Anne Rice Essay - Rice, Anne (1941 -)

Rice, Anne (1941 -)

Principal Works

Interview with the Vampire (novel) 1976
The Feast of All Saints (novel) 1980
Cry to Heaven (novel) 1982
The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty [as A. N. Roquelaure] (novel) 1983
Beauty's Punishment [as A. N. Roquelaure] (novel) 1984
Beauty's Release: The Continued Erotic Adventures of Sleeping Beauty [as A. N. Roquelaure] (novel) 1985
Exit to Eden [as Anne Rampling] (novel) 1985
The Vampire Lestat (novel) 1985
Belinda [as Anne Rampling] (novel) 1986
The Queen of the Damned (novel) 1988
The Mummy; or, Ramses the Damned (novel) 1989
The Witching Hour (novel) 1990
The Tale of the Body Thief (novel) 1992

Lasher (novel) 1993
Interview with the Vampire [adaptor; from her novel] (screenplay) 1994
Taltos (novel) 1994
Memnoch the Devil (novel) 1995
Servant of the Bones (novel) 1996
Violin (novel) 1997
The Vampire Armand (novel) 1998
Vittorio the Vampire (novel) 1999
Merrick (novel) 2000
Blood and Gold (novel) 2001
Blackwood Farm (novel) 2002
Blood Canticle (novel) 2003

(The entire section is 130 words.)

General Commentary

Edward J. Ingebretsen (Essay Date 1996)

SOURCE: Ingebretsen, Edward J. “Anne Rice: Raising Holy Hell, Harlequin Style.” In The Gothic World of Anne Rice, edited by Gary Hoppenstand and Ray B. Browne, pp. 91-108. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996.

In the following essay, Ingebretsen studies the theological debate that takes place in Interview with the Vampire.

… the first maker of the Gods was fear.

—William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience

Our fiction is not merely a flight from the physical data of the actual world…. It is, bewilderingly and embarrassingly, a gothic fiction, non-realistic and negative, sadist and melodramatic—a literature of darkness and the grotesque.

—Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel

what can be imagined can be done

—Anne Rice

The American gothic—like its Old World counterpart—remains a tradition almost obsessively concerned with the hazards of social memory. Fantasy genres, generally devalued and discredited, nonetheless have important work to do; they construct within approved parameters public memory, principally, one could argue, looking ahead and looking behind—formulaic terror on the one hand and formalized nostalgia on the other. Both extremes have been crucial modes of self-reflection in the New World since colonial times.

It is customary to talk about “subtext” and “submerged values” in the gothic tradition (by which, generally, are meant garden-variety Marxist, political ones).1 However, it is less usual to consider this protean genre from a theologically nuanced perspective—that is, as a genre that questions metaphysical ideologies, in addition to whatever social commentary it may make. Perhaps it is easier to presume that writers of Christian allegory read life through the prescriptive focus of an a priori cosmology. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, for instance, enacts metaphysics as politics while displacing social conflict into moralized emotions. At first glance it may be less easy to observe that same mystification at work in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, or in Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, or in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Yet all three are equally weighted with moralistic zeal—much of it post-puritanical, even post-Christian.2

Nonetheless, theology always had been the ghost rattling in the gothic literary basement. In Horror Fiction in the Protestant Tradition Victor Sage points out that the “rhetoric of the horror novel is demonstrably theological in character.”3 Joel Porte explains that in the tradition of Ann Radcliffe, the “proper business of the orthodox novel of Terror was to expand the soul religiously” (“In the Hands of an Angry God” 43).4 Porte likewise argues for the importance of “Protestant—indeed Calvinist— religious motifs” in the genre of the novel of terror:

Viewing Gothic mystery thus, as a substitute for discredited religious mystery, we may consent to recognize that… le genre noir represented for its producers and consumers alike a genuine expression of profound religious malaise.

(43n)

Porte concludes as “surprising,” how little “systematic consideration has been given to Gothic fiction as the expression of a fundamentally Protestant theological or religious disquietude” (43).

