Bella Swan Cullen #3

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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby December » Sun Jan 31, 2010 11:00 am

Mod’s Note:

Ok, folks: sorry about the delay. I’m reopening the thread now.

A few things to make clear.

1) as stated in the Sparkling Forum Posting Guidelines, this is not a debate thread. I really don’t know how many times I can repeat this!!!!! The point of this thread is to share our different views of Bella’s character, not try and prove that other people’s views are wrong. If you don’t understand someone else’s reasoning, by all means say so -- courteously! But argument and counter-argument are NOT what we’re here for. No points will be awarded for showing up your opponent. You will just irritate the mods and quite possibly a lot of other readers/posters who would like to talk about these issues in a less confrontational atmosphere.

2) Courtesy to the author. There’s nothing wrong with voicing intelligent criticism of Stephenie’s writing: her prose style, approach to characterization, narrative techniques, etc. No writer is perfect; even wonderful books can have serious flaws. BUT THERE IS NO CALL TO BE RUDE. If you can’t discuss the author without being snide about her, you need to take the conversation somewhere else. TONE MATTERS. COURTESY MATTERS. Everyone is welcome to their views, but you have to express them nicely. Consider this a question of House Style, if you will....

3) Postures of superiority. We all bring different expertise to these discussions. Academic training, professional qualifications in psychology or social work, parenting experience -- or simply being a teenager! Sharing that expertise is great -- it’s what we’re here for. Talking down to other posters, or behaving as though your expertise trumps theirs is not. THERE IS NO ONE PERSPECTIVE FROM WHICH WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE DISCUSSING THESE BOOKS OR THESE CHARACTERS. By all means, let’s look at Bella’s character from the standpoint of clinical psychology, or academic literary criticism, or how it’s illuminated by our own life experience -- but it will be a lot more fun if everyone shares their expertise with a little more humility. Whatever your approach, it’s just ONE of many ways of thinking about these characters. A little less contempt for other people, please....

And now...back to the discussion. Please keep these things in mind!
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby December » Sun Jan 31, 2010 12:05 pm

If you will all forgive me for slipping in here with a post of my own....For what it’s worth, I have to say I take Knives’ point about how little Bella’s inner life, as we are shown it, resembles that of an ordinarily, lively, inquisitive, bookish girl. Contrast her with, say, the Austen-obsessed heroine of Polly Shulman’s delightful YA novel Enthusiasm, and the difference is stark: this is not a mind teeming with original observations or wry literary allusions. You never get the sense of a girl who goes through life with the urgent ghosts of a dozen books dogging her every footstep and whispering in her ear. Yes, at pivotal moments, Bella thinks of literary protagonists whose predicament resemble of her own. Yes, she’s comfortable and competent drafting a (presumptively) well-written high-school English paper. But this isn’t a girl whose mind is filled with Milton, Shakespeare, Eliot and Dickens. This is a girl whose mind is filled with Edward Cullen.

And you know, I wonder if this is in fact the point -- why Stephenie ISN’T showing us the lively, literary intellect we are asked to believe in. Why Bella’s thoughts seem so stripped of richness and intellectual vigour. What we have here is the portrait of an obsession, of emotional and psychological possession so powerful it pretty much stuns Bella into a state of total preoccupation with Edward and Edward alone. Whether Stephenie did this deliberately or not, I can’t say; but there’s no doubt that it’s an effective way of depicting the “intense private little bubble” of romantic obsession her lovers are bound in. So it doesn't bother me, or feel like authorial failure.

I should perhaps emphasize that in saying this, I’m not making a judgement about whether there’s something unhealthy about Bella’s preoccupation with Edward. The way I read this story, that isn't really the right question to ask in the first place -- any more than one should enquire into Snow White’s mental health. For me, Twilight is a fairy story. Realist considerations don’t apply.

