I remind you is NIGH UNTO AN ANGEL, really means he has Will Graham compassion, by which we mean he sympathizes with privileged people who abuse marginalized people. Because if you ask me, and mind you this is a your mileage may vary situation, the compassionate thing to do in this situation is to kill the guy who keeps murdering innocent people at a rate of once or twice a week for the rest of eternity. But of course that would mean empathizing with women and children and victims rather than with a sparkling white man.

   “And the other two will fight with him?”
    “The woman will. I’m not sure about Laurent. They don’t have a very strong bond — he’s only with them for convenience. He was embarrassed by James in the meadow. . . .”

The entire Laurent sub-plot is convoluted nonsense, but basically if I understand correctly, James is the "real" leader of this "coven" of three people (where "coven" is here defined as "James, James' girlfriend, and some guy they just met") and they just said Laurent was their leader because... I don't know? And Laurent's promise in the meadow that they wouldn't harm Bella was therefore void and meaningless because Laurent barely knows James and holds no power or sway over him at all? So lying is just second nature to literally everyone in this book? Okay, then.

   We drove right up to the house. The lights inside were bright, but they did little to alleviate the blackness of the encroaching forest. Emmett had my door open before the truck was stopped; he pulled me out of the seat, tucked me like a football into his vast chest, and ran me through the door.

I here note that Emmett did not ask Bella's consent for this move. I here also note that if the point is for James to attack soon so that the Cullens can finish him off while they have superior numbers and knowledge of the local terrain, I'm not sure why it wouldn't be a great idea for Bella to walk to the door on her own two feet.

   “We’ll stop him,” Emmett promised [Laurent]. There was no doubt what he meant.
    “You can’t bring him down. I’ve never seen anything like him in my three hundred years. He’s absolutely lethal. That’s why I joined his coven.”
   His coven, I thought, of course. The show of leadership in the clearing was merely that, a show.
   Laurent was shaking his head. He glanced at me, perplexed, and back to Carlisle. “Are you sure it’s worth it?”
   Edward’s enraged roar filled the room; Laurent cringed back.
   Carlisle looked gravely at Laurent. “I’m afraid you’re going to have to make a choice.”

You know what Carlisle literally never, ever does? Explain why he and his family choose not to murder people in order to survive. Like, I feel like that might be the sort of thing that an ANGEL OF COMPASSION might want to share with others, especially given the religious themes surrounding the creation of this book. (I mean, there is, lest we forget, a literal Apple of Temptation on the cover of Twilight.)

But, no, just like in the ballpark scene earlier he is terse to the point of rudeness to Laurent. Which is obviously great because Laurent could help them immensely, or at least not spend one of the upcoming books trying to kill Bella, except that Carlisle literally never gives him a reason to. Anyway, Laurent leaves (yay, he's probably heard half of their plans, I'm sure no harm will come of this!) and they get to planning in earnest while talking over Bella's pretty little head.

   Edward’s tone was deadly. “As soon as Bella is clear, we hunt him.”
   “I guess there’s no other choice,” Carlisle agreed, his face grim.
   Edward turned to Rosalie.
   “Get her upstairs and trade clothes,” Edward commanded. She stared back at him with livid disbelief.
   “Why should I?” she hissed. “What is she to me? Except a menace — a danger you’ve chosen to inflict on all of us.”

You are all supposed to hate Rosalie because she is pretty and blonde and a rival for Edward's affections (once upon a time) and also she doesn't love Bella on sight but most of all she doesn't do whatever Edward orders her to do. Are we all on the same page about how truly awful Rosalie is? But alas, I actually have no problem with Rose being any of those things and the only fault I can find in her in this scene is that she didn't also manage to work in something to Edward about how he can learn to fucking say please and also she is not his servant.

I mean, let us be clear: Edward is ordering her to trade clothes with Bella so that Rosalie can run through the woods as a decoy in the hopes that James will smell Bella's scent on those clothes and will try to kill Rosalie. And lest we forget, Laurent just finished saying that James is absolutely lethal and that he's never seen anything like him. So Edward is literally ordering Rosalie to risk her life for a stranger and he's not even bothering to say please. And not even because risking one's life for a stranger is a potentially noble goal; he's giving the order because this particular stranger gives him boners. I feel like Rosalie is well within her rights to tell him to piss up a rope.

