Rebecca Takes On Twilight

Two summers ago, I felt the need to see what all the fuss regard­ing the Stephanie Meyers Twilight series was about, as so many of my students were abuzz with obses­sive fandom or vitri­olic crit­i­cism — or some­times, strangely, both. I opened the first novel, and two weeks, three books, and 1,700 pages later, came up for air.

My assess­ment: the novels are over­writ­ten in mediocre prose and center on an annoy­ingly passive and petu­lant victim of a heroine, Bella.

I also found them utterly addictive.

I am a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the HBO series True Blood, as well, neither of which qual­i­fies as high art. So what is it about the vampire mythol­ogy that contin­ues to seduce such a large (mostly female) audience?

I decided to take on this ques­tion in my junior/​senior Women’s Liter­a­ture class, in which the students and I are explor­ing the Gothic Roman­tic tradi­tion through a variety of texts. We are start­ing the year with an exam­i­na­tion of the darker aspects of fairy tales, then moving on to a series of novels written by women, from Jane Austen’s satiric take on the genre, Northanger Abbey, to two unapolo­get­i­cally roman­tic clas­sics: Jane Eyre, by Char­lotte Brontë and Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier. We will end the semes­ter with modern and contem­po­rary takes on the Gothic tradi­tion, from the short fiction of Flan­nery O’ Connor to the poetry of Louise Glück.

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Many of the hero­ines in these texts can be every bit as passive as Bella (think Sleep­ing Beauty’s hundred year coma), but all exer­cise their agency in subtle and surpris­ing ways in spite of social constraints. And let’s face it: so many of us are still drawn to the dark myster­ies, whether in the form of raven­ous vampires, or the inscrutable psychol­ogy of a love inter­est, or the depths of a shadowy forest.

–Rebecca Figueroa, High School English Teacher