“At last… peace…”


“What? Who’s there?”


“Hey Dude! You here to take me to the afterlife?”


“I… thought there would be more harps.”


“Why here, then?”


“But they deserved it! Did you see the book they created?”


“How? What must I do?”


“Oh goddammit.”


“Sorry. This is cruel and unusual punishment, you know?”


“Oh all right, what’s this chapter about?

Edward Cullen and Bella Swan: Byronic…

Oh this should be interesting. I remember having a talk with Asahel where we discussed Byronic vs. anti heroes and who should more properly be classified into which category and-

…and feminist heroes… or not

“Son of a…

There’s no way I can do this alone!”


swenson: Yeah. And I’m not too happy about it, either.
(sigh) I suppose it can’t be all that bad.

NW: In all honesty… no, it isn’t that bad (if we define “that bad” to be “previous two chapters of this book”). I even find a bit of an imp-like quality to this author. Consider this footnote:

19. A heretofore unrealized unifying trait of Byronic heroes: intense eyes. I’ll take that Genius Grant now, MacArthur Foundation.

NW: Plus she refrences Cleolinda Jones. And it’s hard to hate on someone who references Cleolinda Jones.

Hard but not impossible.

So most of this essay is just establishing the basics and providing sources (again, a good way to win my approval).

Stephenie Meyer, who earned a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University, named Edward after the characters of Edward Ferrars in Jane Austen’s (1775-1817) Sense and Sensibillity and Edward Rochester in Charlotte Brontë‘s (1816-1855) Jane Eyre – both Byronic heroes.

sw: …that’s it, I’m done.


sw: Let me tell you a little story. Once, a very long time ago, I read Twilight. I quickly learned the folly of my actions, but while the memory of those books was still fresh in my mind, I happened to read Sense and Sensibility for the first time. I loved it, of course, as I love all of Jane Austen’s work, but the entire time, every time I read Edward’s name, all I could think about was that sparkly stalker. That was the first day I truly hated Twilight. All this time, I thought it was just a coincidence. So to find out that was Smeyer’s intention all along… RAAARGH! It’s infuriating!

NW: The afterlife really does love its cool and unusual punishments.

You’re Only Young Once, but You Can Be Byronic Forever

The Byronic hero is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms as a “boldly defiant but bitterly self-tormenting outcast, proudly contemptuous of social norms but suffering from some unnamed sin.”2 He’s intelligent, passionate, and usually above-average in almost every way (including good looks), but also tormented, mysterious, unpredictable, and scornful of authority.

NW: Now that we’re on the same page for the definition.

Childe Harlod’s Pilgrimage is most often cited as the chief example of [Lord] Byron’s [the term’s namesake] eponymous hero, and it’s not hard to see why, given these lines from the poem:

Whilone in Albion’s isle there dwelt a youth
Who ne in Virtue’s ways did take delight,
But spent his days in riot most uncouth,
And vexed with mirth the drowsy ear of Night.
Ah me! In sooth he was a shameless wight,
Few earthly things found favor in his sight
Save concubines and carnal companie,
And flaunting wassailers of high and low degree.

Yet oftimes in his maddest mirthful mood
Strange pangs would flash along Childe Harold’s brow,
As if the Memory of some deadly feud
Or disappointed passion lurked below:
But this none knew, nor haply cared to know;
For his was not that open, artless soul
That feels relief by bidding sorrow flow;
Nor sought he friend to counsel or condole,
Whate’er this grief mote be, which he could not control.

Hmm. Does that sound like anyone we know?

sw: Honestly? No, not really. Aside from the smitten by grief thing, it doesn’t sound anything like Edward at all. “Concubines and carnal companie” don’t really sound like the 117-year-old virgin who goes to high school and acts a perfect gentleman (despite the whole stalking thing). And when it comes down to it, he’s actually pretty open about what his grief is, happily explaining everything to the first sympathetic teenage girl to wander by. So if this is your criteria for a Byronic hero… Edward fails. Miserably.

NW: Which we should all be grateful for. Why? Because who’s the #1 Byronic hero of today? BATMAN! And the less Bruce is sullied by Edward – the happier we all are.

sw: [shudder] Agreed.

Why Byronic Heroes Make Bad Bosses

NW: Shouldn’t that be obvious? Well just in case it isn’t, the author starts using one of the earliest examples: Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre.

sw: But the author needs to make up her mind. She keeps contradicting or repeating herself, obviously just to take up more space. For example, she writes that Jane Eyre…

…has long been understood as a revolutionary character in literature, a game-changer, a prototype for the sort of hero we would call “feminist” today.

sw: All very straightforward, until the next line.

Or would we?

sw: So… she’s not really a feminist hero?