   I flinched back from the venom in her voice.
   “Rose . . . ,” Emmett murmured, putting one hand on her shoulder. She shook it off.
   But I was watching Edward carefully, knowing his temper, worried about his reaction.
   He surprised me. He looked away from Rosalie as if she hadn’t spoken, as if she didn’t exist.
“Esme?” he asked calmly.
   “Of course,” Esme murmured.
   Esme was at my side in half a heartbeat, swinging me up easily into her arms, and dashing up the stairs before I could gasp in shock.

And... that's kinda Twilight in a microcosm. Bella watches Edward warily, frightened that his temper will cause him to hurt himself or others. Then Edward overrides her bodily autonomy without her consent, often by enlisting the help of others. Esme literally carries Bella upstairs, undresses her, redresses her, and carries her back down the stairs without ever pausing for her permission. Time may be at a premium here (though... why? They're not flying down to Arizona; they're driving. So... what's the rush?) but my inner-teenager is nevertheless horrified at the idea of my new boyfriend's mother undressing me on the day of our first meeting.

   [Esme and Alice] each grabbed one of my elbows and half-carried me as they flew down the stairs.

I have no words. Somehow this is worse for me than everything Edward has done prior to this. Maybe it's just because these are his family members joining in on the abuse, and that these are women, surrogate mother and sister, who are going along with the decision to treat Bella like one of those little dogs you carry in handbags.

   Carlisle was handing something small to Esme. He turned and handed Alice the same thing — it was a tiny silver cell phone.

I get the impression that Carlisle keeps the family cellphones in a little locked safe. For emergencies only! And yes, this book was written before everyone and their handbag-dog had a cellphone, but the Cullens are also richer than God, so this just again reinforces the icky cult vibe coming off of this family, that communication devices are restricted until the Patriarch decides to hand them out. 

   “Esme and Rosalie will be taking your truck, Bella,” he told me as he passed. I nodded, glancing warily at Rosalie. She was glowering at Carlisle with a resentful expression.

So apparently we convinced (read: bullied) Rose into being part of Team Bait after all. 

   But Edward was at my side at once. He caught me up in his iron grip, crushing me to him. He seemed unaware of his watching family as he pulled my face to his, lifting my feet off the floor. For the shortest second, his lips were icy and hard against mine. Then it was over. He set me down, still holding my face, his glorious eyes burning into mine.   His eyes went blank, curiously dead, as he turned away.
   And they were gone.


Okay. Really, I get that urgent kisses that are TOO IMPORTANT for communication or consent or anything except LIPS PRESSED ON LIPS can be a sexy thing for folks. I also get that this kind of kiss tends to be more acceptable in an established relationship full of existing trust where consent doesn't need to be re-established for each lip-locking session because there's been a groundwork laid for that already--and I also get that by utilizing trust-kisses, it's possible to make the relationship seem like it has that groundwork already.

So I understand that the kisses her are supposed to indicate how serious and grownup and passionate this relationship is, and how if Edward had awkwardly expressed a desire to kiss her goodbye, then that might have been read as him being insufficiently self-confident or passionate or loving or Her Fated Lover of Loving Love.

But I am also stating, for the record, that I think that trope can take a long walk off a short pier. Our cultural decision to treat "no time for consent!" kisses as sexy and "may I please" kisses as sweet-but-not-so-sexy is a cultural decision that we can push back against. I would much, much, much, much rather read a real conversation between two people in a difficult, heartbreaking moment trying to navigate a final affectionate goodbye that they are both comfortable with than read about Edward's marble lips crushing Bella without so much as a "may I". Because:


   Jasper and I looked at each other. He stood across the length of the entryway from me . . . being careful.
   “You’re wrong, you know,” he said quietly.
   “What?” I gasped.
   “I can feel what you’re feeling now — and you are worth it.”
   “I’m not,” I mumbled. “If anything happens to them, it will be for nothing.”
   “You’re wrong,” he repeated, smiling kindly at me.

And that is nice, but ideally something that should have come from Edward. Maybe in place of explaining how this is all her fault for smelling so irresistible. Bella, it's not too late to dump Edward and form a happy threesome with Alice and Jasper! Also, Alice is apparently totes okay with making you a vampire, so.  

   I heard nothing, but then Alice stepped through the front door and came toward me with her arms held out.
   “May I?” she asked.
   “You’re the first one to ask permission.” I smiled wryly.
   She lifted me in her slender arms as easily as Emmett had, shielding me protectively, and then we flew out the door, leaving the lights bright behind us.

HAHA, Bella has been carried around like a puppy all night long, has been totally depersonified, and has had it made entirely clear to her that her consent is so much dust in the wind. All the wry smiles.


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