The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

A New Dawn part 11: “Edward, Heathcliff, and Our Other Secret Boyfriends” by Robin Brande March 24, 2010

M[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.]

Just the title of this one made me smile. Growing up a shy, bookish girl, I can definitely say that I got a lot of my romantic preferences from books. Brande compares Edward Cullen to some of the leading men in the novels that influenced the Twilight Saga and argues that he wipes the floor with them.

I’ve already spoken my piece on Heathcliff (or as Brande calls him “Scary Psycho Man”). Brande, Edward, and I are both completely confused by Bella and the other Heathcliff lovers out there. To torture his beloved’s husband, Heathcliff marries his sister and proceeds to strangle her dog and treat her so abominably she has to run away. After she’s dead, he goes out of his way to torment their son (they had sex?! EW!) to an early death. Just…No. Not attractive at all.

To me, it seems unlikely that Edward is supposed to be Heathcliff. Instead he is supposed to be Edgar, while Jacob is Heathcliff. Heathcliff didn’t get the girl. Edgar did. Heathcliff turned into a wolf and ran away for months and months…oh wait, Jacob did that. Heathcliff disappeared for years to regions unknown. Then he goes insane when Cathy is destroyed by her torn affections and dies. See what I mean? What if Edward hadn’t gotten the girl? I think the fact that he can behave himself may have something to do with that fact.

Brande finds Romeo a bit more acceptable, but not exactly up to Edward’s level. Mainly because Romeo ends up snuffing it so early. Sure he married Juliet, but their romance ended up being a wham, bam, thank you ma’am, didn’t it? Bella admits she “kind of had a thing for Romeo” in New Moon. What is with this girl? She clearly has terrible taste in men.

Pride and Prejudice‘s Mr. Darcy gives Edward a run for his money. It’s no surprise since, Meyer says that Twilight was loosely based on the Austen masterpiece. Brande herself has a thing for Mr. Darcy, calling him “Mr. Perfect” and admitting in her bio at the end that she “threw herself into a three-day binge of Carcy-infused chick flicks.” Bella never mentions P&P as one of her favorites, but she does mention reading some Austen novels in Twilight. I’m sure Mr. Darcy is probably pretty high up on her list too.

Though I agree with Brande’s assessment that Darcy is markedly better than either Heathcliff or Romeo, I’m still stymied by the fact that both he and Edward are arrogant @$$hats sometimes. She admits that they need “a good smack upside the head,” but argues that they eventually mend their ways once they give into true love. They just need a couple chances to get it right.

Brande thinks that Edward beats out all three of these classic heros. They were the “secret boyfriends” to thousands of women throughout the years. Clearly they were Mrs. Meyer’s secret boyfriends too and she appears to have taken the good qualities of all her favorite leading men and knitted together over the series to create the UBER Fictional Boyfriend that is Edward Cullen. Brande and millions of ladies thank her.

I can find little fault with the main argument of the essay. Clearly, Edward’s attractive qualities have roots in the romantic leads that have captured the hearts and minds of women for centuries. I don’t find these heros as attractive as many other women seem to, but to each her own. Maybe I’ll do a follow up post on my secret boyfriends of ficiton…

What really caught my attention is that Brande repeatedly calls Edward honest. Huh? I agree that he’s pretty up front with the declarations of love. In Brande’s words, “Romeo had his pretty soliloquies, and Darcy can say a lot once he gets going, but no one gives you the blow-by-blow, this-is-why-I-love-you the way Edward does.” However, he’s not so up front about other things.

Anyone who’s read Midnight Sun knows that Edward’s got a manipulative streak. Sure the whole Angela/Ben matchmaking thing is cute on the face of it, but it’s obvious controlling behavior as well. Earlier in the essay, Brande cites Edward’s refusal to make Bella choose between him and Jacob as a sign of his rationality (Jacob can protect her and make her happy), but from where I sit it looks like really skillful manipulation. By not forcing Bella’s hand, he makes himself look angelic and makes Bella feel like crap for having feelings for Jacob.

Jacob calls Edward out before the new born battle in Eclipse. When Jacob realizes what a skillful player Edward is, he tries to follow suit. He’s not winning by being honest, time to change strategies. Being both honest and inexperienced, the manipulation is so shoddy, we see it immediately. The whole “suicide by vamp” play for affection and smooches really ticked me off – like it did a lot of readers. However I kind of appreciated that his attempts at manipulation had an ugly clang, especially in comparison to Smooth Criminal Cullen. Edward is so good, he’s even manipulated the readers into being on his side!

It also royally pissed me off at the end of New Moon when Bella can’t believe that Edward still loves her and Edward turns it back, acting hurt because she had so little faith in his love. “You believed me so easily!” he accuses. Ugh. Excuse me! Can anyone say gaslighting? Ah, yes. The classic technique of romantic and platonic emotional abusers the world over. Enough about your feelings, how do you think I felt when you reacted negatively to me being mean to you?!

Honest? Up front? Not our Edward Cullen.


Wuthering Blights March 10, 2010

Furze aka Gorse, a spiny plant found on the English Moors frequented by the ghosts of Catherine and Heathcliff.

