The Negative Reader

Drinking Tea and Trashing Books

Romance is a funny genre. While it’s one that is written almost completely for and to women, it’s a genre that depends a lot on the male lead. If you look at really well known romances, they character who tends to stand out is the guy. After all, this is the person who the women are fantasizing about, therefore, they’re going to want to fantasize about someone who is appealing.

And that’s where Edward Cullen comes in.

Edward Cullen is a vile toerag of a man. He is a smarmy, smirking effeminately fluttering dandy who only manages to survive this series because the author is in love with him, yet, somehow, while many fans of the series are willing to admit that Bella isn’t a very good character, Edward is nearer and dearer to their hearts.

So, I’m ripping into him next.

Part 3: Edward Cullen

Now, when I started on this rant, I was planning on going where all critics had gone before. Edward is abusive. Edward is creepy. Edward is a complete monster. But you know what, I’m going to keep my temper. I’m going to analyze the crap out of this and keep my temper. I’m going to get it out of my system now: Edward Cullen is a chauvinistic pig, abusive, hateful, and the only reason I don’t hate him more than I do is because I have had the misfortune to encounter the monster known as Patch.

Moving on.

The Appeal

Edward Cullen was designed along the Anne Rice model of self-loathing, sexy vampires that have become so popular in the vampire fandom. However, he was supposed to be of a slightly different model. Not only was he supposed to be much more G rated. He was supposed to be more in control, less overtly threatening, but dangerous enough to be exciting.

While Anne Rice’s vampires were both very connected to sex and had something of the nature of a predator about them, Meyer kept Edward so far away from that element that he sparkled. But it was more than that. Edward wasn’t just kind of dangerous and standoffish, he offered something different, and that’s in the fact that he protects Bella. The safety element was primary to Edward’s being accepted. His powers, terrifying as they might have been were harassed towards protecting Bella and keeping her happy and safe from all threats.

His self-loathing, on the other hand, was supposed to be a sign that Bella, through some innate goodness could save him. He might have had behaviors that were unacceptable to a normal man, but Edward Cullen transcended what was acceptable to normal, conventional morality. This is a very common romance trope. Ladies, somehow, we seem to tend to want to fix people, and Edward Cullen was the perfect candidate for that. Not only was he tragic and self-loathing, he was also good looking and very capable. Thus, it wasn’t that hard, or emotionally draining to fix him.

He was supposed to be the redeemable bad boy, yet all the redemption was easy to do.

He was good because he was inherently good, not because of any of our flimsy structures or rules, but he was also damaged, and required the love, affection and understanding of someone else in order for him to be truly saved from a love of meaningless immortality. Bella saves him from misery and convinces him that his immortality is wonderful.

The Problems

The problems with Edward as a character are, for the most part two fold:

1.      He is supposed to be perfect

2.      Meyer doesn’t know what she wants.

Edward was meant to be the perfect lover. If you look at Meyer’s own writing about him, it’s clear that she doesn’t think that he has ever done anything wrong. And because of that, it shows in how Meyer writes Edward.

Edward’s flaws, the fact that he’s pushy, arrogant, domineering and generally entitled aren’t so much as seen by Meyer. As such, the writing tends to excuse or ignore these traits. What’s more, Bella is fully convinced that since Edward is a vampire, he really can do what he wants, including if it involves murdering people.

In the first book, Edward mentions how he used to eat people, but only bad people, therefore he was always justified in Meyer’s mind. However, the argument that eating people is wrong no matter what you do is not considered. Edward might use it to angst a touch, but he’s not really feeling remorse for what he’s done. Only that he’s not as ‘pure’ as Bella. Also, the fact that he is watching her sleep, following her around, and generally being creepy is ‘flattering’ and portrayed in such a way that it makes Bella feel safer. The idea that what he is doing is a sign of mental instability at the very least is, again, never considered. He is so powerful and so wonderful so he is attempting to protect Bella, and because the text is written like this, the readers have a sad tendency to ignore it.

In New Moon, Edward leaves Bella alone in the woods, where should could be hurt, and in an emotional state, but this is, again, never considered. Neither is the fact that his suicide could easily be seen as being emotionally manipulative. He loves her, and that tends to be all the thought that really comes into the book. The fact that it’s very possible that the reason that Edward is killing himself has nothing to do with the fact that Bella is dead and more to do with the fact that it’s all about his angst doesn’t really come to Meyer either.

The same holds true with Edward’s removing Bella’s engine, forcibly making Bella stay with his family and generally being a controlling jerk. Meyer has her rose colored glasses on and is seeing what he is doing as completely romantic.

There was no defense for Edward’s actions because, in the mind of Meyer and her readers, he didn’t need one, and if you thought that you did, you weren’t getting into the story right.

