by Stephenie Meyer
Edward Cullen is our protagonist vampire and deep love interest of Bella. Though Bella repeatedly describes Edward as angelic, Edward is the first to acknowledge that he has a dark side. When he and Bella are first getting to know each other, he warns her, "What if I'm not a superhero? What if I'm the bad guy?" (5.19) Bella insists that he's "dangerous […] but not bad" (5.112, 114), but Edward says simply, "You're wrong" (5.115).
Much of the tension in the novel results from Edward's very nature as a predator, a vampire. He's a conflicted character because he sees himself as a monster – he hates that he craves human blood, especially Bella's. He's horrified by his natural instincts.
When telling Bella about his past, he admits that he did, at one point in his life, give in and prey on humans. Edward returned to Carlisle and committed to the "vegetarian" diet after he "began to see the monster in [his] eyes" (16.82). Yet when Edward encountered Bella for the first time in Biology class, he almost lost control for the first time in decades:
"To me, it was like you were some kind of demon, summoned straight from my own personal hell to ruin me. The fragrance coming off your skin…I thought it would make me deranged that first day. In that one hour, I thought of a hundred different ways to lure you from the room, to get you alone. And I fought them each back, thinking of my family, what I could do to them. I had to run out, to get away before I could speak the words that would make you follow…" (13.102)
Despite his primal urges, Edward tells Bella, "I couldn't live with myself if I ever hurt you. You don't know how it's tortured me" (13.124). Though he loves Bella, Edward struggles against his nature, and continues to worry that he won't be able to control himself and will accidentally hurt her.
All the same, Bella can't resist him. Edward repeatedly tells her that he's dangerous, but Bella insists, "I would rather die than stay away from you" (13.126). Why is that?
In an interview with Newsweek, Stephenie Meyer was asked why she made Edward so "perfect." Her response: "I just wanted to write for myself, a fantasy. And that's what Edward is" (source). In another interview, Meyer was asked if she'd ever met an Edward, to which she replied, "No, no, I wish" (source). In other words, Meyer is presenting Edward as the masculine ideal. And Meyer is not the only one who finds Edward compelling.
Go ahead and Google "Edward Cullen." You'll find tons of Edward fan sites, such as e-cullen.org and a site titled "Edward Cullen – Every Girl's Dream." He has his own definition in the Urban Dictionary, including entries that call him "the most amazing being to walk the earth" and "the perfect guy." There are also over 500 Facebook groups dedicated to him.
What is it about Edward that people find so appealing?
Again, we Shmoopers turn our attention to the canon of great literature. You've probably seen different versions of a very similar character to Edward. Over the years, this character type continues to draw people in. Here are a few examples of characters similar to Edward that you may have encountered before:
- Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre: Jane Eyre and Bella seem to have the same taste in men. Jane falls in love with Mr. Edward Rochester, who is twice her age, has far more life experience, is rather bossy and somewhat aggressive, intimidating, and is easily jealous of other men that claim Jane's attention. Does that sound like Edward Cullen or what? Twilight is just a little more extreme because Edward is about five times older than Bella. Each man is also tempted by his ladylove. Edward knows that he shouldn't be falling in love with a human and that he's putting Bella in danger by doing so; Mr. Rochester knows that he shouldn't be falling in love with his governess, especially when he's already married (to a madwoman that he hides in his attic). But neither Edward nor Rochester can resist – after being alone for so long, they've finally found a woman who makes them feel alive again. (You can check out Mr. Rochester in action here. This scene takes place after Mr. Rochester and Jane's wedding falls through, due to Rochester already being married. We recommend that start watching at minute 3.)
- Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights: Heathcliff is an angry, aggressive man raised in the same household as his true love Catherine. She is the only person who can actually bring out his humanity. However, when Catherine marries another man for the sake of wealth and social status, Heathcliff jealously does his best to get revenge on her husband, her brother, and later her daughter. On her deathbed, Catherine still returns Heathcliff's fierce love. (Check out a movie clip of Heathcliff here. We recommend that you skip to minute 4.)
- The Beast, from "Beauty and the Beast": The Beast in this classic fairy tale (and classic Disney movie) is a handsome prince who has been transformed into a monster. Thought the beast is terrifying, a beautiful young woman named Belle falls in love with him, and her love transforms him back into a human. We can't help but see the parallel between Edward and the Beast, since Edward considers himself a "monster," is terrifying (theoretically), and falls in love with a human named Bella.
- Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire: Stanley Kowalski is gruff, domineering, aggressive, and occasionally violent with his wife. However, she's very attracted to him, and finds his aggressive behavior exciting. He seems to genuinely love her as well, and she has the ability to calm him down. But unlike Edward, Stanley is not ultimately a good guy. (Check out Stanley in action, as played by Marlon Brando. In this scene, Stanley is coming to beg forgiveness from his wife after hitting her.)
