“A Social and Cultural Analysis of Twilight’s Edward Cullen” by Rachel Alexander is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Based on a work at http://www.thewasofshall.com.
Originally published in May 2009 as an end-of-semester term paper. Can you tell that I was a fangirl? Because I was an absolute wreck about Twilight, yo. It was bad.
In the meadow scene from Twilight, Edward Cullen is trying to explain himself to Bella Swan – explain why he, as a vampire, is dangerous to Bella while she retains her mortality. “Everything about me invites you in” he yells, “my voice, my face, even my smell” – his angry intonation trying to make Bella desperately understand that her attraction to him is a knee-jerk reaction, that she couldn’t stop herself even if she was aware of her body’s subconscious response (Twilight 263). Edward’s words serve as one explanation for Bella’s obsession while also serving as a much broader metaphor for female readers of Stephenie Meyer’s work: it is as if they too are trapped within Edward’s gaze, drawn to him in an inexplicable way that they often fail to understand rationally. While there are specific traits Edward possesses that separate him from other leading men of literature, television, and film, it is the traits that he shares with these other men that give his potent attractiveness root.
Almost subconsciously, women are drawn to three general stereotypes: the standoffish, cool and uncaring bad boy, perfected by James Dean; the caring, compassionate, and intellectual equal, embodied by the nineteenth-century gentleman; and, the aggressive and highly sexual predator as seen in such characters like Patrick Bateman. While these leading men have become perfect examples of their own respective character types, Edward Cullen possesses all three stereotypes. Raised with the cultural expectation to fall into lust with the bad boy, find their sexual peak with the seasoned seducer, and then grow old with the gentleman, Western females are practically bred to seek out these traits, hope for the chance encounter with one of them, and then become complacent when their eventual mate fails to embody any. Is it any wonder, then, why Edward is so appealing to a population under the constant threat of romantic dehydration? Unwittingly, an immortal seventeen-year-old infuses new life into the concept of ‘soul mate’ for Twilight readers because he has been created as the perfect man. Thus, it is the intention of this essay to figure out why Edward appears so perfect – why the character traits he embodies are socially and culturally revered, why the obsession surrounding him is so overpowering that it exists outside of the world Stephenie Meyer has created, and why readers are still drawn to Edward after recognizing his faults – and why this pull only adds to his charm.
Rebels break the rules willingly and almost always apathetically. In a culture that feeds on homogeneous behavior and conformity to socially constructed success, anything that dares to even toe the line of difference becomes a Mecca to frustrated teenage youth. While the stereotype that the twenty-first century recognizes as the ‘rebel’ has only been in existence since the 1950s, the image has grown and expanded past its most recognized star, the illusive and cool James Dean, and made him a certifiable icon. Lisa R. writes in her article “Edward Cullen: What Is It That Makes Him So Enticing?” that “everybody loves a bad boy. There is something about that raw force and dangerous image that seems to leave the ladies wanting more” (1). Although no one at Forks High School seriously estimates just how dangerous Edward can become, it is only the idea of his potential for violence that sends female hearts in motion. He does not engage with the student body, he does not participate in class, and he barely registers that other people exist outside of his tight-knit family. Edward Cullen, to those who know him, is incredibly standoffish, perpetually sneering, and, as Claudia Springer likens in her work James Dean Transfigured, a personification of James Dean, who “encapsulate[s] the idea of disaffection” (13). And this is why women love him: the fact that he does not care at all.
Although Edward seems at home in this rebel costume, defining “disaffection, alienation, anger, nonconformity, and the rugged individualism” that exists as a “cornerstone of dominant American ideology,” the introduction of Bella Swan reveals his very soft, conflicted underbelly (Springer 45). Rob Pattinson, the actor portraying Edward in the 2008 feature film, recognizes this link between his character and those portrayed by James Dean, admitting that he used the stereotype for inspiration. He says, “I looked at stories about people…who felt like they couldn’t connect to the rest of society. The James Dean thing was weird because I saw a lot of [Edward’s] story [in] Rebel Without a Cause, like someone who can’t fit in with their friends, can’t fit in with their family, and then meets this girl who…gives them a reason to be alive” (Pattinson). Aside from the fact that Edward “doesn’t even notice” women who “fall at his feet” (R. 1), his interest and subsequent fascination with Bella only adds to his mystery. No one, not even Bella, can discern the breadth of Edward’s attraction to her. Her stark contrast to his Adonis beauty, his social grooming, and his perceptible wealth is extremely baffling to their peers and, for a time, Edward’s family. When people think they are getting close to figuring Edward out, he makes a decision (in this case, pursuing Bella), that throws everybody for a loop – and it is that kind of frustrating ambiguity that becomes attractive for those with a desire to define and categorize.