Elsewhere (in Maps of Heaven, Maps of Hell: Religious Terror as Memory from the Puritans to Stephen King) I extend Porte’s observation that gothic texts derive their emotive power from a metaphysical discourse that is fiercely disallowed in public. I argue that the “terroristic literature” (Oral Coad’s term) of an Anglophile literary tradition serves as a repository for religious imperatives suppressed by political expediency. A quick glance reflects the still-evident theologies shadowing political fantasies of chosenness, race, and nationalism. For example, Cotton Mather (of Salem infamy), in sermons and apocalyptic theologies, customarily employed a rhetoric of spiritual terror for the purpose of reforming civic order. Jonathan Edwards, likewise, caused civic hysteria through his use of paranoiac religious fantasies. From a more literary perspective, in his short fiction and novels Nathaniel Hawthorne’s irony undercuts domestic as well as religious pieties, while Melville’s Captain Ahab finds the “pasteboard masks” of illusory reality as formidable an adversary as the white whale. In this century H. P. Love-craft’s breathless apostasies invert this tradition of religious rhetoric, while contemporary markets for horror and sentiment keep raising these restless

ghosts. In a determinedly secular age, shadows still exist of a history of divine privilege.

The religious cosmology inspired by the Calvinists and typified in Edwards’s classic sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” can be seen, then, to continue as paradigm of American intellectual history. It was abstracted, mystified, and secularized in Emerson and the nineteenth-century tradition of drawing-room poetry. Reap-propriated in the fantasies of horrorists like Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, the confusing mix of entrapment, victimization, and expiation typical of this cosmology blended into an enduring and recognizable formula of “religious eroticism” (Germaine Greer qtd. in Russ 676). Such a process is at work in the early days of the horror revival (Friedkin’s The Exorcist), and more recently, in the breathless tabloid moralisms of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and in the various gothics of Anne Rice.

Theological disputation, then, remains a traditionally gothic activity, and nowhere is it more in evidence than in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. Dictating his life to a young man wielding a tape-recorder (interview is not quite the proper term for the one-way nature of the narration), the novel’s main character, the vampire Louis, finds himself interleaving theodicies and proofs for the existence of God along with his autobiographical reflections. After much anguished speculation, Louis concludes that his own immortal existence is an ontological impossibility and, therefore, the greatest proof of God’s absence. Louis recalls the time he wandered into the Cathedral of St. Louis in New Orleans, only to realize that he was the sole supernatural presence in the sacred building. Louis muses, “… neither heaven nor hell seemed more than a tormenting fancy. To know, to believe, in one or the other… that was perhaps the only salvation for which I could dream” (Interview 164). Louis’s reflection confirms Maurice Levy’s insight that “in some sense the fantastic is a compensation that man provides for himself, at the level of the imagination, for what he has lost at the level of faith” (qtd. in Porte 43). Louis himself says as much when he meets Armand, the powerful Parisian vampire: “after seeing what I have become… I can now accept the most fantastical truth of all: that there is no meaning to any of this!” (Interview 241).

In its theological self-reflexivity, then, Rice’s Interview conforms to the theologized gothic identified by Sage, Porte, DeLamotte, and Levy. Yet more remains to be said. Among other problems there remains the difficulty of taxonomizing gothic texts in the first place. David H. Richter’s analysis of the gothic mode leaves the way clear for some useful distinctions, particularly between the gothic genre and its hybrid offspring, the text of terror, with which David Punter sees the gothic as “primarily” concerned (Literature of Terror).

By 1830, the original impulse of the Gothic was spent, though the tale of terror was to survive both as an influence upon mainstream realistic fiction through the Victorian era and beyond, and in its purest form as a minor subgenre of the novel in both high and popular art right up to the present.

(Richter 149)

Richter is correct in distinguishing between the “original impulse of the Gothic” and the “tale of terror” that survived it. The “original impulse,” as numerous critics observe, was a reaction to the conservativism of neoclassic literature; the “tale of terror” emerged from a tradition of sermons and broadsides, flourished for a time with the traditional genre, and then finally superseded it in its tabloid and sentimentalized versions. Nonetheless, while I don’t share Richter’s confidence that “we all know intuitively what the Gothic is” I do agree with him that “it is not one but at least three things” (150). The “Gothic flame,” in Devendra Varma’s expression, has kindled a number of diverse sparks—including, as Bette Roberts catalogs them, “Gothic science fiction, Gothic detective fiction, Gothic erotica, and other hybrids” (Roberts 18).

