"Freed from Desire" - The Concept of Romantic Love and the Desexualisation of the Vampire in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Novels


Bachelorarbeit, 2010
34 Seiten

Leseprobe

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Concept ofRomantic Love in the Twilight Novels
2.1 Romantic Love
2.2 Edward and Bella as a Romantic Couple
2.3 Bella Swan as a Gothic Heroine

3. The Desexualisation of the Vampire
3.1 The Vampire Myth in Slavic Folklore and its Christian Modifications__________
3.2 The Vampire as a Romantic figure and the Case ofEdward Cullen
3.3 Sexual Aspects of Vampirism
3.4 'Old Vampires' vs. 'Modern Vampires'

4. Conclusion 30 References

1. Introduction

(The vampire myth) lives not merely because it has been skilfully marketed by entrepreneurs - primarily the movie industry - but because it expresses something that large numbers of readers feel to be true about their own lives.[1]

No matter what the time of day, there seems to be no escaping Twilight, Stephenie Meyer's immensely popular vampire saga centred around the morbid love story of a self-conscious teenage girl longing to die in order to spend eternity on the side of her extraordinarily beautiful vampire boyfriend. So far, all four books in the saga have sold more than 85 million copies and have been translated into 37 languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Croatian,[2] whereas Hollywood's film adaptations of Twilight and New Moon have lured millions of spectators into cinemas around the world. It is to assume that this popularity with the masses is the reason why Meyer's novels stand accused of being trivial[3] and are being neglected in literary studies, although Twilight has meanwhile become a worldwide cultural phenomenon. However, such criticism is not a novelty concerning vampire fiction. John Polidori's The Vampyre became an immediate best-seller after its publishing in 1819, but definitely not a critics' favourite. The same accounts for Bram Stoker's Dracula in 1897. Ever since the vampire's popularity increased alongside the advance of cinema, it stands accused of being nothing but the plain product of an unsophisticated entertainment machinery.[4] Nevertheless, vampire novels like Dracula finally found their way into literary studies as they - like Gothic fiction in general - reflect on current developments in society as well as on the particular problems and fears of its members.[5] This is the reason why I chose Meyer's novels as a topic for my BA paper.

In her vampire saga, leaving aside some flaws in literary style, Meyer brilliantly captures the feeling of teenage angst, sexual insecurity and social alienation in a world where “misery has come home”[6] in the shape of terrorist attacks and high school massacres. A world where divorce rates are ever more increasing, traditional gender roles no longer seem appropriate and every twelve-year-old can download pornographic videos from the internet.

As in her world of vampires Meyer outlines a counter scenario to this modern world of insecurity she is often being criticised for promoting conservative values and anachronistic gender roles[7]. The question whether this criticism - though not extensive, yet not insubstantial - isjustified will be answered in the course of this work.

As the title suggests, this paper consists of two parts. The first part is concerned with the concept of romantic love and explores to what extent the relationship between Meyer's protagonists Edward and Bella can be identified as romantic, and also includes an analysis of the gender roles which are being represented in Meyer's work. Furthermore, the first part features a characterisation of the novels' heroine Bella Swan who is compared to other female protagonists in the Gothic genre. The second part is dedicated to the analysis of Meyer's interpretation of the vampire myth. For this purpose Edward Cullen and his vampire “family”[8], who only feed on animal blood instead on that of humans, will be compared to their predecessors in literary fiction. To point out what differences exist between “Old Vampires” and “Modern Vampires” and what these might imply with respect to the novels' overall message is the aim of the second part of this paper.

2. The Concept of Romantic Love in the Twilight Novels

Romantic love is without a doubt the central theme in Stephenie Meyer's vampire novels. More than bloodlust or the battle between good and evil powers the passionate yet restrained relationship between Edward Cullen and Bella Swan has to be considered the driving force behind the story as well as the main reason for its enormous success.[9] At the same time, the chaste and dependent romance between the two lovers has been criticised for being a bad influence on the minds of young readers as it is said to promote conservative values and old- fashioned gender-roles.[10] In this chapter I shall analyse Meyer's concept of romantic love and point out in how far the afore mentioned criticism can be considered appropriate with respect to her amorous protagonists, whose characters will be analysed in more depth in chapters 2.3 and 3.2. However as a first step towards the analysis of Edward and Bella's relationship, it seems useful to begin with defining the term “romantic love”.

