Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Stephanie Meyer and Keats

First, I must come out of the closet. I do not like Twilight at all. I can't help it. The way Edward goes watching Bella sleep is creepy.

I think this picture illustrates the point, though admittedly some people find it sweet. :O

But seriously, we've heard enough about Stephanie Meyer going on and on being influenced by Shakespeare and the Bronte sisters to whom she is being rather unfair. The essence of the Twilight saga isn't at all akin to Brontes' Gothic passions. But I'll stop bashing SMeyer and look for the REAL source of inspiration. What no one else seems to have noticed is ... could she have been influenced by John Keats?

Yes, the poet. I know there are mad literary scholars out there who will assert that due to a strange coincidence in two works there must certainly be a connection. See The Pooh Perplex to get what I mean.

If you look at the Eve of St Agnes, it's about this feud between 2 warring families. Porphyro, a young nobleman, is in love with Madeline, a young lady from a rival family. He sneaks into her house, wishing to see her.  It is a cold winter night on the eve of St Agnes. St Agnes was this martyr who was supposed to sacrifice her virginity but refused to, so she was sent to a brothel so she could be raped. Fortunately she died before that was possible. I don't know much about myth so you can google it. In memory of St Agnes, it was customary for unmarried girls to perform a ceremony to see who will be their future husband, who will appear to them in a dream, carrying food and playing music.

  They told her how, upon St. Agnes’ Eve,
  Young virgins might have visions of delight,
  And soft adorings from their loves receive
  Upon the honey’d middle of the night,
  If ceremonies due they did aright;        50
  As, supperless to bed they must retire,
  And couch supine their beauties, lily white;
  Nor look behind, nor sideways, but require
Of Heaven with upward eyes for all that they desire.
The Eve of St Agnes by John Everett Millais

Madeline after Prayer by Maclise

Madeline, who is in love with Porphyro, is doing precisely that. In the meantime, Porphyro is sighted by a servant, Angela who is on his side, warning him to stay away or he will be killed. She informs him that Madeline is performing the ceremony, which gives Porphyro an idea. He persuades Angela to hide him in Madeline's room, where she will stock him with cakes and sweetmeats. Well, in comes Madeline, who has fasted, and is rather dreamy-eyed. She proceeds to undress and lies on her bed, hoping to dream of her future husband. (I find this rather creepy). Then Porphyro comes out and watches her sleeping figure:
Stol’n to this paradise, and so entranced,
  Porphyro gazed upon her empty dress,        245
  And listen’d to her breathing, if it chanced
  To wake into a slumberous tenderness;
  Which when he heard, that minute did he bless,
  And breath’d himself: then from the closet crept,
  Noiseless as fear in a wide wilderness,        250
  And over the hush’d carpet, silent, stept,
And ’tween the curtains peep’d, where, lo!—how fast she slept.
 Then he takes with him the food to tempt her and plays a tune on her lute: La Belle Dame sans Merci. It's an old mediaeval ballad, and Keats wrote a poem on it too. (Updated: why a mediaeval ballad?
Well, if you think about it, the mediaevals promoted courtly love, which is when a knight languishes for a lady but cannot ultimately fulfil the relationship physically. I think it is an extension of agape love but not as great of course. This has given me another idea for a blog post. I'll write something on La Belle Dame sans Merci and Stephanie Meyer later, when I have studied the poem more carefully.) She finally awakes and sees Porphyro, thinking he is part of her dream. She has in fact just dreamt of him - a dream of passion from what it seems. because she says he's changed and pallid-looking. Still he does nothing. This is courtly love, remember?

“Never on such a night have lovers met,/ Since Merlin paid his Demon 
all the monstrous debt”
In Mediaeval legend, Merlin taught Morgan Le Fay the magic he knew, which she used against him to imprison him. She was his mistress by the way. It sounds sinister despite the passion. Similarly Edward's raging passion for Bella is dangerous as she tempts him to drink her blood and seduce her. Like Morgan she wants to be a magical being, only in her case she wants to become a vampire, vampirised by Edward. Bella is more and more like a demon lover.
 While still her gaze on Porphyro would keep;
  Who knelt, with joined hands and piteous eye,        305
Fearing to move or speak, she look’d so dreamingly.


  “Ah, Porphyro!” said she, “but even now
  “Thy voice was at sweet tremble in mine ear,
  “Made tuneable with every sweetest vow;
  “And those sad eyes were spiritual and clear:        310
  “How chang’d thou art! how pallid, chill, and drear!
  “Give me that voice again, my Porphyro,
  “Those looks immortal, those complainings dear!
  “Oh leave me not in this eternal woe,
“For if thou diest, my Love, I know not where to go.”

