Anne Rice is the author of Interview with the Vampire and its sequels, The Vampire Chronicles. Her web site can be found here. Anne was raised a Catholic, but became an atheist. In her autobiography Called Out of Darkness Anne writes that although she did not realise it at the time, her “books transparently reflect a journey through atheism and back to God.” (Anne Rice, Called Out of Darkness, p 147) This is the first of a series of posts which will explore how her journey and struggles were manifested through her characters .
Anne was born Howard Frances O’Brien in New Orleans in 1941. As one might suspect from a girl being given a male name, her childhood was somewhat unusual. Her mother was an alcoholic. She died from the effects of alcoholism when Anne was fourteen.The web site of Adult Children of Alcoholics is found here. At home there was a clear lack of boundaries and discipline. The children were allowed to sleep in any bed in the house they wanted (Katherine Ramsland,Prism of the Night, Plume, New York, 1994, p 16-18). At the same time she was attending a Catholic school, so there was a dichotomy between her strict Catholic education at school and her chaotic home life (Prism of the Night, p 20-22)
One of the results of her unusual upbringing was her lack of gender identity. Anne writes,
“I came out of my education with no sense at all of gender, and no liking whatsoever for being a child.” (Anne Rice, Called Out of Darkness, Chatto and Windus, London, 2008, p 78)
“I came out of childhood with no sense of being a particular gender, and no sense of being handicapped by being a woman because I didn’t believe I was a woman or a man.” (Called Out of Darkness, p 114)
She would later describe herself as “a gay man trapped in a woman’s body.” (Prism of the Night, p 105).
My first experience with Anne Rice was reading the graphic novel of The Vampire Lestat. I actually wondered if “Anne Rice” was a pseudonym for a gay man. When I read that last quote, I thought, “Well, that explains a lot.”
Anne appears to have been somewhat isolated from the rest of the world in her early life. This changed when she enrolled in the secular Texas Woman’s University. Anne writes,
“I left this church at age eighteen because I stopped believing it was “the one true church established by Christ to give grace.” No personal event precipitated this loss of faith. It happened on a secular college campus; there was intense sexual pressure; but more than that there was the world itself, without Catholicism, filled with good people and people who read books that were strictly forbidden to me. I wanted to read Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Camus. I wanted to know why so many seemingly good people didn’t believe in any organized religion yet cared passionately about their behaviour and the value of their lives. As the rigid Catholic I was, I had no options for exploration: I broke with the Church. And I broke with my belief in God.” (Anne Rice, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, Arrow, London, 2005, p 430-431),
When many young Christians move away from home and go to university and there are no parents or home church around to tell them how to behave, their newfound freedom often leads to their rejecting their childhood faith. Growing up, they are not encouraged to develop the intellectual side of their Christian belief, but to “just have faith”. They rarely read Christian books. Then, they come to university and encounter people with reasons for what they believe. They decide that Christianity is not intellectually defendable when they never tried.
Anne married her “high school sweetheart” Stan Rice in 1910 and they moved to San Francisco. There, she struggled with the implications of her atheism. In her biography of Anne, Prism of the Night, Katherine Ramsland writes,
“In college Anne had loosened herself intellectually from what she regarded as religious superstition, but not emotionally. Now she felt the implications of that rejection of absolutes and divine purpose, magnified by the surreal experiences of pot; she felt it to the heart of her being and it hurt; she was swimming in the agony of loss …. She called her friends to tell them of her negative epiphany, but they failed to see why it was such a devastating insight. They already felt that way most of the time. So we don’t know, they said. So what? Why was it such a big deal? But for Anne, the sense of consuming dread and emptiness had a major impact on her perspective.” (Prism of the Night, p 100)
“After a few months of dismal grieving for my faith, I began to feel a new relaxation, and a new passion for life. But I felt a certain bitter darkness too. The world without God was a world in which anything might happen, and there would never be justice for the millions who died at the hands of tyrants or the poor who suffered in neglected parts of the world.” (Called Out of Darkness, p 127)
In 1966 their daughter Michele was born. In spite of the changes of 1960s San Francisco going on around them, they “kept to their own little world” (Prism of the Night, p 107). One of their friends commented that Michele was their ultimate perfect creation…. They literally adored her every move ad gesture. Her drawings, photos, and quotes were posted as important artefacts. They both seemed obsessed with the cultivation of her purity and virginal genius. They perceived her as a living art form.” (Prism of the Night, p 107)
When Michele was four years old, she was diagnosed with leukaemia. She died in 1972. Katherine Ramsland writes,
“Had any vestige of Anne’s Catholic faith survived the death of her mother, her intellectual doubt, then her emotional crises from years before, it was utterly destroyed now. The prayers of her family had been useless, empty. There was no God, or at least not one who cared. She rejected any heaven that demanded the sacrifice of a child -especially her perfect, beautiful little girl.” (Prism of the Night, p 130)
Surprisingly, there is no mention of Michele in Anne’s autobiography Called Out of Darkness.