2.1 Romantic Love

Branden defines romantic love as a passionate, both sexual and spiritual affection between a man and a woman which is based on mutual respect[11], and in which spiritual and sexual aspects are both of equal importance.[12] Giddens, on the other hand, argues that spiritual affection outweighs sexual needs in romantic relationships.[13] He thus distinguishes between romantic love and what he calls amour passion', whereas the romantic ideal of love is guided by Christian moral values, and is traditionally inseparable from the institution of marriage, the latter form ardently and uncontrollably encapsulates the devoted lovers and leads them to making radical decisions and sacrifices.[14] Furthermore, romantic love combines the idealisation of the partner (which Giddens actually defines as a typical aspect of amour passion) with a permanent relationship between the lovers.[15] According to Branden, the longing for a sexual and spiritual union must be considered the most vital aspect of romantic love.[16] In a romantic relationship “the individual self is mythologised above everything” when each of the partner assumes “the shape of a mirror in which (his or her own) self can be discovered, assured, fulfilled, unified and protected” in the “empty form” of the other.[17] Sexuality is spiritualized as in the eyes of the romantic lovers the union of their bodies symbolises that of their immortal souls. Matrimony has thus to be considered the logical consequence of romantic love, in which unity and permanence of relationship are finally achieved, and in which the individual's dream of “its completion in his union with a beloved other is fulsomely endorsed”.[18] After having been officially declared husband and wife before god the romantic couple “stands in a place of divinity, a gesture towards a beautified and everlasting romantic love, a timeless relation”[19]. To which extent the romance between Edward and Bella can be identified as a“timeless relation” in its literal meaning will be explored later on. The romantic character of matrimony is closely linked to another important aspect of romantic love - chastity. By staying sexually continent until they are married the lovers confirm their religious convictions as well as the popular notion of being “meant for one another”. Sexual desires are, thus, not primarily considered sinful, but only meant to be fulfilled within marriage. It is interesting to note that true romantic couples do not seem to feel cramped by these restrictions as they do not seem to feel tempted to engage into any sexual activities apart from those with the partner they are supposed to spend the rest of their lives with. Considering what has been said so far, it should come as no surprise that romantic love is strictly confined to heterosexual relationships, in which both of the partners act according to traditional gender roles. Obviously, joining two opposite parts together contributes more to the romantic ideal of a perfect union thanjoining two partners of the same sex or similar character. Gender roles in romantic relationships are generally based on the notion of the sexually dominant man who penetrates and the devout woman who perceives. This asymmetrical distribution of power is complemented by the attribution of certain features to the male and the female partner. Whereas the male is considered physically strong and active as well as intelligent and reasonable, the female fulfils the conventional idea of “the weaker sex” - a passive and emotional, fragile and not very bright creature.[20] This notion of a typical masculine and a typical feminine character became especially popular with the Victorians in the nineteenth century when the alleged natural inferiority of women's minds and bodies led to the suppression of female citizens in a male-dominated society.

According to Giddens, in our modern society, romantic love has been replaced by relationships between equal partners. Unlike romantic love, these relationships are neither restricted to heterosexual couples nor are they necessarily supposed to last forever or to be lead monogamously.[21] It is therefore no wonder that in times where homosexual couples are allowed to seal their love in a legal marriage and many women in heterosexual partnerships refuse to lead a traditional life as a housewife and mother, romantic love has become an anachronism. It is not only criticised for its championing of old-fashioned gender roles, but also for being “vain, narcissistic and futile”[22]. The decision to found a marriage on the basis of strong emotions is regarded as highly naive or even abnormal and socially irresponsible,[23] the hope that such a marriage will last forever primarily brushed aside as preposterous. Romantic couples, who revel only in the relationship with their partner and build their whole lives around the beloved other are suspected of suffering from psychological problems and of needing the partner as a “crutch” without whom they are unable to survive.[24] But although it has been condemned as repressive and conservative, or even as a nervous disease, “the myth of romantic love continues, even in the 'fallen' world of the (twenty-first century) where romantic love has become a cliche.”[25] Still, it does not only live on in popular fiction and a great many Hollywood romances but also in the minds of (female) readers and spectators who consider romantic relationships their ideal of love. Bella Swan, Stephenie Meyer's teenage heroine, is no exception to this phenomenon. Her dream of a romantic relationship eventually comes true when she falls in love with a107 year-old vampire.

