Consent Has Nothing On Smoldering Vampires

by Kayla VernonClark
Venue: Hairpin

The Twilight series can certainly, and not altogether inaccurately, be summed up as a story about a girl in love with her vampire boyfriend. Because despite such distractions werewolves discovering their two year old soulmates, the vampire version of the Cruciatus curse, and the frequency of volleyball-related near death experiences, the central plotline remains at its core the story of a girl in love with a boy who would, incidentally, like to murder no one else in the world more than her.

It is for that very reason that it seems so strange that Bella’s story, despite her authorship, does not only seem not to be about her but does not seem even to belong to her. In Twilight, Edward enforces the movement of many of the plot points by literally driving her from place to place, often regardless of her own desires. At one point in the novel, Bella “mentally calculat[es her] chances of reaching the truck before he could catch [her],” at which point he reminds her, “I’ll just drag you back.” Importantly, this “reminder” is actually named a “threat” in the novel, and as she is literally forced to calculate the distance between herself and the car, this passage is crafted in terms of escape and of the inaccessibility of escape. Bella is literally not provided with a choice; this passage is described in terms of a kidnapping. Her consent is disregarded completely as a necessary or even viable response.

Much of the narrative follows this pattern: Bella’s refusal, or potential for refusal, is followed either by threatened or direct physical action, as the narrative becomes not a series of Bella’s decisions but a series of Edward’s. He begins leading her both figuratively and very literally from one plot point to the next; he is even the literal better driver, and remedies what might be her bumpy ride between plot and supplants is own. As it happens, this ride travels at a hundred miles per hour with no history of ticketing, rendering the Forks police department incompetent in both the locating of murderers and thirty mile-per-hour speeding violations. It isn’t particularly surprising, then, that the conclusion of the book finds Edward driving her to prom—and to her resolution. Knowing she would have refused had he actually considered something as scandalous as asking her permission, he refuses to disclose their destination, robbing her even of the illusion of consent. Prom is the very last setting Bella would have chosen for her conclusion. Instead, it marks Edward’s conclusion for a narrative of his own devising.

When placed in conjunction with New Moon, the two stories seem reflective of very different narratives. More than just spawning “Team Edward” and “Team Jacob” T-shirts and inspiring a war that would destroy a multitude of eighth grade friendships, New Moon hardly includes Edward’s physical presence at all. Not that Edward is missing otherwise—when she isn’t thinking about him, she’s searching desperately for ways to avoid thinking about him, or to bring him to her. After he leaves, when the weight of her depression is crippling and there are literally no words on the page, the startling blankness of the page echoes the striking disappearance of Edward from her life, as she struggles with her inability to cope without having him beside her. It means that Edward cannot drive her through her narrative arcs in his Volvo, or drop her off at the corner for a quick subplot before manhandling her back into his vehicle. But he nevertheless steals a part of her, too.

Within the novel’s universe, by the beginning of New Moon, Edward and Bella are hopelessly in love with one another; they more or less exist at the behest of each other. Apparently Edward’s love for her has continued to make her slightly less edible, and apparently his talent for ochre-eyed smoldering has not diminished since we saw them last. When he leaves her, he assures her confidently that her “memory is more than a sieve,” and that he himself shall fill his time with other fancies. This feigned dismissiveness does not extend only to his own actions; he also tells Bella that, though Alice wanted to say goodbye, he told her a “clean break from [Bella] would be better.” The Cullen family, which occupied a large portion of Twilight and filled up the spaced in which her friends had previously existed, has here been jarringly stolen from her. Without her consent, without so much as a discussion, her world is torn from beneath her feet.

Edward had taken up the spaces of her friends; he’d become her constant accompaniment at school, and he’d come to occupy all the words on the page previously associated with any of her other companions, with the exception of the now-removed Cullens. His abrupt goodbye does not allow her a moment of recovery. Edward leaves out of a desire to protect Bella, as he decides what is best for her without a moment’s conversation regarding the reality of his absence. He makes the decision that her safety matters first, and with that dislodges himself from her life—and dislodges her entire narrative. Her narrative had been his movement (and, of course, his rock hard abs). Her narrative had been dependent upon his choices. And, again, without her consent, he removes her plot completely, which forces the narrative into a stasis that even features a number of blank pages with the headings of months above them. Without Edward, there is no movement at all. He kidnaps himself, and with that he steals her story.

Frustratingly, both novels seem to propose that Edward’s attractiveness works against a need for consent; because he makes Bella hot and bothered, and because “perfect” numbers among one of the most common adjectives in the novel, permission becomes irrelevant. In the universe of Twilight, “no” invariably means “yes,” unless you are sure to add a sprinkle of hundred foot high cliffs and a pinch of likely death. Consent may be sexy, but the Twilight universe is a reminder that even free will cannot trump a hot stalker with scorching ochre eyes who wants full access to your blood and your plot.

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