Read an Excerpt
Anne Rice, the person, is as fascinating as Anne Rice, the writer. For the past several years, I have had the privilege of an intimate association with her while I wrote a biography and four companion guides to her novels. Although it’s not easy to condense a full biography into a succinct overview, I have done so to provide a historical perspective for the novels discussed later in this book. Readers who would like more detail on Rice’s life are referred to my Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice.
I invited Rice’s longtime friend Kathleen Mackay to write a piece on their relationship. Mackay provides a detailed perspective on a pivotal time in Rice’s life, beginning with the conference where Rice acquired the agent who sold her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, to Vicky Wilson at Alfred A. Knopf. Mackay witnessed Rice’s exciting career in its early stages and offers a look back at those first steps. As a writer herself, she gives this friendship a very special place in her life.
In addition, New Orleans native Kenneth Holditch addresses Rice’s relationship with the “city that care forgot.”
One of my most interesting interviews with Rice was the one I did for Quadrant, a journal of analytic psychology, for their popular culture issue. In the interview, Rice talks about a number of subjects, both personal and philosophical, that cast light on her approach to her work. I include that interview here in full.
To round out this section, I asked Rice if I could reprint two stories from her college days, which she graciously permitted. They were first published in the mid-1960s in her college literary journal, Transfer. I’ll never forget the serendipity of running across them while I was looking at articles in a San Francisco library. I hoped that someday I’d be able to give them more exposure, and now I am able to do so.
I like “October 4th, 1948” and “Nicholas and Jean” for the way they display Rice’s sensual style a full ten years before she published her first novel. The first story, which reveals what it was like for Rice to grow up in New Orleans, takes place on her own seventh birthday and shows her fascination with the spooky old houses of that city.
Anne Rice made her publishing debut in 1976 with her first novel, Interview with the Vampire. She was thirty-four. Since then, she has authored fifteen novels, five of them under other names.
Born Howard Allen O’Brien in New Orleans on October 4, 1941, Anne (the name she adopted in reaction) lived in that exotic city until she was fifteen. Her father, Howard, who had given Anne his name, worked for the post office while Katherine, Anne’s mother, set out to raise her four daughters to be geniuses. Well educated for a woman in those times, Katherine had great aspirations for her family, and she viewed her children as brilliant and talented. This encouragement made a strong impression on Anne. “She gave me so many wonderful things,” she says about Katherine, “but above all, she gave me the belief in myself that I could do great things. She gave me a sense of limitless power.”
Anne was the second of four girls (she later gained a half sister with her father’s second marriage). Katherine allowed all her daughters a great deal of freedom, encouraging them to follow their whims, and through that to discover their strengths. If Alice, Anne’s older sister, wanted to dance, then the furniture was moved to see what she could do; if the girls wanted to draw, they could draw on the walls. Unfortunately, the family had little money for lessons, so the children often found their ambitions stymied. Thus, they learned to rely on their imaginations for entertainment.
Katherine fed their imaginations with the detailed stories she told in her own special style. She memorized whole segments of films and novels and related them to her children. She also read poetry to them, introduced them to Dickens (Anne’s favorite author), and told vivid ghost stories. Young Anne often walked past the large, deteriorating mansions of New Orleans, peering inside to catch sight of a female ghost with flaming hair or the Devil himself—said to keep a residence there. She wrote about these childhood fantasies in her first published short story, “October 4th, 1948.”
Anne also resonated to stories of vampires, particularly those told from the vampire’s perspective. One such tale, Richard Matheson’s “Dress of White Silk,” was about a child vampire. “I never forgot that story,” Anne says. “I wanted to get into the vampire.” Later she saw the movie Dracula’s Daughter with Gloria Holden and admired its tragic sensuality. Such images left a deep impression on her.
With Katherine’s encouragement, Anne and Alice developed a complex fantasy life for their entertainment. Anne wrote original plays in which all of her sisters participated. She also lost herself in complicated daydreams that often lasted many years. There is no doubt that this early exercise of her imagination influenced the elaborate nature of her novels.
Another aspect of Anne’s childhood that affected her later work was her healthy sense of the physical world. In the humid and colorful city, she noted the abundant colors, fragrances, architectural styles, and interesting personalities that she encountered on her long walks to and from school.
She also found stimulation in the daily ceremonies of her parochial education. Raised Catholic, she learned early to envision union with God through the sacrifice of Christ. “You sit there and you imagine what Christ felt as he walked down the street carrying the cross,” she recalls, “what the thorns felt like going into his forehead and the nails into his hands.”
Stories about the suffering and transports of the saints were the ones that most captivated her. In them she recognized a spiritual payoff for self-sacrifice. In her private oratory, an unused bathroom in the back of her home on St. Charles Avenue, Anne prayed fervently. She wanted to experience the stigmata, the bloody imprints that mark unusual devotion, because she needed to be special in the eyes of God. “Anne’s temperament was such,” her father said, “that when she embraced something, she had to exercise real restraint not to become a fanatic.” Life meant intensity. “I am an excessivist,” she agrees, “and I’ll be that to the last day of my life.” To her young mind, a deeply devoted religious practice offered a way to become extraordinary, so she decided to become a nun.
Secretly, however, Anne also had strong erotic feelings. Told that sexual desire was sinful, she felt that she was different from other children. She was ashamed over what she eventually identified as masochistic fantasies, and those feelings were expressed later by the character Lisa in Exit to Eden. “I had dark, strange sexual feelings when I was very little,” Lisa admits. “I wanted to be touched and I made up fantasies.”
To make matters worse, her mother’s urgings to view herself as having unlimited potential came up hard against the expectations of her church. As much as she wished to abide by Catholic standards of goodness and obedience, she could not ignore what she soon discovered: girls did not receive the same status and privileges as boys, and to be in a relationship with a boy was to lose some of one’s own power. Socially, girls were scorned for the same sexual desires that were tolerated in boys.
Awareness of such inequities made Anne impatient with a religious faith that stipulated repressive behavior. Her confusion and anger from that period eventually flowed into her second novel, The Feast of All Saints. Although set in antebellum times, its central characters are adolescents whose development into young adults plays havoc with their lives and relationships.
Unfortunately for Anne, when she most needed her mother’s guidance during this tumultuous time, Katherine was deep into alcohol addiction. Howard’s three-year hitch in the navy, begun in 1942, had left Katherine alone with the responsibilities for two young children, Alice and Anne. She began to drink to stave off loneliness and fear. Yet, even after Howard’s return, she was unable to control her drinking, because her vision of what life should be—social status, artistic accomplishments, financial comfort—had outdistanced her economic means. Having buffered her disappointments and thwarted ambitions with alcohol, she could not stop bingeing. As Anne neared the age of fifteen, Katherine died. The loss devastated Anne. She had to learn to take care of herself while also taking care of her younger sisters, Tamara and Karen.