Finally, we are now leaving the 19th century and embarking into the twentieth, when in 1973 Anne Rice, mourning the death of her young daughter, revised her short story she had written and reworked it into a bestseller and yet another icon of the vampire genre – The Interview with the Vampire (1976). It is definitely not an understatement that Rice had revolutionized the approach to the vampiric characters, but first, let us look into the aspects that were discussed previously that she kept, but gave them her own individual twist.
Firstly it is of course the canonical attributes of vampires. They are sustained on human blood and Rice’s literary offspring is no exception to that rule. Rice, however, implements new details concerning the vampiric feeding. The reader can now see vampires sipping their blood from glasses as if it was wine and learns that through poisoned blood, the vampire will be poisoned as well.
The vampiric allergy to sunlight reaches an imaginary peak – while neither Carmilla, Ruthven or Dracula would be killed by the sun, the vampires of The Vampire Chronicles would most definitely die upon contact, as the central figure of the series, Lestat de Lioncourt, explains to his newly turned fledgling Louis de Pointe du Lac in the first chapters of the Interview with the Vampire: “...it's almost dawn. I should let you die. You will die, you know. The sun will destroy the blood I've given you, in every tissue, every vein” (Interview with the Vampire 18).
The vampires of the Chronicles possess a wide array of supernatural abilities, but they are different than those described before. Rice’s vampires are capable of telepathy, superhuman speed, mind-reading and increased healing rate3. Through consumption of blood of other vampires, the receiver can increase his or her powers. For instance, after Lestat receives blood from several ancient vampires, such as his creator Magnus, Marius and the vampire queen Akasha, he is afterwards granted with the gifts of pyro kinesis, levitation or telekinesis.
On the other hand, Rice rejects many of the traits that were ascribed notably to count Dracula. Her vampires are not afraid of anything holy – on the contrary, many of them are of religious nature. Nor are they capable of turning into mist and slipping through small spaces (The Interview with the Vampire 17).
Secondly, Rice had fully embraced the nobility status of vampires and even elevated it, so to speak. Similarly to Polidori’s lord Ruthven, the vampire of the Chronicles are often seen to frequently attend not only various dances and social gatherings, but also theaters and music halls. Contrary to Dracula living in a decrepit castle, or Carmilla’s setting in a solitary chateau, much of the Interview occurs in the city of New Orleans. Both of an aristocratic origin, Lestat and Louis “richly dressed and gracefully walking through the pools of light of one gas lamp after another” (Interview with the Vampire 30) lived lavishly throughout the events of The Interview with the Vampire – in fact, Lestat would often interrupt his narrative to remind the reader what he’s wearing.
Sexuality is also an issue throughout The Vampire Chronicles. This is, however, an issue that Rice is giving her own interpretation. In Dracula, even though the erotica is easily distinguishable from the point of view of the modern reader, it is strictly heterosexual. In Le Fanu’s Carmilla, the homosexual innuendos between Carmilla and Laura are only presumable and are never actually confirmed. Rice’s vampires, however, have the leisure to choose their partner – sexual or romantic – among both of the genders.
If we take to consideration Lestat’s relationships, he is being portrayed as bisexual, though majority of his romantic interests are male, being it Louis de Pointe du Lac, whom he claims to have fallen “fatally” in love with, simply for the fact that he reminded him of his best friend and first lover, Nicolas de Lenfent (Vampire Lestat 385).
Another character of the Chronicles, Armand, has lived a portion of his life under the roof of an older vampire, Marius de Romanus, along with several other boys and young man, whom Marius teaches and provides for. Armand’s life is being described in The Vampire Armand, and his relationship to Marius takes up a substantial part of it. Armand admits loving Marius and to further prove the homosexual nature of the relationship, Rice openly describes an erotic scene between the two:
His generous lips parted, and I saw only a human's white teeth. He put his hands beneath my arms, lifted me and kissed my throat, and the shivers paralyzed me. … His face was right before me. Kiss me again, yes, do it, that shiver, kiss- … He threw back his head. He gave way to ringing laughter. He lifted a handful of water again and let it spill down my chest. He opened his mouth and for a moment I saw the flash of something very wrong and dangerous, teeth such as a wolf might have. But these were gone, and only his lips sucked at my throat, then at my shoulder. Only his lips sucked at the nipple as I sought too late to cover it (The Vampire Armand 28).
A certain level of homosexual tendencies are observable in the behavior of other boys of Marius’ household.
The Interview with the Vampire’s Louis, had also fallen in love with Armand as they traveled together for a portion of the novel:
I turned to Armand again and let my eyes penetrate his eyes, and let him draw close to me as if he meant to make me his victim, and I bowed my head and felt his firm arm around my shoulder. … “Yes,” I said softly to him, “that is the crowning evil, that we can even go so far as to love each other, you and I. And who else would show us a particle of love, a particle of compassion or mercy? Who else, knowing us as we know each other, could do anything but destroy us? Yet we can love each other” (The Interview with the Vampire 248).
On the other hand, Louis also addresses his young female fledgling Claudia as his “lover” even though that everything between them remained purely platonic.
There was, however, a reason that their relationship never crossed the line between romantic and intimate and that reason is one of the unique aspect of The Vampire Chronicles that was never seen before. Claudia was only five years old, when she was turned to vampire by Lestat during the events of The Interview with the Vampire. Since vampires are canonically either aging very slowly or not at all, Claudia matures only mentally, but not physically. That makes her the first child vampire to ever appear in modern literature.
