Feasting on the Taboo: Why are Anne Rice's Vampires so Popular?
One of the reasons for the popularity of Interview with the Vampire and the Vampire Chronicles is the differences between the vampires in the Rice’s novels versus the vampires in past literature. Yet a major difference is that the vampires in The Vampyre, Carmilla, and Dracula were singular threats. They had no companion vampires, and we learned nothing of their thoughts, their point of view, and their motives. While the vampires of Interview with the Vampire feasted off humans, they sought companionship with other vampires. In his article Anne Rice and the Queering of Culture, George Haggerty explores these ideas and wonders why the Vampire Chronicles are so popular in modern culture.
As the depiction of vampires has evolved over the years, what vampires have come to symbolize has progressed as well. Nineteenth century vampire tales (Dracula, Carmilla) were symbolic of fear of Eastern and Jewish immigration into Britain and Ireland. Neville’s relationship with the vampires in Matheson’s I am Legend could be symbolic of segregation in America in the 1950’s. It is only natural that the next step would be that vampires would come to represent fear of homosexuality. As Haggerty states, “Rice may well be tapping the vampiric past in her delightfully lurid tales, but she is also tantalizing the homophobic present with her sleek and sultry undead” (Haggerty 6). While her Vampire Chronicles may be based in past vampire lore, she has yet again modernized what the vampire has come to symbolize.
Haggerty notes that “the homoerotic bonds that surface everywhere in Rice's Vampire Chronicles function as part of the self-consuming culture that has produced them” (Haggerty 6). I think this statement coincides a lot with what Colleen mentioned in Discussion Forum A last week: that Lestat might be “the nihilistic aspect of modern existence”.
Much of the controversy surrounding Rice’s novels is because of the way she combines love, hate, and sexuality within her vampires. Haggerty writes about The Tale of the Body Thief and a scene in which Lestat drains the life out of a man he desires, David. Haggerty claims that Lestat “transforms his act of brutal victimization into an act of love” (Haggerty 15). He notes that “[Lestat]’s fantasy is one of possession: he wants to be David as much he wants to have him. It is as much about himself, that is, as it is about the man whose blood he tastes. As if to emphasize this, his love can only be expressed in this draining of life, this absolute possession” (Haggerty 15 - 16). I think this coincides with the idea that Lestat such a powerful entity that he does what he pleases and takes what he wants when he wants it. Not only does he desire this person, he takes everything from him (his life) so no one else can have it.
Homosexual themes are certainly nothing new to the vampire genre, as Carmilla’s relationship with Laura implied female sexual awakening through the help of another female. “Rice's vampires express our culture's secret desire for and secret fear of the gay man; the need to fly with him beyond the confines of heterosexual convention and bourgeois family life to an exploration of unauthorized desires, and at the same time to taste his body and his blood; to see him bleed and watch him succumb to death-in-life” (Haggerty 6).
As always, the vampire is more than just a vampire. Haggerty asserts that “[t]he vampire moves with the suave invisibility of the prototypical gay man: offering companionship, friendship, even love, before revealing his true and deadly nature; appearing silently and taking his pleasure ruthlessly; and suffering for his sexual transgression by being shut out from the light and condemned to an eternity of darkness” (Haggerty 9-10). According to Haggerty, “Rice is about undoing the homosocial and re-eroticizing male relations so as to reawaken the sleeping homosexual threat that at the turn of the century was just being laid to rest” (Haggerty 16). This is quite similar to the threats imposed by the vampires in Dracula, Carmilla, and I am Legend, as the fear of the unknown and loss of power to this unknown are embodied in the vampire. Anne Rice uses homosexuality to enhance the mystique surrounding her vampires. By transcending sexuality, Rice is showing that the her vampires have also transcended mortal life, yet retained the basic human need for deep love and companionship.
Haggerty declares that the love between Louis and Armand is “the ultimate transgression. This is what culture finally represses: not sexual desire, but love” (Haggerty 15). Yet “[i]t is the measure of the homophobia of the work that Lestat and Louis can never really make love: they can only play at making house” (Haggerty 13 - 14). While many scenes might imply homosexual acts, Lestat, Louis, and Armand are more concerned with companionship and love, rather than sexuality.
I think that Haggerty makes a good and interesting argument concerning why Interview with the Vampire and the books that followed it are popular. Having only read Interview with the Vampire and The Vampire Lestat, it was nice to read criticism concerning the novels I haven’t read, as it seems Rice’s vampires progressed along with their increase in popularity. I think that Haggerty is correct when he claims that “Lestat is queer, that is, because heterosexist culture needs him as a reflection of its own dark secret.” (Haggerty 7). It is easy to see why readers would want to know more about Lestat and Louis, as they are complete contrasts of one another: Louis is jaded and wishes to take as little as possible, whereas Lestat lives his afterlife to the fullest, taking whatever he pleases along the way. Combing the ‘taboo’ nature of homosexuality and American consumerism, Rice has created vampires that will certainly stand the test of time.