In a rush to ‘tame’ Edward and focus Twilight on his burgeoning relationship with Bella, however, Meyer allows Edward’s embodiment of James Dean to vanish when, to most of the series readers, Edward never grows out of portraying that one boy that got away. For instance, like Dean, Edward’s “brooding face [i]s beautiful and haunting and inscrutable enough that it… contain[s] whatever sense of bitter disappointment…fans want to project onto it” (Springer 19). It is extremely easy to assume that the majority of Edward’s charm lies most obviously in his level of physical attractiveness; this assumption, however, is only half of his story and fails to make Edward a three-dimensional entity. By embodying the aloof swagger of “the angst-ridden adolescent rebel” (Springer 17), Edward can be packaged into a nice neat box labeled ‘Rebel.’ His personality quirks, his defining characteristics… these all pale in comparison to the idea of him, and his pretty-boy image only adds to his consumption as a thing and not a person. It is no surprise, then, that the idea of ‘cool’ becomes an image-heavy attitude, “recognizable in all its manifestations as a particular combination of three core personality traits, namely narcissism, ironic detachment, and hedonism” (Springer 25). And Edward, by failing to integrate himself into the Forks High School social strata, plays that image to a ‘t;’ he becomes the token rebel of FHS, giving all its students a viable alternative to actual rebellion. By being classified as a rebel, Edward becomes the rebel, and, until he meets and falls in love with Bella, he stays trapped within this stereotype, that “vague concept that, over time, has lost any kind of political or social specificity” (Springer 16). Enough for some fans, however, this one-dimensional character sketch morphs into an incredible disappointment to those that prefer what Meyer hints to as Edward’s burgeoning romantic, and they are not satisfied with Edward “as a kind of two-dimensional blob” (Robert Pattinson Interview Part1). They need substance and variability.
The second romantic stereotype Edward Cullen both manipulates and exposes is the idea of the gentleman, what Chris Blazina describes in his book The Cultural Myth of Masculinity as “the ‘new’ contemporary middle-class paradigm…a mix of the courtly manners of the aristocracy, the old chivalric ways of knighthood, and the hardiness of the Indo-European warrior” (39). This new definition encompasses very specific functions in the current patriarchal society, and is consistently assumed to have peaked during the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. A gentleman has become the epitome of the perfect suitor, always “unfailingly polite, unbelievably self-controlled and moral, [and] dedicated and protective beyond reason” (Adams 100). That Edward exhibits these characteristics around Bella would probably be enough to spark female interest, but it is the fact that he was transformed into a vampire in 1918 – when these social niceties were regularly taught to adolescent men – that also causes women to desire him. By simply being himself, by merely behaving as he did when he was a human, Edward harkens back to a time when men truly were gentleman, and, in a society where women are trained to seek a man who will treat her like the ‘goddess’ she is, actually finding that sort of man is both unexpected as well as unbelievably desirable.
Also significant is Edward’s fierce protection of both his own and, as their relationship progresses, Bella’s sexual virtue. Although comical to readers (and unendingly frustrating for Bella), Edward’s repeated actions to ignore or repress his sexual attraction to her while also fighting off her attempts at seduction factor into his labeling as a gentleman. Chapter twenty of Eclipse, the third novel in the Twilight series, is significant for two reasons. One, Edward proposes to Bella and she accepts (an act which leads the series into the crux of Breaking Dawn and what Christine Seifert of Bitch magazine assumes to the working of the “Moral Majority” and “a throwback to a 1950s housewife” – something this paper will not be tackling). And, two, Edward accepts Bella’s wish to experience the act of intercourse while she is still human and unceasingly infatuated with him. (Meyer aptly titles this chapter “Compromises.”) Although the concept of abstinence has, to an extant, been enjoying a resurgence of popularity within the last decade, those individuals who are seriously committed to the act are few and far between while those adolescent men who have decided to wait to consummate romantic love are almost non-existent, or, unfortunately, assumed to be gay for not consistently wanting to ‘get laid’.
