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:
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.
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.