In a speech delivered at the annual Conference on Publishing at Stanford University, Anne Rice remarked that her only regret following the phenomenal success of Interview with the Vampire, her first novel, has been her choice of the title. Reactions since the book’s publication indicate that the word “vampire” was too highly charged, too laden with strong connotations to allow the straightforward, objective response aimed for in the noncommittal description of the work as an “interview.” For some readers, mention of vampires recalls the classic Bram Stoker creation; for the majority, the word conjures up a potpourri of images culled from fourth-rate five o’clock “creature features”: silver bullets, wooden stakes, and crucifixes; howling wolves and mouldering castles in Transylvania; blood and fangs à la Christopher Lee. Thus, readers expecting a sensational gothic thriller are unlikely to get past the first chapter of Rice’s book, or serious readers past the cover.
This is indeed regrettable, for there is nothing sensational or unsavory about Interview with the Vampire. On the contrary, Rice’s novel offers probing psychological analyses and pursues extensively such philosophical questions as, What is the nature of good and evil? Does life have intrinsic value, or is it an unfortunate series of accidents mercifully ended? Is immortality the greatest possible gift or the ultimate burden? Furthermore, the author’s unlikely vehicle of the life story of a vampire presents fewer restrictions; her invented framework allows her the freedom to abandon many of the foregone conclusions governing character development, and probe motivations from new standpoints. A new perspective is thus gained on human nature, seen as it is through nonhuman eyes.
The creation of a unique “vampire mentality” would be merely fascinating, however, if Rice stopped at that. But far from being so simplistic, the novel is built around a complex interplay between the human and the vampire. The author successfully juxtaposes the two in a variety of ways: by charting the vampires’ deviance from their vampire nature; by examining the extent to which vestiges of their old human values persistently crop up in their reconstituted personalities; and by depicting certain vampires’ pursuit of strictly mortal mannerisms, pleasures, and goals. Such opposition of antagonistic elements sparks heightened insights and fires the narrative with dramatic tension.
The struggle of opposing forces is most powerfully embodied in the personality of the hero and narrator, Louis, who relates his life history to a young man with a cassette recorder. The essence of Louis’ character, the powerful motivation behind all his behavior, is a tremendous sense of guilt. This guilt had its origin during his brief human life, when he was a sensitive and wealthy young landowner of an indigo plantation in eighteenth century Louisiana. The head of his family—mother, sister, and younger brother—after his father’s death, Louis felt responsible when his brother died as the result of falling down a staircase directly after the two had engaged in a bitter, impassioned argument. Feeling suicidal and half-crazed with grief and remorse in the weeks following the tragedy, Louis succumbed on his sickbed to the opportunity to be made a vampire. The year was 1791; he was twenty-five years old.
But the guilt does not end with Louis’ death as a human—it merely shifts its focus to his new vampire existence. For the first four years, after a single unwilling kill, he subsists exclusively on cats, dogs, and rodents for nourishment, unable to bring himself to kill human beings. Although he gradually gives in to his altered nature and its demand for human blood, he never achieves the true vampire’s state of total amorality; instead, his new “life” becomes a brooding search for explanations, for momentary release from mental anguish, a never-ending cycle of guilt, frustration, and the welcome oblivion of sleep.
For the first four years of his new life, Louis’ only companion—and as far as he knows the only other vampire in the world—is Lestat, who created him. Rice effectively contrasts Lestat’s character with the narrator’s trait by trait. Against Louis’ sensitivity is juxtaposed Lestat’s stony coldness; against his austerity and delight in simple pleasures, his master’s profligate spending...
(The entire section is 1816 words.)