Anne Rice Rice, Anne - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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.

Critical Reception

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.”

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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


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Pat Hilton (review date 19 December 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Alienated World of the Mutilated Men,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 19, 1982, p. 11.

[In the following review, Hilton offers qualified praise for A Cry to Heaven.]

Guido Maffeo was castrated when he was 6 years old. Born the 11th child in a peasant family, where hunger and cruelty were routine, the boy was taken gently, petted and fed; even the knife was not used unkindly. Although the memory of the surgery never left him, he had exchanged what he would not experience for a profession that afforded him a passion some men might envy.

Tonio Treschi was not so fortunate with his memories. At 15 he had already tasted the...

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E. F. Bleiler (review date 6 November 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” in Washington Post Book World, November 6, 1988, pp. 8-9.

[In the following excerpt, Bleiler evaluates The Queen of the Damned in relation to previous volumes of “The Vampire Chronicles.”]

I did things backwards when I approached Anne Rice's The Queen of the Damned, the third volume in her “Vampire Chronicles.” I read it first, then the second volume (The Vampire Lestat) and, last of all, Interview with the Vampire, the first book in the series. In one way this turned out to be an advantage, since I could see the latest book as an independent work, as a new reader might see it and not as a...

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Laurence Coven (review date 6 November 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A History of the Undead,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 6, 1988, p. 13.

[In the following review, Coven offers favorable assessment of The Queen of the Damned.]

In Interview With the Vampire, the first volume of the “Vampire Chronicles,” Anne Rice ushers us into the eerily succulent, yet refined world of Louis de Pointe du Lac, a man who became a vampire in late-18th-Century New Orleans.

The second book, The Vampire Lestat, explodes with fury into the world of high-tech 20th-Century San Francisco. Lestat, the charismatic iconoclast of the undead, relates his tale from his human youth as a French nobleman of...

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Eric Kraft (review date 27 November 1988)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Do Not Speak Ill of the Undead,” in New York Times Book Review, November 27, 1988, pp. 12-3.

[In the following review, Kraft offers tempered assessment of The Queen of the Damned. According to Kraft, Rice's “enormous ability” as a novelist is “wasted on vampires.”]

When last we saw him, in the second book of Anne Rice's vampire chronicles, the vampire Lestat was a rock star, flaunting his evil ways before a horde of screaming mortal fans in San Francisco, sweating blood under hot lights. Then suddenly he was being attacked—not by Tipper Gore and her committee for cleaner language in popular music, but by a gang of the undead, bent on...

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Frank J. Prial (review date 11 June 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Undead and Unstoppable,” in New York Times Book Review, June 11, 1989, p. 9.

[In the following review, Prial offers qualified praise for The Mummy, though finds fault in Rice's prose. “If you liked her vampires,” Prial concludes, “you'll love her mummies.”]

In George Axelrod's Hollywood spoof of a generation back, “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?,” a veteran hack explains to a young writer that film lovers can't just meet—“They gotta meet cute.”

“How about this?” the neophyte replies. “He's a shrink, she's a hooker, and they meet at the upholsterer's getting their couches fixed.”

In her...

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Angela Carter (review date 1 September 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Curse of Ancient Egypt,” in New Statesman & Society, September 1, 1989, pp. 31-2.

[In the following review, Carter offers favorable assessment of The Mummy.]

According to Franco Morretti (Dialectic of Fear), the tale of terror relies for its specific frisson on repression. “The repressed returns … but disguised as a monster.” The horror novels of Anne Rice comprehensively trash this theory; she lets the repressed return in splendour. When the crumbling bandages at last fall from the eponymous mummy of this, her latest novel, young Julie Stamford, the shipping heiress, reels back, but not in horror.

“Dear God,...

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Patrick McGrath (review date 4 November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Ghastly and Unnatural Ambitions,” in New York Times Book Review, November 4, 1990, p. 11.

