Rice, Anne (1941 -)
ANNE RICE (1941 -)
(Born Howard Allen O'Brien; has also written under the pseudonyms Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure) American novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter.
Anne Rice is the best-selling author of mainstream Gothic fiction that centers on the alluring subjects of vampirism, occult demonology, and the supernatural. Her debut novel, Interview with the Vampire (1976), attracted a large popular audience and established her as a foremost contemporary author of horror fiction. Subsequent installments in the "Vampire Chronicles" series, including The Vampire Lestat (1985) and The Queen of the Damned (1988), fortified her reputation as a highly imaginative writer of macabre fantasy. Rice's engaging novels are distinguished for their richly descriptive settings, provocative eroticism, and looming metaphysical concerns that reflect the precarious nature of religious faith and truth in the postmodern world. Her vampires, demons, and historical personages are typically dispossessed or alienated individuals who wrestle with existential questions of morality, religion, sex, and death. Though best known for her "Vampire Chronicles" and "Mayfair Witches" series, Rice has also published several successful historical novels, The Feast of All Saints (1980) and Cry to Heaven (1982), both of which feature exotic historical settings and social outcasts.
Rice was named Howard Allen after her postal worker father, Howard O'Brien, and mother, Katherine Allen O'Brien. As a child she disliked her first name so much that she changed it to Anne in grade school. The second of four sisters, Rice grew up in the blue-collar "Irish Channel" neighborhood of New Orleans. The Irish Channel borders the affluent Garden District of the city, and Rice has credited walking by the neighborhood's opulent homes, conscious of her status as an outsider, as an influence on her life and work. Rice attended a Catholic church as a child, but she eventually rejected organized religion in her teenage years. After her mother's death from health complications caused by alcoholism when Rice was fourteen, the family moved to Texas, where Rice met her high school sweetheart and husband, poet Stan Rice. They married in 1961 and shortly afterward moved to San Francisco, where their daughter, Michelle, was born. Rice initially attended Texas Women's University but transferred to San Francisco State University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in political science in 1964 and a Master of Arts in creative writing in 1971. She also took graduate classes at the University of California, Berkeley. When five-year-old Michelle died of leukemia in 1972, Rice and her husband began abusing alcohol as a means of escaping their grief, a destructive pattern that lasted several years. Rice found some measure of relief by writing Interview with the Vampire in only five weeks; the novel's child-vampire character, Claudia, resembles Michelle in age and appearance. Two works of historical fiction, The Feast of All Saints and Cry to Heaven followed during the early 1980s before Rice returned to the subject of vampires. Her popularity soared with the 1985 publication of the second book in the "Vampire Chronicles" series, The Vampire Lestat, followed by The Queen of the Damned, a Literary Guild main selection in 1988, The Tale of the Body Thief (1992), Memnoch the Devil (1995), and The Vampire Armand (1998). The popular "Mayfair Witches" series, comprised of The Witching Hour (1990), a Book-of-the-Month selection, Lasher (1993), and Taltos (1994), added to her popularity and incredible commercial success. Rice also adapted Interview with the Vampire into the screenplay for the 1994 film version of the novel that starred Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt. Rice returned to New Orleans in 1988, purchasing a mansion in the Garden District, which serves as the setting for her books about the Mayfair Witches. Following the death of her husband in 2002, Rice decided to discontinue writing about vampires, and announced to her fans in January, 2004, that she was selling her homes in New Orleans and moving to an anonymous suburban address. Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" novel series has been adapted as Lestat, a stage musical with music by Elton John, lyrics by Bernie Taupin, and book by Linda Woolverton.
Rice's fiction revolves around the experiences of outsiders and misfits in society, questions of atheism and agnosticism, and themes of power and submission. Often including supernatural characters and plotting, Rice's work is noted for its darkness, eroticism, and evocation of setting and historical detail. In Interview with the Vampire, a vampire named Louis relates his life story and adventures to a reporter who records their session. Recalling his transformation into a vampire in 1790 at age twenty-five, Louis describes his first kill and evolving relationships with Lestat, his maker, and Claudia, a child-vampire whom they created together. Unlike Claudia and Lestat who revel in murderous bloodshed, Louis is tormented by a moral dilemma—he believes it is wrong to kill, but he must kill to survive. An ensuing power struggle between Louis and Lestat results in Lestat's second death, for which Louis is imprisoned in the Theatre des Vampires, a coven of vampires in Paris. After burning the Theatre and escaping with Armand, an older vampire who mentors him, Louis returns to New Orleans where he lives as an outcast. As in much Gothic fiction, underlying themes of homoeroticism and incest are prevalent throughout the novel. Rice also examines religious beliefs by comparing Louis, who tries and fails to construct his own moral framework, to his brother, a devout Roman Catholic. In the sequel, The Vampire Lestat, Lestat awakes from a moribund slumber in the year 1980, and becomes a leather clad rock star. Presented as an autobiographic account, the novel traces the origins and history of vampirism through ancient, medieval, and modern history. The story concludes as Lestat performs in San Francisco to an audience of vampires who prepare to kill him for revealing their secrets in his published autobiography and lyrics. A continuation of the previous novel, The Queen of the Damned involves Akasha, mother of all vampires, whose scheme to institute world peace involves exterminating most of the male population and founding an empire governed by women.
