SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses the plot of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series.

I highly recommend reading them, rather than reading about them…but I suspect many will not.  And let’s start by acknowledging Caitlin Flanagan’s excellent article on female adolescent desire in The Atlantic Monthly.  She covers so much, but this is my personal experience of reading this delicious series.


The Twilight books are classified as Young Adult and once immersed, I was a 17-year old in love all over again.  Life lived at the heights of drama and intensity where nothing else matters other than your story.

If you have been hiding from teen culture, you may not know that our heroine Bella Swan, a smart but regular, slightly alienated young woman, meets and falls in love with the gorgeous, but aloof and mysterious Edward Cullen.  Yes, dear reader, he’s a vampire.

Me?  He wants me?
The vampire narrative provides a fabulous structure for young women in love.  Imagine, you among all humans are so desirable that he, to whom you are drawn, can barely stand to be in the same room with you for fear his inner beast will rise up and ravage you to death!  And yet, he is so drawn to you, and ultimately so in love with you, that he will tame his appetites and treat you like the virgin princess that you are.

Edward and Bella’s relationship is what women want.  And yes, we’re talking about unreconstructed, unfiltered, overly generalized interpretations of what (straight?) women want.  I know you’re throwing things at the screen and you should totally yell at me, but even I, as a lesbian in her 40s, completely relate to the fantasy that Bella lives out.


Edward and Bella Dolls

See how much he loves me!
One of the most persistent images for me is how Edward holds Bella close to him in any situation that’s possible.  We frequently read Edward pulled me close, Edward tightened his grip, Edward drew his arm around my waist.  I remember being in love at 17 and the glue of physicality.  My boyfriend and I were horrifying to our friends because we couldn’t be in public and be separate.  Embarrassing I know, but the intensity was the badge of how strong and unique our love was.  Only Antony and Cleopatra or Romeo and Juliet could understand. Or Edward and Bella.  And it’s no coincidence that both Bella and I repeatedly read Wuthering Heights at that age.

You can’t keep us apart
Edward frequently spends the night, chastely, with Bella.  He’s a vampire; he doesn’t sleep and can get in and out of the house undetected.  They go through a lovely charade with her father, especially when she’s grounded. It reminded me of when I was grounded on weeknights by my mother on the pretext that dating my boyfriend would ruin my schoolwork.  I was the perfect student and so was he.  I wouldn’t do anything to ruin my chances of escaping my mother to go to college.  But she hated him and resented my adoration.  So…unable to be apart for five days at a stretch, we would skip school, go to his parents’ house and have sex on the occasional Wednesday morning.  Our free periods coincided.  Ah, sweet truancy.  I shared in Bella’s conspiracy and the teenager’s unerring ability to trump parents.

Edward & Bella by Summer Maxwell

Edward and Bella by Summer Maxwell

How can I choose?
Inevitably there is a third in their relationship.  When Edward leaves for the better part of a year to save Bella from their destructive love, she deepens her friendship with Jacob, who happens to become a shift-shaping wolf and mortal enemy of vampires. Oh, and he falls in love with Bella.  How delicious!  Torn between two lovers! The emotional agony of disappointing one…and languishing in the guilt of that choice.   Oh, Jake!

I am woman, I am strong
Edward and Bella’s relationship treads a fine line between equality and control.  Edward is strong, immortal, and a mind reader.  There is an inherent imbalance. But Bella is given the grace of immunity from his mind-reading skills, and their desire is an equalizer.  But he’s rather bossy and patriarchal, or should we say protective and respectful?  Edward lays down the abstinence rules and controls how far their physical engagement goes.  And while she’s outwardly frustrated with him, you know she loves his take-charge attitude.  He wants to marry, but Bella has an unexpected aversion to marriage, and, shocker, ultimately she relents.

Edward and Bella by R-becca

Edward and Bella by R-becca

More, more, more
Consummation is quite interesting.  The sexual tension has been building through four books.  Four books!  We’re all anxious for Edward to take (me) her!  If Edward loses control he might kill her or injure her.  After their first night of passion he is horrified at the bruises he has inflicted.  But she is deliriously happy.  It’s welcome abuse—he didn’t mean to hurt me, he just can’t help it because he’s so strong and passionate!  And she fights to have a baby that threatens her life.  And by the way, when she finally becomes a vampire, the sex is apparently out of this world.

