Saturday, May 9, 2009

Twilight ≠ Pride & Prejudice

I got my latest issue of JASNA News, the newsletter of the Jane Austen Society of North America, the other day. It has news and notes about all things Austen--conferences, calls for papers, new publications dealing with Austen, reviews of theatrical releases based on Austen's works--you get the picture. There's also a section where members can send in book reviews (usually of scholarly works or of continuations based on Austen's novels), and one in particular caught my eye: "Jane Austen, with a Twist: Twilight."


Here are some claims made in the book review (written by two sisters, a high-school senior and a freshman):

"In 2005, a novel was published that follows the Pride and Prejudice plot closely but gives quite a different twist to the romantic tension." (I'll say.)

"On the surface, the novel seems to have nothing to do with Jane Austen; however, when one looks carefully, many similarities emerge." (Kinda sounds like a thesis for a ninth-grade English essay, doesn't it?)

"At Bella's new high school, the boys find her irresistible. Elizabeth Bennet and her sister Jane have always been talked of as the prettiest girls in their small town."

"Bella's mother, like Mrs. Bennet, is slightly neurotic and childish. And neither Elizabeth's nor Bella's parents are in love with each other any more. While Elizabeth is very close to her father and finds comfort in him, Bella has never had the experience of living with her dad."

"The male protagonists in both novels, Edward and Mr. Darcy, are exceptionally rich, handsome, and intelligent, but also unattainable."

"The evil Mr. Wickham character does not play a large role in Twilight but is important in the third book in the series." (Got to find him . . . got to find him . . . ah! there he is!)

"One reason for the heroes' attraction to the heroines is that Bella and Elizabeth are much smarter than the other girls around them."

"The main themes of both novels deal with men and women finding each other, finding themselves, and overcoming the problems imposed on them by their families and society."

Give me a break! As much as some people may enjoy Meyer's novels, she's definitely no Jane Austen. It really makes me wonder who decided to publish that review and why.


Heather said...

Calling Bella smart is a bit of a stretch...especially saying that she is the smartest girl around. It's disheartening to know that some cannot tell the difference between Austen and SMeyers, and even more so to realize that some Austen lovers agree.

Becca and I were encouraged by your progress through the novel to re-read it and make up a list/write a blog about all the things we dislike about it. I honestly don't know if I can read it through a second time, but I think Twilight from a feminist's perspective needs to be shared with the world.

Stephanie said...

I agree--Twilight's not a book that would hold up well to a second reading. If you & Becca do that post, be sure and let me know. I'd love to read it!

lollipop4598 said...

I think its obvious why they are compared.
Both stories change from the first reading. When I first read Pride and Prejudice I loved Elizabeth. I saw her as spunky, and as standing up for herself and her family, and I loved the way Darcy couldn't stop needing her despite how she treated him. When I reread it at the same age as Elizabeth my opinion had changed. i understood that Lizzies feelings were hurt. After all, she liked Darcy at their first meeting, but he didn't accept her. But I no longer saw her as spunky. More like shallow and mean spirited. The way she never listened to her mom(who made perfect sense, btw, if they didn't get married their life would go down the shitter. Id be scared too.), disrespected poor short Mr Collins. Ok, the guy wasn't hot, and he wasn't cool, and he was a bit of a toadie. But Mr Collins was trying. He was kind. He was grateful for what he had, and did his best. That deserves respect. She didn't need to make fun of him at dinner. Also, Darcy's aunt. She didn't need to treat an older woman like that. Bella would never have told an older lady "Oh surely you don't expect me to own my age as I have five younger sisters, your ladyship tee-hee." She was a better person then that. And Mr Darcy was far from perfect. I am not sure that marrying Lydia off by force to a serial pedophile was necessarily the best way to handle things. I understand that the times demanded it. I still don't have to like it. OK. That doesn't mean I don't love P&P. I do.Bella is also different with readings. At first she seems meek, but then you see her strength. She never thrown Edwards behavior in his face. She knows what she wants. She loves with honor. Id much rather be that kind of person then, spiteful, opinionated Lizzie.
Both stories take their subject matter seriously, they show you intense affection in its naked state. They show you how the right person will make you want to be with them, no matter how they treat you. Only their absence will seem like death. Thats a good picture of first love. One modern, one past. Do you still wonder they are compared?
Here is something I wish I could say to Lizzie, but will say to Austen lovers instead; No one likes a snob.

lollipop4598 said...

