Is Twilight the wish-fulfillment fantasy to end all others?

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‘Twilight of the Gothic’ with Dr Joseph Crawford was an extraordinary prelude to our MA studies on the vampire and bridged the gap perfectly between vampire studies and YA fiction (my two modules and key areas of research). The talk was impassioned and persuasive and it inspired some interesting debate in the bar and in the classroom afterwards as we gathered for our MA workshop on ‘Varney the Vampire’. Whilst I depart from Joseph on his discussions of ‘otherness’ in recent YA fictions (which he finds too knowing and informed by identity politics) I am a huge fan of his theory on Twilight. He celebrates it for its oddity and purity, its lack of awareness re: archetypes and existing models, but most of all for its extreme wish fulfillment (narrated through the ordinary yet willful character of Bella). He delivered his thoughts on the appeal of Twilight with enormous passion and good humour and I loved every minute. I have extracted some of his argument from the book to share below:

Twilight is the wish-fulfillment fantasy to end all others. Its heroine Bella, seems to have no special qualities, she is not particularly good looking, rich, charming, athletic or intelligent, and she seems to have no unusual talents or skills […] yet by the end of the fourth book this utterly ordinary young woman, seemingly destined for a life of complete obscurity, has been blessed with enormous wealth, unlimited power, incredible beauty, superhuman strength, everlasting youth and the perfect and eternal love of the most beautiful man in the world, along with a devoted family and a daughter who is literally the most special and intelligent child on Earth. She earns all this not through any extraordinary feat of intelligence or skill, but simply by endlessly insisting that she should be allowed to have the things that she wants, and obstinately sticking to her demands no matter how insane or impossible they appear to be. Other characters always attempt to oppose her and reason with her, endlessly explaining that she cannot possibly have what she desires, and that she must compromise before it is too late; but Bella always persists in her demands, even when doing so seems to be killing her, until finally the universe yields and gives her what she wants. Bella’s gift turns out not to be the traditional romance heroine’s talents of wisdom, insight or compassion, but pure will in the service of pure appetite: no matter how much pain it causes her (or any one else), she simply wants and wants and wants until, finally, she is given everything that she could desire, just for being herself. The ordinary rags to riches Cinderella romance story has nothing on this (‘Twilight of the Gothic’, pp. 161-2).

If you were at the talk please do add a response. I am very happy to announce that Joseph will contribute to the ‘OGOM: Company of Wolves’ conference as many of the romances he has read (hundreds) cross over into werewolf territory. If you haven’t heard him speak yet you can catch him at UH again in 2015. Have a look too at the slides accompanying the ‘Twilight of the Gothic’ talk they contain some wonderful images of little-known vampire romances. You can also link to the Romantic Fiction Module Joseph teaches at Exeter.

Thanks so much Joseph. That was most fun I’ve had a UH research seminar!!

I’ll be in touch.

About Lucy Northenra

Senior Lecturer in Literature, University of Hertfordshire
This entry was posted in Events, Generation Dead: YA Fiction and the Gothic news, OGOM News, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Is Twilight the wish-fulfillment fantasy to end all others?

  1. firekrank says:

    It was a great talk – agreed! I am pleased to see a more positive view of Bella and also a real engagement with why the text struck a chord with so many readers.

    What struck me was that by making a choice about Edward (stay with him/ become a vampire), the rest of Bella’s world falls into place. Whilst I understand the concerns regarding agency and Bella’s perceived passivity, I would offer that for many readers who have been inundated with choices about their lives it may be satisfying to read a book where these choices are taken out of the protagonist’s hands. This is not to say that in the readers’ ‘real-world’ lives they will no longer want to make choices but that this form of escapism could be pleasurable by allowing them to imagine a simpler lifestyle.This single-mindedness can also be seen in key figures of male fantasy, ie, James Bond, whose sole aim is to complete the mission and everything else that happens (love interests, nice cars, dapper suits) is incidental and a bonus.

    (I am aware of the vast difference in these ‘male’ versus ‘female’ fantasy narratives but this seems a paradigm that pre-exists the Twilight series).

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