Anne Rice was born on October 4, 1941, in New Orleans, but her name wasn’t Anne then. Instead, her parents named her Howard Allen O’Brien because they thought it was a powerful name that would give her a head start in life. She was baptized at St. Alphonsus Church, the same church in which she would later have all the Mayfair witches baptized, and she grew up in the neighborhoods in which the witches grew up, hearing ghost stories that were accepted as truth and dreaming of the great houses and their mysteries. New Orleans gave her both Catholicism and voodoo, a potent inspiration for any beginning writer. By the time she started school, she was already writing stories.
She was also showing signs that she was going to surprise people. On her first day of school in 1947, when her teaching nun Sister Hyacinth asked what her name was, she said ”Anne” before her mother could say ”Howard.” ”All right,” her mother said. ”If she wants to be Anne, let her be Anne.” And Anne she was from that day on. Her mother’s agreement was not that much of a surprise. A deeply religious woman who was also the finest storyteller Anne had ever heard, Anne’s mother had always encouraged the creativity of all her children, telling them that she expected them to be geniuses and giving them plenty of freedom. Thus Anne not only read a lot but she also went to the movies, especially the horror films she loved. When she was nine, she learned about vampires for the first time when she saw the film Dracula’s Daughter, latersaying of it, ”I loved the tragic figure of the daughter as a regretful creature who didn’t want to kill but was driven to it” (Ramsland, ”Interview,” 34). At school, she also heard the story ”The White Silk Dress” about a child vampire, and both stories made a profound impression on her.
She was also extremely religious, wanting to be a saint, but a little confused about some of the details. In her video biography, Anne Rice: Birth of the Vampire, she remembers being told about the dead rising on Judgment Day, but she also remembers thinking that she’d be conscious all that time and how boring it would be to wait in her coffin until then, a detail that would surface later in her vampire stories. She craved the security of the church because there was little security at home; her mother had become an alcoholic, spending most of her nights drinking and most of her days in an alcoholic stupor. Her mother told her that drinking was like a craving in the blood and that the craving was inherited, passed down from previous generations. Anne would remember that later and incorporate it, too, into her vampire mythology.
Anne continued to write over the next ten years, writing a novella about two aliens from Mars when she was ten, and several plays by the time she was twelve. But then things changed. In 1956, when Anne was fourteen, her mother died from alcoholism, and Anne’s life was never the same. One important change was her loss of religion. She has said of that time that her faith ”just went…. It struck me as really evil-the idea that you could go to hell for French-kissing someone” (Ferraro, 67). Another important change came the next year when Anne’s father moved the family to Texas, away from the New Orleans that Anne loved. However, Texas brought her a new love, a boy who worked on the school paper named Stan Rice.
Stan remembers her as being bright and vivacious; Anne remembers that he sat down beside her and she fell in love instantly. But Stan was dating someone else, and Anne needed to find a city big enough so that she could both go to school and work to support herself. In 1959, she graduated and went to Texas Women’s University; but Texas wasn’t enough, and the next year, Anne moved to San Francisco. The move woke Stan up to his mistake of taking her for granted, and he wrote his first love letter to her. They wrote for two years until Stan proposed by a special delivery letter in 1961.
They were married in Texas, and Stan returned to San Francisco with Anne so that they could take night courses at the University of San Francisco until they could enroll in San Francisco University. They lived in Haight-Ashbury and watched the beginnings of the hippie revolution outside their front door, and this also had tremendous impact on Anne’s work. During this time, Anne wrote her first unpublished novels, The Sufferings of Charlotte and Nicholas and Jean, and they both graduated in 1964, Anne in political science and Stan in creative writing. At that point, a family friend remembers that most people thought of Stan as the star and Anne as the little wife typing in the kitchen. Anne published a short story in 1965, but the great event in both Stan and Anne’s life was the birth of their first child, Michele, in 1966.
By this time, Anne was in graduate school, and Stan was teaching creative writing at San Francisco State University, doing so well with his writing that he won a poetry grant. They moved to Berkeley, and Anne wrote another short story, ”Interview with the Vampire,” along with the novella Katherine and Jean that would later serve as her master’s thesis. Their lives were perfect, and the center of that perfection was always Michelle, an incredibly bright and generous child who gave their lives meaning. But in 1970, the same year that Anne began a master’s degree program and Stan won another award, Michelle was diagnosed with leukemia.
For two years, the Rices struggled to save their child, and in the midst of the horror, Anne even managed to finish her degree. But the struggle ended in 1972, when Michelle died after suffering terribly. For the next two years, both Rices descended into alcoholism, spending their days and nights in a drunken haze. Both finally pulled through this period because of their writing, Stan with a collection of poems about Michelle’s death called Some Lamb, published in 1975, and Anne with a ground-breaking book about addiction, loss, and despair called Interview with the Vampire, published in 1976.
Interview with the Vampire features a narrator as lost in misery as Anne was-Louis the vampire who loathes his vampire nature and tries to deny it. In both Louis and his opponent the vampire Lestat, Anne created fully developed figures with human needs, fears, and questions. She has said that she channels these characters and that they arise full blown in her mind, not developed mechanically as tools of an author, and they are dynamic characters because of it, acting instinctively and driven by their needs (Matousek, 112). In writing the story of Louis and Lestat and their vampire daughter, Claudia, who dies at five, Anne wrote out her anguish over all the questions about evil and purpose that Michelle’s death had created for her and began her slow recovery from alcoholism and despair.