In her study of Anne Rice, Bette Roberts argues that Rice follows the “male Gothic” example of Matthew Lewis, noting that his ur-gothic The Monk is characterized by “physical horror,” rather than by the interiorized drama proper to the Radcliffean tradition. The difference, Roberts writes, is the “distinction between the… psychological terror in the female Gothic novels and that of physical horror in those written by men” (16). Yet Rice is accomplished in both modes, as well as being conversant with several others. Although she is best known for her trilogy, The Vampire Chronicles, she has also written at least two historical novels and an assortment of other “erotics.” In all of these, elements of the gothic—as well as the romance, historical novel, and sentimental tale of confession—mix and conjoin. Consequently, it is often difficult, critically, to place a specific text.5

In her gothic texts, for instance, Rice consciously rejects the anti-Catholicism conventionally associated with the genre. As she remarked in a Playboy interview with Digby Diehl, it was exposure to the vivid and marvelous lives of the Catholic hagiographic tradition that first interested her in genres of the supernatural. Nor are her unabashedly New World vampires ecclesiaphobic in the accustomed mode of vampires. Louis, good New Orleans Catholic, loves the baroque trappings of church equipage and liturgy: “I was a Catholic; I believed in saints. I lit tapers before their marble statues in churches; I knew their pictures, their symbols, their names” (Interview 7-8). Further, speaking to the young man in contemporary San Francisco, Louis mocks his superstition about vampires and crucifixes: “Nonsense… I can look on anything I like. And I rather like looking on crucifixes in particular” (22). Many of his meditations on the failure of religious belief, become, for Louis, meditations on aesthetic first principles rather than problems of metaphysical agency. In this respect Louis seems to speak for his creator; Rice herself observed that the Protestant vision renders the mysteries of life “more sterile” (Roberts 23).

Yet there is another aspect to Rice’s eclectic Gothicism that must be considered, and which in some ways is more typical to the complexity of Rice’s thought. Interview with the Vampire is not only gothic, it is a specifically Americanized version of the genre. First, it signals a departure from claustrophobic familial haunts, as Sage argues them, as well as from the troubled domestic sites customarily associated with the gothic.6 Rice’s fiction considers haunted spaces more broadly construed, perhaps reflecting Fiedler’s seminal observation that in New World gothic, wild geographic spaces replace the darkened and deteriorating family castle.7 Rice is at her best in illuminating the horror of empty metaphysical spaces. Second, the novel is in many respects an ironic exploration of the novel of sensibility, and as such it explores how a commodified flight from the body results in the production, as Joanna Russ describes it in another context, of a “strange fusion of prurience and exaltation” (676).8 Finally, the form of the novel itself rehearses the captivity narrative—a theological trope rendered contemporary as Louis recounts the metaphysical implications of his seduction and vampiric conversion— first at the hands of the callous, cruel, and indifferent Lestat, and later, by the willful and charming Armand. Louis’s anguished and highly moralized recollections of his serial “enslavements” recall a tradition of such confessionary texts, including Narrative of the Captivity, Sufferings and Remarks of Mrs. Mary Rowlandson; My Life and Bondage by Frederick Douglass, and others. Characteristic of these texts is a formula of captivity and spiritualized confession that puts deviance on display as moral uplift and theological lesson.9

With this history in mind, then, we can turn to Rice’s revisions of the gothic and see how she employs its conventions to address a quite different “sensation or ‘body’ genre.”10 Rice blends the theological moralisms of the captivity with the gothic images of social entrapment in order to argue the genre from what DeLamotte suggests is its original perspective—that of a woman.11 In addition she combines another staple of the vernacular theological tradition—the sermonizing spectacle of deviances, titillatingly confessed—with the romance genre’s formula of sentimentalized sex. At stake here for Rice and her vampires (I use the metaphor advisedly), are the horrific implications of a creature as metaphysically ambiguous as the vampire—the gendered woman, especially as this hapless creature takes form trapped in the repressive representations of the Harlequin romance.

