Howard Allen Frances O'Brien (1941–) was born to an Irish Roman Catholic family in New Orleans in 1941. Named after her father, she adopted the name Anne on her first day at school and became Rice when she married her husband Stan in 1961. She has published over thirty novels to date, the best known of which are The Vampire Chronicles. Her work is usually categorized as an example of Southern Gothic, this being a subset of American Gothic, although there is evidence throughout Rice's fiction and nonfiction that complicates such definitions. She became an atheist in early adulthood, returning to Catholicism in 2002, but rejected organized religion again in 2010. Her work changes in relation to her personal, spiritual, and religious status but the complexities and blurring of the concepts of good and evil are constantly examined.
Rice's vampire fiction forms part of a revival of interest in vampires during the 1970s in literature and film. The Vampire Chronicles themselves have been heralded as instigating a change from traditional vampire literature. Her vampires are aware of a sense of morality, struggling to draw distinctions between good and evil suggestive of Rice's own upbringing as a Roman Catholic. Rice's vampires are postmodern figures of the contemporary world, even if they have their origins in the historic past, and have empathetic personalities, desires, and motivations. In interviews, her autobiography, and her authorized biography, Rice asserts that they are metaphors for outsiders to society. Sympathy for them is elicited by the narrative device of allowing vampires to tell their own stories: in the first of the Vampire Chronicles, Interview with the Vampire (1976), Louis' tale of his life and his "making" by the vampire Lestat presents an understandable, attractive character. His interviewer is so enthralled by the story that he desires, too, to become a vampire. Subsequent novels such as Blackwood Farm (2002) are often reported or "told" narratives while Vittorio the Vampire (1999), of the New Tales of the Vampires series, is purportedly written by the vampire as an autobiography. These narrative forms allow direct identification with the vampire: for the first time in vampire literature, the vampires themselves provide the "real" story, and this story is often one of a struggle for goodness. In the recent publication The Wolf Gift (2012), a revisioning of the tradition of the werewolf, the Morphenkinder are humans with the capacity to transform at will into wolf people with the express purpose of killing and eating other humans who are clearly identified as "evil." Rice's "monsters" are presented as knowable beings that embody the anxieties and perils facing humanity itself.
Rice's narrative strategies, although not admired by all, remain one of the signatures of her vampire fiction and have been copied extensively since. Her novels detail characters who are set apart from humanity, and much of her work looks at those who are outsiders and Othered, exploring the perspectives of those who have been marginalized. Her work features alienated figures who are either not human or unhuman: the Taltos, a nonhuman race who predate humans in the Mayfair Witches trilogy, as well as ghosts, spirits, demons, and more recently angels, wolf people, and Jesus Christ. Treated sympathetically, the majority are portrayed as victims to circumstance, violence, or abuse. The child of an alcoholic mother, Rice details neglect and victimhood throughout her novels. Her vampires are not representative of the Gothic villain, but embody the victim and, to a certain extent, passivity: most of them were "made" without their consent. As such they are more closely aligned with the imperiled heroine of the female Gothic, and as George E. Haggerty (1998) notes, to be a vampire is to be already penetrated. Now that the monsters and vampires have a voice they are no longer unknowable creatures of terror and horror, and so Otherness is an ambiguous state here: not least because the monsters she depicts are beautiful, seductive, and often compelling.