Wuthering Heights might be one of my least favorite classics. So, why have I read it so many times? I honestly couldn’t tell you.

7abibi recently brought to my attention a Lewis Black sketch about candy corn:

I’ll never forget the first time my mother gave me candy corn. She said, “Here – Lewis, this is candy corn. It’s corn that tastes like candy.” [high-pitched scream] This tastes like crap! And every year since then, Halloween has returned and I, like an Alzheimer’s patient, find myself in the room, and the room has a big table in it, and on the table is a bowl of candy corn. And I look at it as if I’ve never seen it before. “Candy corn”, I think. “Corn that tastes like candy. I can’t wait.” Son of a bitch!!

This is me and Wuthering Heights.

The first time I read it, I think I was in sixth or seventh grade. My dad despaired of my fantasy addiction and wanted me to break out of the Young Adult section and into adult literature (adult as in grown up; not “adult” as in pornographic). He probably could have found a drearier book…but not by much. I hated every moment of Wuthering Heights. It took me ages to finish, mostly because I kept reading other, more exciting books in the process.

I read it again in high school, thinking that maybe my first reading was marred by the fact that I was too young to understand the love story or that I was not yet a good enough reader to comprehend the flowery prose. By that time, I was a great believer in the Austen Canon and was on the look out for more Great Books by Women. Unfortunately, I hated it. Again.

I tried to read Wuthering Heights in college when an English professor referred to Catherine and Heathcliff as an example of great lovers in literature. I still didn’t get it. Sure, the language is beautiful. There are some great lines:

“You are a dog in the manger, Cathy, and desire no one to be loved but yourself!”
– Isabella Linton

“Tell her what Heathcliff is: an unreclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone.”
– Catherine Earnshaw Linton

“By God!  Mr. Linton, I’m mortally sorry that you are not worth knocking down!”
– Heathcliff

“He might as well plant an oak in a flower-pot, and expect it to thrive, as imagine he can restore her to vigour in the soil of his shallow cares.”
– Heathcliff

“You and Edgar have broken my heart, Heathcliff!  And you both come to bewail the deed to me, as if you were the people to be pitied!  I shall not pity you, not I. You have killed me–and thriven on it.”
– Catherine Earnshaw Linton

This passage especially sums up a particular brand of black melancholy that comes over me from time to time:

“[Heathcliff] yielded completely; and there was no prevailing on him to take a step in the way of moving upward, when he found he must, necessarily, sink beneath his former level. Then personal appearance sympathised with mental deterioration: he acquired a slouching gait and ignoble look; his naturally reserved disposition was exaggerated into an almost idiotic excess of unsociable moroseness; and he took a grim pleasure, apparently, in exciting the aversion rather than the esteem of his few acquaintance.”
– Ellen “Nelly” Dean

If I enjoyed any part of this read through, it was finding in Heathcliff someone more savage than myself at the moment. I may have bouts of irascibility, pessimism, and utter self-immolation. The Scottish thistle is deep in my genes. But I am not so far gone as Heathcliff.

Ultimately, my summary of Wuthering Heights goes like this:
Awful people are awful to each other for YEARS and then they die.
The end.

Imagine my chagrin when Wuthering Heights took me in again just yesterday!

I blame Twilight. In Eclipse, we learn that Bella has read Wuthering Heights so many times its binding is creased and the pages are dog-eared. Edward, like me, can’t understand why she reads it over and over, saying “It isn’t a love story, it’s a hate story.”

As you can probably tell, I’m inclined to agree. Despite Bella’s insistence that Catherine and Heathcliff are supposed to have no good qualities and the point of the novel is that they are redeemed only by their love, I still can’t be persuaded to like Wuthering Heights. Catherine is obnoxious,Heathcliff is sadistic, and they make a good go at destroying everyone around them for their “great love.”

Wuthering Heights was re-released in the US and UK last year with Twilight-esque covers that bore the line "Bella and Edward's favorite book!"

Stephenie Meyer has said Eclipse is based in part on Wuthering Heights. I think rereading the latter helped me gain some insight to the former I might not have had otherwise. The Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle is clearly similar to Emily Bronte’s Catherine-Heathcliff-Edgar. Although I’m not positive who is supposed to be Heathcliff in Eclipse. Is it Edward, because his love trumps any other responsibilities he might have, but will eventually turn Bella into a monster? Is it Jacob, because he loses Bella in the end to the wealthy, elite Edward and then disappears into his wolf self for months on end? What is Meyer trying to say about love if her examples are taken from Romances of Mass Destruction like Adam and Eve, Romeo and Juliet, and Catherine and Heathcliff? What does it mean that she subverted their tragic ends, giving her trio a faultless ending?

I suppose these questions make Wuthering Heights a little more interesting, keeping this fourth (and final?!) reading from being a total waste. Had any of the Wuthering Triangle been a little more personable, like, say, Bella, Edward, and Jacob, I probably would have enjoyed it more.

I guess if I learned anything, it’s that I really, truly do not like Wuthering Heights and I will never be convinced to read it again. Although, I’m guessing like Lewis Black’s prohibition on candy corn, this resolution will only last about as long as it will take me to forget it again.