As most careful readers of the Twilight series know, there is a literary work that gets mentioned in each of the later volumes that explains the story.
For New Moon, we have Romeo and Juliet. That’s easy.
For Breaking Dawn, there’s The Merchant of Venice. A courtroom drama, where a woman acts bravely to save her doomed lover’s life. I won’t spoil it for those of you waiting to see the final movie next year, but the reference is accurate.
The one that stumped me, though, was Eclipse — for which the corresponding literary work is Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.
I couldn’t recall much about Wuthering Heights since loathing it in high school. But when I mentioned the Bronte novel to my wife, she gave me a certain look — and a low, pleasurable moan — that made me feel sure I’d missed something important.
Like most men, I felt I’d rather spend a week at a crafts fair than re-read Wuthering Heights. But my curiosity got the better of me. I devoured it in one weekend.
For those of you who faked reading Wuthering Heights in high school, it’s about Catherine — an impulsive, rather obnoxious young woman; and Heathcliff — her cruel, depressed, brooding but loyal lifelong friend. In the novel, Catherine marries someone else, then Healthcliff spends the rest of the book making everyone miserable, and all the major characters die prematurely.
Re-reading Wuthering Heights, I wondered what connection Stephenie Meyer intended between Twilight and the Bronte novel. There’s an incestuous dimension in both books – Jacob and Heathcliff are both “brother” characters. Both of them love the heroine deeply, but neither of them gets to sleep with her. That works.
But I still wasn’t satisfied. Despite a lingering worry that I was spending too much energy examining pop culture for deep psychological meaning, I continued to puzzle over the two books. I re-read Daphne Merkin’s introduction to my edition of Wuthering Heights, where she suggests that Bronte’s novel is fundamentally about Fate. That led me to thinking –
Maybe Bella is Heathcliff.
One of Heathcliff’s distinguishing qualities is that he wants too much. He wants Catherine, and he wants to own and control everyone else. In the end, though, he finally gets what he wants. After he dies, he gets buried next to Catherine. And his stepson and Catherine’s daughter end up finding happiness together. Fate decides in his favor.
Throughout the later Twilight books, Bella keeps bemoaning that she wants too much. The two men in her life, Jacob and Edward, are each other’s natural enemies. But Bella won’t give either of them up.
She hates herself for this. She knows she’s being selfish. But even when she marries Edward, she can’t let Jacob go.
In the end, though, it turns out she didn’t want too much after all. Everything works out.
In fact, everything works out precisely BECAUSE Bella wanted too much. If Bella hadn’t wanted so much, the vampires and werewolves wouldn’t have formed an alliance, and their individual forces would have been insufficient to counter far greater dangers. Bella made everything work, because of the force of her wanting. She’s an agent of Fate.
In Breaking Dawn, again it seems as if Bella wants too much. She wants to keep the vampire baby that’s growing inside her, even though the pregnancy seems certain to kill her.
But again she’s an agent of Fate. The child turns out to be transformative, and the whole community gets saved. All because Bella doesn’t back off from what she wants.
In an earlier article, What does a woman want?,” I suggested that most women possess a certain kind of integrative capacity that allows them to see how “everything fits together.”
As I wrote, this aspect of a woman’s thinking is somewhat foreign to the average man. He’s more selective about what he thinks about. Many men complain that their wives seem to want “everything.”
Many contemporary women worry about this too. They wonder whether it’s OK to “want it all.” A recent book, The Nine Rooms of Happiness, attempts to teach women to compartmentalize enough to be happy even if “everything” isn’t in order.
In Twilight, over and over again, Bella’s failure to compartmentalize appears to be her ruin. She bemoans her inability to turn off any of her wishes.
But in the end it’s her tenaciousness in the service of wanting “everything” that saves the day.
This often turns out to be true in real life as well. A man can be very fortunate to have a strong-willed wife.