In this regard, Edward is pushed into a morally superior position because of his elevated sexual status. He could, theoretically, have any female he wanted (very beautiful women are often throwing themselves at him) and he does not even have to try to seduce Bella because, from the start of Twilight, she is consumed with both romantic and sexual thoughts of him. Edward, however, remains chaste in both situations. He protects his virtue because it is literally the only surviving trait from his formative human years, the only characteristic he has the ability to protect from being destroyed now that he considers himself a monster. Blazina explains that this kind of restraint is a defining masculine characteristic, indicative of “being physically tough, not complaining in the midst of difficulty, carrying a quiet strength, and constraining emotions” (41). Edward Cullen may really want to have sex with Bella in the same way that he must consciously (and literally) swallow the vampire urges he has at the mere scent of her blood, but, because he respects her – because he absolutely loves her – he will not give in to either desire. Susan Wloszczyna writes, “That Edward resists [sex] shows how important [Bella] is as a person” and the “one single objective…[he has] to make her happy…is every young girl’s dream.” This ability to resist proves that Edward is first, not constantly thinking about sex, and second, willing to admit that he is not absolutely ready for the consequences sex would bring. As a result, females are able to relax because Edward’s behavior is one instance in which they would not have to ‘give it up’ just to keep their boyfriend happy and committed to them. That kind of relationship is, no doubt, incredibly refreshing in the contemporary Western sex-obsessed world.
Edward’s protection of Bella’s virtue then transcends into two of his most overpowering and defining characteristics: a general and constant worry over Bella’s safety and well-being and the deep and infallible care and adoration he feels for only her. These two character traits are perhaps the most revered in Edward as well as in some of the more popular romantic heroes of the last century. Assuming that Twilight is merely a romance novel that contains fantasy elements and is aimed at young adults, some of Janice Radway’s sociological conclusions can be carried over to Meyer’s work. She writes in Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature, “Reading a romance is a regressive experience…in the sense that, for the duration of the time devoted to it, [readers] feel gratified and content… [because] they identif[y] with a heroine whom they believe is deeply appreciated and tenderly cared for by another” (Radway 93). Although Radway explains that, to some readers, romantic stories are often emotionally cathartic, they also “function as active agents in the maintenance of the ideological status quo” (17) by “perpetuating a false view of [a reader’s] social situation” and thus “contribut[ing] to their continuing oppression” in a male-dominated culture (6). It is only logical to assume that women are still, in some fashion, raised to believe the hype that the most qualified (or romantic, successful, sincere, etc.) boyfriend should be able to provide consistent emotional and physical protection, an idea that does not usually factor in the male’s own emotional insecurities.
As a result of this masculine discrepancy, Edward’s need to protect Bella ends up being a catch-22: his status as a vampire and their subsequent, and highly unequal, mortal-immortal relationship continually puts her in danger, but it is only because of his vampire abilities that Bella survives these situations at all. (In Twilight, for example, pitting her as the ‘prize’ in nomad vampire James’ tracker game because she is the only human within the Cullen vampire family and then only being able to save Bella’s humanity because he has the strength to kill a vampire as well as the ability to suck out vampire venom.) Jennifer Wood explains, “The things in [Edward] that have kept him alive for so long – his strength, his speed, his indestructibility – suddenly are of no use to him.” Although he should always be, theoretically, able to protect Bella while she’s still human, his inability to fully give himself to her as a man causes him “to loathe himself because he cannot be for Bella what she is for him: a warm place, a soft place.” As a consequence, when “[Edward] tries desperately to reign himself in, to keep Bella safe from him…he is [also] coming to grips with the emotions and passions of humanity…that have evaded him for his entire existence.” What then ends up happening is that “even [when he] holds himself back from her,” Edward simultaneously “becomes…overwhelmed by the need to take her…to become one with her, to give himself to her” (Wood “Edward Cullen” 3). In the end, Edward cannot win no matter choice he makes and is constantly plagued by his emotional inabilities because of his extraordinary physical prowess.
This internal battle over how best to protect Bella (Should he save her from dangerous situations or never give her the chance to fall into them?) is further encouraged by Edward’s love for her, a love so powerful it often only exists in a fantasy world like that of Twilight. Wood defines Edward’s attraction to Bella, and his subsequent behavior towards and around her, as a simple repercussion of this love. She says,
[Edward] will never stray from Bella because she is his one and only love, his eternity, and he will love her with as much passion and constancy a hundred years from now as he does today. He may become overprotective at times, even severely so, but it is his love and fear of losing her that drives him. His entire existence revolves around her happiness, her safety, her needs and desires. Even when her desires and passions drive him to dangerous limits, he channels his inner demons… in order to satisfy her needs. (“Edward Cullen” 3)
Once Edward realizes he is in love with a human, his entire existence changes: he relates to his family on a different level, he understands himself in a different way, and he looks back on his eighty some odd years as a vampire and he can only see a black void that was waiting to be filled by Bella. Bella, in turn, must recognize that Edward’s love for her is unchangeable, that he will never love anyone else, period. Although Edward might have assumed his life was static once he became a vampire, Bella has shown him that he will never be whole or complete unless she is in his life. It is this thought that prompts Edward to very calmly and rationally consider suicide as his only option if Bella should die, the reason with which he can say “Well, I wasn’t going to live without you” in the blasé fashion he does at the start of New Moon, the second book in the series (19). However morbid the topic of suicide can become, Edward’s need to maintain this close proximity to Bella (even in death) is saturated throughout the Twilight series. His exhibition of this aim arises because he is a fierce lover and a fierce protector, traits easily identifiable to the gentleman personality and unsurprisingly attractive to women living in a culture where this type of man is universally sought while also being equally hard to find.
