Friday, November 12, 2010

Literary Criticism

Vampires and Homoeroticism

Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles represents a fierce fascination with homosexual culture as demonstrated in her first book of the series, Interview with the Vampire. Her characters represent gay men in a fairly modern society and their trials and tribulations always focus on or include a strong obsession with another male vampire or man that they intend to have for themselves. Her queer characters are vividly portrayed as beautiful, god-like creatures and they are easy to fall in love with, whether you are a reader or a character in the book, almost immediately you are drawn to them like a moth to a flame. However her characters also represent a darkness that can be likened to society’s fear of the taboo…including homosexual relationships.
In Haggerty’s essay, he explores the possible ideas why we are so infatuated with this taboo culture, this realm of homoeroticism. “[T]hey at least offer a précis of some of our most deeply held cultural assumptions […] The sine qua non with which this author mesmerizes her readers, however, is homoerotic desire.” (Haggerty) Rice’s way of entrancing her readers, her vampire novels all have that key element, that sine qua non of homosexual desire. As we can see in Interview with the Vampire, this is particularly evident in several ways. As Haggerty points out, “Interview with the Vampire begins in the gay district of San Francisco, and the scene between the vampire Louis and the gay “boy” who interview him, after they have met in a “bar”, is a straight forward parody of a queer seduction. This cannot be accidental: Rice is interested in male-male desire and uses the imagery of gay life to give her characters substance and texture.”
The vampire and homoeroticism often go hand and hand, Rice simply brings it to a whole new level focusing mainly on the obsession and the lust. I find her writing to be incredibly engaging, and like Haggerty, I wonder why I am so drawn to it as many other people in our contemporary age are. After all, it sold millions of copies world-wide. Clearly, there is something about the fascination of homoeroticism that lures us in, even if we may be ashamed to admit it.
Lestat is perhaps the central character in the Vampire Chronicles series. We are obsessed with all of Rice’s characters, but perhaps the most vivid and fascinating of them all is the vampire Lestat.  Elegant, powerful, thoughtful, and queer, Lestat offers a different version of masculinity. He starts as a rock star in the seventies, at the time of the publication of Interview with a Vampire, and then travels back and forth through history and culture to find himself a suave and self-assured international financier who, in the latest volume of the Chronicles, is invited to witness and pass judgment on heaven and hell. The Dorian Gray of our nineties, he remains witty, beautiful, and forever young. At the same time, for all his stature, Lestat is the passive, the bloodied, the castrated male.” (Haggerty)
 Although in Interview, the focus is mainly on Louis and his inner struggles, Lestat is a key component to his character and his development. Lestat is, “[The] prototypical gay predator, roving in the darkness with an insatiable appetite that is usually satisfied by the blood of a troubled, but beautiful male.” (Haggerty) Lestat desires Louis, he lusts for him and he will do anything within his power to get what he wants. “Now listen to me, Louis.’ He said, and he lay down beside me now on the steps, is movement so graceful and so personal that at once it made me think of a lover. I recoiled. But he put his right arm around me and pulled me close to his chest. Never had I been this close to him before, and in the dim light I could see the magnificent radiance of his eye and the unnatural mask of his skin. As I tried to move, he pressed his right fingers against my lips and said, ‘Be still. I am going to drain you now to the very threshold of death.’ […] I wanted to struggle, but he pressed so hard with his fingers that he held my entire prone body in check; and as soon as I stopped my abortive attempt at rebellion, he sank his teeth into my neck.” (p.18-19) Lestat even goes as far as to take a young child and turn her into a vampire, despite any repercussions poor Claudia has to endure afterwards. “Now, Louis was going to leave us,’ said Lestat, his eyes moving from my face to hers. ‘He was going to go away. But now he’s not. Because he wants to stay here and take care of you and make you happy.’ He looked at me, ‘You’re not going are you Louis?” (p.93) To a certain extent, Lestat controls Louis. However his actions are not out of love, but out of anger and revenge. Lestat is a bitter character; he is twisted and perhaps slightly crazy as is evident through his actions. Lestat may be a hungry predator that reaches out to seduce Louis, but essentially he fails. Louis proves to be a stronger character than Lestat predicted in the end. There is always a thick tension within the pages of Rice’s works that revolve around that idea of sexual tension, particularly around these two characters. There are many moments of attempted seduction and tries to become the one in control.
Other characters that display moments of affection in a homosexual manner are Louis and his brother, and Armand and Daniel. Louis describes his brother in an affectionate way, using terms that one might use describing their lover. “He was very handsome then. He had the smoothest skin and the largest blue eyes. He was robust, not thin as I am now and was then…but his eyes…it was as if when I looked into his eyes I was standing alone on the edge of the world…on a windswept ocean beach. There was nothing but the soft roar of the waves.” (p.7) Louis seems almost jealous, unwilling to give up his brother to anyone else, even religion. His ego, his desire gets in the way. And while it does not happen in Interview, Daniel (the boy reporter) is fascinated, obsessed with finding Lestat. However, it is actually with Armand that he becomes involved with.
Why are we so obsessed with Rice’s characters, with her themes of homoeroticism? This question is not an easy one to answer at all, but there is something about Anne Rice’s works that entrance the reader and we can’t help but fall in love with the infamous vampire men of the Chronicles series. “Glamour is part of what these vampires are about, to be sure, but I see a more complex relation between Rice’s gorgeous creatures and late-twentieth century cultural conservatism.” (Haggerty) These creations, these vampires are so taboo that these books are a stark contrast to cultural conservatism, where there are strict rules of what is acceptable and limitations on change. These vampires are rebels, and the rebel captures the heart of many that wish to be able to express themselves that freely. However, these creations are too good to be true. “For those of us who are gay, it may seem almost too good to be true that these queer figures go down so well, that they leap out of their darkened hiding places into the hearts of millions. I think 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 […] to an exploration of unauthorized desires.” (Haggerty) We both fear and love vampires.
“Readers of The Vampire Chronicles are offered a conflicted relation to Lestat and his posturing. They are like the audience in the Theatre of the Vampires: they desire a voyeuristic participation in something they want to believe and disbelieve at the same time. Their attraction to these creatures of the night is also a repulsion. They need to witness the homoerotics of this world and to reject its power at the same time. This is an uncanny relation but also a tremendously powerful one.” (Haggerty) Vampires will always have a certain allure about them, their taboo nature will tempt us but at the same time we feel we must resist the desire to act indecently and give in. The Vampire Chronicles is our guilty pleasure.