2.2 Edward and Bella as a Romantic Couple

“Aren't you happy at all?” He kissed me before I could answer. Another too persuasive kiss.

“A little bit”, I admitted when I could speak. “But not about getting married.” He kissed me another time. “Do you get the feeling that everything is back­ward?” he laughed in my ear. “Traditionally, shouldn't you be arguing my side, and I yours?”

“There isn't much that's traditional about you and me.”[26]

According to Brittnacher, fictional texts sometimes know more than their authors, and always more than their characters[27] as can be perceived in the previous quote. In fact, Meyer's depiction of the love story between Edward and Bella reveals that there ere more traditional aspects in their relationship than her fictional lovers seem to be aware of. But before going on to analyse Meyer's protagonists with respect to the traditional gender roles they may fulfil, let us take a closer look at the author's notion of romantic love and observe to what extent Edward and Bella's relationship can be defined as romantic in the sense of Branden, Giddens and Botting's conceptions of the term.

True victims of love at first sight, Meyer's protagonist both helplessly fall in love following their first meeting in the cafeteria of Forks high school. The lovers' initial amorous feelings do not clearly comply with the notion of romantic love, but rather bear characteristics of Gidden's amourpassion which ardently and uncontrollably encapsulates Bella asshe admits to be “unconditionally and irrevocably in love”[28] with Edward although she is aware of his thirst for her blood. As soon as their relationship begins, Bella is willing to sacrifice her human life in order to spend eternity on the side of her boyfriend who, at the same time, endangers the security of his whole vampire family by maintaining an amorous relationship with a human being. The romantic character of Edward and Bella's relationship becomes clearer as the story unfolds. Both of the lovers share the notion of being completed by their respective significant other and show no interest in anything apart from the beloved partner. Edward's remark quoted below shows how the idea of being “meant for one another” is actually carried too far.

“For almost ninety years now I have walked among my kind, and yours...all the time thinking that I was complete in myself, not realizing what I was seeking. And not finding anything because you weren't alive yet.”[29]

Thus, Edward has to spend more than a century (including his fairly short life as a human) alone until he meets his chosen one.

Their strong reciprocal feelings make the lovers dependent on one another. Being accustomed to spending almost every minute together, the partners suffer agonies when separated. Bella, who has the impression that her entire life is actually “about” Edward,[30] thus falls into depression and jumps off a cliff when her boyfriend temporarily ends their relationship and disappears in order to keep her from danger. Edward, on the other hand, considers suicide the only possible option should ever something happen to his “one and only love”[31] Bella. And when Edward's sister Alice has a vision of Bella's allegedly lethal cliff-

jump he immediately takes up corresponding measures. The two lovers' rigorous behaviour, as well as statements like “I wasn't going to live without you”[32] (Edward) or “I'd rather die than be with anyone but you”[33] (Bella), contribute to the notion of romantic love as a nervous disease. This morbid character of Edward and Bella's romance has earned Meyer harsh criticism. Caitlin Flanegan in The New York Times considers Meyer's “super-reactionary love story”[34] a bad example for teenage readers whereas Christina Waechter on Sueddeutsche Zeitung Online wants Bella to challenge the emotional manipulative hold Edward has on her[35]. However, no matter how justified such criticism might be concerning dependent and controlling (teenage) relationships in real life, it seems to miss the point as far as fictional couples are concerned. After all, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, who fall in love at first sight, marry after a few short days of acquaintance and commit suicide soon after, are considered the most romantic couple in literary history, not morbid and mentally unstable teenagers. The parallels between Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Meyer's New Moon are obvious; while watching the 1968 film adaptation Edward remarks that he envies Romeo “the ease of suicide”[36], and later almost falls victim to a misunderstanding similar to that preceding Romeo's tragic death.