[In the following review, McGrath offers unfavorable assessment of The Witching Hour, citing weak characterization and repetitiousness as the novel's major flaws.]

The evil that blights the pages of The Witching Hour, Anne Rice's new novel, has an intriguing origin. In the 1600's, in Scotland, a naïve young woman called Suzanne Mayfair learns for a lark how to summon demons. Later she's burned at the stake, but the demon she summons, Lasher by name, goes on to bedevil her descendants down to the present day, apparently seeing in them the means of...

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Rita Mae Brown (review date 18 November 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Queen of Darkness,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, November 18, 1990, pp. 1, 8.

[In the following review, Brown offers enthusiastic praise for The Witching Hour, which she hails as “[Rice's] best novel yet.”]

The Witching Hour unfolds like a poisonous lotus blossom redolent with luxurious evil. Or so it would seem to a Medieval or “born-again” Christian. For those Christians and non-Christians not fearful of stories about unearthly powers, witches and secular resurrections, this novel will delight the senses.

Author Anne Rice uses her beloved New Orleans to good effect. Of all American cities, it is the least...

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Barbara Frey Waxman (essay date Summer 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Postexistentialism in the Neo-Gothic Mode: Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire,” in Mosaic, Vol. 25, No. 3, Summer, 1992, pp. 79-97.

[In the following essay, Waxman explores the confluence of existential philosophy, postmodernism, and gothic fiction in Interview with the Vampire and subsequent Rice novels. According to Waxman, “Rice presents with fervor a profound exploration of freedom, moral constraints and contingency in order to prepare us for the philosophical issues that face us on the darkling plain of the twenty-first century.”]

Serious philosophical questioning, ethical inquiry, struggles of individuals to shape their identity...

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Carolyn See (review date 25 October 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Vampire Tans! News at 11,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, October 25, 1992, pp. 1, 9.

[In the following review, See offers praise for The Tale of the Body Thief.]

Anne Rice's elegant smoothie, the Vampire Lestat, is back, and up to all his old immortal tricks [in The Tale of the Body]. He's the same charmer, dressing in black velvet, meandering through museums to admire the Rembrandts, restoring a lovely crumbling mansion in New Orleans (that he himself lived in 100 years before). He's the same inveterate, starry-eyed tourist, zooming from London to Paris to Miami to New Orleans to South American jungles to Caribbean resorts, still absolutely...

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Elizabeth Hand (review date 10 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Demon Seed,” in Washington Post Book World, October 10, 1993, pp. 4-5.

[In the following review, Hand offers praise for Lasher.]

Is there a madder, badder, braver bestselling writer than Anne Rice? Maybe so—but it's hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull off the literary legerdemain that Rice manages in her new novel. With Lasher she concocts heady and potent salmagundi of contemporary witchcraft, Caribbean voodoo, aristocratic decadence and good old-fashioned Celtic paganism, and makes what should be an unpalatable mess as wickedly irresistible as a Halloween stash of Baby Ruths.

At the heart of all this is the...

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Paul West (review date 24 October 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Witchcraft Is Their Science,” in New York Times Book Review, October 24, 1993, p. 38.

[In the following review, West offers tempered evaluation of Lasher.]

If you have read The Witching Hour, you will understand who's who among the horde of names unleashed in Anne Rice's new novel; Lasher. Reading the novel is often like hearing someone mumble on in a monotone about famous cricketers of the 19th-century when you, the reader, are a baseball fan or a fan of nothing at all.

Lasher, about the branches and generations of a witch matriarchy called Mayfair, evokes part of London once given over to a hospital for leprous...

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Douglas E. Winter (review date 9 October 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Son of a Witch,” in Washington Post Book World, October 9, 1994, p. 4.

[In the following review, Winter offers qualified assessment of Taltos. “Certain to please the many fans of Anne Rice,” writes Winter, Taltos “is not likely to gain her any new readers.”]