The final romantic stereotype that Edward perfects is that of the dangerously sexual seducer, a man who defines the phrase ‘if looks could kill’ in the most primal and physical way. Although one could argue that it is only Edward’s existence as a vampire and his subsequent vampiric abilities to stalk and capture ‘prey’ that make him a sexual icon, this is not the case. The simple fact is that, at first glance, no one knows that Edward is a vampire and yet every female is still erotically attracted to him. Springer details this type of attraction as arising out of the bad boy image and an ability that rebels hold to engage their audiences by possessing a “mercurial personality, [being] charming one moment and rude the next” (15). This type of personality can thus result in frustration as well as an “ambiguity [which is often] translated into a polymorphous sexual super-prowess” (Springer 41). Edward’s ability to ‘turn on’ his charm when the situation calls, in effect, lures in humans who then become ‘dazzled’ by his preternatural beauty, willingly doing what he asks as if he is doing them a favor by asking.
Rob Pattinson explains this frustration as occurring on both sides of the exchange, however, and as frequently occurring because there is a mutual attraction present (at least if fans forget Edward’s complete distaste for humanity and focus solely on his treatment of Bella, in which he really does ignore her because of the way her blood ‘sings’ to him). Rob says, “If you think that you’re a dick… and you really like someone and you feel there’s a connection there, there’s a possibility of something happening,” then you’re likely to push the other person away. “And that was the mentality [in Twilight] to [an] obviously much more extreme effect…. You [don’t want to] stop hanging out with the person but at the same time…you’re like, ‘Seriously…don’t like me, I’m a dick…I’m gonna ruin you’” (Rob Pattinson Interview). Radway furthers this opposition by explaining that women are encouraged through cultural and romantic narratives to “latch on to whatever expressions of thoughtfulness [a man] might display, no matter how few, and to consider them, rather than his more obvious and frequent disinterest, as evidence as his true character” (148). Because Edward only appears ‘obviously’ disinterested in Bella, females like him even more because he does not feed into the stereotype of a male who’s using his physical attractiveness to get what he wants – he is genuinely trying to appear undesirable in order to protect Bella’s humanity.
However, what would Twilight be if Edward and Bella did not end up together? As much to Meyer’s credit as the socio-cultural world under which this series was created, the two lovers share their secrets and confess their love for one another, an act that, consequently, only ups the danger as much as it ups Bella’s attraction to Edward. Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the film, explains Twilight as a “story of a young woman falling so deeply in love that she doesn’t care if she dies or becomes a vampire. There is something so dangerous and alluring about it…. It’s an obsessive love that’s not far from Romeo and Juliet” (Carr). (Is this a coincidence, or a mere indication of where Western culture’s priorities lie?) The most important part of Hardwicke’s statement is that Bella prizes her physical proximity to Edward as the most important part of their relationship, so much so that she literally cannot foresee a human life without him in it. In this way, she both acknowledges that Edward is a vampire and could very easily kill her while also admitting that she is hopelessly in love with him in spite of this danger.
Although there are different situations in which Bella is in mortal danger because of her relationship with the Cullens, it is her intimate relationship with Edward that becomes the most interesting in the series. Wood writes, “Vampires have long been viewed as the ultimate sexual monster…. They are the…forbidden lust, the carnal, primal animal…. The vampire may take us with a slow seduction or with violent aggression, but take us he must in order to live himself. And in taking us, he holds our very existence in his hands. He may deliver us to death or grant us immortality” (“Edward Cullen” 1). Her statement brings up two points exhibited in Bella and Edward’s relationship: one, vampirism straddles the line between highly eroticized sexuality and aggressive violence, and two, vampire-human relationships are saturated within a power struggle usually won by the vampire. Eric Nuzum notes, “Very rarely are vampire stories about vampires…. They are the perfect metaphor for anything that challenges you or makes you lose control” (Wloszczyna). This personification brings up an even bigger cultural fascination that women have with gratuitous displays of masculine violence that is often (and sometimes obviously) substituted within the realm of erotic stimulation.
