Thursday, April 2, 2009

Domestic Vampires: Domesticity in Twilight Part 1

I had planned to respond to a CFP that I was forwarded about Twilight. I had come up with an argument and taken several notes. But then, when I went to write the proposal, I realized that what I wanted to write about would not fit with what the editors wanted (youth, media, culture studies). I, of course, am interested in the domestic aspects of the novel (among other things), and since I won't be writing a chapter for a book (sigh), I am posting my ideas here.

I came across an article in the December 2008 issue of the Atlantic Monthly about Twilight called "What Girls Want" by Caitlin Flanagan in which she discusses the phenomenon of the series, their immense popularity, and their appeal for older readers like herself (and me!) In an almost throw-away comment, imbedded in a parenthetical aside she writes

"Bella is an old-fashioned heroine: bookish, smart, brave, considerate of other's feelings and naturally competent in the domestic arts (she immediately takes over the grocery shopping and cooking in her father's household, and there are countless weirdly compelling accounts of her putting dinner together - wrapping two potatoes in foil and popping them in a hot oven, marinating a steak, making a green salad...)" (112). (emphasis mine)

Bella is a domestic heroine, in an age in which domesticity has fallen out of favor. My argument is that the Twilight series may be read as a parable that re-inscribes nineteenth-century domestic ideology. If domestic fiction imagines the home as the acme of human bliss, then Meyer's work imagines that bliss to occur between the perfect, hyper-masculine (but ever-so sensitive) vampire Edward and the brave, smart, and domestic Bella.

Bella's domestic abilities make her oddly suited to be a Cullen and a vampire. The Cullen family is a model of old-fashioned domesticity - they are necessarily bound as a family and tied to their house, since each foray into the outside world is a risk of exposure. In Meyer's 5th addition to the series Midnight Sun, an early draft of which was leaked onto the internet, followed by Meyer posting an official pdf, a description of the Cullen family paints a picture of domestic leisure: Emmett and Jasper play an elaborate version of chess, Alice works on a design project for Rosalie's wardrobe, Rosalie herself tunes up her car, Esme "hums over a new set of blue prints," and Edward himself composes Bella's lullaby at the piano. An updated, modern image of the middle class domestic family at rest, gathered around the fire with their individual pursuits: reading, games, sewing, etc.

Clearly, there is more to say here, but I will leave that to a later post.... Comment! Please!