WOW! I skimmed over P&P again, and Lizzie is appaling. Besides her skill at making the most of peoples shortcomings, which I find distasteful, she is horridly selfish, a complete snot to her mom, and rather stupid. Her ideal, that she will only marry for love, under the circumstances is very self absorbed. Knowing of her family's distress, I can't see how she could live with herself after refusing Mr Collins proposal, and later Mr Darcy's. If I had to marry Howdy Doody to keep a roof over my mom's and my sisters head I would do it. Im not the most selfless person on earth, but I would. The fact that Lizzie only cares about how the men make her feel, and giving not a thought to the people who cared for her all her life, and the huge effect her decision is for them makes me mad. Also, when Charlotte suggests that Jane should be more open with Mr Bingley so he can see that she likes him, she totally trashes the idea, and this almost ruins her sister's life. The only reason things get resolved is because of outlandish luck. In real life Jane would just have lost him. Because no man would put up with being treated the way Lizzie treats Darcy, much less return her rudeness with love. Only a severe masochist does that. The worst thing is that Lizzie doesn't even pass the advice along. And when circumstances prove Charlotte correct, she doesn't blame herself. Just Darcy. That makes me mad too. I can not understand how people even think that this selfish, arrogant, completely unrepentant young woman could be seen in a positive light. I think that it would be far better for the world if people modeled themselves on Bella. Excuse the over answering, but I hadn't realized this before. i just never thought about it. I was told Lizzie was great, and I went with it. What was I thinking?

Stephanie said...

Dear Lollipop,

In your skimming analysis of Austen and Lizzie, I think you missed a few things. Most of all, you ignore the strict social mores of the society in which both Austen and Lizzie lived, and you missed the fact that Austen is a skillful social commentator, not only a writer of romance novels. As far as Lizzie and her refusal to marry Mr. Collins goes, Austen is critiquing a society that treats women as interchangeable articles of trade. First, he’ll take Jane. Oh, she’s taken? Fine. He’ll have Lizzie instead. Oh, she won’t have him? Let’s move right along to Charlotte. Women were used to seal mergers, transfer wealth, and produce legitimate heirs. Austen shows through her skillful irony—and through the character of Lizzie—that she will have none of it. Women are people, too. Lizzie has self respect. (And Mr. Collins kind? You must have forgotten that passage in which he says Lydia in her “fallen state” would be better off dead. How comforting to the family!)

One of the reasons that Lizzie is so popular—and was at the time of P&P’s publication—is that in a time when heroines were fearful, retiring, and hesitant, along comes Lizzie, a breath of fresh air, a heroine with spunk. Is she perfect? Of course not. But she DOES recognize her faults and repent: “ She grew absolutely ashamed of herself..—Of neither Darcy nor Wickham could she think, without feeling that she had been blind, partial, prejudiced, absurd. ‘How despicably have I acted!’ she cried. –‘I, who prided myself on my abilities! . . .How humiliating is this discovery!—Yet, how just a humiliation!’” (Vol. 2 Chap 13). Austen is masterful here because she subverts the 18th century pattern of the “reformed heroine” by having Elizabeth realize her flaws—change and grow--without dimming Elizabeth’s energy and vitality—A major breakthrough for female characters and authors.

And your point that Bella is so much more respectful to her elders than Lizzie? I think you’ve forgotten that Bella lies to her father, deceives him, accuses him and plays on his weaknesses to give herself an “excuse” to flee, and is totally dismissive of her own mother. Not very respectful in my book.

And of course Jane should be more open—again, you missed Austen’s point. Jane is the epitome of the conduct book female of the era,and conduct books forbad women to show any interest in a man. They were to be completely demure and wait for him to declare himself first. And society harshly judged women according to these rules of conduct. Austen’s story shows that this emotional stricture of female emotion is unrealistic and argues that one can be a lady and still show emotion. The fact that Jane almost loses Bingley is making Austen’s point—this kind of fakeness and denial of emotion is restrictive and harmful.

Finally, Darcy a masochist? Hardly. Because he has always been so reserved, he is drawn to Lizzie’s vitality and wit. A masochist is a person who jumps off cliffs and tries to kill herself by driving motorcycles at high speed without driving skills.
I won’t go into my analysis of Twilight here. If you’re interested, you can search my blog for my six-part analysis of the novel called “The Trouble with Twilight.”

I wish you and Howdy Doody much joy.

Becca said...



Yes. Because heaven for bid a woman have her own opinions about things, whether or not they are right. She should just do what her sparkly boyfriend tells her.

Heather Mac said...

Becca with red hair! Look at how cute you are.

@lollipop, You still haven't really said how and why they should be compared, other than "both stories change after the first reading." I would argue that every novel changes with every reading as you notice things you didn't the first time and your knowledge of the author's writing style and characters grows. The reading also is affected by what's going on in your own life.

"Taking subject matter seriously" does not necessarily mean it will (or should be) interpreted seriously. The only serious thing I gained from reading Twilight is astonishment that young girls look up to male "romantic" figures like Edward, who is possessive, authoritative, and just plain creepy, and female "heroines" like Bella, who is constantly self-conscious, nervous, and timid.

The two novels are distinct in their separation because Elizabeth is a clever and ambitious woman who thinks for herself. Bella is a snivelling excuse for a female protagonist continuously questions herself and only exists to be "romanced" (controlled) by an overbearing love interest.

LOLOL @ Stephanie's masochist comment.