I’m spending the weekend reading final papers for my English 330 course (Studies in Fiction), which I taught as a study of vampire fiction. I was inspired to do so in part by the success of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, which I am only partly ashamed to admit that I read like a middle-school girl this past summer, even attending the release party for Breaking Dawn. The books have been receiving a great deal of attention since the November release of the movie. This month, the Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan has a fantastic piece on the appeal Meyer has for adolescent girls. She writes:
The salient fact of an adolescent girl’s existence is her need for a secret emotional life—one that she slips into during her sulks and silences, during her endless hours alone in her room, or even just when she’s gazing out the classroom window while all of Modern European History, or the niceties of the passé composé, sluice past her. This means that she is a creature designed for reading in a way no boy or man, or even grown woman, could ever be so exactly designed, because she is a creature whose most elemental psychological needs—to be undisturbed while she works out the big questions of her life, to be hidden from view while still in plain sight, to enter profoundly into the emotional lives of others—are met precisely by the act of reading.
So, really, the Twilight series has two things working for it: first, it is about the secret emotional life of an adolescent girl, narrated for the most part from the perspective of a narrator in the clutches of love. The second and more interesting observation here is that the medium of the novel–and the act of reading–also sustains the secret emotional lives of adolescent girls. I think this is exactly right, and that this phenomenon also explains why so many readers are willing to look beyond the faults of these books (even the normally judicious Flanagan calls them “fantastic”) and embrace them. Reading Twilight means sharing Bella’s secret emotional life.
Why 30-something academics find Twilight compelling is another matter altogether.