Compare and Contrast: Twilight and Pride and Prejudice

Is Twilight the modern Pride and Prejudice? There are some interesting parallels.

Yesterday I listened to a lecture from the Kid You Not Podcast in which Clementine and Lauren discuss the appeal of dark paranormal romance among teenage girls. This reminded me of a lecture delivered by La Trobe University’s David Beagley.

Fiction For Young Adults, Lecture 9: What it is to be young and in love, available on iTunes U.

The Importance of Romance in Pop Culture

The lecture opens with a clip from South Pacific, Some Enchanted Evening

About 95% of all pop songs are about romance, the pairing up of people.

Twilight by Stephenie Myer is one of the most popular YA romances of the last decade or so

Pride and Prejudice is arguably the most popular romantic novel in the English language.

A lot of the elements — the crowded room, the fly to her side — can also be found in Some Enchanted Evening. These are nowadays clichés, the standard building blocks of the romance story which are used and reused.

References

Lee from Marvels and Tales Guilty Pleasures: reading romances as reworked fairytales (2008) looks at the form and structure of the typical romance novels.

Greenfield’s Absent Minded Heroine or Elizabeth Bennett has a thought, looks specifically at Pride and Prejudice and looks very much at the idea of absence: how to fall in love when the person isn’t actually there. The idealisation of the other person, love at first sight, the unreliability of appearance.

Jasna, the Jane Austen Society of North America, looks at the Twilight movies and their relationship to Pride and Prejudice.

About Jane Austen

One of the few drawings we have of Jane Austen is done by her sister Cassandra. One of the problems with studying Austen is that despite her copious letters, her family destroyed them soon after her death. There are only a few remaining, so it’s difficult to get prime evidence about her as a person.

Austen died at 42, not old but not unusual for her time, though it was still young for her class. She was a clergyman’s daughter.

Pride and Prejudice [at time of broadcast] has just reached its double century and is now considered one of the best books of all time, just behind Lord of the Rings in big polls. There have been many adaptations.

For women who grew up in the 1970s and early ’80s — nurtured in the fictions of Ms. Blume, Paul Zindel and Norma Klein among others, writers for whom an urbane brand of social realism was the only reasonable métier — the arrival of the “Twilight” franchise a decade ago, with its enormous success, signaled a gloomy period of regression for the young-adult novel. The first of the “Twilight” books appeared in 2005, two years after Arnold Schwarzenegger became the governor of California amid sexual assault allegations that prompted relatively little of the outcry now bedeviling Donald J. Trump. A distinct product of Bush-era gender politics rather than a renunciation of them, the series ultimately has its heroine forfeit a chance to go to Dartmouth to stay home and tend to her half-vampire baby, one conceived after a night of violent sex that leaves her body bruised with a husband who is at least 100 years old.

Now, though, the appetite for paranormal lunacy has abated, and issue-driven fiction set very much in a universe of urbanism’s chief concerns is having a renaissance.

Ginnia Bellafante, NYT

What do Pride and Prejudice and Twilight Have In Common?

A young adult girl as main character

A basic plot:

Here’s a very typical sequence in a modern young adult romance, which is clearly based on the old romance plots. Summarising from Roberta Seelinger Trites:

  1. Two teenagers feel sexually attracted to one another
  2. Something will keep them apart. During this period, each character thinks the attraction is unrequited.
  3. They’ll eventually share their feelings with each other and learn that it’s mutual.
  4. However, they don’t immediately get into it. They will agonise about what happens next, scared and worried about sex.
  5. They do end up expressing their passion with some sort of sexual or sexually charged contact.
  6. Maybe one character or the other regrets the action, because there are unwanted consequences. This might be pregnancy, family/peer group repercussions, or one character might betray the other.
  7. The two characters may end up together at the end of the novel, or they may break up.

Independent minded, pretty, intelligent, speaks her mind. (Bella Swan is an unsubtle use of names. Think of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling. Bella means beautiful, swan shows that she is beautiful – it is only to herself that she is less than beautiful, yet she is popular with boys [and suffers no prejudice regards beauty], so within the world of the story is obviously beautiful  and exotic from anyone else’s point of view.)

This is similar to Elizabeth Bennett, who sees Jane as the beautiful one.

These are characters who are the standard bearer of what it means to be an attractive female in their own milieu.

Both protagonists live in rural backwaters, with not quite the loving, supportive family. Each is the sensible one who keeps it all together.

Family of Lizzie Bennett is not rich within he social circle of Hertfordshire, in a little village Longbourne, out in the sticks (even though these days easy to access by train from London).  Bella lives in Forks, North Washington, moved there from Phoenix Arizona, a totally different place where you get to wear short shorts and tank tops – she’s moved to the misty mountains, miles from the decent shops, she has to plan a shopping visit for a full day to do some decent shopping for dresses. Her parents have separated. Mum’s got a baseballer boyfriend for a second husband and Bella is having to choose between her mother and father. She is the one being sensible and deciding. Instead of the sisters she’s got the ditzy fashion mad boy crazy friends at school. All they care about is who is aligned with who.

Well-meaning but ineffective fathers. Mr Bennett and Charlie Swan are very similar, each locked into a lifestyle that prevents them doing much for their daughters. Charlie is so used to being on his own that he can’t even cook. All the parents in these stories are largely ineffective.

Both meet a dark, brooding, handsome man. With Lizzie it’s Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy. Both Fitzwilliam and Darcy are names that imply a station within the nobility. Darcy would have originally been D’Arcy, an old French name, just as his aunt Lady Catherine D’Burg was named. They were not Germanic peasants. To have a name with French origins meant an old, established family. The Fitz of Fitzwilliam means that one of his ancestors was the illegitimate son of a noble. It was better to have an heir than not to have an heir, so illegitimacy wasn’t seen as a major problem, mainly because most marriages were not for romantic love but for convenience. If one wife can’t produce a male heir you just keep going through wives until you get one.

Edward Cullen. Something mysterious about Darcy and Edward when first appearing. So much emphasis is put on the appearance of Edward, very little on Bella. We only get brief physical descriptions of Bella, mainly from other characters, but every couple of pages there’s something about Edward’s muscular, fine appearance (or 筋骨隆々 kinkotsu ryuuryuu as Japanese speakers might say.) Darcy is defined by his facial expressions and his moods.

At first Cullen appears to dislike Bella and she him. Same with Darcy and Lizzie. Darcy is out of sorts at the party because he’s just had to buy Wickham off after Wickham got his younger sister into a heap of trouble, and his rudeness towards Lizzie is displaced. Edward Cullen appears to be distant but really he finds Bella irresistible and is feigning disinterest. Both stories are about the unreliability of initial appearances.

