Thursday, October 8, 2009

CharacterExploration: Renee - The Motherload of Mommy Issues

Renee Swan
EJ Santry

Bethie walks in and stretches out on the stereotypical leather chaise, folds her hands on her stomach, and tries to relax.

“Are you comfortable?” Dr. AG asks.

“As much as I am going to be,” Bethie responds. “Let’s do this.”

“So, what do you want to talk about today?” The doctor asks.

“I would like to talk about some hot lemons I have read or why there are so many damn pictures of cats in this office, but I suppose we should talk about my mommy issues,” Bethie retorts looking around uneasily at all the whiskered faces staring back at her. “I picked Renee because I have my own issues with my mother, and I find it fascinating how we use Renee in fic.”

“Fair enough. Let’s begin,” the doctor says pulling out some 8x11 cards. “What I have here are some images, that I would like you to look at, and then give your reaction.”

“Like a mommy version of the Rorschach test starring Renee?”


“Are you sure you’re a doctor?”
Doc holds up the first image

“Well, that just isn’t even creative.”

Doc shrugs.

Canon Renee

In the books, Renee is a woman who had dreams beyond the small town of Forks and her unchanging husband. So, she divorces Charlie, and takes Bella with her. This gesture alone shows her as a devoted mother. Never does she want to be apart from Bella in the books. The separation is Bella’s choice. Though we are told, via Bella that she has a limited attention span for anything beyond her daughter, we see in Eclipse that she has a level of intuitiveness when it comes to Bella, that can only come from a lifetime of loving her child. For the most part, though, she is absent from our tale. Maybe that is why we have filled in the reasons for her absence in so many ways.
Doc holds up the second image

No Renee At All

"I find that often, people aren’t even bothered with writing her. In the canon, she is really just in the start and end of Twilight, the visit in Eclipse, and the wedding in Breaking Dawn. There is not a lot material to work with. She is mostly absent in canon, so most people leave her out in fan fiction.”

On the flip side of that, I checked out while doing my research to see how many fics were out there that listed Renee as one of the two main characters. There are 118, and I would have to say that 95% are one-shots; majority of which are she & Charlie before Bella, post-BD surprise visits, or redoing canon moments. It seems that, even in fan fiction, we just see Renee as a supporting character.
Doc holds up the third image

Dear Abby Renee

"This may occur once in a fic, or throughout, but we often see Renee making an appearance to offer some sage advice or push the plot along by unchaining Bella from some emotional shackle.

Renee, as the sage, typically shows up when Bella is holding herself back from happiness, or on the other end of the side of the scale, Renee feels that she and Edward are rushing into things. In
Cocktails & Dreams
, a case where Renee and Charlie are still happily married, Renee swoops in as the sage when Bella is at a loss of what to do about her crumbling relationship with Edward by telling her,
Bella, honey, if you can’t talk to the one who shares your bed – stop grimacing, Charlie – you have no business being there together.
(Cocktails & Dreams, Ch. 27).

I think we use her as the source of emotional wisdom, because she flies about in a frenzy most of the time that when she stills, the words become more poignant.

Other times, the advice comes in the form of the honest truth about Renee or Bella’s life. In
Sleepers, Awake: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme
Feisty Y. Beden
, Renee brings some clarity to Bella’s wandering existence as she is seeking answers after Edward’s death, by pulling the curtain back on the fairy tale of her parent’s courtship, marriage, and life before Renee left. After Renee comes right out and tells Bella she was a mistake, that she never loved Charlie, and that she gave up her life with them for the man she truly loved, Renee offers that clarity moment,
I can see you judging me, kid. And you know what? I don’t care. I raised you good. I fed you, drove you to school, took you to the doctor. And you’re probably more like me than you think. You’d drop everything for the right guy. I can see it in your face.
(Sleepers, Awake: Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Ch. 12).

Bella is smacked with that reality, that no matter how awful mother is, in some small ways, she is part of us. We are like her.
Doc holds up the fourth image

Bat Shit Crazy Renee

"When she blows into town or calls, all hell breaks loose. These are the cases where canon Renee’s flightiness and selfish nature has been taken to the extreme. I had to include this Renee, because a lot of times, she is the one who makes me sigh at my own memories and pick up the phone to give my own mother a call.

The first level of the crazy is extreme selfishness. This Renee thinks the world should revolve around her; that all actions should be carried out as she sees proper. She is less a mother, and more a saboteur of happiness.
and I had long couch sessions over her Renee in
Pieces of Time
. See all of chapter 30. Renee’s possessiveness of Bella leads her to constantly berate and physically attack Bella’s husband, when he is being nothing but loving to Bella. Her warped view won’t allow for Bella’s happiness.

