Anne Rice 1941-
(Also wrote under pseudonyms Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure) American novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Rice's career.
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.
Born Howard Allen O'Brien in New Orleans, Louisiana, Rice was named 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 mentions 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 throughout her childhood, though eventually rejected organized religion as a teenager. After her mother's death from 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 Michelle, then five years old, died of leukemia in 1972, Rice and her husband sought solace in alcohol, 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 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 Hollywood film version of the novel, starring Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, which appeared in 1994. 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. She lives there today with her husband and son, Christopher.
Rice's fiction revolves around the situations 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 tape-records their session. Recalling his transformation as 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 have 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 eat. 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 is 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, upon which he 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.
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 (1992) 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 gay readers who identify with the themes of alienation depicted in the underground culture of vampiric society. However, Rice's major goal—acceptance as a serious writer by the literary fiction world—has so far eluded her. 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 clichéed. Some dismiss her otherworldly subject matter and frequent erotic descriptions as unworthy of serious literary effort. Reviewers have criticized Rice's later work, notably Servant of the Bones and Memnoch the Devil, for frequent and lengthy digressions from plot and description to use her characters as mouthpieces for Rice's ideas of philosophy and life. Despite such criticism, Rice remains one of the United States's best-selling authors. Her weird casts of characters and fantastic storylines hold a terrific appeal for readers and have broken new ground in contemporary literature. As Susan Ferraro writes in New York Magazine: “Rice's vampires are loquacious philosophers who spend much of eternity debating the nature of good and evil. Trapped in immortality, they suffer human regret. They are lonely, prisoners of circumstance, compulsive sinners, full of self-loathing and doubt. The are, in short, Everyman Eternal.”