As the critic Nell Minow put it to me, there were any number of reasons for sex not to take place in the ’40s, ’50s and even ’60s, but it’s a near-insuperable challenge to delay the deed today. The threat of sex is forestalled by turning Bella’s suitors into a vampire and a werewolf, and the gimmick has a potent and unusual side effect: Rather than play to their supernatural predatory strengths to get what they want, “both men are completely unmanned by their love for her,” says Minow. “She has all the power.” Yearning is back in a culture soaked in immediate gratification and sleaze, and–forget whether it feels good–it feels new.
Butterworth does not overestimate the literary qualities of Stephanie Meyers’ series, even as he compares her to Jane Austen and James Joyce. His insights about the power and impact of her story are nuanced and thoughtful.
It is beyond the reach of serious criticism, the “aristocratic” way of reading advocated by that indisputably homme sérieux, Roland Barthes and the “difficulty” prized by the aristocratic T.S. Eliot as the hallmark of a genuine literary experience. And yet Twilight is being endlessly, critically dissected and discussed by those who read it and watch its cinematic rendition. It may be aimed at young adults, and it may have found a mass market audience, but that gives it a force high art seems to no longer possess. One can only wonder how the Farsi version will be read in Tehran.