The Progression of Sexuality and the Popularity of the
Modern Literary Vampire
For my online artifact, I originally wanted to find a “vampire family tree” of the vampires from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Unable to find a valid source (most contained errors and omissions while offering no criticism of the text), I tried to find an interview with Anne Rice. The only problem was that a search for “interview” and “Anne Rice” turns up thousands of links to Interview with the Vampire, rather than interviews with the author. But during this search, I stumbled upon a piece of literary criticism that explores the progression of sexuality and the modern day popularity of literary vampires, both issues that we have written about in our blogs and discussion forums. This article, Love, Lust, and the Literary Vampire by Margaret L. Carter, brings a new insight to the progression of the vampire in literature and offers valid theories and criticisms of many of the stories that we have read this semester.
The article, found at http://www.strangehorizons.com/2002/20020722/vampire.shtml, compares the sexual nature and imposing threat of literary vampires of the past and present. Carter begins her essay by quoting author Carol Senf’s observations concerning Carmilla and Dracula, stating that “[c]ontemporary authors place ’increasing emphasis on the positive aspects of the vampire’s eroticism and on his or her right to rebel against the stultifying constraints of society’ (Senf 163)” (Carter). She notes that “the very qualities that make the traditional vampire a threat in nineteenth-century stories such as Carmilla and Dracula -- particularly his or her erotic power and unconventional behavior -- make the vampire appealing to twentieth-century readers” (Carter). This is particularly true when concerned with the vampires found in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire.
Carter makes a great point concerning Interview with the Vampire and Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles when she notes that “[c]ontemporary readers -- and writers -- more often see the vampire’s otherness and sexual ambiguity as alluring. Hence the more or less traditionally supernatural vampire, as transformed in the novels of such authors as Anne Rice and Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, becomes attractive rather than horrible” (Carter). Lestat, Armand, Louis, and the other vampires in Interview are certainly less physically imposing, and often act more threatening towards other vampires and each other, rather than humans. They are given more humanistic qualities than vampires of past novels, similar to Ruth from I am Legend. Modern literary vampires are “exogamous naturalistic vampires [that] can retain much of the sexual magnetism we associate with Carmilla, Dracula, and their descendants” (Carter), yet at the same time, the vampires in Interview are also viewed as much less of a sexual threat. Carter observes that male vampires “in such novels [are] usually incapable of penile-vaginal intercourse” (Carter). Rather than posing a sexual threat to humanity, the vampires are more concerned with companionship instead of sex. Louis’s bonds with Claudia and Armand are out of sympathy and the need for a partner to spend time with and experience his new vampire lifestyle.
In contrast, Carter discusses the role of the female vampire in literature and the progression of these roles in modern literature. Carter states that “[f]rom the feminine viewpoint, then, vampire sexuality as portrayed in fiction, far from being ‘incomplete,’ instead compensates for the defects in conventional masculine sexual patterns” (Carter). This can be applied to Louis and Claudia, as Louis was neither fatherly nor a protector as a human, yet he gains these qualities after Lestat’s changing of Claudia. Louis feeds on Claudia instinctively, not because he is a sexual threat or predator, but because he “was torn in agony” (Rice 89) over his needs as a vampire and his former human expectations. The vampires in Interview are more consumed with how to spend the rest of eternity, rather than pillaging society of its innocence.
This is not to say that some of the vampires in Interview with the Vampire do not display animalistic characteristics, as Lestat describes them as “[p]redators” (Rice 82). But while the vampires in Interview prey on humans to an extent, they pose an even bigger threat to other vampires. Lestat remarks to Louis that “Vampires are killers! They don’t want you or your sensibility! They’ll see you coming long before you see them, and they’ll see your flaw; and, distrusting you, they’ll seek to kill you … they are lone predators and seek for companionship no more than cats in the jungle” (Rice 82). Yet Lestat, Louis, Claudia, and Armand want nothing more than companionship. So while the threatening image of the vampire has been lessened to an extent, they still reflect the mysterious and enigmatic qualities of past literary vampires.
Although this article is written prior to the Twilight series and the rise in popularity of the Southern Vampire Mysteries/the True Blood television series, it clearly applies to the twenty-first century revival of the vampire novel in American culture. At times, Carter seems to credit sexuality too much for the revitalized popularity of the vampire novel, but she makes a great point when she writes that novels such as Interview with the Vampire “appeals to the reader by addressing the human desire to know the mind of the Other” (Carter). Whereas vampire novels of the past (Carmilla, Dracula) offer no narration or viewpoint of the vampires, Interview is told from the perspective of one. By changing to this narrative technique, the reader gains insight into the mysterious, as the “process of touching an alien mind constitutes one of the most powerful attractions of contemporary vampire fiction …. we get a glimpse into a mode of being somehow both human and nonhuman.” (Carter).
I think that this online artifact provides a new aspect to the debate surrounding the revitalized popularity of the vampire. Having not read most of the modern vampire stories discussed by Carter, she does a good job of summarizing the progression of the vampire from the nineteenth century to present day. Sexuality is unquestionably a constant theme of the vampire novel, and Carter shows how this theme has progressed throughout the years. Yet the vampire no longer simply represents a sexual threat, as the modern “vampire longs for communication and self-disclosure as well as self knowledge” (Carter). Readers have been let into the mind of the literary vampire and have unquestionably decided that they want to know more.
Carter, Margaret L. Lust, Love, and the Literary Vampire. Strange Horizons.
July 22, 2002. http://www.strangehorizons.com/2002/20020722/vampire.shtml
Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. Random House Publishing, New York. 1976.