Today, we want our feminist heroes to be tough, gun-packing, no-nonsense types or even career women with shoe and weight obsessions,

sw: (we do?)

but probably not a prim, perfectly collected young woman for whom a bonnet was a must-have.

sw: OK, so I don’t really agree with you, but I can see your side of…

But we’d be wrong.

sw: MAKE UP YOUR MIND, WOMAN! Is Jane a feminist hero or isn’t she? And what does this have to do with Twilight? And most importantly, if you’re going to go with the traditional interpretation and say she actually is a feminist hero, what was the point of this digression in the first place?!

sw: (to make a long story short, yes, the author does conclude Jane is a feminist hero. Still don’t see the point of taking two pages to say that, though.)

NW: I’ll rant about “what is a feminist” hero later (it will come) but this line bugged me:

Jane eventually discovers Rochester’s nastly little secret (every good Byronic hero has at leastone), and tells him, in no uncertain Victorian terms, to shove it. 9 … Cold, huh? What kind of sweet, innocent girl is Jane anyway to run off like that? Aren’t nice girls supposed to stand by their man, longing for them à la Bella Swan in New Moon? Not this girl.

NW: Actually that strikes me as the difference between a nice person and a good person. Nice people avoid hurting other’s feelings. Good people do what is right regardless of the outcome. And in a lot of old stories, the outcome is very much a consideration. Especially back in very poor times when people (women especially) had to work hard to survive. A woman leaving her husband could find herself in very dire financial straits. Just saying that we should be slow to judge people until we’ve had to weigh costs & benefits like they have had to.

Jane can be understood as a feminist character for her determination to stick to her moral guns (no matter what nonsense some man tries to sell her), … If only Bella were as wise. Jane knows that staying with Rochester would mean compromising her deeply held principles of morality…

NW: If only Bella had morals – period. At least, from what I’ve read about the books and seen the movies, I’m not sure Bella has any morals beyond the modern day pop shallowness of: “like, don’t be mean”. Any kind of moral depth to Bella would have been an improvement.

NW: So anyway, the essay continues with some more descriptions of Jane (who sounds awesome) including…

These [previously quoted] statements show that while Jane is proud of her education, her foremost goal is to be self-supporting and independent. Bella shares some of these qualities as well, like not wanting Charlie, her father, to purchase a car for her when she first arrives in Forks, and flying to Washington on her own to live with Charlie and then back to Arizona when being pursued by James. Even her interest in Edward suggests Bella’s intent on becoming independent, if not self-supported.

NW: …Nah. Not yet.

Finally, like all feminist heroes worth their salt, Jane Eyre is intensely loyal to her friends, as is Bella (Jacob – need I say more?).

sw: Bella? Loyal to her friends? You mean like her high school friends, all of which are mentioned about once every hundred pages and are immediately abandoned as soon as Bella gets her sparkly man? The friends Bella never turns to when she’s feeling suicidal over Edward leaving her? The friends who are scarcely even mentioned at her wedding? Bella is the least loyal friend in the entire books. Sure, she’s good friends with Jacob, but only with Jacob, and probably only stays loyal to him all the way to the end because he, like Edward, isn’t an ordinary human. The only remotely friendly act I can think of in all four books is when Bella goes shopping with Angela and Jessica… before she starts dating Edward. She also invites people to go with her to a movie in New Moon, but again, it’s when Edward isn’t around. Worst. Friend. Ever.

NW: And we’re including Dr House in that friend list!

But what does it all have to do with the Twilight saga? You’ve seen the superficial parallels to Edward and Bella. Let’s see how those two crazy kids from Forks really measure up to these timeless characters.

NW: They won’t be timeless except in the manner that “Manos” is timeless.

The Byronic Hero: Now Available in Marble-like, Sparkly Perfection

sw: Say what you like about the rest of the chapter, I do love that section heading. It sounds like something I would say.

…Does [Edward] fit the mold of the Byronic hero?

We learned earlier in this chapter that Byronic heroes are not without their good qualities. …Byronic heroes are brave, as Edward shows when he saves Bella from the car crash. 18

NW: Is it really bravery when you’re indestructible?

But Byronic heroes are dangerous, too – so dangerous that they like to come right out and tell you how dangerous they are.

NW: I don’t know if it’s intentional, but that made me laugh.

And since no Byronic hero is without his terrible, dreadful secret, Edward Cullen has a big one: [he’s a vampire].

NW: The problem is, pop culture (and Meyer) has so diluted the horror of being a vampire that actually being one doesn’t have the terribleness or dreadfulness attached to it that it might have had in earlier eras. But the author does get around to admitting that Edward’s secret is softened by his vegetarianism so props for that.

sw: Also, does it really count as a “terrible, dreadful secret” if it’s spoiled on the back of the book?