Both Anne and Stan numbed their grief in alcohol. Katherine Ramsland writes,
“They had already been drinking for many years, but now they threw themselves into it with the same energy with which they had cared for their sick child. They poured bottle after bottle into the vacuum of their souls, seeking numbness from the realization that life’s essential goodness was no longer a viable assumption …. Anne started the day with two tall cans of beer and drank until she went to bed, sitting in morose, staring sadness and anger.” (Prism of the Night, p 132)
Anne channelled her grief over her lost faith and the death of Michele into her novel Interview with the Vampire. She writes.
“The novel was also an obvious lament for my lost faith. The vampire roam in a world without God; and Louis, the heartbroken hero, searches for a meaningful context in vain.” (Called Out of Darkness, p 138-139)
“The novel reflected my guilt and my misery in being cut off from God and from salvation, my being lost in a world without light.” (Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, p 431)
Interview with the Vampire is told from the perspective of Louis, a New Orleans plantation owner, who became a vampire in 1791. Louis is overwhelmed by despair and guilt over the suicide of his brother whose religious visions he did not take seriously. He wants to die, but is instead made into a vampire by Lestat.
Louis became a vampire when he was 25 years old, a young adult. Other characters, Lestat and Armand, became vampires when they were in their late teens and becoming adults, the same time when Anne lost her childhood faith. A later character Quinn Blackwood became a vampire when he was 22. There seems to be a connection between becoming an atheist and becoming a vampire.
Louis does not make a very good vampire. He does not want to kill people. He clearly did not think this through beforehand. Like Anne and her despair over the lostness of her atheism, Louis cannot embrace his new identity and way of life. He “begged Lestat to let me stay in the closet.” (Anne Rice, Interview with the Vampire,Warner, London, 1994, p 28) Gay subtext?
Unlike most other fictional portrayals of vampires, Anne’s creations are androgynous and bisexual, which presumably reflects Anne’s lack od gender identity and her identification with gay men.
Katherine Ramsland writes,
“Lestat was loosely based on the physical appearance and attitudes of Stan. While Stan was flattered to be the physical model, he also perceived that the novel revealed Anne’s reaction to his tendency to exert control … and it is clear that her relationship with Stan provided intense emotional tones for the book.” (Prism of the Night, p 152)
I hope there was not too much of Anne and Stan’s relationship in Louis and Lestat. After having read the rest of The Vampire Chronicles, often written from Lestat’s perspective, it is something of a shock to go back and re-read Interview with the Vampire and see how Lestat was originally portrayed. If there is anything of the “brat prince” or the coolest vampire ever in the original Lestat, I am missing it. Lestat was simply a nasty villain and clearly a weak person. He and Louis are in a dysfunctional and abusive relationship and they hate each other.
Anne’s portrayal of vampires and their drinking of and union with blood and their eternal life appears to have its roots in her old Catholic beliefs (Prism of the Night, p 146).
Her family’s struggle with alcoholism also manifests in The Vampire Chronicles. Vampires are addicted to blood in much the same way that alcoholics are addicted to alcohol and their addiction inflicts suffering on others.
Just as children of alcoholics suffer as a result of their parents’ addiction, Louis’ addiction to blood leads him to harm a 5 year old child and take her blood. Lestat turns her into a vampire and names her Claudia. There is something of both Anne and her daughter Michele in Claudia. Later Claudia angrily says, “Which one of you did it which of you made me what I am?” (Interview with the Vampire, p 120), which perhaps reflects the anger of how we are the product of our parents’ upbringing and not necessarily for the better.