The complex parallels and intersections between the “imitation” that is gender and its enscription in the vampire metaphor rescue Rice’s novel from formulaic banality (Butler 21). Louis’s tale of his guilt-provoked seduction by Lestat reflects the ontological ambiguity he feels as a vampire and the gendering confusion he experiences in his subsequent relations with Lestat. On the one hand, Louis is the eldest son of a wealthy New Orleans family. At twenty-five, his father dead, Louis was “head of the family” when he meets Lestat (Interview 5). He is thus heir to the tradition of male privilege, representing not only the investment of the state but familial primogeniture as well. As agent of state and family in New Orleans, Louis is the visible sign of patriarchy, equally busy about disposing the lands of his estate and arranging for the futures of his sister and mother. (In the waning years of this privilege, that is; Louis’s name ironically recalls the ineffectual Louis XVI, who historically, would have been beheaded two years after Louis’s transformation as a vampire.)

Yet despite Louis’s primogeniture and male birthright, he finds the situation reversed when it comes to telling the story of his turbulent relationship with Lestat—an affair which he couches in the language of romantic pursuit. Significantly, Louis suggests that it was greed for his family’s plantation, Pointe Du Lac, that first attracts Lestat’s attention to him. Reading between the lines of Louis’s narrative, the reader understands that Lestat finds, wooes, and finally, seduces the passive Louis, thus assuming a kind of dowry-like control over the lands and properties of his estate. Thus, Louis’s metaphysical anxiety, which takes up so much of his dialogue with himself, finds its more mundane parallel in the confusing, passive, often imitative role he finds himself in vis-à-vis Lestat, his “maker” and, in many respects, his master. Ontological ambiguity is, appropriately enough, mirrored forth in gender, and one suspects Rice of drawing from another tale for this motif—Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Like Shelley’s creature, Louis is created as both copy of and supplement to an ostensibly superior being; further, both are defined and valued from the point of a commandeering, prior, male, and thus seemingly original gaze. Louis, Lestat’s companion, in short, is gendered female.

Lestat’s primary function as vampire, he says, is to be God-like, a master. Explaining this to Louis he says, “God kills, and so shall we… for no creatures under God are as we are, none so like Him as ourselves, dark angels” (Interview 89). Lestat, active, male, disposes as he will. Louis, however, cannot kill because he finds it aesthetically revolting. If Lestat is gendered by action and silence, in typical Harlequin fashion, Louis is gendered feminine in his passivity and his reliance upon words and feelings. In his passivity Louis acquires the feminine—as Roberts notes, the “moral equivalent of virtue” (Roberts 18). Lestat critiques Louis’s ethics—as well as his aesthetic sensibilities—as nostalgia for an originary fantasy of being mortal. And yet origins, precisely—or lack of them—are what trouble Louis. Though gendered male as a mortal, as a vampire Louis finds himself stripped of male prerogative; he functions as similacrum, a copy and supplement of an unknown original. Even Lestat is a simulacrum, a copy without original, as Louis finds out to his dismay; whatever origins he has Louis cannot discover.

Doubly troubled by Lestat’s apparent lack of origin and by the...

(The entire section is 7977 words.)

Martin J. Wood (Essay Date 1999)

SOURCE: Wood, Martin J. “New Life for an Old Tradition: Anne Rice and Vampire Literature.” In The Blood Is the Life: Vampires in Literature, edited by Leonard G. Heldreth and Mary Pharr, pp. 59-78. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.

In the following essay, Wood argues that “Rice’s works force a jarring revision of our understanding of vampire mythology and, finally, of ourselves.”

Most vampire fiction succeeds in thrilling its readers because humans find stories of evil and horror immensely attractive. Few monsters have seemed quite so evil or quite so horrible as vampires, and...

(The entire section is 8998 words.)