The absent-minded heroine: she is thinking of absence. Lizzie only falls in love with Darcy when he is not there. Between her rejection of his proposal when apparently he was the ‘last’ man she would marry and then his reappearance at her house having solved the problem, Greenfield has worked out that Lizzie has seen him for perhaps three hours total. Yet she has fallen in love with him. She builds her epistemology upon how things appear, and it’s only when there’s no appearance there that she learns what Darcy is really like.

Darcy falls in love with Elizabeth when he sees her in her natural state, after tramping across a muddy field. Likewise, when Elizabeth sees Darcy again after reassessing his character he is walking across a field (unlike in the BBC adaptation in which case we have Colin Firth in a wet shirt).

Similarly with Bella it’s when she’s being tracked by a group of guys intent on raping her who is saved by Edward who takes her to a coffee shop that Bella is separated from her ditzy friends who are off shopping. The two are alone, and later they’re in among the flowers in the woods. In both stories, the natural environment is important. Get rid of artificiality then let nature take its course.

But, there are warnings. Lady Catherine D’Burg is a very snobby and titled character who intervenes. She wants her own daughter to marry Darcy (her nephew). Just because you have a title doesn’t mean you have a never-ending supply of money. It’s important that her sickly daughter marries rich.

In the case of Bella the warnings come from a slightly related connection of her father – Jacob and his grandfather Billy’s warnings. Not social suicide but literal suicide – it will kill you. Both characters realise they are in love and they press on. With Bella the predator is James, another vampire, who turns up when they’re all playing baseball in the middle of a storm. (Woebetide any guy with a blonde ponytail – look at that character from the Keira Knightley version of Pride and Prejudice – they’re playing the same trope.)

Disaster threatens but all is saved by the handsome brooding misunderstood man. With Lizzie disaster is averted because her younger sister is no longer living in sin – she’s at least married (which is a happy ending for the times, even though Lydia is married to a man of questionable nature). Darcy saved the social standing of the Bennett girls. In the case of Bella it’s Edward who solves the problem in that they entrap James and rips him into pieces and burns them. (The dance studio burns down so we assume that’s what’s happens.) Who actually has the capacity to enact change? In both cases it’s the dark, brooding, handsome man. The girl is passive. Edward has the power over Bella. She is the bait to catch him. Darcy is the one who goes away and solves the problems. Lizzie doesn’t even know what he’s up to. She only finds out later, just in time for the big celebrations.

In Lizzie’s case it’s the wedding and in Bella’s case it’s the high school prom, which is almost as big in American cultures.

Has Stephanie Myer simply copied P and P or are these standard elements?

Both characters are outstanding – gorgeous, intelligent, able to solve problems… but don’t think they are.

There is something at first sight… not necessarily love. But yes, I notice you, you’re something.

Appearances are deceiving. Love at first sight is too corny even for most novelists [and is rejected as such in Pixar’s Frozen, for a young audience], so there’s misunderstanding to begin with.

Lizzie Bennett needs three hours to fall in love with Darcy. Edward need only ask Bella to sit with him in the canteen and wow, we’re in love. How gendered is this? The girl has to wait for the boy to solve the problem until they can live happily ever after.

How set up for sequels is each story? Jane Austen never wrote a sequel to Pride and Prejudice (possibly because she died five years later?) but others have done so. [My favourite synopsis is Colleen McCullough’s version, in which she doesn’t think Darcy is the perfect hero, but rather a grumpy old sod, in which case the marriage is a disaster.]

SEE ALSO

“It’s time to re-examine the decade-old culture surrounding Twilight-bashing”, from Lindsay Ellis.

In 2020 Stephenie Meyer publishes another book in the Twilight series. A writer for The Guardian explains why she dismissed them as a teenager but appreciates them as an adult reader.

The Appeal Of Dark Paranormal Romance

What Is Paranormal Romance?

Paranormal romance is a literary subgenre of the romance novel. A type of speculative fiction, paranormal romance focuses on romance and includes elements beyond the range of scientific explanation, blending together themes from the genres of:

  • Traditional fantasy
  • Science fiction
  • Horror

Paranormal romance may range from traditional category romances with a paranormal setting to stories where the main emphasis is on a science fiction or fantasy-based plot with a romantic subplot. Common hallmarks are romantic relationships between humans and vampires, shapeshifters, or fantastical beings (the Fae, Elves, etc.). Paranormal romances can also include characters with psychic abilities, like telekinesis or telepathy.

Paranormal romance is the new gothic romance, enjoyed by Jane Austen even as she parodied the genre in Northanger Abbey. (A letter written by Jane Austen shows that Austen continued to read gothic romance for years after making fun of it in her own writing. Surely she derived much pleasure from the genre.)

But why? And why do so many teenage girls and women enjoy the genre today? Paranormal romance is a strange contradiction. The genre is at once supremely sexist but is also a response to existing in a sexist society, providing escapism and wish fulfilment.

Say what you will about sparkly vampires, they worked.

Ty Drago, How To Write Middle Grade Horror
Cut All Ties

[A]las, making kids’ stories “dark” seems de rigeur these days. While the original fairy tales are violent and contain the supernatural, they weren’t meant to be categorized as “Gothic”; it’s only in recent years that they have been Twilight-ed and pitched to brooding teens. But it’s not just fairy tales that have been “darkened.” Consider the difference between Disney’s original “Alice in Wonderland” and Tim Burton’s creepy version. Or Spike Jonze’s film “Where the Wild Things Are” which took Maurice Sendak’s beloved picture book and turned it not into a children’s film but “a film about childhood” by replaying Jonze’s own feelings about growing up as a child of divorce and resulted in a movie full of misunderstandings, hot tears, anger, home-wrecking, and injured recriminations.

Jerry Griswold
Not Enough Adverbs For The Both Of Us

A lot of people hate on the Twilight Saga, and also on the women and girls who are hooked on it. While I have huge issues with this series myself, I have an uncomfortable feeling that a bit of femme phobia is wrapped up in criticism of its fandom. If you have no intention of seeing the film adaptations (I’ve seen the first), you can find examples of both the femme phobia and the actual problems with the story in the spoof movie trailers from ‘Honest Trailers’.

Twilight

Twilight 2: New Moon

Twilight 3: Eclipse

Twilight 4: Breaking Dawn

For more on the gendered community of romance, listen to an interview from Smart Bitches, Trashy Books with Drs Joanna Gregson and Jen Lois, who are professors of sociology.

Pursue Your Dreams Babe

The following notes are from the Kid You Not Podcast, Episode Five: Why Do People Read Paranormal Romance? and the presenters are ultimately respectful of readers of this genre.

The following books come up, and I’m sure you could have predicted at least a few of them!

