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On Seduction: Seducers, Seductresses, Angels in the House, and Vampires in Shining Armor…

August 14, 2009

The word seduction dates at least back to the 15th century, deriving from the Latin seducer, and literally means “to lead away.” It has taken on both negative and positive connotations over the years.

On the negative side, it is associated with leading others into disobedience or disloyalty through the use of persuasion or trickery – and especially so in relation to seducing others into sexual activities.

On the positive side, seduction is associated with excitement, allure, mystery, romance, charm, and, again, sexual activity. Seduction shares further positive connotations in relation to bringing about freedom from social mores, becoming emancipated from sex/gender or religious constrictions, and positive escapism.

The morality of seduction in academic debates is often read against who or what is doing the seduction and why, who is being seduced, and what the socio-historical contexts of the seduction are. The history of seduction (especially in its literary representations) has usually served as a warning to females of the social consequences of behaving in “non-feminine” ways, or, to put it another way, of not being “a good girl.” We can look to Eve as a quintessential victim of seduction – at least in the traditional readings of her actions  — or to the numerous “fallen women” in Victorian literature that lost their families, livelihoods, and/or lives due to falling under the seductive spell of a male suitor. Fairy tales are also rife with warnings  -“Little Red Riding Hood” being the most obvious example.

In contemporary times, abstinence only education relies heavily on various imagery that frames females as needing to guard against seduction. Yet, women have played their fair share as seductresses as well. From the Sirens of Greek mythology that lured sailors to their death to the female ghosts ,vampires, werewolves, and monsters of classic literature as well as popular fiction and film, seductresses have literally or figuratively lured many men (as well as smatterings of women and children) to their demise.

While both men and women have been framed as seducers, the difference is that the male seducer is often framed as charming, irresistible, brooding, and mysterious (think of the Byronic hero), while the female seductress more often is dangerous, monstrous, evil, and immoral (think Medusa).

Vampires have been especially associated with seduction, luring their victims with their charm and power to a (usually) bad end. Twilight flips this script somewhat, presenting Bella as a seductress tempting the “pure Edward” into a (sexual) relationship with her. However, she is presented as an innocent seductress, as one who does not fully recognize her seductive powers. She is more Woolf’s “angel in the house” than Bronte’s “monster in the attic.”

Edward, though he is presented as ultra-seductive, is not the dangerous, unscrupulous libertine ala Tess of the d’Urbervilles, rather, he is a male savior, a dragon slayer, a vampire in shining armor. He seduces passively – requiring Bella to take on the active (hussy?) role – as explored in the Ms. magazine article by Carmen D. Siering.

As she writes,

“…while Twilight is ostensibly a love story, scratch the surface and you will find an allegorical tale about the dangers of unregulated female sexuality. From the very first kiss between Edward and Bella, she is fighting to control her awakening sexuality. Edward must restrain her, sometimes physically, to keep her from ravishing him, and he frequently chastises her when she becomes, in his opinion, too passionate.”

Or, in other words, she acts like a brazen hussy, a seductress extaordinairre, rather than a simpering wallflower…

Why are you, dear readers, seduced by Twilight? Who in the book would you most like to seduce or to be seduced by? Do you feel the texts tend to highlight the dangers of seduction, or the allure?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Cassie permalink
    November 28, 2009 12:48 am

    Woolf hated the angel in the house, not perpetuated it

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      November 29, 2009 8:07 pm

      True, but I don’t think the series ONLY perpetuates the angel — it also questions and subverts the angel/whore good girl/bad girl dichotomy. Meyer is no Woolf, to be sure, but she is no misogynist either…

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