And this is of course the other reason why artistically, there’s a point to leaving Bella’s inner life so stripped-down of the concrete particulars which would make a convincing portrait of a bright intellectual girl. Bella, as JG observes, is an archetypal heroine, deliberately under-specified to allow every girl to project herself into the character’s place. Not to say that readers don’t identify with fully-drawn characters in realist novels; but by her own account, that’s not what Stephenie set out to create. Bella was deliberately constructed as a placeholder, like a character from Arthurian legend or Greek myth. So I’m just not sure whether the standards of realist-novel characterization apply. Maybe we need to think of Bella’s bookishness more like Homeric epithet: Far-throwing Zeus or Brilliant Agamemnon. An attribute which sets up this mythic character in its place. We don't expect to be shown Agamemnon's brilliance though constant repartee -- it's not that kind of story. Perhaps the same goes for Bella?

Just a thought....
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby Jazz Girl » Sun Jan 31, 2010 2:39 pm

December~ And a thought with which I heartily agree. While I spend a great deal of time and words defending Bella and her thoughts and feelings, and even sometimes her actions, when it comes down to it, in a way, it's because I am defending myself, you, my sisters, my friends, every woman who has put herself in Bella's shoes and found that they could not only completely understand why Bella thinks as she does, feels as she does, reacts as she does, but that they would also think, feel and react in exactly the same way. Yes, this is a fairytale. I have made the argument so many times. When you are looking at, evaluating, critiquing these characters, one absolutely cannot fail to account for the supernatural circumstances woven throughout. I think it also often explains the...passion and....occasional defensiveness we see on the main character threads. In a way, when we see them attacked, we see ourselves attacked as well. And so, we defend, vehemently. Bella maybe a placeholder, the barest construction of a fascinating character. But, she is holding the place so many of us imagine ourselves occupying.
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby holdingoutforjacob » Sun Jan 31, 2010 4:14 pm

Beautifully put, December.

I agree with you both, but I'd like to add something. I think we see in Bella, or at least I do, our own weaknesses. This is why we feel a need to vehemently defend her, or sometimes, as I do, a real disgust with her. I can read Twilight in very small installments, because she just frustrates me so much. And I think the reason I can't really articulate my issue with her is precisely what December so accurately described - she's not real. She's trumped up as this "real" girl, this heroine. But why? Because she has weaknesses? Because she has great strengths, according to some? These qualities do not a real girl make. All she is are these weaknesses and strengths and Edward. There's nothing in between. Nothing about her that's not designed solely to carry the story forward. I've heard the Twilight Saga characterized as a "character story" many times, but that's definitely inaccurate. The main focus of this story is not the characters in their relationships, it's simply the relationships.

Also, while I agree that this is a fairy tale, and so we have to remember that, I think it's also interesting, since we live in the real world, to draw real world parallels, as long as we continue to acknowledge the difference. Like "it's cool that in the story Bella did this, but in the real world, I would do that."
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby December » Sun Jan 31, 2010 7:35 pm

Jazzgirl wrote: it's because I am defending myself, you, my sisters, my friends, every woman who has put herself in Bella's shoes and found that they could not only completely understand why Bella thinks as she does, feels as she does, reacts as she does, but that they would also think, feel and react in exactly the same way.... In a way, when we see them attacked, we see ourselves attacked as well. And so, we defend, vehemently. Bella maybe a placeholder, the barest construction of a fascinating character. But, she is holding the place so many of us imagine ourselves occupying.