There are furthermore parallels to other literary couples, especially to those of the Bronte sisters. The love between Edward and Bella resembles that between Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, who “wraps his existence” around his loved one and feels that “a pure, powerful flame fuses (the couple) into one”[37]. It likewise resembles the love between Catherine Linton and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. When being asked what she finds so fascinating about the novel Bella answers: “I think it's something about the inevitability. How nothing can keep them apart - not her selfishness, or his evil, or even death, in the end”[38]. It seems that Meyer did not accidentally select Wuthering Heights as Bella's favourite choice of book as it reveals something about Bella's longing for romance. As a disillusioned daughter of divorced parents, who do not seem to be able to take care of themselves, let alone their teenage daughter, she strictly opposes the institution of marriage, but at the same time dreams of a lasting relationship with someone she truly loves. There is furthermore a particularly interesting similarity between Edward and Bella's relationship and that of Catherine and Heatcliff as those undergo vampire-like transformations while dying and their dead bodies are seen “walking” over the meadows by the country folks.[39] Thus, as a vampire couple, Catherine and Heathcliff are finally reunited in a relationship they were not granted to maintain when they were both alive. Bella's passion for classical literature also plays an important role in her relation to Edward. The fact that her future husband is actually a namesake of Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester and Fanny Dashwood's elder brother Edward Ferrars comes as no surprise. Like a character from one of her favourite novels, or an ambassador from days that are long gone, he enters Bella's modern world.

According to psychoanalysis, there is very little, if any, of the other person involved in amorous relationships.[40] The Twilight novels definitely support this assumption. As most of the story is narrated from Bella's point of view, the reader is necessarily bound to her perception of its protagonists, especially to that of her boyfriend Edward, who appears rather like a figure from a dream than a person from real life. The sheer perfectness that Bella's eyes and heart perceive renders any notable development of character impossible. It is however interesting to note that this impossibility of development does not correspond to Edward's character in general as can be observed in Meyer's digitally published novel Midnight Sun, in which the story of Twilight is narrated from Edward's point of view.

No matter from which narrative point of view the story is told, the description of gender roles in the Twilight novels clearly complies with the afore mentioned notion of a “stronger” and a “weaker” sex. Edward's physical strength not only enables him to run faster than any motorcar, but also to hold up a truck with one hand when it threatens to crush the brittle legs of his girlfriend. Apart from his physical superiority Edward also surpasses Bella in terms of reason. He thus “always (has to) be the responsible one” who ends Bella's sexual advances for the sake of her own security To what extent Bella is indeed carried away by feelings she cannot control becomes obvious in the quote below.

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 feel afraid.

I couldn't think of anything, except that he was touching me.[41]

Bella's clumsiness and physical weakness support the old-fashioned notion of women's natural inferiority. She therefore only feels safe in the presence of her boyfriend, who is protective as well as “full of authority”[42]. Edward's authoritarian character shines through in many parts of the story, for instance, when he uses his physical superiority to keep Bella - against her will - in the house, because he fears for her security.

The spiritual character of romantic love is clearly emphasised in Edward and Bella's relationship. Apparently, Meyer relies on her Mormon education that defines sex as “not as a need, or a deprivation that must be satisfied, but as a desire that should be fulfilled only within marriage, with sensitive attention given to the well-being of one's heterosexual marriage partner”[43]. Whereas extramarital sexual activities are considered a sin “against one's own body” sexual involvement within marriage expresses “unity, compassion, commitment and love”[44]. Because of the both spiritual and social importance of chastity, Mormons must wait until after marriage before they engage in any sexual activities.[45] Although Edward and Bella disagree over premarital chastity and the institution of marriage itself, they share the romantic notion of love and sexuality in union:

“Haveyow ever?” he trailed of suggestively.

“Of course not.” I flushed. “I told you I've never felt this way about anyone

before, not even close.”

“I know. It's just that I know other people's thoughts. I know that love and

lust don't always keep the same company.”

“They dofor me. Now,anyway, that theydoexist forme atall.”I sighed.

“That's nice. We have that one thing in common at least.”[46]

Edward's religious convictions carry him indeed so far that he refuses to have premarital sex with his girlfriend because he fears for his and her immortal soul.[47] Both of the lovers finally lose their virginity on their wedding night - Bella after 18, Edward after 107 years of chastity. Regarding the omnipresence of sexuality in our modern society it seems no wonder that the chaste courtship between Edward and Bella has been criticised for following old-fashioned moral standards. On the other hand, the continent relationship between the lovers seems “to evince a nostalgia for the prohibition that rendered sex meaningful and intense”[48] in times where a great many teenagers are explained the facts of life by pornographic films on the internet. A similar kind of nostalgia - in this case, a nostalgia for lasting relationships in times of ever increasing divorce rates - is evinced by the “timeless” character of Edward and Bella's

[...]


