Louis’ existential traits come under focus frequently throughout the text. For example, he says:
“Do you see what I am! Why, if God exists, does he suffer me to exist!” (page 162) – This shows the height of frustration in Louis’ search for meaning, and was said moments before he fed on a priest. Louis, in voicing similar dialogues regarding the meaning of his existence, represents, to an extent, humankind and it’s own search for meaning. Vampires were not traditionally used as a mirror to the human condition before Rice’s vampire fiction. Other dialogues in which this and Louis’ existential traits are shown is:
“And no vampire here has discourse with God or with the devil!” (page 257)
“I can now accept the most fantastical truth of all: that there is no meaning to any of this!” (page 259) – Both these dialogues show Louis’ search for meaning in existence slowly coming to a halt; Louis, in being a vampire, believes that they are the “children of Satan”. The depth to which Louis craves some form of existential knowledge is not a typical characteristic of traditional vampires; rarely ever is it we see a vampire of earlier fiction spending so much of their thoughts into their origins. In addition to that, these quotes also embody other aspects of the human condition and humankind’s own quest for knowledge into their origins.
Another trend set by Dracula which Rice appears to attempt to defy in her novel is the appearance of vampires. Though the idea of beautiful vampires is not purely attributed to Rice's vampires, a prime example would be Theophile Gautier's short story La Morte Amoureuse (1836), she is in fact largely responsible for it's popularization. Whereas stereotypical vampires only possess mere eerie, macabre and grim qualities about their appearance, Rice glorifies the appearance of her vampires; from the stereotypical creature of eeriness to the creature of beauty, but only through the eyes of her vampiric characters. The variety of physical appearances is observed in Louis’ physical descriptions of other vampires; from “graceful” and “feline” (on Lestat, page 12), “beautiful” (on Claudia, page 104), “radiant” (On Armand, Page 248) to “sinister” (On Santiago, page 229).
Whilst doing this however, she also retains evident traces of the stereotypical grimness from the vampires in Interview With The Vampire; their appearance still evokes an initial reaction of fear within humans, as displayed in the third-person description of Louis in the opening of the book. It could be argued that Rice tries to distance her characters physically from humans to create a contrast with the emotional and mental similarity with humans that the vampires possess.
In addition to that, it could be argued that Rice tries to modernize the myth of vampires in Interview With The Vampire by doing away with certain characteristics that have been part of the stereotype. Firstly, her vampires are not affected by crucifixes; “Nonsense, my friend, sheer nonsense.” says Louis in regards to the myth (page 27). In addition to that, they are not affected by the presence of garlic either; Louis and Claudia both pass through a door, above which a garland of garlic is hung. (page 186. ) In addition to that, Rice also removes the myth of stakes through the heart; “Bull-sh*t”, says Louis in regards to this myth, (page 27). Louis further expresses his disappointment that vampires cannot, in fact, pass through keyholes ;“I wish I could”, says Louis, (page 27). It is a common stereotypical characteristic of the vampire, popularized by Count Dracula.
Interview With The Vampire is also one of the first popular pieces of vampire literature in which there is a community of vampires, rather than the common central vampire as the subject of literature. Subsequently, this leads to varying attitudes towards companionship and brotherhood among vampires. For instance, Lestat explains his belief that vampires are “lone predators who seek companionship no more than cats in the jungle” (page 93); he also tells Louis that searching for other vampires is in vain :“You talk of finding other vampires! Vampires are killers! They don’t want you or your sensibility!” (page 92). In addition to that, Louis seems to have a slight tone of resentment when referring to the vampires in the Theatre Des Vampires on page 266: “… held by the pressure of this group who had made of immortality a conformists’ club.” Another take on the idea of companionship is Claudia’s initial attitude towards finding other vampires; she claims that “[Her and Louis] will find others of [their] kind” (page 134). This attitude was greatly altered when Claudia met the vampires in the Theatre Des Vampires :“I’ve searched for them the world over, and I despise them!” she says after exiting the theatre (page 268). This shift in Claudia’s attitude towards finding more vampires could also be argued to be another way in which vampires are used to mirror the needs and attitudes of humans.
In addition to the aforementioned, it should be noted that Rice also appears to have attributed several “human” problems and moral dilemmas to the vampires in the novel, arguably to further illustrate the internal similarities between vampires and humans. A prominent example of this would be Lestat’s ordeal with his father at the beginning of the book: “[Lestat] had human problems, a blind father … and must not find out” (page 19). Vampires are traditionally seen as above problems commonly associated with humans, as seen in characters such as Count Dracula, who is not seen facing any moral or emotional dilemmas in Dracula. Another seemingly human problem Rice has attributed to her vampires presents itself on page 269 when Claudia jealously inquires about Louis’ supposedly genuine “Love” for her, as she believes Louis would leave her for Armand if “he beckoned”. Traditionally, vampires were used as characters completely incompatible with humans in terms of their temperament; they weren’t perceived as characters capable of feeling volatile emotions such as envy.
Critics have said that Louis is a modern Byronic hero. A Byronic hero is the hero/protagonist of the story with attributes that are not typically associated with that of a traditional hero. While the first fictional vampire, Lord Ruthven, in Polidori’s The Vampyre, was a Byronic hero, vampire fiction since then has shaped the stereotypical vampire to follow Stoker’s vision of Dracula. While Louis does indeed present some of the attributes of the Byronic hero such as a distaste for social institutions, conflicting emotions, struggling with integrity (his shift from feeding on animals to humans), being a loner and presenting bipolar tendencies, he does betray one of the main attributes of the Byronic hero: a lack of respect for rank and privilege. While the age of a vampire has not officially been stated as a “rank”, it is evident throughout the book that as the age of a vampire grows, the respect they earn rises incrementally. Louis almost effortlessly adheres to the respect required to give older vampires; in the beginning of the book, when the only reason he continues to stay with and be respectful Lestat is in the hope that he will reveal something arcane about vampires to Louis; and he openly admits to Armand that he respects him within moments of meeting him on page 254 and admits to himself that he “must do as Armand said”.
There is, however, another element that Rice’s vampire shares with Dracula; for both characters, the transfusion and taking of blood is represented and depicted in a sexual manner, and both texts contain a sense of sexual ambiguity. Fred Botting in his book “Gothic” identified the manner in which the transfer of blood in Dracula represents a perverse form of sexuality that is unbounded by traditional gender roles, as blood symbolically substitutes semen. This attitude of blood-transfusions symbolizing sex and gender ambiguity is adopted by Rice; this is demonstrated in Louis describing the sensation right before transfusion as “not unlike passion” (page 23) and describing sucking blood for the first time as a “special pleasure” (page 23).
In conclusion, physically speaking, Rice’s vampires differ slightly from the stereotypical vampire, in that she adds a graceful element to their appearances; however, her modernizing of the myth has made room for the modern vampire which could even become the stereotype in years to come. Mentally and temperamentally speaking, Rice creates vampires that have an in-depth personality that consists of more than a cynical attitude and a thirst for blood. From the array of vampires in Interview with the Vampire, Lestat is the vampire who comes closest to the stereotype of traditional vampires in terms of temperament; hot-tempered, possessive, moody and seemingly incapable of forming steady relationships. In creating Lestat, Rice pays homage to the stereotypical vampire, without which the books in her Vampire Chronicles may not have been present.
Word Count: 1,989 words.
- Interview With The Vampire by Anne Rice
- Gothic – The New Critical Idiom by Fred Botting.