Walking Out of the Interview (With the Vampire)

by Arthur B

The Anne Rice classic becomes increasingly awkward to revisit as time goes by.
In retrospect Interview With the Vampire is a bit of an oddity among Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. Whilst subsequent books are absolutely in love with the figure of Lestat, going out of their way to make him into a Byronic antihero, the vampire being interviewed here is Louis, a former New Orleans plantation owner who was dragged into vampirism by Lestat back in the 18th Century and who in his narration clearly thinks of Lestat as an abuser. Whereas later books in the series are positively obsessed with arcane vampire backstory and the sort of lore explored in Queen of the Damned, this introduction to the series has none of that - Lestat and Louis know very little about the wider world of vampirekind and don't learn an enormous amount during the novel.

What you get instead of all that mythology jazz, then, is an existential exploration in astonishingly purple prose. Louis is thrust into an existence he didn't ask for and which nobody can adequately explain to him, and a life in which he would rather not hurt others to perpetuate his existence but often finds himself doing so anyway. That's undeath for Louis, but it's also life for all of us.

Where I get off the bus is the part where Lestat bullies Louis by turning a five year old girl that Louis had become fascinated with, Claudia, into a vampire - or rather, the aftermath of that. Lestat and Louis end up adopting her as a creepy quasi-daughter, and her response to becoming a vampire is to adapt to that gruesome lifestyle creepily fast. Since she's a vampire, she can psychologically mature but will never physically grow up, so in subsequent section of the novel she's this deeply disturbing killer whose appearance as a small child is a mere facade for immortal horror.

So far, so good. What throws me off is the constant suggestion that Louis wants to sexually abuse her, or perhaps actually does abuse her. Louis is not overtly depicted as doing anything sexual to Claudia, mind - but he is never overtly depicted as doing anything sexual with Lestat, and Rice has said that we are supposed to interpret them as having a gay relationship, and the textual suggestions that this is the case are if anything milder than the textual suggestions that Louis wants to molest Claudia. There's already something a bit off about how he describes her before she's turned into a vampire, but there's also the way he makes a big thing about how they liked to dance together as “Father and Daughter, Lover and Lover”, and contextually that seems to come early on in their interactions, not after she's supposed to have psychologically matured. (And that isn't cherry-picking, mind, this comes from the heart of a section where Louis dizzily gushes over his feelings about Claudia.)

Rice is getting into tricky enough territory later on in the story with the whole “decades-old woman with mature desires in a five year old body” thing. In general, I find it difficult to trust authorial gambits to try and rules lawyer one’s way around age of consent; I’ve ranted about this before but in general I feel like if you are in a position where you're saying “It's OK, I don't really want to bang a five year old because actually they're of the age of consent and just look exactly like a five year old" then you need to step back. As a general rule in life, if the only thing stopping you being a rapist is “Well, actually...”, then you are at best already on sufficiently dodgy ground that you badly need to correct course, and at worst you simply are a rapist and aren’t admitting it. The fact that Louis is overtly thinking of himself and Claudia as lovers that early on in their relationship is what makes me throw my toys out of the pram and quit reading the book - it's just too much.

Admittedly the intended reading may be that this is a bad thing and we're not supposed to endorse Louis’ subjective point of view here. There's other ethical gaps in Louis’ worldview - he guilt trips himself about a lot of murders but sees absolutely nothing wrong with him having been a slave owner. (This I was able to accept because, of course, Louis is an 18th Century gentleman and the fact that he expresses the prejudices of his upbringing is unsurprising and appropriate.) With the Claudia stuff, I hit the point where I didn't trust Rice enough any more to assume that that would be the case, and when you stop trusting an author then your relationship with a book is pretty much done.

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Comments (go to latest)
Robinson L at 22:02 on 2017-10-31
Hmm, interesting. I’ve never read any of Rice’s books, but I saw a video from a couple of years ago talking about the character of Claudia, whom the reviewer found highly compelling. According to the reviewer, Claudia—who’s killed later in the book (spoiler!)—was written as a way for Rice herself to grapple with the loss of a baby daughter, and the reviewer was impressed by the accomplishment. She didn’t mention anything about creepy sex vibes, and I got the distinct impression that Claudia was basically asexual, which to me made perfect sense, considering she’s a) undead; and b) eternally inhabiting the body of a five-year-old, without all those hormones and other bodily processes related to puberty which I associate with sexual awakening. I was therefore puzzled, as well as creeped out, to read about it here.

It’s too bad Rice apparently went there with the story because this:

Louis is thrust into an existence he didn't ask for and which nobody can adequately explain to him, and a life in which he would rather not hurt others to perpetuate his existence but often finds himself doing so anyway. That's undeath for Louis, but it's also life for all of us.