It seems natural that new novels by Stephen King and Anne Rice should be linked with the seemingly unavoidable word “horror.” Yet King writes from a decidedly populist perspective; he is a Faulkner by way of Jim Thompson, Don Robertson and Richard Matheson, with a lot of B movies and episodes of “Twilight Zone” and “Outer Limits” thrown in for good measure. The essence...

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Ken Gelder (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Vampires in the (Old) New World: Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles,” in Reading the Vampire, Routledge, 1994, pp. 108-23.

[In the following essay, Gelder explores Rice's portrayal of vampire characters, family structures, and homoeroticism in Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, and The Tale of the Body Thief.]

The ‘vampire chronicle’—where the life and fortunes of a vampire are mapped out through a number of novels—is a recent development in popular horror fiction. Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Hotel Transylvania (1978) was the first of a sequence of novels about le Comte de Saint-Germain, an aristocratic...

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Anne Rice with Mikal Gilmore (interview date 13-27 July 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Devil and Anne Rice,” in Rolling Stone, July 13-27, 1995, pp. 92-4, 97-8.

[In the following interview, Rice discusses her literary career, critical reception, supernatural themes in her fiction, and Memnoch the Devil.]

For nearly 20 years now, Anne Rice has been telling stories that share secrets—secrets of life and death, of sex and the soul, of monsters and humans. In particular, though, it is with her series of novels known as The Vampire Chronicles that Rice has created her most binding mix of mystery and meaning as well as what may prove her most enduring body of literature. Interview With the Vampire (1976)—the first of the...

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Kevin Allman (review date 6 August 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Last of Lestat,” in Washington Post Book World, August 6, 1995, p. 2.

[In the following review, Allman offers favorable assessment of Memnoch the Devil.]

When it comes to fervent fandom, Anne Rice's partisans are up there with the Star Trek brigade. They love her dark imagination, her Gothic prose, her wry sense of humor and especially Lestat—the handsome, vain vampire who's become her signature character. Lestat and Rice are each the focus of a fan club, 'zines and an Internet group; Rice herself even pens a newsletter, “Commotion Strange,” full of Lestat-related news and views.

The latest issue of “Commotion Strange”...

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Daniel Mendelsohn (review date 11 August 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “All This and Heaven Too,” in New York Times Book Review, August 11, 1996, p. 5.

[In the following review, Mendelsohn offers unfavorable assessment of Servant of the Bones.]

Anne Rice's latest supernatural melodrama, Servant of the Bones, is dedicated to God, and if God has any commercial savvy whatsoever, He'll dedicate His next book to her. The creator of Interview with the Vampire and its numerous best-selling sequels is bringing out her new book (part of which is set in an Old Testament milieu) in a first print run of one million copies; the Creator, on the other hand, has more than once had to resort to samizdat, distributing His work in...

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Sandra Tomc (essay date 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Dieting and Damnation: Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire,” in Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, edited by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997, pp. 95-113.

[In the following essay, Tomc explores the cultural significance of female body image, androgyny, and self-abnegation in Interview with the Vampire. According to Tomc, “Rice modeled the vampire's transformation on one of the most powerful narratives of gender metamorphosis available to 1970s culture: the story of successful dieting.”]

At one point in Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, the vampires Louis...

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Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


Conway, Anne-Marie Conway. Review of The Tale of the Body Thief, by Anne Rice. Times Literary Supplement (11 December 1992): 20.

A favorable review of The Tale of the Body Thief.

Kendrick, Walter. “Better Undead Than Unread: Have Vampires Lost Their Bite?” New York Times Book Review (18 October 1992): 55.

Offers a summary of the “The Vampire Chronicles” and comments on Rice's significance as a leading author of contemporary vampire fiction.

Korn, Eric. “The Devil's Own Job.” Times Literary Supplement (17 November 1995): 8.

A review of...

(The entire section is 169 words.)