  1. The Ravenwood Mysteries by Mia James, in which the first is By Midnight
  2. The Fallen Trilogy by Lauren Kate
  3. The Twilight Series by Stephanie Meyer

One of the hosts of this podcast (Clementine) does not like paranormal romance [nor do I] whereas the other reads them with a ferocity that ‘is very strange considering’ Lauren is aware they’re not the best quality. Lauren is a fan of Twilight and has read them numerous times. (She does say that New Moon is the boring one of the trilogy and explains why further down.)

First, they read an excerpt from the paranormal YA romance novel By Midnight by Mia James, in which the romantic vibe comes through in a way typical for this genre.

It would be easy to criticise dark romance book but this podcast is about why people read them.

NECESSARY ELEMENTS OF PARANORMAL ROMANCE

I'm Cruel But Not A Jerk

The unvaried plot is comforting to the reader. Readers expect certain specific things: a love story with a twist, appeals to girls, more scary than a normal love story, and supernatural elements which provide excitement and danger. A recurring theme is that no matter how much danger the girl is in, you know a heroine will ultimately be protected by the immortal or supernatural boy she has ‘chosen’ to be with. Readers want romance. If the book is going through a non-romantic sequence, sometimes the readers will skip it. The main character is not fully fleshed out enough to provide any interest in her own right. The Love is a character in its own right. It’s not about the female character per se.

Surprisingly Soft

Typical in descriptions and reviews of paranormal romances:

  • a slow burning relationship that blossoms when you least expect it
  • the gift of eternal life
  • thrown together in a violent and unfamiliar world
  • a mysterious young man
  • an immediate and powerful connection
  • souls
  • warriors and other feuding factions
  • forbidden love
  • a regular girl just trying to survive high school
  • their love is so pure
  • he has been secretly in love with her forever and she is only just realising
  • has a secret that may tear them apart
  • the mystery of their past
  • the greatest danger might not be the warriors coming to destroy them but the forbidden romance that’s grown between them

LOVE ACROSS THE SPECIES

Central to all of these paranormal romance books is ‘forbidden love’. This is also how romance in non-supernatural romantic tales starts — a traditional plot. People have always read romance with forbidden love in it. But times have changed. Parents no longer get to decide who their daughters marry. There are fewer obstacles when people get together, unless the story is set in a more restrictive setting such as a country which has war, or with different political configurations. A paranormal romance gets round this issue by having a human girl fall in love with a man from a supernatural species, which is forbidden for reasons explained in any given story of this genre.

[See my notes on a documentary I watched about romantic cinema. Rom-coms have this same problem because there has to be something in the plot which keeps two lovers apart, otherwise there is no story.]

Reasons To Dump My Best Friend For Me

LOVE TRIANGLES

While not all paranormal romances have love triangles, many do. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare features a love triangle between Tessa, a downworlder with a rare ability and two best friends. Will and Jem are Shadowhunters and parabatai and both of them will do anything to be with Tessa. It’s up to her to choose who she wants to be with.

io9 ranks The 10 Types Of Teen Heroes According To Wish Fulfillment and puts ‘The Hinge In the Paranormal Love Triangle’ at number three, and manages to sum up sex in YA paranormal romance:

Upsides: Approximately two supernatural hotties want you. There is smoldering. You’ll probably end up becoming supernatural yourself, one way or the other. You get to feel popular and important, even if ordinary people don’t understand you (bonus!). You’re like a misfit outcast whom everybody wants to marry.

Downsides: You don’t necessarily get much agency besides choosing between Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. You’re stuck in a world where everybody thinks you’re weak because you’re human. There’s probably no sex, or at least not enough sex.

AN ANCIENT TRADITION

Although there has been a recent swing towards supernatural love stories, this is actually an ancient tradition. Greek mythology is full of such stories. Zeus impregnates different types of human females. Readers are aware of this. From looking at fansites, readers of paranormal romance are actually quite demanding regarding what they read. They’re not going to read indiscriminately anything – there has to be a twist for it to be interesting. There must be some kind of alchemy between romance and mythology, and the twist might be in setting it in a modern setting such as a school etc. This completely offsets the mythological and romantic element.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a TV show in the 1990s which was part of this trend, which came from the work of Anne Rice, which itself comes from a very long tradition. [See The Evolution Of The Vampire In Fiction, again, notes from a lecture by David Beagley.]

White Knuckled Barely Restrained Sexual Tension

THE SPECIFIC NEEDS OF A READER

A reader review of By Midnight on Amazon shows that the reader appreciates this particular story for avoiding a ‘gooey’ female character, embedding the plot in a kind of reality. [Reality can obviously be placed on a very broad continuum.]

There are so many of these paranormal romance novels now that readers have generally honed their specific wants and needs. It’s a rapidly evolving genre as a consequence. They’re a bit like the teenage Mills and Boons, but updated for today’s teens. The love is also supposed to be very angsty and significant. They replicate the intensity of first love and teenage infatuation, making them more than hormone driven. There’s usually a worldwide significant event which has the ability to change the lives of everyone. [This fits the definition of ‘high fantasy’ as explained by David Beagley in his lecture Harry Potter and High Fantasy.]

Hypergamy In Paranormal Teen Romance

WHY DOES THIS GENRE SPEAK SO WELL TO A TEENAGE, FEMALE READERSHIP?

A lot of other teenage books don’t validate these feelings. Paranormal romance takes a ‘hormonal fact’ and gives it an almost spiritual dimension, as if confirming to the insecure teen that their feelings are so real and tremendously important that they have to live them fully. This concords with the completely narcissistic view on life that adults often conclude teenagers have, [and one could argue that these books encourage it].

The physical symptoms of the protagonists blushing/heart palpitating/breathing patterns and so on is not really described in any other genre. The love is therefore interpreted as all-consuming: the love is not just in your head; it’s in your whole body. This lends the love more significance. Teenage girls can really relate to this.

These feelings that feel uncontrollable to the teenage reader are validated: These feelings you have are from some supernatural event which is indeed outside your control. Or, you inherited them and it’s not your fault. This is comforting, and allows the teenager to access a feeling very powerfully. Love is presented as something that happens to you rather than a choice. It’s as if the love is predetermined.

Like the young heroine in a book, a reader is preconditioned to fall in love with a supernatural man. A lot of the stories make an attempt to explain the love interest’s appeal. Often it’s his handsomeness, which is a very uncomfortable fact given the lack of choice the female protagonist feels she has.

i-want-to-sleep-with-you

‘COMMITMENT PORN’

Why do people respond so well to these troublesome ideologies? Is it a response to living in a society which is full of sexualised images of women? Because ironically, paranormal romance is incredibly chaste. There’s no sex until after marriage. This storyline is escapist if a teenage girl feels her body is constantly being judged. Girls perhaps like these stories for the same reason teenage girls prefer non-threatening, boy-like, almost asexual partners a la the members of Hansen. [I have heard this referred to as ‘the erotics of abstinence’.]