Rice herself has always been said to feel like an outsider. Her biographer, Katherine Ramsland, argues that Rice's Roman Catholic upbringing conflicted with her burgeoning sexuality, fantasies of masochism, and feelings of alienation, and Ramsland links these with the eroticism and homoeroticism apparent in much of the fiction (Ramsland 1991, 1996, 1997). Alternative sexuality was initially explored by Rice in her early foray into sadomasochistic pornography in five books written in the mid-1980s under two pseudonyms, A. N. Roquelaure and Anne Rampling. Although after her return to Catholicism sex is sidelined in novels such as Of Love and Evil (2010), in her earlier work alternative sexualities are often detailed and are an important part of The Vampire Chronicles, the Mayfair Witches trilogy (1990–4), and The Mummy (1989). Rice offers representations of pain as pleasure; male–male eroticism; sexual relations with ghosts, spirits, and demons; necrophilia; rape; eroticized relations with mothers and children, and also with echoes or mirrors of the self. In Blackwood Farm (2002), Quinn as a vampire-human has sex with a female ghost, a servant, a witch, and a spirit; this last being is his exact double and the revenant of his twin from whom he fed in the womb and who died in early infancy. Rice's vampires are at least bisexual and most are positioned as "queer." In Rice's novels, queerness is a celebration of difference beyond the imposition of categorical identity, and the reader is invited to at least accept, if not embrace, alterity. As a (disillusioned) Roman Catholic, Rice is concerned with conceptions of the flesh, the spirit, the rituals and beliefs around transubstantiation whereby bread and wine is transformed into the body, the flesh, and blood of Christ. Rice explores the idea of the drinking of blood and the transcendence of the flesh, its mutation and its metaphysical and physical desirability. Sexual encounters cross gender and species lines, highly eroticized for characters and readers alike, emphasizing physical beauty and the overwhelming nature of desire.
Throughout her novels identity is constructed primarily through association with creativity, knowledge of history and ancient mythologies, wealth and material gain, familial inheritance, the pursuit of individual pleasures and love, as well as through the representation of the desiring and desirable body. All of the novels exhibit the attractions of the flesh, of materiality and the visual through frequent description of architectural specificities and lush vegetation, as well as sumptuous and highly colored artifacts, materials, and bodies. Reversing the usual Gothic trope of the terrors of the great house, in Rice's novels such locations and their contents are minutely detailed, representing the best of history and human achievement in architectural and commodity form. Such spaces are idealized: they are not sites of entrapment but of possibility and liberation. They also represent the importance of family and wealth. Ramsland (1991: 337) has recorded how, to Rice, financial security is crucial and this is prominently displayed throughout the novels. Although gesturing to the tragedy of poverty as it affects localized racial and ethnic societies in the texts, more evident is how money (in vast unspecified quantities, usually) enables the enactment of desires. Wealth makes possible creativity, study, exploration, and facilitates the consumption of the body. But money must be used for the "right" reasons. Failure to do so results in destruction, as is the case with the repellent Henry in The Mummy. Described as one in whom "the evil is unchecked" (1989: 111), he is killed and boiled in bitumen, remade into a fake mummy to be sold to tourists, the West reconfigured as a reproduced Orient for Western consumption: the ultimate commodity.
Family money is of particular importance: the accumulation of wealth for the family as well as philanthropy. Rice is concerned with family structures, however, in ways that sometimes conflict with the American ideal. There is a tension between the nuclear and extended family form, as well as between blood ties of different sorts. In Interview with the Vampire, an unorthodox nuclear family is formed around the two central adult male vampires, both of whom function as mother and father, and the rage-filled, infantilized vampire Claudia. The Mayfair clan in The Witching Hour (1990), the first of the Mayfair Witches series, form a vast dynasty and much of the book details their history. Heritage and blood ties (in all meanings of the term), are vital in The Vampire Chronicles too, with lineage traced back thousands of years. The vampires, witches, and the secret society of the Talamasca form alternative, biologically different and specifically chosen family groupings (see secret societies). Rice examines what it means to be family and to be forced to try to fit into a pre-given family, or to have the power to choose one's own connections. Family and love, it seems, can be found anywhere, yet the question of parentage, lineage, and ancestry remains contested in her work. There is a certain joy in the idea of dynasty, but there is also a challenge to ancestry in echoes of decadence, greed, hypocrisy, and ownership. The pull is frequently between individuals and their emotional and blood connections, often framed within a distinction between the American individualistic tradition and the older European systems of ancestry and inheritance.