Yes indeed. Even if you can say to yourself: "I know this is only fantasy," one can feel a little shamefaced about responding to the fantasy. Particularly when asked in incredulous tones (whether by other people or a little inner voice of your own) "you mean this really appeals to you?" And as you say, it's not all fantasy either: lots of us can relate to aspects of Bella's personality. And probably have mixed feelings about this -- hardly surprising, considering how contested, and in flux, our society's notion of what women should be is. This is surely why posters have been passionately drawn to these topics for as long as the Lex has been around: what we're exploring is ourselves and who we want to be. And why it's so perilously easy to tread on someone else's toes, and put them on the defensive, in a seemingly innocuous discussion about a book. When of course what is actually called for in such a personal conversation is mutual openness, sympathy and trust. (I know, easier said than done! But it remains worth striving for...).

hofj wrote:Also, while I agree that this is a fairy tale, and so we have to remember that, I think it's also interesting, since we live in the real world, to draw real world parallels, as long as we continue to acknowledge the difference. Like "it's cool that in the story Bella did this, but in the real world, I would do that."

I couldn't agree more . In truth, there are so many different conversations prompted by this story.... What we think about the real-world issues it raises (your example). How we make sense of the story in its own mythic terms (eg. is Jake a true second love interest, or better seen as the embodiment of the humanity Bella is sacrificing?). What we think Stephenie was trying to do in the story (is this fluffy romance or morality tale? realist novel or fairy story?). What conclusions we think she is asking us to draw from it -- not so much at the level of practical real-world lessons, but as a moral fable. (And most escape fiction works this way: we can admire pirate derring-do and courage without supposing that insane risks are a good recipe for ordinary life). Whether we think Stephenie has succeeded as a writer in what she set out to do.... All extremely interesting questions. The trick is just to be clear about which one we're talking about at any given moment!

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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby December » Mon Feb 01, 2010 7:48 pm

Um, didn't mean to kill the conversation dead....

Anyone want to take a stab at answering Knives' last question, which I take it was roughly:

Is Bella's failure to adequately describe Edward to do with HER (she can't find the right words/just isn't good at description/some other personal trait of the character) or to do with the author -- whether her own shortcoming (Stephenie couldn't find the right words) or a deliberate device (she wanted the reader to insert their own fantasy man)?
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby Jazz Girl » Mon Feb 01, 2010 9:49 pm

I will copy and paste my previous answer, just in case it was lost in the...passion.

As for Bella's inability to adequately describe Edward, that was, I believe a very specific and intentional literary device used by SM. Although, I we actually do have a fairly detailed description of him. It just takes several novels to put it all together. Just as Bella's description of herself is rather generic, thus allowing every young woman who reads the saga to envision herself as the heroine, SM's (and therefore Bella's) description of Edward is equally as allowing of developing one's own internal vision of him as well. While laying the groudwork for the "ideal" partner, it also allows us to fill in some of the details with preferences of our own. It is, afterall, one of the reasons why Robert Pattinson was initially so doubted for the role. He wasn't "their" Edward. No one could really decided on what he would look like. I personally think he is Edward, to a t. But, that's another story altogether.
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby marielle » Tue Feb 02, 2010 3:35 am

December wrote:Is Bella's failure to adequately describe Edward to do with HER (she can't find the right words/just isn't good at description/some other personal trait of the character) or to do with the author -- whether her own shortcoming (Stephenie couldn't find the right words) or a deliberate device (she wanted the reader to insert their own fantasy man)?


I really don't think it is Bella's Failure or that it has anything to do with SM writing, or deliberate.
I have spend a lot of my time writing with penpalls and it's unbelievable difficult to write down a proper description of somebody... most of the time you have to experience being around that person before you totally understand.
I can write down in detail how I see my boyfriend and his crazy characteristics, but nobody will understand before they really have been there when he is acting crazy, even his best friends doesn't understand....
The way Bella describes Edward, is the way SM saw him in her dream and how her fantasy saw him... that is even more difficult to put on paper because you haven't really been with that person..
to defend my point even more, try to put on paper why Johnny depp or Rob P. is the most beautiful, handsome and hottest guy in the world so that somebody who lives in Africa without television, theatre or managzine, will understand...I couldn't do it...
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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby December » Tue Feb 02, 2010 4:47 am

Oops, my apologies, JG. I did read your reply the first time -- and as soon as you reposted I remembered it! But it's nice anyway to have it out here in plain sight, disentangled from all the other complicated discussion it was embedded in. I'm an idiot. Thanks for reposting!