For example, one of Edward’s sexual predecessors is Patrick Bateman, the protagonist of Bret Easton Ellis’ novel American Psycho and the 2000 film starring Christian Bale. In one scene from the film, Patrick and his secretary Jean are sitting in his apartment because Jean believes they are going to dinner while Patrick has made plans to murder her. After he can’t (or won’t; it’s never explicitly explained) pull the trigger on an industrial nail gun, he sits down and asks Jean to leave. He says, “I don’t think I can control myself…if you stay…I think I might hurt you” (American Psycho). Jean’s perception of Patrick’s statement on a metaphorical level instead of its literal interpretation is natural for women “magnetized by male sexuality and brutality” (Radway 4), and only the viewer is privy to the duel meaning behind Patrick’s words. This same situation occurs between Bella and Edward, their “chaste but sexually charged relationship” becoming so “steamy precisely because” its message of “abstinence porn… actually convinces [readers] that self-denial is hot” (Seifert). As much as Bella (and, subsequently, readers) desires Edward, she is just as sexually stimulated because she can’t have him without risking her life in the process. This foray in literal danger is extremely titillating and further cements Edward’s role as a ‘bad boy’ women are not supposed to want. Twilight then “provides a vicarious experience of emotional nurturance and [one of] erotic anticipation and excitation” through the character of Edward (Radway 105), something extremely hard to do without losing or diminishing characteristics of either experience.
When Bella and Edward do become romantically or sexually intimate, though, Bella understandably falls into greater danger due to their dual loss of control. Rob Pattinson jokes that in situations “where [Edward] would be having sex if [he was] a normal person,” he has to constantly overpower his rational mind because he is likely to forget that “[his] true self, [his] core, [his] body wants to kill [Bella]” as much as he yearns to receive physical pleasure from her (Rob Pattinson – Twilight). Wood builds on this, insisting that “to Edward, Bella’s blood is the most powerful narcotic on Earth…a biological imperative. He must take her. He must devour her…. To maintain the remnants of his humanity in the face of her overwhelming allure means denying the very essence of his being…. A whisper of Bella’s scent reawakens the monster…he has…suppressed…for seventy years” (“Edward Cullen” 2). The double entendre that Edward ‘must devour’ Bella is a purposeful observation, as well as the fact that Edward only foresees two choices: he can either completely suppress his ‘need’ or he can completely submit to it.
Furthermore, it is Bella – a fragile and unaware human – who pushes Edward into a violent frenzy, a physically violent and dangerous desire for Bella’s blood that is only rivaled by the absolute and consuming need they feel for each other’s bodies. Factor in the knowledge that “vampire sex in the Twilight world is constant, powerful, house-shattering…[that] vampire senses are heightened, making the sexual experience even more intense” and suddenly “the mere thought of Edward’s…cool breath on [reader’s] necks, his touch on their skin” is no longer just a hint at the sexual undertones of Edward’s potential for violence (Wood “Edward Cullen” 3). (The simple logistics of a vampire bite being in the nape of the neck, a powerful erogenous zone in women, is almost laughably sexual in its obviousness at this point (Wood “Edward Cullen” 1).) Subsequently, what most readers come away from Twilight with is a greater awareness of the fine line between sexual desire and violent urges. Seifert spells it out when she writes, “It doesn’t take a Freudian to read Edward’s pulsating, insistent vampire lips pressed against Bella’s pale, innocent neck as an analogy for, well, something else.” She later explains that ‘something else’ as an “analogy where the sexual penetration of Bella’s human body is akin to the vampiric penetration of Bella’s skin” and something readers have most definitely picked up and introduced into their own attempts at Twilight interpretation (most often through fanfiction, further explained below).
Is it any surprise, then, that this dichotomy is rectified through Bella and Edward’s consummation of the love they feel for each other, this consummation completely blurring the line between sex (Edward’s and Bella’s physical desires) and violence (Edward’s biological needs)? Seifert comments on the first time Edward and Bella have sex on their honeymoon: “Edward, lost in his own lust, ‘makes love’ so violently to Bella that she wakes up the next morning covered in bruises, the headboard in ruins from Edward’s romp. And guess what? Bella…loves it.” Bella does not just ignore the fact that Edward is a vampire and could easily kill her, she desires that element of danger, continually seeks it out, and then absolutely relishes in the sexual pleasure it brings her. In a way, the sexual violence Edward unwittingly enacts onto Bella can “be understood as a man’s ostentatious, panic-induced reinscription of his masculinity’s indisputable hegemony on the female, or feminized, body of ‘the other’” (Schoene 387). In a way, Edward is so subconsciously afraid and ashamed of his inability to control himself around Bella that his fight for dominance against his desire manifests itself in a literal dominance over Bella, which only further perpetuates the female-male binary prevalent in our society, “a social system where women are constituted only in and by their relationships to more powerful men” (Radway 10). Even though Edward’s fight exemplifies the fact that he and Bella, on some level, are equally matched, Bella accepts her submissive role, exploits her position, and enjoys the benefits.
