It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single
man Vampire in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Recently, I made an astonishing discovery.
Twilight (2005) by Stephenie Meyer is based on none other than Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Now I might have discounted this information as
foolishness “alternative fact” at the time if I had not been reading a blurb published by the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA).
Yes, that’s what I read during my spare time on the interwebs. Moving on…
When I compare Pride and Prejudice and Twilight in my mind it normally comes out looking something like this:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was published in the early 19th Century without featuring vampires or other forms of the supernatural even though Mr. Collins’s passion for entoning the particulars of Rosings Park seems nearly inhuman. Twilight appeared on the scene 200 years later with sparkly, blood-sucking vampires heating up the romantic tension of the traditional storyline. Besides the cameo appearance of Jane Austen in Twilight when Bella is trying to distract herself from thinking of Edward by reading there is little that obviously connects these two stories.
“I lay on my stomach, crossing my ankles in the air, flipping through the different novels in the book, trying to decide which would occupy my mind most thoroughly. My favorites were Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. I’d read the first most recently, so I started into Sense and Sensibility, only to remember after I began chapter three that the hero of the story happened to be named Edward. Angrily, I turned to Mansfield Park, but the hero of that piece was named Edmund, and that was just too close. Weren’t there any other names available in the late eighteenth century?” ~Twilight
However, if we take a step back and consider the macro plot points of both novels, some similarities do emerge:
Both Mr. Darcy and Edward Cullen are at first rude to the women with whom they later fall unbearably in love. And they’ve reached the expert-level in the brooding stares category.
A social divide separates the couples in both novels. Bella and Elizabeth are from middle-class families and Mr. Darcy and Edward belong to rich families who are concerned about welcoming outsiders to their inner circle.
Yet Bella and Elizabeth somehow remain irresistible and the men…Err, man and once-man-now-turned-vampire ignore their better judgement and pursue the intelligent young women anyway.
“Your scent is like a drug to me like my own personal brand of heroin.”~Edward, Twilight
“’In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ […] His sense of her inferiority—of its being a degradation—of the family obstacles which judgment had always opposed to inclination, were dwelt on with a warmth which seemed due to the consequence he was wounding, but was very unlikely to recommend his suit.” Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
As JASNA puts it, “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.”
Okay. If you ask me in person over a cup of dark-roast coffee, I would be happy to outline all of the specific nitty-gritty reasons why Pride and Prejudice is a much better book, a superior romance, and of greater literary value than Twilight. But that would take hours. So, I’ll give you my take on why Meyer’s Shakespearean plot-stealing technique harms the cinematic adaptation value of Twilight.
Bella lacks any true character development because she is a mere copy.
Because Meyer created Bella with Elizabeth Bennet in mind, the character reads like a shell that you can step into to experience this crazy, romantic fairy tale. This makes it nearly impossible for Kristen Stewart, (assessments of Stewart’s overall acting capabilities are momentarily absent from this discussion), to find or develop an individual character worth remembering for something other than her blank expression.
Many scenes from the Twilight (2008) film feel forced.
Picture the Cullens strutting into the school cafeteria during lunch. Did that feel odd? Awkward? Why did the not even try to assimilate to protect their identities? Well, it makes sense if you consider the fact that Meyer was attempting to copy the social separation of the Bingleys and Mr. Darcy descending on a local country dance after arriving at Netherfield.
Bella’s mother’s obsession with boys and her own scattered love life.
Bella, despite growing up with her mother, experiences a near constant disconnect with her parent. Why? Why does the Renee constantly ask about boys instead of asking more about Bella’s grades or college ambitions? Perhaps because she is based on the perpetually marriage-driven Mrs. Bennet who does not connect well with her husband and recounts to her daughters of her previous exploits with men in uniform.
Does a baseball uniform count as a modernization of a British regimental uniform?
The character of Rosalie Hale.
Upon re-watching Twilight, I realized how out of place Rosalie’s dislike of Bella seems. With very little character development or explanation, we simply know that Rosalie dislikes how Bella has upset her ordered world. The context is lost until you consider the character of Ms. Bingley who connives to keep the upper crust separate from Mrs. Bennet’s penniless daughters and dreams of marrying Mr. Darcy herself.
The context of the original Pride and Prejudice character adds greater weight to her demand of Edward, “What is she to me?” She is protecting the family dignity.
Every author needs inspiration, but copying the plots of classic novels, (New Moon=Romeo and Juliet, Eclipse=Wuthering Heights) creates a greater challenge for film adaptations and the quest for originality. The plot points that matter seem annoyingly familiar. And the moments that sparkle in the movie?
Well, the sparkle feels a little forced too.