The influence of Michele in Claudia is obvious. The character of Claudia appears to be an attempt to bring Michele back or to work through her grief over her death. Claudia became a vampire about the same age Michele died. They are physically alike. When I saw a photo of Michele in Prism of the Night, I thought, “That’s Claudia.”
(Several times when I have meant to write “Michele”, I have written “Claudia” and had to correct myself.)
As Claudia ages, she matures emotionally and mentally, but her vampire body remains the same. She becomes an adult woman trapped in the body of a 5 year old girl. This perhaps reflects Anne’s own unusual childhood attitude when she did not think of herself as a child and identified more with adults even though they still regarded her as a child (Called Out of Darkness, p 78-80, Prism of the Night, p 154).
Likewise, some adult children of alcoholics can spend their adult lives enslaved by their experiences as a child.
For 65 years Louis, Lestat and Claudia lived together in their own little world. This is reminiscent of Anne, Stan and Michelle living together in “their own little world” (Prism of the Night, p 107).
Both families were somewhat isolated from the changing world around them. Even though she lived in San Francisco during the 1960s, Anne admits she was not interested in the hippie, anti-war, feminist and civil rights movements which were emerging at the time. She says, “I was too focused on the past.” (Called Out of Darkness, p 133)
A recurring theme of The Vampire Chronicles is how vampires, who were born hundreds of years ago, struggle to relate to the modern world. I actually find the characters more interesting when they are set in the past, In the present they seem to lose their way and get a little boring.
65 years after making Claudia a vampire their dysfunctional family implodes and Louis and Claudia attempt to kill Lestat and flee to Europe. They explore Europe on a search for meaning and the origins of the vampires. We learn in the next book The Vampire Lestat that Lestat knew about their origins all along. He just never told Louis,
Louis says that “in Europe I’d found no truths to lessen loneliness, transform despair.” (Interview with the Vampire, p 299)
In Paris they meet Armand who looks 17 years old and nothing like Antonio Banderas.
And I don’t want to even think about Matthew Newton in Queen of the Damned.
Armand is the leader of a coven of vampires who call themselves the Theatre of the Vampires. They pretend to be actor portraying vampires, hiding in plain sight. Armand claims he is 400 year sold, the oldest living vampire, but he does not give Louis the answers he is looking for. He does not know if God exists or not (Interview with the Vampire, p 256-258).
Lestat shows up and tells the other vampire what Louis and Claudia did to him. We later learn that Lestat and Armand are old frenemies. Armand and the other vampires kill Claudia, which perhaps signifies that it was now time to let go of Michelle. Louis and Armand travel together. When Armand later admits to Louis he was the one who killed Claudia by exposing her to the sun, he hardly cares.
Years later, they come across a broken, pitiful Lestat back in New Orleans. After over 60 years of being under Lestat’s thumb, it looks like Louis has emerged the winner. In the end Louis concludes that it is all hopeless,
“I wanted love and goodness in this which is living death,” I said. “It was impossible from the beginning, because you cannot have love and goodness when you do what you know to be evil, what you know to be wrong. You can only have the desperate confusion and longing and the chasing of phantom goodness in its human form. I knew the real answer to my quest before I ever reached Paris. I knew it when I first took a human life to feed my craving. It was my death. And yet I would not accept it, could not accept it, because like all creatures, I don’t wish to die! And so I sought for other vampires, for God, for the devil, for a hundred things under a hundred names. And it was all the same, all evil. And all wrong. Because no one could in any guise convince me of what I myself knew to be true, that I was damned in my own mind and soul.” (Interview with the Vampire, p 362)
in the end, Daniel, the interviewer, does not want to accept that Louis’ story ends in despair. He is enthralled by Louis’ account and the prospect of being immortal as a vampire. Like Anne’s unbelieving friends, Daniel did not appreciate the meaninglessness. Louis has failed to convey the true despair of it all. Daniel doesn’t get it and I suspect many of Anne’s readers didn’t get it either.
To be continued.