When readers accept Bella and Edward’s relationship, they are doing one of two things. First, they might accept that Bella and Edward are together, while still being completely against the decisions Bella makes in response to Edward’s behavior or their resulting power dynamic; or, they desire Edward as much as Bella does and, subsequently, envision themselves as Bella when they read the series. This second circumstance factors heavily into fanfiction that feature Edward and Bella in some type of romantic plot. (Very generally, fanfiction is a narrative work that features at least one character from a previously published work of fiction. A fanfic that is true to form will not simply use a character’s name, physical attributes, or fictional relationships, but also factor in “their back stories, their reactions to life events, their voices, [and] their base characterizations” (Kaplan 136).) While it is common to keep the details of Twilight intact when writing fanfiction (i.e., keeping the Cullens as vampires), it is the stories that stray from this dynamic that are most interesting and most indicative of female readers’ response to the character of Edward Cullen.
For example, forgetting the vampire aspect to Twilight means fanfiction writers are able to fully concentrate on Edward’s characterization in the series. Their focus then becomes indicative of their interest in Edward and not in the fact that he is a vampire; they like him because of him and not simply because he is realistically out-of-reach. Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekon, co-editors of a collection of essays on fanfiction, write, “The entirety of stories and critical commentary written in a fandom…offers an ever-growing, ever-expanding version of the characters” (7). Successful fanfiction writers are thus able to expand the Edward they find themselves attracted to, down-playing the character traits that perhaps make him appear overly-protective and possessive while exploiting his sex appeal, his ability to romance, and his intelligence. Thus, on the most basic of levels, the narratives that are created allow the writer to create “stories that make them feel particularly happy, …[allowing them to] escape figuratively into a fairy tale where a heroine’s [either Bella or an original character that may or may not be based on the author] needs are adequately met” (Radway 93). Radway furthers this analysis:
When she successfully imagines herself in the heroine’s position, the typical romance reader can relax momentarily and permit herself to wallow in the rapture of being the center of a powerful and important individual’s attention. This attention not only provides her with the sensations evoked by emotional nurturance and physical satisfaction, but, equally significantly, reinforces her sense of self because in offering his care and attention to the woman with whom she identifies, the hero implicitly regards that woman and, by implication, the reader, as worthy of his concern (113).
Reading fanfiction is a form of escape out of reality as much as it is an escape into the specific world of Twilight. Not only are readers, and more specifically writers – who invest a far greater amount of time and individual concern in the work – allowing themselves to further perpetuate a social system where vicarious romance reading is a necessary escape from everyday life, but they are also specially choosing to read Twilight fanfiction, choosing to envision Edward Cullen as their personal knight in shining armor, Edward Cullen as the man they would prefer to end up with in a monogamous romantic relationship (or, at the very least, an extremely fulfilling sexual relationship).
This commodifying of Edward and the ability of his character or physical attractiveness to be “shaped and manipulated for consumption by audiences and fans” is also indicative of the media and fan response to Rob Pattinson’s casting as Edward (Springer 27). Rob literally, although unknowingly, stepped into Edward’s shoes and brought him to life. Wood writes, “In bringing so much of himself to the character—his own insecurities and fears, his darker interests and thoughts—[Rob] added a depth of feeling to Edward that the character on the page was lacking. Pattinson embraced Edward’s hatred of himself and his inner monster and made that part of Edward more prominent…[he] gave [Edward] a face, a body, an evilly seductive grin” (“Edward Cullen” 4). The absolute want that fans have for finding their own Edward has existed since Twilight was first published in 2005, but Rob’s portrayal of the character three years later allowed some of Edward’s charm to rub off, which then only complicated the distinction that fans have yet to make between Edward as a fictional character and Edward as the embodiment of romantic and masculine perfection.
