I agree with you, that Bella moving to Forks to give her mother time with the new husband was a selfless thing to do. Later, sneaking away from Alice and Jasper in Phoenix to give herself up to James to save her mother was also a selfless thing to do. Stupid, but selfless.
But Edward didn’t know that when he initially saw Bella in the cafeteria. Or when she first spotted Edward and his siblings.
Her thoughts were no different than any of the other “children” in the room.
“I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. There were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine. Or painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was hard to decide who was the most beautiful—maybe the perfect blonde girl, or the bronze-haired boy.”
(Bella’s thoughts on first seeing the Cullens, Twilight, page 19.)
In Midnight Sun, Edward’s thoughts are, “When it came to the human mind, I’d heard it all before and then some. Today, all thoughts were consumed with the trivial drama of a new addition to the small student body here … I’d seen the new face repeated in thought after thought from every angle. Just an ordinary human girl.”
Of the humans sitting with Bella, he refers to their thoughts as inane and petty because they, too, are thinking of how pretty the Cullens are, they’re jealous of Bella because folks are paying attention to her, and who does Bella think she is?
He’s intrigued merely because he can’t hear what she is thinking. He first assumes there is something wrong with him because he can’t.
At that time, had he been able to hear the thoughts passing through her head, he’d have only heard about how pretty she thought he was.
She’s never seen them before and she’s checking them out. Struck by their extreme beauty. No different than any other human.
Except Angela who is thinking about school work at the very moment Edward listens into her. Were Edward to follow Angela around and listen to every little thought that passed through her head, he’d be just as judgy about her as he is about everyone else.
The only thing that saves Bella in the biology class is Edward doesn’t want to disappoint Carlisle and he doesn’t want to give into his “monster.” He doesn’t care about her, or the other kids in the class, personally. His concern is more abstract in that it would be wrong to kill all those kids. And darn it, he might give his family away and they’d have to move!
He doesn’t find out until more than a week later—after he’s come back from Alaska—that Bella moved to Forks to give her mother *space*. He only knows that because he asked her directly. He doesn’t hear all the whining and griping about it.
This continues throughout the books.
Edward attributes darn near saint-like qualities to Bella because he can’t hear the “inane and petty” (and very teenagery and very human) thoughts that she has.
I’m not saying she’s a bad person. Perhaps nicer and more sheltered than some others. She’s just not quite as extraordinarily good, pure, and angelic as Edward makes her out to be. And he only thinks that because he can’t hear her mind.
(Unlike a lot of folks, I like the Bella character.)
And, I mean, lots of us do things we don’t especially want to do to benefit others in some way.