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Anne Rice is best known as the author of the ”Vampire Chronicles,” a series of novels depicting the lives of modern-day vampires, as told from the perspectives of the monsters themselves. Despite mixed critical opinion, her tales of modern gothic horror have long enjoyed a massive popular following. After writing about soulless undead for over a quarter-century, Rice began expressing her recent religious reawakening through a series of books about the life of Jesus Christ.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
A Tragedy Motivates Horror Writing
Rice was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 4, 1941. She was originally named Howard Allen O’Brien (her father’s first name was Howard and her mother’s maiden name was Allen), but she disliked this name from an early age, and it was legally changed when she was seven years old. Rice’s father was a postal worker who enjoyed sculpting and writing. Rice lost her mother, an alcoholic, when she was fourteen, and the family moved to Texas. Throughout her childhood, Rice attended a Catholic church, but she abandoned the faith when she was eighteen because she felt it was too repressive.
She married her high-school sweetheart, the poet Stan Rice, when she was twenty, and the couple moved to San Francisco, where she earned a degree in political science from San Francisco State University. San Francisco in the 1960s was the epicenter of a countercultural movement that valued nonconformity and encouraged free experimentation with sex and illegal drugs. Rice, however, did not consider herself part of this movement. She held a variety of jobs, including cook, waitress, and insurance claims adjuster. She gave birth to a daughter and wrote sporadically during these years; but when her daughter died of leukemia at the age of five, Rice channeled her grief into her first vampire novel, Interview with the Vampire (1976), which she completed in only six weeks.
The book was deemed a success, but Rice’s depression was severe enough to cause her to drink heavily. Though she continued to write, and even completed The Feast of All Saints (1980), which focused on the lives of mixed-race people living in New Orleans in the 1840s, she was barely productive until her son was born. Finally overcoming her alcohol problem, Rice wrote more vampire novels, as well as several volumes of erotica, and a new series involving a sect of witches in New Orleans. The success of Interview with a Vampire spurred more vampire books based on secondary characters in her original book; these include The Vampire Lestat (1985), Queen of the Damned
Return to Catholicism and Avoiding Katrina
Rice fled from the Catholic Church as a young adult and explained to New York Times Magazine’s Susan Ferraro: ”It struck me as really evil—the idea you could go to hell for French-kissing someone. … I didn’t believe God existed. I didn’t believe Jesus Christ was the Son. … I didn’t t believe heaven existed either. Creating an ethical code to replace this lost religious code, Rice suggested that ”even if we live in a godless world, we can search for love and maintain it and believe it.” Emphasizing the importance of ethics, she added that ”we can found a code of morality on ethics rather than outmoded religious concepts. We can base our sexual mores on ethics rather than on religious beliefs.
After years as an atheist, however, she experienced a religious reawakening in 1998. She writes about her return to religion, and the death of her spouse in 2002, in her autobiography, Called Out of Darkness (2008). After the death of her husband, Rice decided to leave New Orleans and move to California. She completed her move prior to the arrival of Hurricane Katrina in August of 2005, which destroyed a large part of New Orleans and scattered its residents. Though Rice announced no plan to return, she was vocal in support of relief for her longtime home.
Although she published one last installment of the ”Vampire Chronicles” after her religious reawakening, it soon became clear to Rice that she had to leave behind the dark personas that populated those books. She stated, ”This character [Lestat] who had been my dark search engine for twenty-seven years would never speak in the old framework again. Rice then turned her creative efforts towards a trilogy of books about the life of Jesus Christ. The first installment, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, was published in 2005, with the second volume following in 2008. Rice has vacillated on whether she will return to her vampire books for one final story, which would purportedly focus on religious redemption.
Works in Literary Context
In her fiction Rice depicts horrific events through an ornate prose style and a painstaking attention to detail. She blends accurate historical elements with such themes as alienation and the individual s search for identity. Each of her novels centers on characters from an isolated segment of a real or imagined society.
Rice single-handedly revived the gothic vampire novel, in the process added a new chapter to a literary tradition that stretches back over two hundred years. Gothic writing had its start with the publication of Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto in 1764. The book was a popular sensation, and over the next half-century the traditions of the gothic novel—crumbling medieval ruins, corruption in the heart of the church, melodramatic heroes and virginal heroines, and a darkly passionate atmosphere—had been firmly established, to the point that Jane Austen parodied them in her Northanger Abbey (1818).
Gothic literature was originally closely associated with the Romantic movement of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Romantics looked to times past for inspiration, and gothic writers were particularly inspired by the crumbling ruins of medieval monasteries and castles. They extrapolated such visual inspiration to spin yarns of corruption and once-grand institutions crumbling into decrepitude. It was from this literary tradition that gothic horror emerged; the two prototypical stories—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and John Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819)—were both conceived on the same night, when several of Europe s leading Romantic authors passed the evening telling each other ghost stories.