Other times, her crazy manifests in the form of the orchestrator or active participant in Bella's unhappiness. In
Bella & the Billionaire
, Renee has kept her daughter in an abusive marriage to Jacob, because she and her husband profit from Jacob's success. She also manipulates Jacob in the end to try to kidnap Bella for the mere purpose of extorting money from Edward.
Doc holds up the fifth image

Emotionally Distant Renee

Renee is/was never really in the picture. Though, this Renee, is often never ‘seen’ in the story, she is the underlying emotional current that runs through Bella’s life. With one indifferent letter or harsh phone call, she crumbles Bella’s spirit. Sometimes, Bella craves that Renee was the mother of her dreams. Other times, Bella tries desperately to emotionally extricate herself from her.

A great example of a Bella who is desperate for Renee to be the concerned and caring mother she needs is in
. You can feel it pointedly in the letter she has written for Renee in her notebook. Just reading the first line,
I guess you haven’t been getting my e-mails so I figured I would try to do things the old-fashioned way.
(Derailment, Ch. 10).

Right from the start, she is pretending the reality of her situation is some Internet black hole, rather than believe the fact that her mother isn’t responding to the things she has sent her. The letter itself is a desperate grasp at engaging Renee by bringing up memories of the past and how happy they were together then.

The flip side of this is a Renee who has been so harsh and neglectful, that Bella is desperate to let her go. In
Art After 5
, Bella’s issues with emotional intimacy leads to the destruction of her relationship with Edward, and it’s pointed out in therapy that a lot of this stems from being abandoned by Renee at six weeks old. Renee’s presence is like any other part of the atmosphere in this story. She is as prevalent to Bella’s journey as the air she breathes. Not by her physical presence, but the scars she left behind by never being there.
Doc holds up the final image

Dead Renee

One would think, on first inspection, that dead Renee is just a writer’s way of not having to write her at all. I have found, that dead Renee is the cause for Bella’s emotional struggle or general emotional health issues. Her death never seems to be a fleeting fact in fic. It is often the key to Bella's faith in who she is and has to bring for the table. It's also commonly what brings her or ties her obligation to Charlie. Finally, her death is the catalyst or is concurrent with the drama Bella suffers. ::cough::

Doc's eyes narrow beneath her fake horn-rimmed glasses.

Anything But Conventional
, Renee commits suicide leaving a five year old Bella to find her. A decade after the incident, and Bella still carries the confusion and emptiness of a child who has had to emotionally check herself, and the lingering confusion of not being enough of an incentive for her mother to live. It also leaves a silent strain between her and Charlie until the end of the story. She is the emotional current in the Swans' lives.

A more subtle devotion caused by Renee's untimely death can be seen in
Guns & Roses
. Bella is reluctant to accept Edward's interest at first in fear of Charlie being left alone with no one to care for him. She is living the role of “woman of the house”, and it isn’t until Edward leaves for the war, that she allows herself to dream something more for herself.

In the end, we love Renee in that supporting role. Whether she is making us laugh with her flighty antics, comforting our spirit with her advice, driving us to distraction, or crushing our spirit, she is always lurking in the depths of our storylines. As all mothers tend to do.
“Anything else?” Bethie asks.

“Why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself,” Doc encourages.

“My pen name is
EJ Santry
, but most people know me as Bethie (who started that…Moi? Katie?). Let me be a testament to how important reviewing really is. The reason I am here today talking with the good doctor is that I am an avid reviewer. A thoughtful review is a gateway to conversation. Conversation leads to me boring you lot with my mommy issues and drabble. I have a blog of all my reviews and what I am reading at:
. I do also write. Currently, I am writing a full-length fic called
Diseased Affair
, which I will be wrapping up soon. I have also done several one-shots.”

“Well, I think that is enough for one day?” Doc says.

“Thanks for the session.”
Archived Explorations:

Upcoming Characters:
Leah/Emily, Lauren, Vampward.


  1. Bethie, that was a fabulous character analysis as a whole, and your depiction of Renee in ABC was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for that. :)

  2. You are very welcome, Dawn. Your Renee broke my heart and left me the emotionally confused and stilted Bella you presented in this story.

  3. Short and to the point - I liked it.

  4. Side comment - the old lady picture scares me everytime I look at it. I jerk my mouse. Click "Scroll up!" repeatedly. It's like really SCARY.

  5. Bethie OMG I love you. This article was awesome, but the Bat-Shit crazy Renee pic takes the cake!


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