- Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the “Twilight” Series ed. by Anne Morey
Genre, Reception, and Adaptation in the “Twilight” Series rises to the challenge of Stephanie Meyer’s often-derided saga, providing a compelling consideration of Twilight’s appeal. The introduction by editor Anne Morey makes a strong case for studying the series, arguing that “[w]hat should excite us about Meyer’s series is that its very popularity has highlighted anew the stakes behind the production and consumption of popular culture” (1). This emphasis is provocative, and points to issues that critics of YA texts often face as problematic works, and works of dubious literary quality, emerge as culturally central.
Perhaps no text quite embodies this tension as well as “Twilight.” Accused of presenting young readers with negative visions of female sexuality, “Twilight” has faced much negative criticism. And yet, as Morey points out, the series’ profound popularity disrupts critical attempts to simply dismiss it. This notion becomes particularly powerful as the franchise comes to a close, with its final film installment released in 2012. Even as we move away from “Twilight,” its influence remains, marking the creation of the YA “dark romance” genre, and inspiring adult texts such as E. L. James’s 2011 bestseller, Fifty Shades of Grey. Like it or not, “Twilight” has shaken the literary landscape, and it is this cultural resonance that Morey seizes upon to ground her collection.
Like the fictive series itself, this anthology is provocative and often problematic. But indeed, as Morey argues, to be otherwise would do the texts, and more importantly, the predominantly adolescent, female audiences of “Twilight” a disservice. She and the essayists frame their analyses with a compelling discussion of traditional dismissals of “feminine texts,” which Morey associates with the Frankfurt School’s rejection of popular, so-called “feminized” culture (6). This critical vision of “Twilight” as feminine text—through author, subject, and following—is shared by most of the essays, and many chapters cite the historical devaluation of genres such as romance and the gothic because of their association with female audiences and domestic contexts. To follow suit and overlook “Twilight,” the anthology suggests, would be to continue a deeply rooted cultural silencing.
Morey organizes the essays into sections on genre, fan culture, and adaptation. Dialogue between the chapters builds cohesion, developing central ideas around feminism and readership. Morey opens the volume with her own essay, proposing Jane Eyre as an intertextual reference point for “Twilight” and reading Bella as Jane—a figure of emotional mastery, and a bridge between sexual and social gender disparity. Jackie Horne’s essay on fantasy continues this line of inquiry, exploring “Twilight”’s “erotics of abstinence” (17), and arguing that the series’ treatment of sexuality provides a safe space, mediated [End Page 203] through the supernatural, for young readers to explore their own desires. Sarah Day’s essay on “narrative intimacy” acts as an excellent capstone to this section, exploring the use of first-person narratives in the construction of female desire (65). Day argues that first-person narration becomes a vehicle for Bella’s yearnings, with Bella articulating her feelings to the reader rather than to potential love interests Edward or Jacob; Day believes this approach allows readers a connection to a narrative of desire that is at once titillating and safely distanced. This notion is particularly compelling in the current literary landscape, where YA novels are dominated by first-person perspectives, and cogently opens up discussion on the ways in which point of view can both privilege and protect young readerships.
Catherine Driscoll’s account of “Twilight” and “girl culture” (95) gives a thoughtful introduction to issues of reception, exploring Bella’s development from adolescent love-object to mother. This raises an issue suggested by Day and returned to at several points throughout the collection: that Bella’s initiation into sexual experience and motherhood ultimately alienate her readership. Rachel Dubois’s piece on narrative finality in “Twilight” takes this further, drawing on Freud’s death drive to argue for a disruption in readers’ ability to identify with Bella...