On the Twilight Saga
The Emotional Pleasures of Reading Twilight
The Twilight Saga is, simplified, a tale of the romance and adventures of a young woman and an immortal vampire she meets at school. Readers of the novels do not reject this premise out of hand–“regular old teenage girl falls for ancient vampire”–because by now we are so used to the strange rules of romantic tales that this seems completely plausible. Indeed, a stock convention of the contemporary romance novel is the dark, mysterious, and potentially dangerous male (and in fact vampires and romance have gone together like burgers and fries since the nineteenth century1). The potentially dangerous, inappropriate male character provides one of the essential ingredients of the formula: romantic stories require a seemingly insuperable barrier to the couple’s desire for union. The actual romance is generated by the description of the couple’s burning desire for one another, not tales of their enjoyable companionship walking the dog and picking out wallpaper. A questionable male is a good way to keep the couple apart so they can long for one another.
And longing is what they do. According to a Time magazine article on the series, “[Stephenie] Meyer put sex back underground, transmuted it back into yearning, where it became, paradoxically, exponentially more powerful.”2 But why is longing so romantic? More broadly, what is the character of emotions in the romance, and to what extent can we say that emotions are the basis for the enjoyment of this extraordinarily popular genre? Once we begin to look at emotions in the romance, …