[1] Royce MacGillivray cited by Phyllis A. Roth (1977), ’Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ in: Margaret Carter (ed.), Dracula. The Vampire and the Critics (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1991), 57

[2] cf. RC, “'Twilight' Author Stephenie Meyer is America's JK Rowling”, The Independent Online 03/04/2010

[3] See, for instance, Christina Waechter, “Was blode Leute gut finden: Vampirgeschichten mit Liebe, Sueddeutsche Zeitung Online 10/09/2008

[4] Christian Begemann, ‘Die Metaphysik der Vampire’ in: Begemann, Herrmann, Neumeyer (eds.), Dracula Unbound. Kulturwissenschaftliche Lekturen des Vampirs (Freiburg: Rombach, 2008), 12

[5] Andrew Smith, Gothic Literature (Edingburgh: University Press, 2007), 6

[6] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (New York: Everyman, 1992), 88

[7] See Waechter or Caitlin Flanegan, “What Girls Want: Boyfriends”, The New York Times Online 03/06/2010

[8] In fact, the members of the Cullen family are not biologically related to one another. As they do without human blood the vampires refer to themselves as “vegetarians”.

[9] cf. RC

[10] See Flanegan, Waechter

[11] cf. Nathaniel Branden / Lieselotte Mietzner (translator), Liebefur ein ganzes Leben (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 2009)., 75

[12] As before, 132

[13] cf. Anthony Giddens /Hanna Pelzer (translator), Wandel der Intimitat. Sexualitat, Liebe und Erotik in modernen Gesellschaften (Frankfurtam Main: Fischer, 1993), 51

[14] As before, 49

[15] cf. Giddens, 50

[16] cf. Branden, 132

[17] FredBotting GothicRomanced. Consumption, Genderand Technology in ContemporaryFiction (London: Routledge, 2008), 27

[18] Botting2008,3

[19] Botting 2008, 5

[20] cf. Giddens, 72

[21] Asbefore

[22] Botting 2008, 27

[23] cf. Branden, 68

[24] cf. Branden, 74

[25] Pearcecited by Botting2008, 19

[26] Stephenie Meyer, Eclipse (London: Atom, 2007), 400

[27] cf. Hans Richard Brittnacher, ’Der Vampir als Audenseiter. Soziologische Konturen einer literarischen Chimare’ in: Begemann, Herrmann, Neumeyer (eds.), Dracula Unbound. Kulturwissenschaftliche Lekturen des Vampirs (Freiburg: Rombach, 2008), 385

[28] Stephenie Meyer, Twilight (London: Atom, 2005), 130

[29] As before, 266

[30] As before, 220

[31] Meyer, Eclipse, 173

[32] Stephenie Meyer, New Moon (London: Atom, 2006), 17

[33] As before, 40

[34] Flanegan, 03/06/2010

[35] cf. Waechter, 10/09/2008

[36] Meyer, NewMoon, 17

[37] Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (London: Penguin, 2007), 364

[38] Meyer, Eclipse, 26

[39] Emily Bronte, WutheringHeights (Dusseldorf: Patmos, 2009), 337

[40] Botting 2008, 27

[41] Meyer, Twilight, 242

[42] As before, 144

[43],,Sexuality“ in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 3 http://www.iefflindsav,com/LDSFAO/love.shtml#sexualitv

[44] Wallace Goddard and Brent C. Miller “Dating and Courtship“ in: Encyclopedia ofMormonism, Vol. 1, http://www.jefflindsay. com/LD SFAQ/love.shtml#basics

[45] As before

[46] Meyer, Twilight, 271

[47] cf. Meyer, Breaking Dawn, 401

[48] Botting 2008, 7

Ende der Leseprobe aus 34 Seiten

Details

Titel
"Freed from Desire" - The Concept of Romantic Love and the Desexualisation of the Vampire in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Novels
Hochschule
Universität Hamburg
Autor
Jahr
2010
Seiten
34
Katalognummer
V193277
ISBN (eBook)
9783656185611
ISBN (Buch)
9783656186106
Dateigröße
549 KB
Sprache
Deutsch
Schlagworte
Vampir, Twilight, Gothic Romance
Arbeit zitieren
Sophie-Charlotte Claassen (Autor), 2010, "Freed from Desire" - The Concept of Romantic Love and the Desexualisation of the Vampire in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Novels, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/193277

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