Actually sounds like a pretty neat vehicle for exploring existential themes and questions about, well, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 16:26 on 2017-11-09
That's an interesting take on the book Arthur. I remember blowing through this when I was probably in my late teens or a bit later, along with so many other genre paperbacks. I can't remember whether I was oblivious to that sexualization of Claudia or whether I just bypassed it, but as I remember the book, it is a very credible interpretation. Calling a five year old girl your lover is upsetting and coupling it with the daughter father pair makes it worse, since while the bond between a parent and child can be as intense as the relationship between two adults, they are strikingly and fundamentally different. Mixing them together just feels like a violation of both.

But to be very generous for conversation's sake and since I don't want to assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding, I guess you could focus on the neglect and think that the purple prose is a sign that there was not that much editing or careful rewriting done, since it is really very unfortunate that that thread is present in the story. And the purple prose seems to be Rice's trademark, or it was when I read them.

But judging from the other books( and pretending that this book did not actually mean to be into pedophilia and had also succeeded to frame it without the ambiguity present here), the vampires are supposed to be asexual like Robinson mentioned or rather the blood-drinking murder thing is in place of the sex thing. If I recall correctly, a later book, where there was this vampire queen who wanted to take over the world (because these are the type of vampires that do stuff like that), describes pretty graphically through Lestat's point of view that while the vampires seem to have all of their stuff in its original places, there does not seem to be even a reflective ability to be aroused or functional in any biological definition of sex.

But I agree that asexuality (or sanguinarianness?) does not seem to be just the right term to use, because Rice's vampires are kinda peculiar in that they are very passionate about other vampires, which has a very sexual tone in its unsexualness. It might be the purple prose, but Louis and Lestat (and other pairings) seem to inexplicably into each other, even if they don't actually seem to do anything sexual and this seems to have little to do with the blood drinking either to the extent that apart from the general complaining, the whole murderiness and bloodlust is a sidenote to the general proceedings. They are just that intense and brooding and have that vampire vibe thing going. It is a while since I read it, but I don't remember what they were even supposed to do all night long, between the eating and the soap-opera. Seemingly they went to see plays and generally just went out a lot. You'd think they had more time to read any of the many edifying books readily available even in those times to help with the ennui. Or they could practice olympic hide-and-seek. Generally one would think that endless social life and brooding would still leave a lot of time for other pursuits.

But I have to confess that my younger self liked Interview with the Vampire (although isn't it more of a vampire?), probably because the concept was novel and it did differ from other stuff I was reading at the time in it that it had less action and more grand standing in rooms being dramatic and bored with the futility of it all. I don't think we are necessarily supposed to think that Louis or any of them are supposed to read as being good or anything, since the whole thing is so much about this particular vampire gothic aestheticm, that everything just bends around that. Louis is a Southern Gentleman, because the Southern Gothic is what was wanted and it's the late eighteenth century, because those clothes and that environment is what was wanted. Slaves are just part of the scenery and the vampires are very self-involved creatures who don't have time to think about chattel slavery, since they are in a prison of their unholy eternal existence. It does seem a constant in different versions of vampires that even when they're supposed to be nice they are still kind of assholes. And these aren't that nice even without the murdering and implied pedophilia.

Arthur B at 17:49 on 2017-11-09
But judging from the other books( and pretending that this book did not actually mean to be into pedophilia and had also succeeded to frame it without the ambiguity present here), the vampires are supposed to be asexual like Robinson mentioned or rather the blood-drinking murder thing is in place of the sex thing.

To be honest, that really doesn't help much. If their blood-drinking drive is a metaphorical stand-in for their sex drive (which absolutely makes sense because, as you say, they get all hot and passionate about it exactly as they would if it were their sex drive), then having Louis spend all that time teaching Claudia how to do the bloodmurder thing in and of itself becomes that much skeevier precisely because of that connection.
Janne Kirjasniemi at 08:38 on 2017-11-10
True, but at least the bloodmurder thing is an important life lesson for a young vampire. It's funny how Rice's vampires (and others of this type) always feel that the whole orgastic bloodmurder thing is their existential source of misery rather than the victims or the victims families. Oh woe, the thing that brings me so much joy is bad. But it's bad because the horror and suffering is caused on others on a massive scale, it's not really about their narcissistic lives. A vampire that feels bad about murderin' is not really better than an uncaring one, if they do the same things (although I guess the suffering is something at least).

That's why the regretful vampire gets ridiculous really fast in a gallows humor kind of way. I've just watched Being Human (UK) and it is ridiculous how they milk the suffering vampire stereotype. "Misery is me, I've killed so many people, but it's an addiction and I've changed and feel really bad! Oops, now I've killed again, oh the humanity!"
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