Books Teaching

Twilight girls

Today I was interviewed by a UT broadcasting student about the Twilight phenomenon and the question of how reading romances affects women (particularly young women). The student putting together the story found me through one of the students in my Women’s Popular Genres class, which I know I’ve mentioned before, because it’s been delightful. I still can’t claim to know much about Twilight — I’ve seen the movie (at T.’s insistence!) but haven’t yet read the book — but I am fascinated by the fandom, partly because of its overwhelming size. As a recent piece in Prospect noted, “In the first quarter of 2009, Twilight novels composed 16 percent of all book sales — four out of every 25 books sold were part of the series. The final installment, Breaking Dawn, sold 1.3 million copies on the day of its release in August 2008.” (Bolding mine.)

For my generation, the girl/vampire romance of the moment was in Buffy, and, well, she kills him. (If you haven’t seen the “Buffy vs. Edward” remix vid, this is your chance; also note that Joss Whedon is on record stating that “Angel would kick the shit out of Edward Cullen,” and also that Edward Cullen is hot.) So we talked a little about that, as well as about Janice Radway’s theories of romance as a method of training women to settle for the tiny bits of affection doled out by their (disappointing, she assumes) male partners.

I don’t have a unifying theory about Twilight myself, but I do have some interesting links. McSweeney’s offers Cathy and Heathcliff auditioning for the movie:

CATHERINE: (to Heathcliff) Your presence is a moral poison that would contaminate the most virtuous!

HEATHCLIFF: (stepping toward Catherine) Nay, you’ll not drive me off again, Cathy.

HARDWICKE: Okay. Wow. That was kind of erotic in a weird way. I like the direction this is going in. Let’s try some more lines. Edward, you know that Bella’s figured out you’re a vampire. You want to make her say it. From behind, you lean in close to her ear and deliver the line, “Say it. Out loud.” Bella, your line is “Vampire.” Are we ready people?

And the wit behind Geoffrey Chaucer’s blog summarizes the plot of the first book as follows:

In this fyne book of sparklie vampyres, Bella Cygne moveth from Essex to Yorkshyre to lyve with her fathir, who ys a sheriff and escheator. At a scole ful of recentlie coyned stereotypes, she witnesseth the fayre skyn and fashion-sprede slow-mocioun hotenesse of the Cu Chulainn clan, the which have all eaten long ago of the magical Irisshe Salmon of Really Good Hair (oon byte of this magical salmon and ye shal have good hair for evir). Aftir Bella doth see the hottest of the clan, Edward, stop a wagon wyth hys bare handes, fight off twentie churles, and brood so much he did make Angel look lyk Mister Rogeres, she doth realise that the Cu Chulainns are vampyres. But they are good vampyres, who drinke wyne. Ther is considerablie moore sexual tensioun than in Piers Plowman.

This Metafilter post collects feminist critiques of the series, while a recent Washington Post piece addresses women who originally dismissed the series only to become serious fans. And finally, an Esquire article reading Edward’s appeal as dependent on young women’s desire for gay men.


  1. OK, first of all, it’s Edmund, not Edward. Yes, darnit, I’ve read the first two books, so I can say that they are better, if only marginally, than the first movie. That piece of movie-making is dreadfully slow, saccharine and insipid, and full of cinematic cliches. I thought for a while that the director was making jokes; sadly, no. The fact that so many young women and girls are swarming to see it strikes fear into my heart. I’d much rather they read books with more challenging language, emotions and situations. At this rate we will be a third world country, educationally, in a very short time. (If we are not already.) Humbug.

  2. Sadly, mamacita, it is “Edward,” not “Edmund.” Though Edmund might be funnier.

    My students keep telling me I need to read the first book, at least, so it’s on my Kindle now. I got as far as the little preface last night and ran smack into some awful prose, so, uh, we’ll see?

    I liked the movie fine, but that might be because T. has infected me with “the slower the movie the better it is!” syndrome.

  3. I was going along, and clicking on the links I’d not seen before and clicking on the links I had and re-laughing (“sparkling hotnesse”)… and mostly your not-quite-an-opinion is similar to mine… and then I got to the “the slower the movie the better”? Explain? Is it a (completely understandable) reaction to the over-jumpcutness of recent movies, or more like, you guys love renting HEAVEN’S GATE on a hot summer night and just adore reveling in the endless roller skating scenes?

  4. Well, it’s more about pacing and quietness than about having too many jump cuts (though that can be irritating). Have you seen Gerry? Not so much with the endless roller skating scenes, but it does have at least one very long shot of the two guys just walking and breathing, almost in sync. T.’s more into that sort of movie than I am, but Gerry is one I liked too; Code 46 is another.

  5. Hey, Katharine, I wanted to point out the process by which Twilight was written.

    Meyers hadn’t written so much as a short story in years, and one night she had a dream about an ordinary girl and this handsome vampire in a meadow. The end product was off to press six months after her dream.

    The books might have been more effective if Meyers did some workshops and learned the craft.

    It feels like six months can be seen as short in general, but for upwards of 400 hundred pages it’s especially hasty.

    I loved Buffy and Angel. Her relationship with Spike is also compelling in the last season.

  6. DarkHeart, thanks for the comment. I finally did read the first Twilight book this week so I could talk to my students about it, and I was curious to know if Meyer had written anything else before these books. It’s strange how the first book reads as simultaneously a canny fulfillment of teenage-girl desires — Edward asks Bella questions about herself for two days straight — and a kind of embarrassing revelation of id.

    I’ll admit that I’m curious to see if Meyer’s The Host is different/better.

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