While Rob has taken his new fame in stride, he always tries to deflect female attention by reminding naysayers that fans “genuinely think [he is] a character from [the] book…[that Edward] is walking straight out of [the] novel” when he attends press or promotional tours for the series (Wloszczyna). Although some of Edward’s charm has been replaced by Rob’s own, causing Rob to embody a sex symbol in his own right (Dan Wakeford describes Rob as “a perfect mixture of obsession and mystery…. He’s bright, cool and handsome, yet doesn’t have the persona of a boy like other heartthrobs…. And if that weren’t enough, who can resist an English accent?”), Rob vehemently deflects all associations. While Edward is described “as the fantasy boyfriend,” it is the fact that fans “are responding so strongly [to Edward] and then… throwing [Rob] into the mix” that clearly marks this disassociation. Rob, in response, jokingly believes that all of Edward’s favorable personality traits have “just transferred over” to him, even though he made a conscious effort to “play [Edward] different to how [he wa]s in the book” (Robert Pattinson Interview Part1). A perfect example of Rob’s interpretation of Edward is the final scene of the film, in which Edward and Bella are at prom, fighting with each other over when Bella should be turned into a vampire. As much as Edward seems “so in control of himself” during the same scene in the book, Rob tried to portray Edward’s feelings of inadequacy and guilt over placing Bella in danger as “painful,” as if his struggle over keeping Bella safe has now transferred into a struggle to keep her happy (Robert Pattinson Interview Part1). Regardless of whether Rob is popular because he portrayed Edward in one media adaptation or because Twilight was simply a jumping off point for his own popular qualities, the fact remains that this distinction is difficult to discern, and further exemplifies the female and fan attraction to Edward. In a way, anything remotely attached to fan interpretation becomes revered because it is indicative of some aspect of Edward Cullen which fans lack in their everyday life.
In an effort to theoretically pick apart the female attraction that seems to run rampant around Stephenie Meyer’s fictional Casanova, it is very easy to forget that sometimes, this type of emotional attachment often does not have a reason. Radway writes, “While the fantasy is unreal, the good feelings it gives us about ourselves and our future are real, and these good feelings are what we need to sustain us” (100). Most Twilight fans recognize that pining after their very unrealistic vampire is a lost cause – and so most do not, in the sense that they understand and recognize that Edward as a vampire should be left to his equally fictionalized Bella. But even Meyer herself understands the charm. She says, “‘Everyone wants to fall in love with someone who’s going to love you’” like Edward loves Bella (Wloszczyna), stressing that, at least in part, the idea of Edward exists in the real world, that his relationship with Bella should, and could, exist for female fans who grow up within “the consistent socialization of young girls [that dictates] that a woman cannot be whole without a close relationship with a man” (Lloyd). Edward lets fans know that even unassuming, shy girls like Bella deserve to find the kind of love they are consistently told only exists in fairy tales.
Wood, a Twilight fan herself, follows Radway’s analysis in her article “Twilight: Our Personal Brand of Heroin,” which asserts itself as “a coherent explanation…defensively elaborated…for why [she and other readers] find [the series] so satisfying” (Radway 14). Although Wood’s comments certainly help, it is up for debate whether any amount of psychoanalysis will convert the opposing forces that range from an indifferent shrugged shoulder to the viciously antagonistic. She writes, “The Twilight series, to its fans, is truly like heroin to an addict, like Bella’s blood to Edward. It is an all-powerful force. It is emotional. It is hormonal. It triggers something in the brain that keeps us wanting. We can’t explain it, at least not in any coherent way that doesn’t end in ‘you just have to read it to understand’” (Wood “Twilight” 2). And maybe that’s as good as it can get: ‘you just have to read it.’ Naysayers have to throw away their misconceptions (at least for the time being), stop nitpicking the way the books are written, stop scoffing every time Bella becomes dazzled by Edward’s preternatural beauty and just read – immerse themselves in the story, in the way a certain scene makes them feel, and just enjoy the experience. Then maybe, when they have escaped their Twilight cocoon and gone into a frenzied withdrawal (because they will), they can step back and, only then, try to rationalize why Edward holds so much weight in readers’ subconscious. And that is the fun part, delving headfirst into Western socio-cultural history and realizing that females have been bred for this kind of attachment as much as males are trained to embody certain masculine ideals.
