Wuthering Heights makes more sense if you’re a teenage girl. Heathcliff is clearly hot. For starters, he’s filled with inner turmoil. He doesn’t have parents, so there’s no-one to cramp his style. His sudden violent outbursts are mostly directed at less-hot men. And he shares his name with the late Heath Ledger. It’s a crying shame there were no teenagers around when Emily Bronte wrote the book, as you could have saved critics years of wrangling over subtext. Fortunately, Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight was immediately understood by its readership. It’s about a Heathcliff-type named Edward, who struggles with love (and being a vampire).
Replacing the Yorkshire moors with the forests of Washington State, Twilight is the story of Bella Swan; the kind of girl who wears black and underlines a lot of Emily Dickinson. Bella arrives in America’s damp hinterland after her parents divorce. Her father is the chief of police in a little town called Forks. He doesn’t talk much, but Bella likes quiet men. When Bella enrols at the local high-school, she’s instantly drawn to a pale mute with a cool haircut and a tight sweater. As it turns out, this brooding hunk of well-coiffed man-candy is a vampire. He warns Bella: “If you’re smart… you’ll stay away from me.” But since when did talk of being bad prove a turn-off?
Every time Kirsten Stewart looks at Robert Pattinson in this movie, she looks horny. He’ll be droning on about the moral quandary of being a vampire… blahblahblah, and Stewart is making a sex-face. This perks up the story no end. We’re so used to seeing women talk and men wait for sex to happen that it’s startling to be aware that this girl wants Pattinson in the Biblical sense. Stewart (who looks like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club) has a fiercely honest face. It’s always more plausible to watch her scenes with Pattinson as two virgins skirting the bedroom than one virgin and a hundred-year-old vampire. Bella Swan might want Edward Cullen because he’s a tragic figure, but Stewart wants Pattinson because he’s buff.
If you ever wanted to understand how Heathcliff maintains his appeal in Wuthering Heights when (on the surface) he’s a morally-depraved, dog-murdering lunatic – look at Robert Pattinson. This man could eat a bowlful of pets and still look shag-able. He’s got post-coital hair, eyes for only you… a broad, monogamous chin. He looks like he was born to scale balconies. Though, as an actor, Pattinson is more Judd Nelson than Marlon Brando – since this is a movie told from the girl’s point of view, his acting doesn’t matter. He’s there to be adored, and he looks comfortable with adoration. His lips command kisses.
There is a subplot in Twilight about a group of “bad” vampires running around killing people, but you’re never meant to pay it close attention. The intended viewer – female, 11-16 – is a lot more interested in Bella and Edward’s prom night than they are in watching monsters brawl. Those who complain about the big fight being sidelined are missing the point. In this movie, it’s Kirsten Stewart’s prom dress that merits scrutiny, not the blood spurts. Prom is, of course, worth dying for (for most girls). So it’s no surprise Bella would accept a dance from a killer rather than sit prom out. Twilight’s success is down to focusing on real-life terrors over and above supernatural upsets.
Emily Bronte would have included a prom scene in Wuthering Heights, if she’d known about prom. Anything that a young girl can develop a feverish excitement about is her cup of tea. Look at Heathcliff: Would any sane woman over 30 date this man? He doesn’t appear to wash for most of the book. But that’s because he’s a fantasy. Heathcliff is a man who could only seem romantic to someone who’d never dated a Heathcliff. Like a vampire, he’d kill you in the long run. Stephenie Meyer understands all too well why that’s true – but girls read Wuthering Heights anyway. Twilight is in love with heartache.