Unconditionally and at the heart's core : Twilight, neo-Victorian melodrama, and popular girl culture
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Through a study of Twilight literary texts, fangirls' online discourse, and cinematic adaptations, I theorize the rhetorical dimensions of "neo-Victorian melodrama," a pervasive mode of discourse in girl culture. These rhetorical functions include the validation of girls' emotional lives, especially affective responses to coming-of-age experiences. Through the confessional revelation of interiority, neo-Victorian melodrama promotes empathy and intimacy among girls and functions to critique restrictive constructions of contemporary girlhood, which has inherited Victorian discourses related to female youth. Theorizing these rhetorical dimensions helps advance an appreciation for girls' rhetorical activities and their cultural preferences. These preferences have often been derided by ageist and sexist critiques of Twilight, a phenomenon initiated by Stephenie Meyer's young adult vampire romance. In order to determine the rhetorical dimensions of neo-Victorian melodrama in girl culture, I use generic rhetorical criticism. Specifically, Meyer's Twilight Saga appeals to contemporary girls through melodramatic moments shared with Charlotte Brontë's nineteenth-century Jane Eyre. Fangirls' online discourse certifies this appeal while also demonstrating how melodrama qualifies girls' own speech practices. Thus, generic criticism is complemented by ethnographic approaches to fandom. In addition, a focus on narrating voiceover, a sound convention with a legacy in girls' media, helps make sense of the Twilight cinematic adaptations' translation of neo-Victorian melodrama from page to screen. The rhetorical dimensions of neo-Victorian melodrama in girl culture are consistent with previous feminist theoretical insights related to the revelation of affect, intimacy, and personal experience for the purpose of community building. While feminist rhetoricians have addressed women's rhetorical practices, they have not theorized girls to the same extent, nor have they used generic criticism to account for melodrama's redemptive or progressive potential. Likewise, while scholars of literature, film, and media studies have advanced an appreciation for women's preferences for melodrama, these feminist scholars generally have not treated girls' preferences for the melodramatic mode. And while feminist critics in girls' studies have theorized girls' productive cultural contributions, as well as their complex reading and viewing strategies, such scholarship has not accounted for girls' preferences for melodrama. My study at once builds on and remedies the gaps in this theoretical foundation.