“She had reached the age of seventeen, without having seen ... one amiable youth who could call forth her sensibility; without having inspired one real passion, and without having excited even any admiration but what was very moderate and very transient. “
–Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
The Carolinas are covered in a glistening layer of ice this morning. Schools are closed for the third day running, and, once again, before sunrise, I am sitting up in bed, knitting and sipping coffee. I just cast on the beginnings of a set of fingerless gloves—mitts they used to be called in the 19th century. The blood-red alpaca yarn I am using is infused with black, and the colors got me thinking about vampires and romantic obsession.
The recent vampire craze seems unstoppable. Grown women in their forties host Twilight parties—a friend of mine, a married woman close to fifty with two children, has a poster of Robert Pattinson (the British actor who plays Edward Cullen in the Twilight movies) hanging in her master bedroom and, when we get together, likes to present examples May-December relationships (ones where the woman naturally is in her winter years) as some type of positive proof that her hopes for a future with Pattinson are not unfounded). For some strange reason, while I’m a huge Harry Potter devotee, I haven’t been caught up in this craze. In fact, I sometimes get preachy with the teenaged girls in my English classes, cautioning them that Edward Cullen is a bad romantic model—an idealized distant male, one who mopes and broods and whose angular face and heart are as cold and artificial as a statue. For Bella, or any mortal girl, loving this man means giving up everything—her family and her previous life. He represents an unreal romantic obsession, one that is so unhealthy, in fact, that Bella contemplates suicide when she and Edward are parted.
Sometimes my lectures about Edward are more like tirades, ones which rouse deep emotions in me and passionate responses from girls who belong to “team Edward.” At heart, I know the reason why my response to girls’ fascination with Edward is so visceral is because, were I sixteen now, Edward Cullen and the gothic romance series of books and movies in which he is featured would be instant favorites. When I was a teenager I read Wuthering Heights and found old, ugly, untruthful, and downright cruel-at-times Mr. Rochester to be an engaging romantic hero, a character who sparked all sorts of fantasies of English manor houses, candlelight, and long flowing gowns. Rereading and teaching this book as an adult, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the girl I was, the hard lessons I learned about love along the way (including a badly ending romance with an older rich man), and how romantic preoccupations are a part of life for many young girls, but how such interests must be balanced by a set of realistic expectations for romantic relationships—coupled with some healthy self-esteem and hobbies and interests beyond gothic movies and novels. (Jane Austen does a great job of showing the pitfalls of a diet of too much gothic romance in her satirical novel Northanger Abbey.)
Nineteenth century girls were perhaps told to focus more on their needlework and less on romance to achieve a healthy balance, but today’s young women are lucky enough to have resources available that allow them to couple their interest in vampires and love with knitting, keeping them busy and perhaps out of the paths of potential Edward Cullens or Edward Rochesters. Girls (or their moms) can check out the book Vampire Knits: Projects to Keep You Knitting from Twilight to Dawn or the many Twilight inspired knitting patterns, such as Bella’s Chunky Mittens. Find a pattern for and picture of these mittens here: http://subliminalrabbit.blogspot.com/2008/12/bellas-mittens-updated-pattern.html. You can also do a search on Ravelry for lots of other Twilight inspired knits, or go to http://www.squidoo.com/gothknit to find gothic knitting resources, including the rather dark http://theanticraft.com/. Proceed with caution. . . .
But first, on earth as vampire sent,
Thy corse shall from its tomb be rent:
Then ghastly haunt thy native place,
And suck the blood of all thy race;
There from thy daughter, sister, wife,
At midnight drain the stream of life;
Yet loathe the banquet which perforce
Must feed thy livid living corse:
Thy victims ere they yet expire
Shall know the demon for their sire,
As cursing thee, thou cursing them,
Thy flowers are withered on the stem.
-Lord Byron, “The Giaour” (1813)