In some respects, then, Edward Cullen turns out to be just another guy, imbued with social characteristics females subconsciously seek out, even if they cannot explain this attraction while they are caught up in the throes of passion. Being a rebel, a gentleman, or someone ‘gifted’ at the art of seduction does not make one better or worse than the other. Each character type has his moment to shine, and his cultural reverence then becomes recycled as generations grow old and a new definition of masculinity is ushered into the collective consciousness. Something specific about Edward Cullen, however, is that “as the new ‘ideal’ of the perfect man, [he] bears strong resemblance to other brooding male leads of literature” (Wood “Twilight” 3), as well as encompassing other preferred traits of the contemporary male to create an evenly mixed amalgam of masculinity. Wood continues, “[Edward] is both too young and too old for the women who adore him, frozen forever at 17 yet with a century of experience in the world” (“Edward Cullen” 3). And maybe this is why Edward has forced readers into a frenzy and refused to let go: he will always be out of reach. Fans can envision his beauty from Meyer’s descriptions and then have this ideal confirmed, thanks to Rob; they can fall hopelessly in love with his display of protection, bravado, and romanticism while remembering (or imagining) what it feels like to be absolutely in love with someone who unquestionably loves you back; and then, they can swoon and salivate over how great they think he is in bed – and then cheer and squeal when Bella confirms their suspicions. But they must always remember that the Edward they know and love is a vampire, a fictional creation, lest they begin to pine and lust harder, with much more time and lots more energy. It is this perpetual struggle, this losing, uphill battle that fans both secretly love and loathe. Readers will never meet Edward, never know what it feels like to fall in love with a vampire, but that longing, that driving force keeps them on their toes and teaches fans that they should not have to accept second-best. It might take them a few tries, but they will reach the summit, a personal Edward Cullen in tow.
Adams, Isabelle. Robert Pattinson: Eternally Yours: An Unauthorized Biography. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2008.
American Psycho. Dir. Mary Harron. Perf. Christian Bale, Justin Theroux, Josh Lucas, and Chloë Sevigny. Lions Gate Entertainment, 2000.
Blazina, Chris. The Cultural Myth of Masculinity. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003.
Busse, Kristina and Karen Hellekson. Introduction. Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Ed. Busse and Kellekson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2006. 5-32.
Carr, David. “The Vampire of the Mall.” New York Times (17 Nov. 2008): 1. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Emerson Coll. Lib., Boston, MA. 6 Apr. 2009 <http://proxy.emerson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=35257701&site=ehost-live>.
“Dan Wakeford: Why Life & Style Loves Robert Pattinson.” Cover Awards. 17 Apr. 2009. 18 Apr. 2009 <http://coverawards.com/2009/04/17/news_robert_pattinson_magazine_covers_3819/>.
Kaplan, Deborah. “Construction of Fan Fiction Character Through Narrative.” Fan Fiction and Fan Communities in the Age of the Internet. Eds. Kristina Busse and Karen Hellekson. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc. Publishers, 2006. 134-152.
Lloyd, Sally A. “Intimate Violence.” National Forum 80.4 (Fall 2000): 19. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Emerson Coll. Lib., Boston, MA. 19 Apr. 2009 <http://proxy.emerson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=3864641&site=ehost-live>.
Meyer, Stephenie. New Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2006.
—. Twilight. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2005.
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R., Lisa. “Edward Cullen: What Is It That Makes Him So Enticing?.” Associated Content. 25 Nov. 2008. 1-3. 24 Mar. 2009 <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1212921/edward_cullen_what_is_it_that_makes.html?cat=38>.
Radway, Janice A. Reading The Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1984.
Robert Pattinson Interview Part1. 11 January 2009. YouTube. Video. 24 April 2009 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wocFiPcfNXw>.
Rob Pattinson – Twilight. 10 November 2008. YouTube. Video. 10 April 2009 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NQqeEy9ZutQ>.
Schoene, Berthold. “Serial Masculinity: Psychopathology and Oedipal Violence in Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho.” MFS Modern Fiction Studies 54.2 (2008): 378-397. Project MUSE. Emerson Coll. Lib., Boston, MA. 14 Apr. 2009 <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/modern_fiction_studies/v054/54.2.schoene.html>.
Seifert, Christine. “Bite Me! (Or Don’t).” Bitch Magazine. 17 Dec. 2008. 1 Apr. 2009 <http://bitchmagazine.org/article/bite-me-or-dont>.
Springer, Claudia. James Dean Transfigured. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007.
Wloszczyna, Susan. “Vampires seduce a new generation.” USA Today 20 Nov. 2008. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Emerson Coll. Lib., Boston, MA. 6 Apr. 2009 <http://proxy.emerson.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=J0E202693284408&site=ehost-live>.
Wood, Jennifer. “Twilight: Our Personal Brand of Heroin.” Associated Content. 19 Feb. 2009. 1-3. 20 Apr. 2009 <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1467247/twilight_our_personal_brand_of_heroin.html>.
—. “What Is It About Edward Cullen?.” Associated Content. 27 Feb. 2009. 1-4. 24 Mar. 2009. <http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/1513988/what_is_it_about_edward_cullen.html?cat=38>.