Edward and Bella by Moro9

Edward and Bella by Moro9

On many levels the story is appalling.  It’s a romantic fantasy played out in excruciatingly traditional male/female roles.  And yet, it’s so compelling.  Meyer creates a credible supernatural world with its own complex rules and realities.  This other reality masks or subtly alters the cliché of the narrative.  Or maybe it doesn’t.  Maybe it’s just a thin veil that allows us to indulge the forbidden, the guilty pleasure, our desire for our own Edward Cullen.


9 responses to “Bitten”

  1. Marleyfan says:

    Way to bring it home on a Friday Stella! I enjoyed reading these books. They needed better editing, but overall, it is an interesting storyline. You hit the nail on the head when you wrote “Me? He wants me?”; this was an intriguing theme of the books, which I found unique from the female perspective. Usually, I don’t like vampire type movies/books, but I didn’t really find the main theme being about vampires, it’s more about Bella’s adolescence and coming of age. Nicely done.

  2. I still don’t want to read these. I’m kinda enjoying being out of the popular-book loop. I was caught up in the Harry Potter fanaticism–not obsessive, mind you, but admiring–and was appalled at people who just weren’t into Harry Potter and weren’t interested in the books. The Twilight series seems to have caught many people who were also caught in the fandom of Harry; some people just like being a fan. And it’s intriguing to me, this time, to not be caught in the fandom–to stand outside of it and look in.

    Nice to know the ending, though. I haven’t caught any hint of how they end until now. She becomes a vampire through her newfound sex with Edward and has a vampire baby, huh? Gee, that’s…great. I honestly have no opinion one way or the other– but I’m now confused of my glimpses of giggles from other fans–where’d all the hype go about her settling for the good guy, Jake? I got the impression that she got together with him in the end, or was that just the voice of hopeful fans waiting for the last book?

  3. Natasha says:

    Thanks Stella! What a great post!

  4. PB says:

    I love you Stella, Because of you, I can come out of my Twilight closet and admit to my undying affection for these books. Knowing intellectually that the books are at best b-movies in print, I have been less vocal about Bella and Edward than my equal obssession with all things Harry. But truthfully I cannot agree more, I zoomed through the four with an increased sense of she is me and this could be us and suspense and Italy and I am eternally 18 all over again (only better because I was actually kind of a dork) – Stephanie has tapped into a vein that true and exciting – we all want to live in that eternal place where someone will take care for you and fight for you and all sorts of magical nonsense that never happens in the slog of real life. Sometimes after a really sucky day (how are the metaphors going??), I come home and reread passages like a mantra of “what if” and “maybe” and slip into something like a comfort coma. Because sometimes you don’t want to think, you just want to be loved. Is that so wrong??

  5. Stella says:

    No, PB, it’s not wrong! So glad we’re coming out together!

  6. Rachel says:

    I knew these books were worth my time when Trixie talked them up, but this is the first thing that has made me actually decide to go ahead and read them. Thanks (I think).

  7. trixie says:

    6: hey! i thought you were going to read them for sure after my shameless plug when we saw one another last!! oh well, if it takes a thoughtful essay by stella to convince you, i guess i am ok with that…(and now, you can be annoyed with her for sucking (ha) you into them, and not me). or you can be annoyed at the both of us.

    i did respond to these books like a lab mouse to cocaine. however by the middle of the second book i was starting to feel a little played. which did not keep me from reading the last page of book 2 and getting immediately on my bicycle to go to the bookstore for book 3 (at like 9:30 pm) and then back again for book 4 approx. 2 days later.

    but by book 4, there were a lot of audible “oh come on’s” and “you’ve got to be kidding me’s” coming from the back patio where i sat reading the last book. maybe that’s why farrell never picked one up. he did escort me to the movie though, and was pretty much the only y chromosome in the entire theater.

  8. LT says:

    i *did* read the first book of the _twilight_ series over the course of a couple of days and then sort of hated myself for it. a bit of shame was there (at reading a “b movie” book, as PB says), but most of the shame was that i kept reading despite some of those “oh, come on”s trixie talks about. and: i was a bit bored with (what i will call) heavily adolescent and christian allegory.

    then a friend talked me into trying the _true blood_ series (aka the sookie stackhouse novels) and i realized what _twilight_ is missing: sex and gore and more sex and the ripping off of appendages and oral sex and violent deaths and gay sex. the sookie books still have me saying “oh, come on” now and then, but, um, i’ve read eight of them. go! get them! get sucked in (no pun intended)! and only feel a little ashamed.

  9. Dave says:

    respond to these books like a lab mouse to cocaine