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.
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