Polidori’s The Vampyre was the first tale to recast the ancient myth of the bloodsucking corpse as a more mysterious and romantic figure. Unlike earlier folkloric traditions, Polidori’s monster was an aristocratic figure who moved among—and fed off of—high society. His vampire, Lord Ruthven, was closely associated with Lord Byron, a leading Romantic figure, to the extent that Byron was often falsely attributed as the author of Polidori’s story. The Vampyre touched off a craze for vampire stories, plays, and operas that culminated with Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897).
Even as the vampire became an icon of the silver screen in the twentieth century, vampire-themed literature largely disappeared. All that changed with Rice’s publication of Interview with the Vampire in 1976. Rice took the gothic traditions of nineteenth-century and shifted the focus from human victim to monster, thereby adding an additional layer of pathos and melodrama. Her success inspired a slew of imitators, and virtually created a new subgenre, that of paranormal romance.
Works in Critical Context
”Anne Rice, a novelist so prolific she needs two pseudonyms— Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure—to distinguish the disparate voices in her books, has won both critical acclaim and a readership of cult proportions,” writes Bob Summer in Publishers Weekly. Rice’s exotic subject matter, brooding sensibility, and baroque prose style prompted Michiko Kakutani to note: ”Anne Rice has what might best be described as a Gothic imagination crossed with a campy taste for the decadent and the bizarre.” Critics have compared Rice’s ”Vampire Chronicles” favorably with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and several have commented on her ability to use language to convey different moods. Many reviewers have said that the popularity of Rice’s books lies not only in her skill as a storyteller, but with the lurid fascination readers have with such creatures as vampires, mummies, and witches.
Interview with the Vampire
When Interview with the Vampire was published in 1976, critics were intrigued by Rice’s unusual treatment of vampires: ”Rice brings a fresh and powerful imagination to the staples of vampire lore; she makes well-worn coffins and crucifixes tell new tales that compose a chillingly original myth,” observes Nina Auerbach in the New York Times Book Review. ”Because Rice identifies with the vampire instead of the victim (reversing the usual focus), the horror for the reader springs from the realization of the monster within the self,” writes Susan Ferraro in New York Times Magazine. ”Moreover, Rice’s vampires are loquacious philosophers who spend much of eternity debating the nature of good and evil. … They are lonely, prisoners of circum-stance, compulsive sinners, full of self-loathing and doubt. They are, in short, Everyman Eternal.” Presented with flawless, alabaster skin, colorful glinting eyes, and hair that shimmers and seems to take on a life of its own, Rice’s vampires are described by H. J. Kirchhoff in a Toronto Globe and Mail review as ”romantic figures, super-humanly strong and fast, brilliant and subtle of thought and flamboyant of manner.”
Walter Kendrick praises the scope of Interview with the Vampire in the Voice Literary Supplement, stating that ”it would have been a notable tour de force even if its characters had been human.” Kendrick also suggests that
”Rice’s most effective accomplishment, though, was to link up sex and fear again.” Conroy maintains that ”not since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Louisa May Alcott’s penny dreadful novelettes has a woman written so strongly about death and sex.” Similarly, in a New York Times Book Review article, Leo Braudy observes that ”Rice exploits all the sexual elements in [vampire myths] with a firm self-consciousness of their meaning.”
- Beahm, George, ed. The Unauthorized Anne Rice Companion. Kansas City, Mo.: Andrews & McMeel, 1996.
- Dickinson, Joy. Haunted City: An Unauthorized Guide to the Magical, Magnificent New Orleans of Anne Rice. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1998.
- Hoppenstand, Gary and Ray B. Browne, eds. The Gothic World of Anne Rice. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1996.
- Keller, James R. Anne Rice and Sexual Politics: The Early Novels. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2000.
- Ramsland, Katherine M. Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice. New York: Dutton, 1991.
- –. The Vampire Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. New York: Ballantine, 1993.
- –. The Witches’ Companion: The Official Guide to Anne Rice’s Lives of the Mayfair Witches. New York: Ballantine, 1994.
- Riley, Michael. Conversations with Anne Rice. New York: Ballantine Books, 1996.
- Smith, Jennifer. Anne Rice: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
- Roberts, Bette B. Anne Rice. New York: Twayne, 1994.
- Smith, Jennifer. Anne Rice: A Critical Companion, Critical Companions to Popular Contemporary Writers. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.
- Van Biema, David. Anne Rice’s Spiritual Confession. Originally published October 8, 2008. Retrieved November 8, 2008, from http://www.time.com/ time/arts/article/0,8599,1848149,00.html.
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