THE NATURE OF THE FEMALE PROTAGONIST

The female protagonists are created in such a way that as many readers as possible are meant to identify with her. A lot of her attributes play on the insecurities of teenage girls. A very common trait is the heroine is never popular. She’s never someone surrounded by close, real friends. [Genuine female friendships in YA are rare, as explained by Kate DeGoldi in her review of Code Name Verity – a rare example of female friendship well done.] She’s always a bit of an outcast, that she doesn’t fit in. [She feels she isn’t beautiful enough – there has to be something wrong with her. This isn’t limited to this genre, but is common across all YA genres.]

Coincidentally, the male love interest in paranormal romance is the only character who has ever really understood her.

A ‘Mary Sue character’ is a term given to female characters who are basically devoid of character traits. [The term is used in various different ways, as explained at TV Tropes.] She is generally weak, clumsy, insecure. Empty shells allow the reader to comfortably fit inside.

Divergent by Veronica Roth is not a dark paranormal YA romance but is rather a dystopian one in the vein of The Hunger Games, but like Twilight, the protagonist is a blank character upon which a young reader can easily superimpose herself:

Despite the constant assurance that Tris is courageous, clever and kind, her own first-person narration displays a blank personality. No matter; all the “good” characters adore her and the “bad” are spiteful and jealous.

Kirkus Reviews
Kissed

REASONS NOT TO DISMISS THE READERSHIP

Many fans of paranormal romance are highly articulate. They explain very well on forums why they like one book over another.  Posts can get quite close to literary analysis.  For this reason it would be a mistake to dismiss readers of paranormal romance as unsophisticated. They are enchanted by these books but can be critical of them. The books obviously offer something upon which to base critique. Breaking Dawn came under heavy criticism from Twilight’s most hardcore fans, who subsequently wrote an open letter to Stephanie Meyer via her blog. Fans had problem with the ideology behind the ending. This proved that an author can’t just wrap up a story in babies and weddings and vampires.

Readers will say they like these books for the ‘danger’. But these books are dangerous in another way, if the reader fails to read them critically and discerningly. You can be asked to absorb viewpoints that can be damaging to your development as a teenager. It’s worrisome that these books are sometimes held up as a romantic ideal. They’re best when viewed as a complete fantasy. But in 2008 and 2009 when Twilight was at its most popular, girls were apparently dumping their boyfriends because they weren’t enough like Jacob or Edward. The story sets up an ‘ideal’ that real teenage boys are never going to live up to. The stories can also set up an expectation for how girls are to be treated by boys, which is not just unrealistic but damaging.  It is presented as good to be overprotected and have a boy who controls you.

Nice Manly Cry

RELATED

An article in The Guardian about Bollywood Film and depictions of sex shows how much viewers want romance and erotica in fiction, and Indian film makers go to great lengths to get around censorship, to the point where visual metaphors are now arguably more sexual than brazen Hollywood depictions:

There is the popular misconception that Bollywood films do not show scenes of a sexual nature: they do. However, when comparing the screen time or manner in which kissing (or more “bedroomly” activity) is portrayed in Bollywood versus Hollywood, Bollywood is a blushing ballerina, whereas Hollywood is as brazen as a pole-dancing stripper.

In Bed With Bollywood

See the paper: Hopelessly Devoted: What Twilight reveals about love and obsession by Candence Malhiet Robillard.

The Dark Lover series by J.R. Ward (notice the less gendered initials in place of the full, feminine name of Jessica) is currently beating Twilight as most popular paranormal romance on Goodreads as of 2017.

L.J. Smith, S.M. Parker and G.S. Predergast are other examples of paranormal romance authors using initials as author names.

Cassandra Clare may not agree with her paranormal urban fantasy series being designed ‘romance’, showing there is a disconnect between what marketers/publishers/readers think a book might be, and what genre the author perceives their work to be:

For a long time with these books – and they’re very classic urban fantasy – they’re stories about teens growing up and being surrounded by supernatural threats and demons and there’s a lot of mythology and whatnot. But for years and years they were treated as romance novels. And it drove me nuts!

The Independent

Cassandra Clare also alludes to the phenomenon whereby if a woman writes a romantic subplot, her book is ‘romance’, whereas when men write romantic subplots their work is designated something else, be it thriller or whatever.

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What Is Quality Children’s Literature? What Is Trash?

Bookmarks (date unknown) from Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (1904-1954)

Children’s literature is often lumped into two broad groups: treasure and trash. The former is sometimes called ‘literary’, the latter ‘commercial’.

what is trash what is treasure

Not everyone is capable of writing junk fiction: It requires an authentic junk mind.

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers

Many of the following are notes from Kid You Not Podcast Episode 2: ‘Quality and Trash

The concept of quality vs trash gets a lot of people quite worked up. Are these labels even helpful?

THE INFLUENCE OF CONSUMERS ON PUBLISHING OR, WE GET WHAT WE BUY

sparkly sticker makeover trash

When the presenters asked a young primary school teacher how he determined the value of a book his answer was utilitarian. He said he had to consider what he was trying to achieve by using a particular text: decoding or inference and understanding.

Publishers pay attention to what teachers want because publishers know that schools and teachers will buy them. This is good for sales figures. [And crucial in a smaller publishing market such as Australia.]

In this way, teachers are influencing what is labelled quality and what is labelled trash.

People like and enjoy trashy books. They are made because they sell really well. The sales of trashy books support the production of literary texts, which don’t sell as well. Kidlit world is different because there are a lot of children’s literature awards, and if a book gets one of those awards, certain parents will buy that book because they want their child to be reading high quality literature in order to open their minds. Adult literary texts on the other hand only have a select readership.


DEFINING ‘TRASH’

A few months ago, I heard a story on NPR about a study that found reading literary fiction, rather than popular fiction, could help people be more empathetic. I have no doubt that this could be true. But I did take issue with ending the story there.

The story seemed to conclude that because literary fiction had the effect of making folks more empathetic it was better than popular fiction. Now, I just don’t believe in the idea of one genre being better than another. I do not believe in story hierarchy. There are well-told stories and there are poorly told stories, that’s it. And empathy is just one thing we can learn from them.