So clearly we have a somewhat flawed (to say the least) hero in Edward without even getting into his control-freak tendencies where Bella is concerned. 26

NW: That footnote? Goes to an article on Jezebel.com. But I don’t feel like promoting them. So I’ll promote das_Mervin instead who deserves the linkage much more (plus she points out in these things that the guys are screwed screwed just as much as the girls).

Can You Still Be a Feminist If You Become a Bloodsucking Vampire for Your Husband?

Bella is a puzzle for feminists. On one hand, we have a hero who is literate, is independent, and goes after what she wants, just like our friend, Jane.

NW: Almost there…

These [previously listed examples] seem like reasonable arguments for Bella being a fierce and fabulous feminist hero, a model of steely determination, stolid independence…

NW: Getting closer…

Unlike Jane Eyre, Bella does not share the spoils of fortune with her friends and family; Edward becomes all that matters.

NW: I post this, just to tease Swenson. But let’s see how this essay concludes…

But that doesn’t cross Bella and Edward’s minds. The ending they find is truly a fairy tale, not because it seems happily ever after but because it lacks cause and effect, moral responsibility, and real relationships. And if that’s Stephenie Meyer’s idea of a fairy-tale ending, maybe we’d all better make sure that we take the Twilight saga for what it is: a fairy tale, no more worthy of emulation than Sleeping Beauty. The test? Ask yourself if Sleeping Beauty is a role model. I’m guessing the answer is no.

NW: (uh – I thought there was nothing there of Sleeping Beauty to emulate. Things happen to her beyond her control – like all of us.)

sw: Yeah, you can’t really compare the two. Sleeping Beauty is a victim of circumstance who is incapable of doing anything because she’s cursed to sleep for a hundred years. Yes, she’s a passive character, but she can’t help it. Bella, on the other hand, has the opportunity to be an active character, but she instead chooses to be passive, unlike many other fairy tale princesses (like Cinderella, who at least does something).

NW: Hear, hear!

Well, then, is Bella a feminist hero? Maybe we can answer that with another question: Will vampires ever get over their taste for blood? 32

sw: You know, despite the shaky beginning, this wasn’t as bad as it could be. The author of this chapter actually seemed pretty reasonable, and I don’t entirely disagree with her conclusion. No, Bella isn’t a feminist hero, and it’s silly to try to say she is.

NW: Yeah, so this essay wasn’t as bad as the others but…

WARNING! WARNING! Reviewer has reached critical mass!

NW: The term “independent” kept bothering me. Why? Because every time I see it, it brings to mind the trope about the lone wolf. But think about it a moment: how many heroes are independent? Let’s see here… off the top my head at the end of the film/book/story…
Raiders of the Lost Ark: Indiana Jones is captured and tied up. Needs God to come and save his ass.
Star Wars: Luke Skywalker is just about to be shot down. Needs a friend to come save him and a ghost to tell him what to do.
Empire Strikes Back: Luke actually tries being independent and gets multilated as well as nearly dying. Needs his friends to save him.
Return of the Jedi: Luke gets his ass fried, needs daddy to save him.
Lord of the Rings: Frodo needs Sam & Gollum’s help.
Highlander: The very point of the last fight is that the ties Connor has forged with the world aid him over the loner, “independent” Kurgan.

sw: Inception, where Cobb needs his entire team to work together to escape limbo.
Independence Day, where the two main characters need each other’s expertise to defeat the alien.
Aladdin, Aladdin needs Jasmine and the Genie (not to mention Abu and the carpet) to turn Jafar into a genie… and the list goes on.

NW: The Bible? Almost everybody needs God’s help.
Mythology? No one’s independent in those, it’s just the person (or sometimes their mom) that the gods favor.
It’s a very, very common character arc for the “independent” hero to learn that they actually need other people (including my two most favorite Pixar movies: The Incredibles and Up). How many times can you name where the heroes win because they are nakama and the villains don’t? (hint: I just linked you a cheat sheet)

And yet if you were to gender flip any of these great and iconic heroes, they then wouldn’t be considered feminist.

Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

Of course, some would say that it’s a principle of being needy or useless – which I can sympathize. I hate needy and useless people in real life and don’t care to read them in fiction. But then the term for that is “useful”, not “independent”.

And what more accurate term is there for Bella and Edward, but “useless”?

Tagged as:


  1. Thea on 12 May 2011, 20:40 said:

    Love the setup :D

    And yet if you were to gender flip any of these great and iconic heroes, they then wouldn’t be considered feminist

    Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

    Now that’s interesting. Especially since the complaint is rooted in the traditional perception that to be female is to be better at asking for help/relying on other people.

    So what do you do? Reject all other people, thereby falling into the same trap, or having a ridiculously over-powered character; or be the supporter of the primary hero and usurp his accomplishments?