Haggerty, George E. "Anne Rice and the Queering of Culture." N.d. D2L. Web. 12 Nov. 2010.

Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. New York: Ballantine Books, n.d. Print. 

1 comment:

  1. Great literary analysis Emily! I really found it to be a nice well-rounded read. The homosexual themes within Interview with a Vampire are, as you point out aptly, a thought provoking and essential component to our understanding of Lestat and Louis. In particular I really responded to your following thought about Lestat, “Lestat desires Louis, he lusts for him and he will do anything within his power to get what he wants.” I also felt that way about Lestat, but I was curious as to what his motivations could be and wasn’t entirely convinced they were completely sexual. Clearly Lestat is a charismatic and compelling vampire, and while his actions often repulse; he is very often finding himself in positions of power with those who find his actions so deplorable. Is Lestat’s fascination with Louis purely sexual? You, and the essay you cite, make a great case for the argument that it is.

    While Louis would seem to be attracted to woman (by and large), Lestat is very much driven by a passion for young men. Notably in the section with the young Freniere, we see his lust firsthand. Lestat has the power to find any victim he wants, yet he continually finds young and powerful men to prey upon. Surely this is not a coincidence. Louis also exhibits attraction to many including his Babette, and to some extent, Claudia. Yet he is continually drawn back to Lestat even as he is driven back by his vicious behavior. Obviously there is some strange attraction at work; otherwise the ties would be easier to break. One would think anyway…

    I really enjoyed how your essay broke these points down and furthered them, I don’t think I will be able to read the rest of this novel without considering the sexual themes, both hetero and homo that his work presents. Great essay!