Invisible Ink blog, Everything Old Is New Again

Trash isn’t simply ‘what sells really well’. This isn’t a definition. It’s not all that easy to define rubbish…

it may not be rubbish after all. The adult eye is not necessarily a perfect instrument for idscerning certain sorts of values. Elements — and this particularly applies to science fiction — may be so obviously rubbishy that one is tempted to dismiss the whole product as rubbish. But among those elements there may be something new and strange to which one is not accustomed, and which one may not be able to assimilate oneself, as an adult, because of the sheer awfulness of the rest of the stuff; but the innocence — I suppose there is no other word — of the child’s eye can take or leave in a way that I feel an adult cannot, and can acquire valuable stimuli from things which appear otherwise overgrown with a mass of weeds and nonsense.

Peter Dickinson, ‘A Defence of Rubbish’

‘Trashy’ novels tend to feature princesses, ballerinas, ponies and at the moment vampires, zombies. There are football and monster stories for boys (at least in the 1990s with the Goosebumps series). Trashy novels don’t win the awards.

Trash is formulaic, represent expected motives and tropes. Children like repetition. That said, even adults like formulaic genres such as romance, Westerns and crime. This recipe is associated with certain motives and values. Perhaps the problem with trash is that it normalises a certain set of values, considered not daring enough , a bit too conservative, lacking in challenge and sophistication.

Princess books are the most obvious example of trash which reinforce ideals regarding patriarchy and monarchy and marriage, which addresses an overwhelmingly female audience and can be seen as toxic.

Literary work leaves more space for imagination and interpretation.

Alison Lurie makes an excellent job of distinguishing trash from treasure in her essay on Frances Hodgson Burnett:

A few writers produce what economists call consumer durables. Their works, like a house or a silver teapot or a Grecian urn, will last a lifetime and often longer. Other authors, the great majority, manufacture “soft goods” — sometimes highly profitable but hastily and flimsily made, intended to be used and thrown out. They may be courted by publishers and booksellers and receive a lot of fan mail, but after their death, or even sooner, they are forgotten. They are not mentioned in biographical dictionaries, and their books molder unread in the spare bedrooms of country cottages.

For most of her lifetime Frances Hodgeson Burnett was this second sort of writer. Her sentimental magazine stories and romantic novels were the Victorian equivalent of acrylic authors like Elizabeth Ward and Mrs. E.E.E.N. Southworth are forgotten, because at least twice in more than half a century of constant and often exhausting commercial productivity (fifty-four published books and thirteen stage plays) she happened to tell one of those stories that express concealed fantasies and longings; stories that are the externalized dreams of a whole society and pass beyond ordinary commercial success to become part of popular culture.

Don’t Tell The Grownups: The power of subversive children’s literature

Marion Lloyd uses the terms upmarket and downmarket books:

The children’s book world made a clear distinction between upmarket and downmarket books. I shared an office with Rosemary Sandberg, editor of THE QUALITY lists, Lions and Picture Lions. She published writers who were reviewed and won prizes – Alan Garner, Joan Aiken, Robert Westall, Lloyd Alexander, Richard Scarry, Judith Kerr. She was friends with the great children’s publishers like Tom Maschler at Cape, Margaret Clark at The Bodley Head, Judith Elliot at Heinemann. They looked down their noses at pony books. Which I didn’t mind, as WE were reaching millions of children, and lots of them wrote to us about their favourite Armada titles. My dear friend and colleague, Alyx Price, still has a letter from me replying to her question, aged nine, about when were all the Chalet School titles going to be in print, as she needed to collect them all.

from publisher Marion Lloyd

TRASH AND LITERARY CRITICISM

Trash is interesting for a literary critic. Like any piece of popular culture it says something about who we are and what is valued or not valued in our society. The attitudes towards love/sex/death within say things about our attitudes towards romance and what we value.

Literary critics tend to rehabilitate trash. The gothic novel is now explored because it says a lot about the time in which it was produced. Back when it was new, it was trash.

The most praised work of children’s literature in the past few years is Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials. No one could contest its literary worth, with references to Milton, full of metaphors and images very challenging to young readers, and yet it’s sold extremely well. Every publisher wants to publish a book like this. People are worried that if a child only reads less literary texts they’ll somehow fall behind. The books of Patrick Ness are like this too – high quality and big sellers.

This educational dimension in kidlit is probably the most important part of the debate around quality and trash. Kidlit is all about being entertaining as well as educational; aesthetic as well as pedagogical. Unlike adult lit, kidlit isn’t allowed to just be.

Children read a wide range of different things. Adult tend to stick to the same sorts of books once their tastes have solidified. But children have an open mind about these different types of books and perhaps this is where the worry sets in: This is the time you have to ‘catch’ them before they settle upon reading nothing but trash for the rest of their sorry lives.

Taste is acquired and constructed. The literary canon is constructed by the West to perpetuate Western views, particularly white male point of views. Children are aware of what we as adults perceive to be quality or trash. A Where’s Wally book would not be aware during quiet reading time.


SHOULD THERE BE RULES ABOUT WHAT A CHILD IS ALLOWED TO READ?

There is a strong argument for telling children what is trash and what is quality, but not limiting their access to either.

There is a need for heroes in children’s literature … There is no particular harm in children’s reading rubbish as long as they also have plenty of good stuff available for comparison. But it has to be recognised that the [Superman-type] presentation of the concept of hero could also be pernicious rubbish in that its equation of might with right elevates the use of force to a prime ethos.

Mollie Hunter, Scottish writer

Should children work that out for themselves? The presenters disagree about whether children should be told that some works are better than others, but agree that children need access to both in order to know the difference.

There’s no such thing as an ‘independent reader’. Readers are always a product of the reading culture they grew up in.

Librarians can see their jobs as being ‘guardians of children’s books’ since they are the ones who decide what goes into the library. Librarians can also use the term ‘gatekeeper’.  So even the most independent of readers is not truly independent. Everything that pertains to children is filtered via adults.

Most of the books considered trashy by virtue of their genre are marketed at women and, in the case of kidlit, girls. The only unisex genre of trash is the horror, but even adult horror novels are geared towards women as well. There are football novels for younger boys but there are fewer of them. There is pink all over the shelves. One of the reasons kidlit is not respected in higher academia is that traditionally it was a women’s medium. Education of children was a woman’s job, and was therefore seen in itself as a trashy medium.

Writing of the work of Roald Dahl, John Rowe Townsend’s attitude seems to be in Written For Children that children can ‘make their own way’ to books of lesser quality; that it’s the job of adults to introduce the worthy ones:

There are deep divisions among adults over the children’s books of Roald Dahl (1916-90), a writer of peculiar talent and strong individual flavour. While popularity is not the ultimate test of worth — if it were, the maps both of “adult” and children’s literature would look very strange — it is a quality that naturally appeals to parents and teachers who wish to get children reading.

The Dahl books are fantasies unlike any other. That they go down well with children is unquestionable: that Dahl was a gifted writer on a different plane from the mass purveyors of junk is also undeniable. I am however among those who would leave children to find his books for themselves, rather than take pains to introduce them. They appeal, I think, to the cruder end of childish taste: to a delight in rumbustious rudery and in giving people one-in-the-eye.

