- “Unconditionally and Irrevocably”: Theorizing the Melodramatic Impulse in Young Adult Literature through the Twilight Saga and Jane Eyre
I cried and curled up in my bed. I was so sad I didnt come out of my room all weekend. Then when I went back to school my friends said they did the same the thing. After I got over the shock I read on and cried when Bella saved him. I want to see new moon throught (sic) his POV(team_Edward_4_ever, “I cried” on TwilightTeens.com)1
Responding to Stephenie Meyer’s New Moon (2006) in an online discussion forum for Twilight fans, team_edward_4_ever confides the personal and affective reactions associated with her reading experience of the second novel in Meyer’s saga. Another fan, manuela, agrees: “yeah, new moon is a very sad book. whenever Bella thought of the holes edward left in her, I felt so sad! and I remember this one paragraph after edward left in which Bella said something like : time passes, every aching second, even for me. I cried :/ haha.”2 These two preliminary responses on the thread “I cried” are followed by thirty more fan comments that detail emotional reactions to—and pleasure in reading about—the traumatic separation of first-person narrator Bella Swan from the perpetually seventeen-year-old Edward Cullen, a vampire whose moral convictions prohibit him from drinking human blood.
Such fan reactions demonstrate how melodramatic conventions, particularly occasions of exaggerated suffering prior to a joyful reunion, speak to contemporary readers, in this case girls participating in an online fansite.3 The young adult novels of Meyer’s Twilight Saga are indeed brimming with melodramatic moments that motivate affective reading experiences. In the second novel, New Moon (2006), the characters’ high school romance initiated in Twilight (2005) is temporarily thwarted when Edward, driven by guilt over Bella’s safety, instigates [End Page 164] a break-up early in the book. The remaining three hundred-plus pages depict Bella’s depression and struggle to live without Edward. However, when she rescues the vampire from a suicide attempt, the young lovers reunite at the novel’s end. Eclipse (2007) and Breaking Dawn (2008) continue the tale of Bella and Edward’s romantic involvement, which eventually culminates in their marriage, a vampire-human hybrid child, and Bella’s conversion to vampirism—a happily-ever-after ending consistent with the melodramatic mode.4
Intriguingly, Twilight fan responses are comparable to reader sympathy with another pair of fictional lovers: first-person narrator Jane Eyre and the secretive, brooding Edward Rochester, who, like Edward Cullen, also happens to be ridden with guilt and in need of salvation only the heroine can supply. Sandra M. Gilbert offers a central insight into the appeal of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), explaining how the novel challenged Victorian literary norms in part through the intensity of characters’ expressive discourse, another tenet of melodrama:
Unlike most of her predecessors, too, [Brontë] endowed her main characters—hero as well as heroine—with overwhelmingly powerful passions that aren’t always rational and often can’t be articulated in ordinary language. This sense of unspeakable depth or fiery interiority imbues both Rochester and Jane with a kind of mystery that has always been charismatic to readers.(357)
Accounting for Jane Eyre’s sustained popularity, Gilbert identifies the main characters’ passionate feelings as part of the reason for female readers’ continued captivation with Brontë’s text (357). One cannot deny the phenomenal (and global) popularity of Meyer’s series for contemporary readers, particularly (though not limited to) Western girls and adult women,5 who may be compelled by textual qualities that mirror those in Jane Eyre.
While the Twilight and Jane Eyre readerships are not identical and cannot be regarded as one homogenous group, awareness of their sympathetic and empathetic reactions permits us to consider both texts through the framework of melodrama. As works characterized not only by similar heroines, heroes, and romantic plots, Brontë’s and Meyer’s novels share a melodramatic reader response. An exploration of melodrama’s significance in these female coming-of-age stories, then, yields insight into the important relationship between Jane Eyre and the Twilight...