The second problem, and possible the greater one, is that Meyer doesn’t seem to know what she wants.

Is Edward supposed to be the perfect gentleman fantasy lover who will sweep you off of your feet and protect you from all problems, or is he the badboy that is misunderstood and tragic and needs to be redeemed? Or is he the dark, brooding, tragic figure from gothic romance?

Meyer decided to do everything at the same time, and she ended up with a murderous, stalking, controlling, arrogant monster who thought that by virtue of the fact that he was pretty, everyone owed him adoration, and there was nothing wrong with killing children because, hey, he was a vampire and he did what he wanted.

He needed to be redeemed, but at the same time, he needed to already be the perfect lover. He was dangerous, but always under control. He needed to be saved, but only from his sorrowful nature. He was guilty, but he had done nothing wrong. He went too far, but at the same time, he was always justified. He was charming, but also someone who made you feel nervous since he was a vampire. He was perfect, yet Bella needed to save him.

I guess Meyer and her fans wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

He’s just as empty as Bella, and ironically, that’s the reason that he’s so popular. He exists to be pretty, tortured, care about the Sue passionately, and that’s really about it. There is nothing to him that doesn’t exist for that role, and as such, the horrible things that he does are even worse because we’re supposed to see them as an ideal. This isn’t some deeply disturbed person who is attempting to regain something of humanity, gets told that that was creepy, and never does it again, because he can’t be. That would ruin the fantasy of his perfection.

And it’s all for the romance between him and Bella.

The Romance

In addition to all of this, there was another problem. The sheer inequality of the pairing.

Now, human and vampire can be done. There are a long line of stories involving supernatural grooms, and usually, unlike the animal/supernatural bride stories, they can even end happily. Normal girl+Monster guy have been the subject of books, manga and everything else since people started telling stories in caves.

However, there was usually something that the girl had, even if it was “Beauty and the Beast” and the fact that he needed her, which gave her a measure of power in the situation. Not only that, but often there is some kind of agreement between the two. Again, the girl has some agency and power over her own fate. This. Is. Important.

Edward, with his constantly shifting position between redeemable badboy and perfect lover, makes sure that Bella has no power, no agency and no way out even if she wanted to leave him. While fans like to talk about how he is protecting her, he’s also effectively blocking her off from friends and family and guarding her so that she cannot talk to anyone, and Bella has no defense against him. She doesn’t even have the will to stand him. Every time she tries to do something, he ‘dazzles’ her into submission.

What’s more, like with Bella, there is absolutely no evidence that he actually feels anything for her other than a fixation due to the fact that he can’t read her mind. In reality, he never knows anything about Bella. He starts pursuing her for no better reason than they he wants to eat her and can’t read her mind. While he stalks her for a bit, he claims to be in ‘love’ with her after only actually speaking to her a few times.

I would claim that in reality, Edward is in love with what Bella represents. At first, it’s the power dynamic. He loves that she’s weak. He loves that she tempts him. He loves that he could kill her at any time, and it makes him such a wonderful person to refuse to. He loves the power that he has, and he can’t bare failing, hence he leaves in book two. He honestly couldn’t care less about Bella’s feelings in the whole thing. This is about Edward, what a great guy he is and how well he protects Bella. If there is anything remotely selfless about it, it is the fact that he might think that by keeping Bella alive, he’s somehow making up for his body count, but I don’t that one.

I never saw any actual sorrow over that.

Also, he uses sex to control Bella. Now, I don’t have a problem with someone saying I don’t want to have sex with you until we’re married, either a guy or a girl. However, the entirety of Bella and Edward’s relationship can be summed up as they want to bang one another really really bad. If that’s the only motive behind the relationship, and you’re religious, or just don’t want to have sex, you might want to consider your relationship.

Fixing it

So, how does someone like Edward even get improved on? It doesn’t seem like there’s much there to work with, really.

Honestly, allow him to be flawed. Allow Bella to call Edward out on his being creepy, and for him to realize it. Show that, while he’s tried not to, Edward has been disconnected from humanity, and suddenly having to work with it again means he has to change. Let him at first be attracted to Bella because she reminds him of his lost humanity, and let it grow into actual, deeper love.

Let him have those outdated moral codes where he seems like a very old man in a teenager’s body. He grew up in the nineteen hundreds, he’s going to have some really weird ideas. Let him sometimes slip when he’s upset or excited and use really old slang because funny, and Bella gets confused by it.

Let him be a person in his own right, rather than an ideal of just a static character who essentially exists to be both redeemed and perfect. After all, once you get past any initial idealization (that the reader places on him) there’s really nothing to Edward’s character.

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