In The Tale of the Body Thief Lestat contemplates suicide and eventually agrees to exchange his body with a mortal to temporarily escape his relentless ennui. Lestat must relearn mortal habits and a desperate chase follows after his counterpart disappears with his immortal body. Rice grapples with a shift in her personal philosophy from atheism to uncertainty about God's existence in Memnoch the Devil, in which Lestat converses with God and the Devil and tours Hell before deciding whether to join forces with the Devil. In The Vampire Armand, the sixth installment of the "Vampire Chronicles," Rice resurrects the title character, who earlier succumbed to a lethal dose of sunlight. Armand recollects his apprenticeship to Marius De Romanus in sixteenth-century Venice and subsequent rise as head of a Parisian vampire clan. Rice's "Vampire Chronicles" series created a legion of devoted fans who enthusiastically purchased each new book and thronged The Anne Rice Collection, the author's New Orleans retail shop that sold everything from clothing and fragrances to dolls based on her fictional characters. While Rice's popularity showed no sign of waning, following the death of her husband in 2002 the author announced that she was done with vampires, citing a desire to write something different, to create characters who were not damned or condemned. Blood Canticle (2003) was the last volume in the "Vampire Chronicles" series.
The "Mayfair Witches" series features Rowan Mayfair, scion of a matrilineal old New Orleans family whose members possess supernatural gifts and have been shadowed through time by a mysterious entity named Lasher. These books are characterized by intricate plotting, cliffhanger endings, and frequent flashbacks that tell the story of the Mayfair family's entanglement with Lasher over hundreds of years. The Mummy (1989) takes place in London, where young Julie Stratford falls in love with the reanimated mummy of Pharaoh Ramses III, who possesses the secret elixir of life. Julie and Ramses travel to Egypt where Ramses revives a murderous Cleopatra. In Servant of the Bones (1996), the genie Azriel fights the attempts of a demented millionaire to commit genocide on the population of the Third World.
Rice combined her interest in history with her exploration of social exiles by writing two historical novels. The Feast of All Saints enters the world of the gens de couleur, the group of free mulattoes who lived in antebellum New Orleans. The story focuses on the experiences of siblings Marcel and Marie, whose distinctive golden skin prohibits their full acceptance within either black or white society. Cry to Heaven centers upon the life of an eighteenth-century Italian castrati, a male singer who is castrated as a boy to preserve his high voice. The protagonist, Tonio Treschi, attempts to fulfill his desire to become one of the greatest opera singers in Europe while plotting revenge on his brother for treacherously having him castrated and exiled. Both books focus on characters who, like Rice's vampires and witches, exist on the fringes of mainstream society without being accepted by it. Rice also explored her fascination with sadomasochism by writing a pseudonymous series of pornographic novels—The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty (1983), Beauty's Punishment (1984), and Beauty's Release (1985) as A. N. Roquelaure and Exit to Eden (1985) and Belinda (1986) as Anne Rampling.
Most critics recognize Rice's remarkable talent for constructing page-turning plots, evoking a sense of place—particularly when writing about her native New Orleans—and creating whole new universes peopled by supernatural characters. She is widely praised for rejuvenating the hackneyed genre of vampire fiction with her intelligent, ambitious novels. Rice's novels are also noted for their appealing eroticism and have attracted the interest of readers who identify with the themes of alienation depicted in the underground culture of vampire society. Though some critics appreciate Rice's philosophical musings on immortality and incorporation of occult history in her novels, others find her writing verbose, implausible, and clichéd. Some dismiss her otherworldly subject matter and frequent erotic descriptions as unworthy of serious literary effort. Commentators studying Gothic elements of Rice's works have emphasized particularly how she transforms traditional vampire fiction by creating monsters with whom readers can sympathize, and even identify. Martin J. Wood has asserted that "Rice's works force a jarring revision of our understanding of vampire mythology and, finally, of ourselves." Critics have also examined Rice's contemporary treatment of traditionally Gothic themes and conventions—particularly her explorations of the darker side of society, psychology, and culture—and have noted how her works remain true to the tradition while expressing modern concerns and sensibilities. Edward J. Ingebretsen assesses Rice's exploration of religious issues, declaring that "[t]heological disputation … remains a traditionally gothic activity, and nowhere is it more in evidence than in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire." Lynda and Robert Haas (see Further Reading) contend that "there is no contemporary writer with stronger ties to the Gothic tradition than Anne Rice."
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
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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
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...
(The entire section is 7977 words.)
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 their very attractiveness has largely distracted us from some fairly silly aspects of their traditional myths. So long as authors have been able to conjure up the allure of vampirism they could ignore the apparent irrelevance of its mythology. But since 1976, Anne Rice has done much to challenge this notion of irrelevance. Her vampire novels, probably the most popular ever written, may also be the most disturbing because they force readers to confront the core truths of the myth itself. Especially with her first two or three novels in the vampire tradition, readers find themselves feeling an uneasy sympathy with monsters, enjoying their murderous assaults on human beings. Caught up in the stories yet mystified by their own uneasiness,...
(The entire section is 8998 words.)
Doane, Janice Devon Hodges. "Undoing Feminism: From the Preoedipal to Postfeminism in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles." American Literary History 2, no. 3 (fall 1990): 422-42.
Asserts that "Anne Rice's massively popular vampire books … provide a useful way of beginning to explore the difficulties of the feminist attempt to represent the mother through the language of the preoedipal."
Haas, Lynda and Robert Haas. "Living with(out) Boundaries: The Novels of Anne Rice." In A Dark Night's Dreaming: Contemporary American Horror Fiction, edited by Tony Magistrale and Michael A. Morrison, pp. 55-67. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996.
Contends that "there is no contemporary writer with stronger ties to the Gothic tradition than Anne Rice … Rice has consistently and successfully combined many of the Gothic conventions initiated by Horace Walpole … with her own unique style and with the concerns of postmodern philosophy."
Hoppenstand, Gary, and Ray B. Browne, eds. The Gothic World of Anne Rice. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996, 261 p.
Comprehensive collection of essays studying Rice's works within the context of the Gothic tradition....
(The entire section is 488 words.)