What is it about this character type that lures us? In the words of Roger Ebert in his review of Twilight the movie, "Why do girls always prefer the distant, aloof, handsome, dangerous dudes instead of cheerful chaps like me?" (source).
And Edward does have the "distant, aloof, handsome, dangerous" act down pat. But Meyer takes her hero to the next level. Instead of Edward a simply a bad boy human (which, as we've seen, has had plenty of appeal in the past), she makes him a vampire, a mythic and inherently violent creature. He's a character built of extremes. He's indescribably good looking – women can't focus when they're around him, and Bella constantly comments on how "godlike" and "perfect" he looks. He's also inhumanly strong and fast, which allows him to be a powerful protector, but also makes him very dangerous. And not only does he desire Bella as a woman, but he also aches to drink her blood. Do Edward's extreme qualities make him more appealing?
Edward has some other unusual qualities that Bella finds attractive. When Edward saves Bella from the alley thugs, we learn that he's been following her around. Bella's response? "I wondered if it should bother me that he was following me; instead I felt a strange sense of pleasure" (8.212). Interestingly, Bella also doesn't seem at all creeped out when she learns that he's been sneaking into her bedroom at night and watching her sleep. (In fact, she tells us, "I was flattered" [14.61].) How would Bella (or we readers) respond if Mike or Tyler did that? Would Bella be calling them stalkers? Why is it that when Edward acts in this way it's charming?
What's in a Name?
Like Bella, Edward's name alone says a lot about him. Bella herself realizes that "Edward" is the first name of several heroes of Victorian novels – Edward from Sense and Sensibility, Edmund (close to "Edward") in Mansfield Park, and Edward Rochester from Jane Eyre... coincidence? We think not. Meyer was looking for a good, old-fashioned name for Bella's 100+ -year-old vampire lover. Here's what Meyer has to say about the process of naming Edward:
I decided to use a name that had once been considered romantic, but had fallen out of popularity for decades. Charlotte Bronte's Mr. [Edward] Rochester and Jane Austen's Mr. [Edward] Ferrars were the characters that led me to the name Edward. I tried it on for size, and found that it fit well. (Source)
We absolutely agree that the name fits him well. (See above to read more on how Edward is particularly like Mr. Edward Rochester.)
Then there's Edward's last name to consider: Cullen. We looked up "cull" in our handy Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and it's defined as "1. to select from a group; to choose, 2. to reduce or control the size of (as a herd) by removal (as by hunting) of especially weaker animals." Very interesting. This name seems to hint at Edward's major conflict: he both "selects from a group" and chooses Bella as his true love, and on the other hand, he wants to hunt her like he would an animal. Whether it was intentional or not, Meyer picked the perfect word on which to base Edward's last name.
Edward, Spanish Influenza to La Bella Vita
Now that we know about Edward through his name, let's jump into some specifics about his life. Here's what we know about Edward's past. Carlisle found him in the summer of 1918, almost dead from Spanish influenza (Spanish flu), and saved him by turning him into a vampire. Born in 1901, Edward would be over 100 years old, were his body not stuck forever at seventeen. Mature yet youthful looking? What an excellent combo.
Edward is smart, even if we think the mind-reading power is sort of cheating when it comes to analyzing those around him. He's got a good deal of neuroses about his vampirism, and his self-hate complex makes him into the tortured soul kind of guy. As a vampire, he automatically gets the good looks, great physique, stellar style. However, like Bella, Meyer doesn't give us many specifics about his appearance. We just know that Bella finds him disarmingly attractive (as does every other female that lays eyes on him). If we're all supposed to relate to Bella's character, that would make Edward whatever we imagine an ideal guy to be.
Rosalie was originally meant to be Edward's vampire wife, but that didn't click, so he's been on his own for his entire life. With his other four siblings paired off with each other, Edward's the odd-man out. Talk about feeling like the fifth wheel. He doesn't seem to be too bothered by that fact, until he gets a whiff of Miss Swan.
So what had Edward been doing with all that free time? Well, he's obviously a music junkie; he enjoys baseball; he's well-read and educated; he's an amazing driver and a car lover; and he hunts. He's bored by most humans, though, so he doesn't have to bother with hiding his vampire lifestyle to any human friends. Basically, he entertains himself, much like Bella does. That is, until he has to deal with his newfound human preoccupation... courting a human girl can be really time-consuming.
From that point on, he's all about Bella, and her presence in his life creates enough turmoil to keep him busy. He's an attentive boyfriend, if not a bit of a hoverer.