Reading trash can turn kids into avid adult readers…

Adults tend to look down on books [which are predictable and repetitive such as those by R.L. Stine]. Many people call them ‘trash’ and believe that they hinder children from learning to enjoy good literature—that is, literature that less obviously fills the reader’s expectations. As it happens, however, we’ve been told by many people who have become ardent readers of serious literature as adults that they spent part of their childhood absorbing every book of a popular series. Young readers of formula books may be learning the basic patterns that less-formulaic books diverge from. It’s possible that everyone needs to read formula fiction (or watch it on TV) to start with, to learn the basic story patterns and formulas that underlie all fiction. Perhaps readers can’t appreciate the divergences of more unusual books until they first learn these underlying patterns.

The Pleasures of Children’s Literature, Reimer and Nodelman
Brain in a trash can

 GIRLS AND TRASH

Vampire Diaries

Girls read more than boys, especially fiction. Non fiction is a completely different story, not dominated by the female reader. The dominance of female books may simply be down to the fact that they buy them.

Isn’t this imbalance culturally constructed, thus leaving kidlit to be the realm of women? Why are young girls more attracted to books than boys?


A BALANCED READING ‘DIET’?

An analogy is made between ‘balanced food diet’ and ‘balanced reading diet’ in which you need a bit of both to achieve a balanced diet. [I personally have no time for this argument, because I don’t believe a ‘balanced diet’ for children needs to include added sugar, transfats and seed oils, just as it needn’t include alcohol and cigarettes. In reading, I am strangely more relaxed.]

Publishers aim to sell a lot of copies, and so a feature of the protagonists of trash is that they do not have many distinguishing features. The most obvious example of this kind of character is Bella from Twilight, who is a rather bland character. This allows the reader to project their own personality into the space, so they fell it is they who is experiencing the romance with the vampire. This contrasts with a character such as the narrator of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time in which the voice is autistic and therefore highly specific. Most children will never be able to see themselves in this character.

Most children would enjoy both.


CAN TRASHY BOOKS BE ADDICTIVE?

Identification can lead to addiction. A lot of trashy novels achieve a high level of addiction – a certain percentage of the readers will need to read the next in a series – in which publishers are very interested.

What is wrong with a child identifying with a character and wanting to buy the next book? Children like to return to the same.

What is quality? Quality leaves gaps for the reader to imagine. The reader experiences something new and unexpected. They are taken out of their comfort zones. They tend to deal with big themes: Patrick Ness’s novels are all about war and what that does to society. They use language that is complex and demanding. Quality books sometimes have open endings, or character personalities that are complex. We don’t necessarily understand their motivations. The ending of Phillip Pullman’s trilogy (not revealed here) is about the only example of such an ending in the history of children’s literature. Endings can challenge the reader’s idea of what they want to happen in the end. These books resist easy meanings. They’re closer to the complexity of real life, which again ties in to the safety that is often there in commercial or trashy books. In quality books, as in real life, anything can happen.


A MUTUALLY SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP?

Therefore, the reason both quality and trash are important as part of a balanced reading diet is because the quality allows children to explore the new world, while trash allows them to retreat back to safety.

Trash and quality seem to depend on each other, from a business perspective, from a literary criticism perspective and from a teaching perspective.

See Also

notes from David Beagley’s lecture on evaluating fantasy for children.

“Flowers in the Attic” Is the Best Book Ever* And Here Is Why from Beauty Redefined

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books is an example of a website written by articulate, literary people who love the books most often designated as ‘trash’. There is also a podcast. This website may well introduce you to terms and concepts otherwise unknown: ‘Ugly Cry Books‘, ‘milky pirates‘, ‘triad erotic romances‘, ‘plot and pet moppets‘, etc.

The Harsh Bigotry of Twilight Haters from Time

Books Without Lumps, Or, Are Some Books Trash? from Stroppy Author’s Guide To Publishing

Header image: Bookmarks (date unknown) from Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Tuberculosis (1904-1954)

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Can you have real relationships with fictional characters?

One of the references in this lecture, which compares and contrasts Twilight by Stephanie Myer with Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, is Greenfield’s Absent Minded Heroine: Or, Elizabeth Bennett Has A Thought, an analysis which looks very much at the idea of absence: how to fall in love when the person isn’t actually there. It looks at the idealisation of another person, love at first sight, and at the unreliability of appearance.

Here’s something I never noticed about Pride and Prejudice until it was pointed out to me: Lizzie only falls in love with Darcy when he is not there. Between her rejection of his proposal when apparently he was the ‘last’ man she would marry and then his reappearance at her house having solved the problem, Greenfield has worked out that Lizzie has seen him for perhaps three hours total. Yet she has fallen in love with him. She builds her epistemology upon how things appear, and it’s only when there’s no appearance there that she learns what Darcy is really like.

Darcy, on the other hand, falls in love with Elizabeth when he sees her in her natural state, after tramping across a muddy field. Likewise, when Elizabeth sees Darcy again after reassessing his character he is walking across a field (unlike in the BBC adaptation in which case we have Colin Firth in a wet shirt — note that this scene isn’t in the book — Darcy simply walks across the field towards them).

Similarly with Bella Swan in Twilight, it’s when she’s being tracked by a group of guys intent on raping her and is saved by Edward (who takes her to a coffee shop) that Bella is separated from her ditzy friends (who are off shopping) and falls in love. Bella and Edward are now alone, and later they’re alone again, among the flowers in the woods. In both stories, the natural environment is important and symbolic: Get rid of artificiality then let nature take its course.

A storyline of Love at First Sight is too corny for most modern novelists, so the modern romantic storyline is likely to start with some sort of misunderstanding.

Lizzie Bennett needs only three hours to fall in love with Darcy. Edward needs only to ask Bella to sit with him in the canteen and wow, they’re in love.

How gendered is this? The girl has to wait for the boy to solve the problem until they can live happily ever after.

A subsequent lecture from the same series is called Romance and Vampires. The first part of this lecture looks at the evolution of the vampire as a character in fiction, from the vampire as monster right through to the modern vampire, who is sexualised and sympathetic. After talking about the significance of Twilight and the author’s Mormon background upon the storyline, Beagley talks about The Readers of Vampire Fiction and how Twilight has led to a critical revolution:

Over 100 million copies of Twilight have been sold. People never thought Harry Potter would be knocked off the top of the best sellers list. [I’m pretty sure the publishers never expected that either — otherwise the first book in the Twilight series might have been more thoughtfully copy-edited at a line level.]

