[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]
In her essay, Vaught addresses one of the most common complaints about Twilight:
Edward Cullen may be super hot, but he’s a totally scary sociopath and it’s irresponsible to be glamorizing him as a romantic ideal for impressionable teens.
Vaught categorizes Edward’s behavior throughout the Saga as indicative of a deeply disturbed individual. However, she concludes that these sociopathic tendencies are mitigated by Edward’s remorse for how his behavior has affected others and how hard he tries to make amends, even if his efforts are sometimes misguided.
This essay made me think of this list of traits that classify Edward as a textbook abusive boyfriend. Unlike a lot of Twilight readers, I don’t think I ever fancied myself in love with Edward. I didn’t like how condescending and manipulative he could be. However, I felt that despite being kind of a jerk, Edward was redeemed by his love for Bella. Then I feel guilty, because that’s generally the excuse that most abusers give for their behavior (I can’t help it! I love you so much!).
Is Edward actually changed and improved by his love for Bella? I would argue that once Bella becomes a vampire in Breaking Dawn, he is forced to behave better by the leveled playing field. Bella has unlocked her total power of agency at this point. So he could try to be controlling and prevent her from doing as she likes, but there’s fat chance of him getting his way if she is unwilling. To quote the great Amelia Peabody, “Marriage should be a balanced stalemate between equal adversaries” and having created his equal, Edward has elected to rid himself of his unfair control over Bella. That seems to be pretty concrete evidence that Edward has been improved by his love for Bella.
There are other issues that are definitely missing here, but I feel like it’s unfair to scrap Edward entirely. Whether Edward is a sociopath or an abusive boyfriend can be argued either way. The same goes for whether using Edward as a romantic model for teens will result in abusive relationships with sociopaths.
I wouldn’t say that the books champion unhealthy relationships as an end goal, but instead assert a familiar trope of a lost soul redeemed by its soulmate. Does this mean we rationalize behaviors in Edward that we would see as red flags in real life? Absolutely. Heck, it may actually serve as a jumping off point for moms and daughters to talk about what behaviors are okay for potential suitors and which ones are not.
I feel like it’s okay to both allow ourselves to swoon over Edward being jealous of Bella and Jacob and, in the next breath, criticize Edward for breaking Bella’s truck in an attempt to prevent her from seeing whomever she damn well pleases.