The language isn't easy to understand, but scholars say Madeline is bemoaning her fear that Porphyro will leave her and do nothing passionate, because she wants to marry him. This is even more shocking, as this is not a dream anymore, but real life. Granted, she thinks she dreams, but the fact is people are more inhibited in real life. So if she isn't inhibited - we are seeing a different perspective of Madeline, who doesn't seem so bloodless anymore, since she is inviting him into her bed. The eternal woe is loneliness (i.e. singledom) and she can't do without him.  This was written in 1819 which was pretty prudish in the world of publication.
Then Porphyro jumps in and consummates their relationship.
 Beyond a mortal man impassion’d far
  At these voluptuous accents, he arose,
  Ethereal, flush’d, and like a throbbing star
  Seen mid the sapphire heaven’s deep repose;
  Into her dream he melted, as the rose        320
  Blendeth its odour with the violet,—
  Solution sweet: meantime the frost-wind blows
  Like Love’s alarum pattering the sharp sleet
Against the window-panes; St. Agnes’ moon hath set.
 I think it was unkind of Porphyro to have done this in a time where virginity was prized, but it's also Madelin's fault for tempting him. Remember that Edward, like Porphyro refuses to do anything too far with Bella at first, and it is she who repeatedly asks him to consummate their relationship? Also like Porphyro Edward is physically attracted to she who is supposedly unattainable (to me Bella is pretty attainable though) and it is he who pursues at first. But later on, Bella wants him to go further than that, just like Madeline.  But here's the difference: Madeline wakes up in the morning, only to be told by Porphyro that it was no dream. She cries, thinking she is deceived by him (who asked her to invite him into her bed, anyway?) but he assures her that he will marry her, he had been intending to do so anyway since he slept with her. Similarly Edward thinks that consummation should come with marriage, though admittedly Keats has them do it before they marry which is racy for its age. Mind you, the mediaeval people where it is set were far less prudish than the 19th century. But still, they were stricter than we are now.

This is how disturbing the Bella-Edward relationship is :
The Eve of St Agnes by Peter Hay

They run away into the cold storm of reality where I presume they marry. But the ending is gloomy and ambiguous so it's hard to tell.

The Flight of Madeline and Porphyro during the Drunkenness attending the Revelry Eve of St Agnes by William Holman Hunt

Oh, as for the Christian symbolism, scholars have interpreted the colour purple or blue as Mary Magdalene. Apparently blue is a Christian symbol. Magdalene=Madeline, if you believe them. And the colour red represents blood, or noble blood, or passion. The part about the violet blending with the rose is Madeline who is of royal (blueblood) consummating her passion with the passionate Porphyro, though a rose ought to be female. Alternately the rose is Madeline, since she is supposedly pure and sweet and white(Mary Sue, anyone?) and the violet is Porphyro since Porphyre means purple.

There are also stained windows or engravings of saints on the wall. SMeyer openly admits her Mormon beliefs influenced her orgasmic pleasure work. Be warned, however, that Keats became irreligious.

The poem went on to influence the Pre-Raphaelite painters, whose paintings have been shown above.
Twilight went on to influence a (very bad) fanfic called Forbidden Fruit: The Temptation of Edward Cullen by the notorious Tara Gilesbie, author of My Immortal. Also, Twila, the Girl who was in Love with a Vampire. The actual spelling of the latter is actually far worse but I can't remember it offhand.

(update: La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Alain Chartier, the original composer of the ballad, is about his knight wailing about how women will not give in to his passion. Ironically, after Porphyro plays that tune Madeline willingly gives her most precious treasure to him, and then rebukes him for stealing it. Stupid cow. Tie this in with Edward longing to drink Bella's blood but will not, though she is willing to become a vampire for him. Or, with gender flipping, Bella moaning about why Edward refuses to sleep with her - that cold, hard creature. Or Jacob upset that Bella won't prefer him to Edward. It actually makes sense as Jacob forces himself on her, just as Porphyro seduces Madeline who thinks she dreams, dubious though it seems.)

Now I dare any Twilight fan out there to ask Stephanie Meyer whether she did in fact base her Twilight Saga on The Eve of St Agnes. I would ask her if I were not anti-Twilight myself, and it would creep out in my writing. Anyway I will not give her the privilege of flattering her personally, as Keats is undoubtedly the finer writer.

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