You can probably guess that I'm inclined to agree with you here. Twilight is deliberately constructed to tell us a lot more about Bella's interior, almost heartbeat by heartbeat, emotional experience than about the actual world around her. We're not hearing about Edward, but about Bella's stunned perception of him. It's one of the reasons the book is so mesmerizing: Stephenie is brilliant at conjuring up for us -- pulling us into -- Bella's breathless state of infatuation. So that paradoxically, we don't actually need a vivid picture of Edward to vividly picture Bella's obsession with him. Knives is right that in general it's not very effective writing to tell readers things instead of showing them. I think what is going on here, for those readers who DO succumb to Stephenie's storytelling -- and I recognize there are readers totally immune to its spell! -- is that although Stephenie doesn't give us a very rich account of Edward's particular charm, beauty, cleverness (though she does sketch it for us), she certainly paints a powerful portrait of Bella's obsession with him. THIS is what she is is showing, and not telling, and she shows it very effectively. There are a hundred ways in which a poor writer can lamely tell us that her heroine is head-over-heels in love with the hero, and her protestations will lie inert and unconvincing on the page. But Stephenie totally succeeds in persuading us -- writing for us -- Bella's obliterating fixation on Edward. (And I could go on at length about the means by which I think she achieves this).

It's not quite the usual novelist's project. But -- to my mind at least -- she totally pulls it off. We may not see WHY Bella should be transfixed by Edward to the point of irrationality, but we believe it. At least, I do. I'd be curious, Knives, to know if you find this less convincing -- if Bella's professed infatuation itself rings untrue to you. Whether you find yourself thinking "I don't believe in ANY of this: it's simply words on a page".

On reflection....I think Marielle has a point here as well. Bella's inability to paint us a good word-picture of Edward is itself a symptom of her desperate fascination. He dazzles her to the point of inarticulacy -- whether because his vampire good looks and graces actually defy all description, or simply because she's stunned by infatuation. It's a shrewd portrait of romantic obsession: lovers' raptures about their beloved are notoriously vague and empty. That blank at the heart of the story is not just an overarching literary device; it's a means of depicting character. Precisely by telling and not showing us Edward, Stephenie is in fact showing us Bella.

Now whether this rather accurate bit of character-description bores the pants off you as a reader is another question. I have some sympathy with readers who don't want to be drawn into Bella's adolescent experiences, who think the idea of spending a day in the company of a girl rendered speechless with fascination for a boy comes close to their notion of hell. Twilight is not the book for you. But perhaps you can see what other readers might be getting out of it?

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Re: Bella Swan Cullen #3

Postby Jazz Girl » Tue Feb 02, 2010 1:40 pm

December~ I couldn't agree more. Another aspect of it, I think, is that idea that, no matter how thoroughly we might think to describe that person that holds our heart, mind and soul, those words never really seem to be enough. They don't ever fully capture that person's beauty of heart, beauty of soul, beauty of mind, or beauty of face. So, in the end, the choice is, in our hearts, to do them disservice by trying, or simply to let it remain at "beyond words". Given that choice, I choose "beyond words".

I think this also brings to bear another reason why many of us so powerfully identify with Bella and, at the same time, defend Edward. Because we are taken directly into her heart and witness this love, almost from the inside of her emotions, t is clear that Bella loves this man beyond all reason despite his (to us) quite obvious faults. We see as she sees past the things that he believes makes him a monster to see the gentleman underneath. In that, we not only see and experience and live Bella's true goodness, but also that there must be something of worth and value that this young woman sees that makes him deserve for her to love him in that way. It is another reason why we don't really need (although again, I think we do get over the course of the saga) a detailed description of him. We don't need a categorized and color coded list with bullet points as to why they love each other. We know that we do because we watch it happen from her heart (and his too, in a certain set of circumstances).
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