In context of various vampire societies in literature, creating children vampires is usually forbidden for several reasons. Rice was, however, the first to describe an actual functioning vampire society to begin with. Her vampires were no longer scarce loners, Louis and Claudia even actively searching for other members of their kin. They started forming various communities and cults. This includes Louis and Lestat’s familial circle with Claudia, but more interestingly for example Marius’ boys of The Vampire Armand; Armand’s community that formed in the Théâtre des Vampires under his command in The Interview with the Vampire, or the cult of The Children of Darkness that also appears in The Vampire Armand.
Every community has their own values and rules which the protagonists of the novels encounter and sometimes clash with. For instance Armand’s Théâtre des Vampires members consider Louis and Claudia a pair of criminals after they attempt to murder Lestat. Since Armand holds his creator Marius in almost religious respect, he transfers his beliefs on his followers and therefore the community considers the murder of a creator a cardinal sin punishable by death. The vampire Santiago clearly explains the fact:
“Yes, there is a crime. A crime for which we would hunt another vampire down until we destroyed him. Can you guess what that is?” he glanced from Claudia to me and back again to her mask-like face. “You should know, who are so secretive about the vampire that made you. … Can you guess what that crime is? Didn't your vampire master tell you? ... “It is the crime that means death to any vampire anywhere who commits it. It is to kill your own kind!” (The Interview with the Vampire 190)
philosophy with the way of living of the vampire Marius. This group of vampires abides by the rules that their master explains to Armand, after they have attacked and murdered Marius:
“We are the Children of Darkness,” he explained patiently. “We vampires are made to be the scourge of man, as is pestilence. We are part of the trials and tribulations of this world; we drink blood, and we kill for the glory of God who would test his human creatures. … It's forbidden to us to use our talents to dazzle mortals. It is forbidden us to trick them with our skills. It is forbidden us to seek the solace of their company. It is forbidden us to walk in the places of light. … We are as the bees that sting, and the rats that steal the grain; we are as the Black Death come to take young or old, beautiful or ugly, that men and women shall tremble at the power of God” (The Vampire Armand 214, 216).
And since Marius “knew these things, but he was of a pagan time, obdurate and angry, and refusing ever the grace of God,” according to The Children of Darkness, he had to be removed (The Vampire Armand 216).
Also, Rice’s vampires are no longer only beastly creatures that exist to terrorize the living only. While the novels being written from the perspective of the vampires and not their victims is not entirely a novelty, as is proven in the previous chapter concerning Varney the Vampire; or The Feast of Blood, Rice endows her supernatural children with emotions, conscience and the ability – if not willingness – to ponder philosophical questions, such as the existence of God, the evil nature of vampires, or the purpose of life.
This is especially the case with Lestat, who is undoubtedly the greatest philosopher of the Chronicles, but a great portion of The Interview with the Vampire is concerned with Louis and Claudia’s search for the answers about the actual origin of the vampire race, as proven by his conversation with Armand:
“I'm not certain,” I said, unable to keep my eyes off that awful medieval Satan. 'I would have to know from what...from whom it comes. Whether it came from other vampires...or elsewhere. ... Then we are not...” I sat forward. “...the children of Satan?”
“How could we be the children of Satan?” he asked. “Do you believe that Satan made this world around you?”
“No, I believe that God made it, if anyone made it. But He also must have made Satan, and I want to know if we are his children!” (The Interview with the Vampire 179)
Sir Francis Varney starts regretting the atrocities he has committed only in the autumn of his long life, but Louis for example dreads the destiny of vampires from the very moment he had been turned into one. For a portion of his immortal life, he refuses to feed on human blood and sustains himself solely on animals, as he mentions during his interview with Daniel Molloy:
“I killed animals. … Both of us had hunted the Freniere plantation, Lestat for slaves and chicken thieves and me for animals.” “You were killing only animals?” “Yes” (Interview with the Vampire 31, 32).
Even after he relented to drinking human blood, he prides himself on being very reasonable about feeding only when he truly had to, much contrary to Lestat, as Louis explains: Lestat killed humans all the time, sometimes two or three a night, sometimes more. He would drink from one just enough to satisfy a momentary thirst, and then go on to another (Interview with the Vampire 31).
Anne Rice’s vampires also all have an intricate backstory, often interwoven into one another, contrary to other vampire specimen discussed in the previous chapters, about which the reader gets minimum to zero information and they are defined by their vampirism and nothing else. Uniquely, the whole vampiric society has their own history. What Louis and Claudia had been searching for in The Interview with the Vampire, the reader discovers in the third book of the series, The Queen of the Damned, and that is how exactly the vampire race came to existence.
At the beginning there were two sisters residing in ancient Egypt, Maharet and Mekare. The twins were powerful witches and their power attracted the attention of a royal couple of Egypt, queen Akasha and her husband king Enkil. Upon encounter of the twins and the royals, Mekare had summoned a spirit called Amel to display her power. That, however, displeased the queen, who had decided to throw the sisters to prison and to punish them by public rape.
The spirit Amel had become enraged with the humiliation of the sisters and started terrorizing the king and queen. Along with several other nobles, Akasha and Enkil attacked Amel later on, but only the royal couple had survived and was never seen in the sun again. After they’d been stabbed by the spirit, Akasha turned on Enkil, consuming his blood and feeding him her own, effectively becoming the first blood-drinkers.
To test their new powers, the couple turned on the king’s steward Khayman, also turning him into a blood-drinker. He then spreads the “gift of the night” to Maharet and Mekare and the three of them started turning more and more people to create an army to aid them in the battle of Akasha and Enkil, thus creating a generation of vampires known as “The first brood.”