    Ooo, story ideas (and I haven’t written in forever!)

    Great last line, too!

  2. Clibanarius on 12 May 2011, 22:17 said:

    Hi, this is the Ghost of Clibanarius.

    I’d love to comment on your article but since you killed me along with everyone else I’m not talking to you anymore :P

  3. NeuroticPlatypus on 12 May 2011, 22:59 said:

    Great article, guys! The author of this really is more reasonable than I would think a person that wrote a book called Twilight and Philosophy would be. I hope you get out of Purgatory.

  4. Nate Winchester on 13 May 2011, 07:01 said:

    I should clarify, NP:

    These articles aren’t all written by 1 person, they’re a collection from a variety that have been gathered and edited for the book. I don’t list the authors’ names since I think that has the potential of dragging these sporks into the realm of the personal. And if there’s one thing I should make clear: there’s nothing about these that’s personal. (so far)


    That’s ok, I’m not talking to you either.

  5. dragonarya on 13 May 2011, 09:38 said:

    Stephenie Meyer, who earned a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University


    And this discussion of Edward as a Byronic hero makes me sick. He is no— well, it’s all been said before.
    It does make me angry though when I see, like you said, that the definition of vampire has been watered down so much that it loses all its terror. Makes me want to write something gory involving vampires.

  6. Klutor the Ninth on 13 May 2011, 10:35 said:

    Because who’s the #1 Byronic hero of today? BATMAN!

    Or you could say Angel, but he came afterwards.

    Worst. Friend. Ever.


    Is it really bravery when you’re indestructible?

    Congrats, Nate. You formulated an Armor Piercing Question so awesome, it almost knocked me off my chair. Definitely something to think about; not only for Twihards, but for writers, too.

    Also, does it really count as a “terrible, dreadful secret” if it’s spoiled on the back of the book?

    I will never stop mocking that. Ever.

    Yeah, you can’t really compare the two. Sleeping Beauty is a victim of circumstance who is incapable of doing anything because she’s cursed to sleep for a hundred years. Yes, she’s a passive character, but she can’t help it. Bella, on the other hand, has the opportunity to be an active character, but she instead chooses to be passive, unlike many other fairy tale princesses (like Cinderella, who at least does something).

    Sleeping Beauty is the archetypal damsel in distress… and still she’s far less useless than Bella. So yeah. Also, Gretel literally kicked a witch’s ass and she was a friggin child (I always imagined her and Hansel to be about eight or ten years old at the very most).

    Inception, where Cobb needs his entire team to work together to escape limbo.

    And what a badass team that was! Bonus points for them being split across different levels and therefore moving at different speeds. Added bonus points for them containing Joseph Gordon Levitt and Ellen Paige. Added added bonus points for the former flying and punching and kung-fu-ing dudes in zero gravity. Added added added bonus points for the Naive Newcomer and former muggle Ariadne (whom we would expect to be a useless load) going with Cobb all the way to the end.

    Great last line, too!

    I concur.


    Mervin is also an English major. Now go compare the two – I expect an essay about it on Monday.;-)

    Makes me want to write something gory involving vampires.

    I’m almost there, I really am. but there will be other monsters, too, cause I’m just such a total geek.

  7. dragonarya on 13 May 2011, 11:42 said:

    Mervin is also an English major. Now go compare the two – I expect an essay about it on Monday.;-)

    Pardon my ignorance, but who is Mervin? The author of this book?

  8. Nate Winchester on 13 May 2011, 13:56 said:

    Das_mervin. I linked her in the essay. (no really! go look)

  9. dragonarya on 13 May 2011, 17:28 said:

    Ohh, I missed that, my eyes were glazing over from the stupid. I’ll check her out.

  10. Crazy Batman Fan on 28 May 2011, 08:29 said:

    The shoutout to Batman as the Byronic hero of our day almost made me cry. Thank you.

  11. Stephenie Rowling on 5 July 2011, 00:44 said:

    You know I like your point about so much focus in if a girl doesn’t has a sword she is not a good role model when male heroes always need help to conquer their destinies.

    What you miss is actually reading the books and taking the readings of people that already decided what they think of the characters color their views of their recaps. Bella is as active as the rules of this universe allow her to be, half the reason she wants to become a vampire is because she knows she will be a liability forever, every vampire will try to eat her and everytime Edward and his family are in trouble she can’t help. Is not the same as doing nothing. She can’t do much being human because no human in the book can do much.
    Also Bella meet her highschool friends like a month before starting dating Edward, I’m pretty sure they were as friend of hers as she was of them. Jacob only became her friend because Jacob wanted to get in her pants, so its not like it was a mutual friendship out of common interests.