The action of Rice's books is often split between America and Europe, and also between the present and the past, and very many of her novels are set in the cosmopolitan, ethnically diverse and European-associated city of New Orleans. Rice herself sees New Orleans as separate from America, an Other to the media-obsessed popular culture basis of the modern United States. In this way her work can be related to the Southern Gothic which is usually seen as a mode through which to explore the vexed question of the terrors of racial conflict in America. However, although many of Rice's works make use of the location of New Orleans, rarely does she deal with this issue. More usually nonwhite characters reinforce a representation of the racial Other, perhaps the one aspect of her work that fails to offer a challenge to dominant discourses. In The Mummy Samir is visibly uncomfortable when obliged to wear Western clothing, while donning Bedouin costume allows Ramses to "disappear" into the Egyptian market place crowd, provided he hides the blue eyes that signal his difference from them (Rice 1989: 245). Throughout her novels Europe and Egypt are portrayed as superior to America in terms of history and a desirable heritage (including a material heritage of artifacts) that gains credit from its mythology and longevity. Notions of the rightful place of an Old World paternalistic aristocracy and royalty in class relations are continually reinscribed, in opposition to a picture of American liberation and democracy. Tommy in Blackwood Farm is sent to school at Eton in present-day England, and much of the action in the novels is located in a European and Eastern past (even early-hominid Africa in The Wolf Gift), valorizing the European and the pre- and early-modern. But Rice is not always at odds with American attitudes, particularly in relation to the pleasures of consumption, and in the often triumphant ascendancy of the individual.
The work of Anne Rice is marked throughout by ambivalence to dominant authoritarian social and cultural discourses. At times embracing the ideals of freedom from constraint, subverting imposed definitions and boundaries, her fiction still stresses the imperatives of responsibility. While offering possibilities in alternative sexualities and gender categories that are empowering for men, Rice more often than not produces a representation of the woman as heterosexual and thoroughly embedded in the binary of the good and bad mother, notably in The Queen of the Damned (1988). Her fiction challenges generic boundaries, sometimes entirely conventional in the romance tradition, and at others weaving together fairy tale, mythology, horror, and the erotic in a complex and occasionally internally conflicting mix that obliges the reader to review prior certainties. Sexual activity is described in voluptuous terms, as beautiful bodies consume other beautiful bodies in a hedonism that conflates the erotic, the seductive, and the commodity, but it can be misleading to regard her work as reducible to this. Rice's fiction, with its fascination with the supernatural and supernatural existence, is populated with figures representing the sublime in that they inspire awe and, in their desirability, terror. But immortality is as much a curse as a blessing. Rice's work might be at the popular and populist end of the spectrum of Gothic literature, but it provokes questions about the nature of existence and desire that have a place in the best of Gothic writing.
SEE ALSO: American Gothic; Female Gothic; Popular Culture; Roman Catholicism; Secret Societies; Southern Gothic; Sublime, The; Supernatural, The; Terror; Vampire Fiction; Werewolves.
- Anne Rice and the queering of culture. Novel: A Forum on Fiction 32(1), 5-18. (1998)
- Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice. London: Dutton. (1991)
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- Undoing feminism: From the preoedipal to postfeminism in Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. American Literary History 2(3), 422-42. & (1990)
- Reading the Vampire. London: Routledge. (1994)
- Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. & (eds.) (1997)
- The Gothic World of Anne Rice. Bowling Green, KY: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. & (1996)
- A Companion to the Gothic. Oxford: Blackwell. (ed.) (2000)
- Myth and Fairy Tale in Contemporary Women's Fiction. Basingstoke: Palgrave. (2001)
- A Passion for Consumption: The Gothic Novel in America. Bowling Green, KY: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. (2001)
- The Lure of the Vampire: Gender, Fiction and Fandom from Bram Stoker to Buffy. New York: Wallflower Press. (2005)
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