Wednesday, July 23, 2008

on bookish girls

Rereading the Twilight books last night, I found myself wondering if part of their appeal isn't just the romantic vampires and adorable werewolves, but Bella's characterization as a clumsy, inexperienced, well, word nerd. Especially in the first book, she clearly loves books and wants to go to the big city just to find a bookstore. Even when this is lessened in the second two books, each draws themes paralleled to great romantic works--Romeo and Juliet pops up often in the second, Wuthering Heights in the third (though I personally have always thought both Romeo and Heathcliff are shmoes, they do have appeal for a certain type of teenage girl, embodied in Bella). Anyway, the point is that I wonder if part of Bella's appeal isn't just her romantic foibles or her dangerous adventures, but the fact that other shy, bookish girls can really relate to her. Don't all shy, bookish girls hope that some romantic hero will inexplicably fall in love with them (based on the smell of their blood? Or whatever).

It does seem to be a trope in literature aimed at girls--think of all the classic books about girls who like books, like Anne of Green Gables and her romantic poetry, or even Roald Dahl's Matilda, whose initial goal in the book is just to be able to read library books. (Matilda came out when I was in elementary school and I fell in love with her for that.) Anne even grows up to be a writer, as do many, many other girl characters--like Laura Ingalls or Betsy (of Betsy-Tacy)--who never seemed to show any great inclination toward reading. I'm sure there are others I'm just not thinking of at the moment.

Is this just b/c the authors of these books were themselves bookish girls (or boys)? Is there some authorial assumption that girls who like to read like to read books about girls who like to read? I know I do, but is it very common?

Oddly, I can't think of any books about boys who like to read, other than the kids in Edward Eager's Seven Day Magic (a co-ed group). Is this strictly something aimed at girls? Or is the bookish girl just another literary archetype?

1 comment:

christinamerge said...

I definitely loved both Anne and Matilda because I related whole-heartedly to their bookishness and their desire to belong somewhere. The idea that you could be a little "word nerd" in your youth, and then grow up to do extraordinary things still inspires me to try harder.

I definitely think Bella is appealing because of her innate maturity and ordinariness. Her character's inner monologue is one that seemed very familiar to me as I thought of those brutal high school crushes. Except for the vampire and werewolf stuff, of coures! haha