Twilight Fandom

Myer didn’t set out to write such a popular series [and says the idea for the story came to her as a sort of divine inspiration], but the response online from fans has been huge. The mechanism is the fansite, to which anyone can register. Users of the fansite can blog, share and ask questions and write their own fan fiction. Fans are creating their own parts of the story, then posting them online for other fans to read. A lot of the fanfic includes the raunchy sex scenes which Myer left out. [This indirectly lead to Fifty Shades Of Grey, another phenomenon.] Stephanie Myer is happy to embrace and actively support some of the actual fansites. Users tend to use pseudonyms. We don’t know who is male, who is female, who is young or old. This anonymity is empowering. There are also a lot of negative responses on fansites as well. My Twilight Purgatory is an anti-fansite on Tumblr.

Prosumers

According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 80% of adolescents use online social network sites, 38% share original creative work online, and 21% remix their own transformative works, inspired by others’ words and images (Lenhart, Ling, Campbell, & Purcell, 2010; Lenhart, Madden, Smith, Purcell, Zickuhr, & Rainie, 2011).

Reading Today Online

In the past five years, this sort of fan activity has lead to a critical revolution leading to a new question: What is a reader and what is an author? The line has completely blurred.  These fans are ‘prosumers’ – consumers who produce. The reader and the author are starting to blend and are now the same thing.

Myer’s own website lists (at the time of the lecture) 488 different fansites all about Twilight. They’re even arranged by different languages. There are at least 30 different languages. (There are plenty more unrecognised fansites.)

Peer Reviewed, Schmeer Reviewed

Most of it is ‘gush and squeal’ about Edward or Jacob, and how these characters are so hot. But there is also a lot of serious commentary and worth reading. Why do we at universities make such a fuss of peer reviewed, serious academic literature when the blogs on the fansites are talking about the same things? This is causing a huge change in the nature of literary commentary.

Why Do Some People Get So… Fanatic About Fictional Characters?

Fictional Attraction may clear a lot of this up. This very interesting podcast from Stuff Mom Never Told You covers some of the research that has been carried out regarding what’s known as ‘Para social relationships’ or PSR. The same stories keep coming up: Friends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and of course in YA book world, Harry Potter and Twilight. These are stories in which a certain segment of fans are at the extreme end of involved — they may write fanfiction or talk about the characters on fan boards across the Internet, or with their real-life friends, reading the books or watching the shows over and over again. People most likely to develop these para social relationships with fictional characters are those going through a transition (so, teenagers) and the lonely (so, elderly people). But there is also some gendered difference: people whose relationship style  is avoidant are less likely to be interested in forming attachments with fictional characters either, but for women, being in a secure relationship makes her more likely to become interested in fictional relationships, whereas for men the state of being anxious about one’s real world relationships makes him more likely to seek out fictional ones. Fictional relationships are not necessarily a bad thing, and correlate with extroversion. They generally should be considered an extension of social life rather than a problematic competitor.

However, I did last week watch a documentary about Mechanophiles (My Car Is My Lover, 2008). Disturbing at times, these men show that humans have a huge capacity for love, but also for imagination, specifically for imagining people (and in this case objects) can love us in return.

Parasocial Relationships

One-sided relationships we have with people we don’t really know, such as celebrities and podcast hosts, are called parasocial relationships.

Lecture 9 of David Beagley’s series of lectures on Fiction For Young Adults is titled What It Is To Be Young And In Love (available on iTunes U, La Trobe University).

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The Evolution Of The Vampire In Fiction

Vampires Who Are Not Vampires

Vampires exist, even when they don’t. If it is not Twilight, chances are that it has literary significance. And if it does, the vampire figure is probably being used to hide a lot of sexual and societal undertones about chastity and selfishness. And even when a book has nothing to do with vampires, it would serve you well to identify vampires who suck others’ blood to survive.

Goodreads Reviewer

Vampires And Sex

See The Romanticization Of Hollywood Vampires from Nosferatu to The Twilight Saga from Prof Maria Lunk for the short version on YouTube.

These are notes from Romance And Vampires, lecture 9, Fiction for Young Adults by David Beagley, La Trobe University, podcast available on iTunes U

Can vampires ever be any good for young women?

See: How the vampire became film’s most feminist monster

Peter Cushing is shown in typical roles

References

There has been a huge amount of critical commentary on the Twilight series – serious academic commentary. Here is some of the best:

Silver, A. Studies In the Novel – these journals are not just YA journals. This one normally looks at adult, serious literature. Twilight is not good for maidens: gendered sexuality in the familyTwilight.

(Un)safe sex: romancing the vampire is from a movie journal, Cineaste.

Mercer, J.A., Pastoral Psychology Vampires Desire Girls and God.

Anne Klaus and Stefanie Krüger’s Vampires Without Fangs can be read in entirety from a home computer.

This looks more broadly at the development of the vampire as a character in literature, Journal of American Culture. (May be this one.)

An excellent book is  Bitten By Twilight: Youth culture media and the vampire franchise, a series of articles by different people.

Nayar, P.,  How to Domesticate a Vampire, from the journal Nebula, an Australian teaching journal., available freely online.

Hermeutics is looking at the separate parts in order to understand the whole.

a clutch of vampires

The Evolution Of The Vampire

How did the vampire become an outstanding character in fiction?

Until the 19th C the vampire existed as something to be feared. It was a revenant, coming back to haunt the living. The vampire is based on a real animal (a bat) which has a couple of fangs and lives on blood. Only trouble is, you can fit it in the palm of your hand. It usually feeds on slow moving grazing animals such as cattle. It’s quite a problem in certain parts of the world, where animals that are stabled are a lot of trouble because they can’t escape it. The bat flies down and nicks the animal with its incredibly sharp teeth, then drinks the blood that oozes out. But if there are a lot of them they weaken the host.

Plate 67 of Ernst Haeckel’s The Art Forms of Nature (1904)
Plate 67 of Ernst Haeckel’s The Art Forms of Nature (1904). You can see why, can’t you.

The Real Life Diseases That Spread The Vampire Myth

This animal is then linked to a real person in history: Vlad the Impaler. (1431-1476) He lived in Bulgaria and was a member of the House of Drăculești. In Bulgaria he is seen as a war hero. He is reputed to have killed tens of thousands of people.

In 1922 a movie called Nosferatu was made.  He’s not an especially good-looking character – he was meant to be an absolute monster. He was presented as a bit of a sad outsider, a bit like Frankenstein created by Mary Shelley. The monsterness wasn’t inherent in him – it was that society rejected him and made him an outsider. (Grendel in Beowulf is a similar example.) There’s virtually no literature that includes a vampire until the early 1820s, the time of Frankenstein.

