Rice, Anne

Rice, Anne
▪ 2000

      Vampires, witches, mummies, evil spirits, the devil—all of these macabre characters came to life in the most grisly situations in American author Anne Rice's tales of terror. Her stories had made her one of the most popular writers of the late 20th century. In her 1999 best-seller Vittorio the Vampire: New Tales of the Vampires, the handsome and wealthy 16-year-old protagonist witnesses his family being slaughtered by vampires in 15th-century Florence; Vittorio then becomes the unwilling lover of the beautiful vampire Ursula and experiences emotions ranging from fury and carnal lust to vampire blood lust. Rice described the novel as her vampire answer to Romeo and Juliet.

      One of Rice's singular innovations in fantasy fiction was a sympathetic treatment of dysfunctional supernatural characters—flamboyant yet sensitive beings who debated the meaning of life, endured love and loneliness, and underwent moral conflicts (some vampires abhorred killing humans, though they were compelled to drink human blood). Her unearthly entities also found sexual release in homosexuality, incest, or sadomasochism.

      Born on Oct. 4, 1941, in New Orleans, she was christened Howard Allen O'Brien but hated her first name so much that she changed it to Anne in the first grade. The romantic city of New Orleans, with its elaborate cemeteries and voodoo heritage, was an ideal place to grow up amid a family of imaginative storytelling Irish Catholics. In 1956 her mother died of alcoholism, and before long the teenage Anne disavowed her faith in God. She finished high school in Texas, attended Texas Woman's University, married poet Stan Rice when she was 20, and received her B.A. and M.A. from San Francisco State College. Her daughter Michelle was just five when she died of leukemia, a loss that devastated Rice. In a “white heat” she wrote her first novel in just five weeks: Interview with the Vampire, which included a Michelle-like child who gains eternal life when she becomes a vampire. “When I'm writing, the darkness is always there,” Rice said, “I go where the pain is.”

      Interview was the first of Rice's best-selling Vampire Chronicles, six novels that focused largely on the ageless vampire Lestat and a fictitious history of vampires that begins in ancient Egypt; The Vampire Armand (1998) was the sixth chronicle. Rice maintained that vampires are “the perfect metaphor ... for the outsider who is in the midst of everything, yet completely cut off.” She also wrote about real-life outsiders in two historical novels, The Feast of All Saints (1979), about New Orleans's 19th-century Creoles of colour, and Cry to Heaven (1982), about an 18th-century Venetian castrato. Eroticism distinguished The Sleeping Beauty Novels, three stories (1983–85) published under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure, which some critics classified as “pornography,” and two novels she published as Anne Rampling. In 1988 she moved back to New Orleans to live in a Victorian mansion that became the setting for three novels (1990–94) about the Mayfair Witches. Rice could not resist returning to her sexy, tortured vampires, however, and began a second vampire series with Pandora (1998), followed by Vittorio the Vampire, much to the delight of her loyal legions of readers.

John Litweiler

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Universalium. 2010.

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