I am a Bella Hater: Feminism in Literature

Bella Meme

I was tooling around on GoodReads the other day, and I came across a discussion thread entitled Twilight:  Do You Think People Were Too Hard on this Book?  I am very anti-Twilight, as I will explain below, so I had to admit I was intrigued.  Too hard on this bookOh yeah, I gotta see this.  What do other people think of that refuse…

Turns out the reader who started the discussion brought up two distinct points:  a) the fact that Twi-hards the world over are now lambasting the series when just five minutes ago, they had been voraciously devouring the books, and b) the series really isn’t that bad.  Not great, but not bad.

I thought the first point, in particular, was interesting because I have also witnessed this very trend.  People go “goo-goo-ga-ga” over some new “thing,” be it a book, movie, musical style, etc…, and after they burn themselves out on it, the “thing” becomes lame, corny, and ridiculous, and the former die-hards never liked it to begin with.

I immediately flashed on the movie Titanic as an example of this trend I have witnessed.  I was 16 when the film came out in 1997 (yes, I’m old), and I remember the explosion of Titanic fanfare quite vividly.  I remember hearing stories on the news and reading them in magazines about obsessed fans who went to see the film 20 times in theaters.  The title song, My Heart Will Go On, was on the radio 200 times a day, complete with versions cut to include dialogue from the movie, and yes, I checked:  it is still Celine Dion’s biggest selling single of all time.  You couldn’t walk into any store without seeing some form of Jack and Rose or Titanic merchandise, and some poor real-life crew member, named J. Dawson, who did not survive the real Titanic disaster and is buried in one of the main cemeteries for the victims, had his headstone turned into a shrine overnight.

Fast forward two or three years, and suddenly, Titanic is lame.  Jack and Rose were stupid – why didn’t she let him climb up onto that door at the end anyway – and My Heart Will Go On is now used as soundtrack for corny.  In 2012, Cameron re-released the film as a 3-D masterpiece, and while it performed well, it only grossed $343 million worldwide.  That compares to the $2 billion the movie earned during its initial release.

It went from being the most romantic moment in the movie... to one of the most mocked.  This is what burnout does to  the "It" trend in pop culture.

It went from being the most romantic moment in the movie… to one of the most mocked. This is what burnout does to the “It” trend in pop culture.

So yes, I believe Point A as outlined by the reader above.  I think there are plenty of former Twi-hards out there, who lived and breathed Twilight five years ago, and now, can’t be bothered.  And I don’t think it has to do with the release of the films, as some of the commenters on the thread postulated.  I really think it is just plain ol’ burnout.  Kinda hard not to suffer it when you’re surrounded by Twilight everywhere you go.

But there was Point B as well.  The discussion starter doesn’t think the Twilight series are a great set of books, but they aren’t as bad as “the haters” claim.  And I think that point leads to her main idea in the discussion thread – are the haters really too harsh?  Are the books as bad as the haters make them out to be?

I am not, as I mentioned, a Twilight fan.  I did get through all four books, although it took some prodding from Twi-hard friends to finish the fourth one.  I was done with Edward and Bella about halfway through that book, and quit.  But two of my girlfriends, who enjoyed the books, insisted I go back and finish.  The ending will be worth it, they told me.

Uh huh.  I got through it, I will admit.  But we all have different definitions of “worth it.”

Anyway, I am not a Twilight fan because, yes, I am a Bella Hater.  I could not stand her – sniveling, weak, pathetic, and yes, she set feminism back about 50 years with her Edward obsession.  This girl had no aspirations for her life aside from being with a glittery vampire.  She didn’t want to go to college, have friends, do anything productive with her life.  She wanted to be with Edward.  End of story.  I commented on that in my reply to the discussion, and then went back to A Natural History of Dragons: Memoir by Lady Trent #1 by Marie Brennan, where the independent, iron-willed, intelligent, and thoroughly capable heroine, Isabella, is the antithesis of Bella in every way, and therefore, a character I respect and admire.

The first book in a series about natural historian, Lady Isabella Trent, has a strong, self-assured, and independent female lead.  The only thing she shares in common with Twilight's Bella is her first name...

The first book in a series about natural historian, Lady Isabella Trent, has a strong, self-assured, and independent female lead. The only thing she shares in common with Twilight’s Bella is her first name…

Women don’t need to be weak and sniveling.  They can be strong, fierce, independent, and they can still fall in love.  And have a satisfying relationship with their partner.  And want to do more with their lives than be half of a relationship.  Isabella is doing it and so is Vin, the heroine in Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, of which Book 2 – The Well of Ascension – I just finished.  The last adjectives you can apply to either of these women is “weak,” “pathetic,” or “sniveling.”

But then I went back and read some of the comments pouring in on this thread after I posted my own.  One reader mentioned that Bella is a weak character, and there should be nothing wrong with that.  We have good characters, bad characters, strong characters, evil characters, etc…, and we follow their stories.  Why not a weak character?

Hmmm…. Yes, that is true.  We do have many a story out there told from the perspective of the less-than-ideal.  Look at most of the works written by Edgar Allan Poe.  His heroes were either mentally insane or sociopathic criminals.  And their stories are considered classic literature.  We have stories told from the perspective of those we cannot like or admire.  I think of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl in this case.  Nick and Amy Dunne?  Sheesh.  You couldn’t have picked two less likable characters and stuck them in a book.  And how many countless books and stories have been told from the perspective of a flawed character?  I just finished North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, in which both main characters can definitely be considered flawed.

So yes, you can tell a story with a weak protagonist.  But there is a fine line between a weak protagonist who is still gripping enough to follow and a weak protagonist you don’t care one whit about.  Your weak hero does not have to overcome their deficiencies (Gone Girl again) but you do have to make them or their situation interesting enough to keep you, as a reader, engaged.  I feel it is so much more difficult to get into a story with characters I don’t like, so for me to stick with them, their story has to be interesting in some other way.  Their circumstances.  Their struggle with their personality flaws.  The effect they have on their surroundings and other characters.  Those are all elements that will keep me immersed in a world with despicable protagonists if the characters themselves don’t grab me.

Amy Dunne - the lead in Gone Girl - is an awful character, but her circumstances and the story is so interesting, you keep reading.  Not the case with Twilight.

Amy Dunne – the lead in Gone Girl – is an awful character, but her circumstances are so interesting, and the story so gripping, you keep reading.  Not the case with Twilight.

And, at the risk of pissing off those Twi-hards who still passionately adore the books, I will say, I don’t think Stephenie Meyer pulled that off.  Furthermore, I don’t think she intended Bella to be viewed as weak.  I think Meyer wanted Bella to be likable, and admirable, and relatable, and I say that because Bella’s personality flaws were never an issue in the story.  Bella’s weak character was never a plot point that kept her and Edward apart, or stirred up drama.  The fact that he could crush her into smithereens while stroking her cheek, the fact he questioned the existence of his soul, and the fact the ruling vampires said he couldn’t be with a human girl – those are the obstacles I remember in Edward and Bella’s relationship.

So I don’t see Bella as an Amy Dunne or a Margaret Hale (from North and South).  I see her as a poor attempt at an admirable female lead.  And I think there are many, many, many other books out there that contain all the excitement of Twilight with stronger female characters, more interesting female characters, and yes, more flawed and believable female characters (Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, anyone?).

About jnglcat21

An aspiring writer who has a deep love for animals, tall ships, books, and anything that is 3,000 or more years old
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