Let The Right One In is a Swedish story about bullying. A boy in Sweden is being bullied mercifully at school. An odd girl appears around his housing estate and starts looking out for him. She has no parents and has a middle-aged man there but she’s obviously the one in charge.

The ending is classically understated, as often seen in Scandinavian cinema. It’s quite horrific. This movie depicts the traditional view of the vampire as a monster.

Yet in 1819, 1820 a slight evolution took place in the presentation of the vampire as a monster. The monster vampire became seductive. The Vampyre has a sinister, haughty aristocrat, with much physical beauty. Instead of blood and violence being the focus, this antihero has much physical beauty. He drinks blood but he is immensely charming. This is also the point at which the victims become predominantly female.

In 1872 Carmilla was published, in which the vampire is a female, though this is an exception. The human sexuality of this sapphic story is very much in this particular vampire story. She still has the bloodlust and the unnatural strength and near indestructibility of the male vampires but this is the dangerous lover – the outsider who lures women away from their proper place, but who is defeated by the good, moral, upstanding man.

The vampire can be compared to the wolf – the seducer wolf in Little Red Riding Hood and other stories. This is heading into the bad-boy lover genre, parodied in Grease. The vampire is the extreme example of that.

Bram Stoker was the writer to bring the name ‘Dracula’ together with the vampire story. He brings all the humanness of Vlad the Impaler to a monster.

Lately there has been another development in vampire literature. It follows the idea of vampire as seducer/seductress.

The Sympathetic Vampire

Anne Rice’s stories the Vampire Chronicles in the 1970s started this. LeStat and Louis are two vampires on a quest to understand themselves, understand the nature of vampireness and find out why they are this way. Why do people fear them? They philosophise, discuss and are presented as character who the reader is meant to understand. Rather than being monstrous, they are simply misunderstood.

This continues with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, particularly in the character of Angel, who is the love interest for Buffy, even though he is a vampire. His role is to go away and try and be good. The Edward Cullen character is developing in this way as well.

The Count is a children’s version. He speaks in an Eastern European accent and the outward appearance of a vampire but all he wants to do is count.

Count Duckula is a vampire duck.

The Little Vampire is a delightful movie. This family could be the prototype of The Cullens, simply looking for somewhere to live and be safe.

Being for children, there is no harm and no danger in these stories.

The audience is being asked to pity the poor misunderstood outsider. When the vampire changed from a monster into a sympathetic character, the audience of vampire literature changed from a largely male one to a female one, because the emphasis is now on caring and nurturing, with all the traditional stereotypes that go along with that.

It all comes together in Twilight. Twilight was almost waiting to be written. It didn’t just suddenly magically appear out of nowhere. It developed from a long stream of styles in literature.

The Author As One Of The Players

Rather than as a god-like creator, setting something up, with the reader taking everything the author says.

Stephanie Myer, born 1973, married at 21 and never worked in a major career role. She did work briefly as a receptionist but stopped paid work when the children arrived. She had never published anything before the Twilight novels. She is reasonably well educated but only through to high school. She is a copious reader and has quite deliberately structured elements of other stories in her book. She quite deliberately used parts of Pride and Prejudice in Twilight.

Now with the success of Twilight, Myer runs the commercial arm of her business which delivers Twilight, the movies, the spinoffs etc. Her husband has left work to look after the kids while she does all of that.

One of the key elements that keeps coming up about Myer: She is a member of the Mormon church. It’s a much larger movement in the USA than in Australia because it began in the United States. It’s a branch of Christianity, started by Joseph Smith near New York, who received, he says, a book from the angels which he translated.

Within that book of Mormon, looking largely at America as a centre of religious belief, and Native Americans as connected to the New Testament story of Jesus. Joseph Smith and his family said that God had given him a mission, that all the other churches had got it wrong and become corrupted. It was now up to him to change them and get back to being good.

Christian Primativist churches (of which Mormon is one) is a movement toward returning to earlier beliefs. Mormonism is based around the idea of ‘crusade’. It has a stated role to change things. All churches fit somewhere on that continuum, but in Mormonism this crusade part of the culture is clearly expressed.

How does this affect the commentary on Twilight?

The books are very, very sexualised. There is a huge emphasis on physical appearance, male-female interaction, desperately falling in love, the expression of the key characters’ sexuality. There is also a lot of violence. The very concept of the vampire is dangerous. The sheer physicality is there. Despite that, the morality (the right and wrongness) is very very conservative.

Abstinence is emphasised. The whole book is structured around unresolved sexual tension. Will I or won’t I? I want to. You mustn’t. Abstinence is the key to it.

It’s also heteronormative – standard boy-girl relationships. Similar appearance, similar age. White Europeans.

There’s also submissive femininity. The girls go along with what the boys suggest.

The vampires are worried about the souls, not only of themselves, but of the people around them, and whether they can be redeemed. Twilight is neither a horror nor a monster story; it is a love story. Morality revolves around interpersonal relations, not upon the diet of vampires.

In the story itself, what do we have that demonstrates those ideas?

Bella has virtually no agency. She can’t make choices and decisions that change the course of her life. It starts with her parents who split up. Bella is left to go somewhere. From then on she responds to Edward. She is reactive, not proactive to his suggestions. Is Edward a stalker? He lets slip that he hangs round her bedroom all night. He’s been doing it for a month before they’ve even started going out together. This is symbolic of him as the one controlling/supervising/demanding/initiating/concluding all of the actions. When she decides to go shopping and gets into trouble with some boys following her, of course he’s there. He’s the one who solves the problem of getting rid of other vampires. Bella almost sleep walks throughout he story. In moral terms, though, he is the one who won’t kiss her. He is the chaste vampire. In fact, she is seen as quite unreliable. She freely admits that she’d probably leap into whatever situation he suggested at the drop of a hat.

Myer has therefore been called anti-feminist. She romanticises an abusive relationship. This is a very unequal relationship. All of the red flags of an abusive, over-controlling relationship are there in the story. Bella is absolutely dependent upon Edward. He is there to protect her life, her virginity, her humanity.

Myer has disagreed with this. It’s all around Bella’s choice, and she’s the one who chooses Edward. “Her damsel in distress persona is only due to her humanity.” But surely that’s the feminist point – that she is being portrayed as human and therefore weak.

So what message does this send to readers about the moral capacity of girls to make their own choices?

They require a strong male to protect them.

The sin is in the girl, and requires a strong boy to protect her from herself. (There are places in the world where women are not allowed to leave the house without a male protector. We see this as incredibly wrong yet surely this is what Edward Cullen is doing here.)

The ordination of women in Catholic Churches – this is a theological argument.

**SPOILER ALERT**

A couple of books later, when finally Bella and Edward do get married, have sex, and have a baby, Bella explodes and childbirth kills her. (This being a vampire story, they live happily ever after.)

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