Another factor in the Rices’ recovery was the security they gained through Interview’s success. Although the advance for Interview was only $12,000, the paperback rights sold for $700,000, and the film rights went for $150,000. Stan was also doing well, publishing another book of poems called Whiteboy. They moved and traveled so that Anne could research her next book, The Feast of All Saints, and Stan’s career got another boost when he won the Edgar Allan Poe Award. And in 1978, they had new reason to rejoice when their son Christopher was born. Christopher was so important to them that they both stopped drinking completely because they did not want him to have alcoholics for parents. This had an added benefit for Anne who has said ”My output tripled after I stopped drinking. I’ve been on a natural high now for years” (Wadler, 134).
In 1979, Anne’s second book and first historical novel, The Feast of All Saints, was published. Feast began as part of Anne’s fascination for her New Orleans heritage. In her researches of her city, she found information about the Free People of Color, the freed offspring of African slaves and the French and Spanish traders, many of whom had emigrated from Haiti. While they had their freedom, they had few rights, and so they hovered in a no-man’s-land between white society and slavery, and they also tend to slip through the pages of history. Anne called her book The Feast of All Saints because that particular feast day is used to celebrate the forgotten dead and saints, and she wanted to celebrate the lives of the almost-forgotten Free People of Color. Her central character is a four-teen-year-old boy named Marcel, the son of a white planter and a free woman of color. The book tells of his yearning for a creative outlet and for a sense of community, since, like so many of Anne’s characters, he feels like an outsider, caught between two worlds. He goes to study with Christophe, a novelist, but his father pulls him out of school to become an undertaker so he can support himself. Marcel rebels and is beaten, and in his recovery he refuses to be a victim, choosing to go into the future with hope. Feast also has several subplots about other Free People of Color, particularly Marcel’s sister, Marie, who is almost destroyed by her own community. The Feast of All Saints took two years to write, but it came out to a mixed response by reviewers who did not understand what Anne had attempted.
Mark Cella Brings You The Life of Anne Rice Reproduction
Anne was devastated by the reviews and poor sales, but not defeated. In 1980, she followed Feast with another historical novel, Cry to Heaven, this time setting her story in eighteenth-century Italy and writing about the castrati, the choir boys who were castrated so that their beautiful voices would not deepen in puberty and be ruined. She structured her novel as a detective plot, telling the story of Tonio Treshi, an aristocratic boy who is delivered to the great choir master Guido Maffeo by his treacherous older brother Carlo. Tonio’s life is full of things that are not what they seem, and he struggles to come to terms with the new insights he has into his life and his new life in general. His journey into self-awareness takes him to the depths, and he descends into greed and sexual depravity as he tries to avoid recognizing what he has always known, that as a castrati, he will forever be an outsider. He meets a woman, Christina, who has rejected gender roles to become a great painter, and through his love for her he moves to an appreciation of himself. Finally coming to terms with his family, he forms a community with Guido and Christina and is at peace.
Cry to Heaven was published in 1982, and although the New York Times gave it a favorable review, most of the other reviews were so savage that they devastated Anne, and she began to withdraw. She chose to experiment with sexual fantasies under pseudonyms, writing two books of erotica, Exit to Eden in 1985 and Belinda in 1986, and three books of erotic fairy tales that explore sadomasochism, The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, which was published in 1983, Beauty’s Punishment in 1984, and Beauty’s Release in 1985. These books, written under the pseudonyms of Anne Rampling and A. R. Roquelaure, gave Anne a chance to explore areas of human character without being condemned by the critical press as she had been for Cry to Heaven. As critic David Gates has noted, both of these writing alter egos served their purpose: Rampling loosened up her writing and Roquelaure was fun (Gates, ”Queen,” 76).
While she was writing these experimental novels, she was also drawn back to the supernatural, particularly to her vampires. The helplessness and despair that she had felt after Michelle’s death and that had led her to create the helpless, despairing Louis as her narrator had since given way to a more aggressive outlook on life. No longer identifying with Louis, Anne instead became intrigued with the villain from Interview, the always strong, never surrendering Lestat. In 1985, she published his story, The Vampire Lestat, making him both a rock star and the mythic hero of a biography that spanned more than two hundred years. It hit the New York Times bestseller list within two weeks, although critics still missed the point of the vampires as metaphors, labeling her book as a simple horror story.
In 1987, the Rices moved to a new house, and Anne wrote The Queen of the Damned, a mythology of the vampires tied to the present by a mythic struggle between good and evil in the vampire community. Their new house was so beautiful that Anne used it as a model for the vampires’ compound in Queen. But Anne was still drawn back to her old home town of New Orleans, and in 1988, the Rices bought a home there. Following the publication of The Queen of the Damned which went to number one on the New York Times list, they moved to New Orleans permanently. Anne now began to draw her family around her once again, establishing the connection that all her books emphasize as important. As she puts it, ”We are all in a world without parents, and we have to discover who our true brothers and sisters are” (Ramsland, Witches Chronicles, 90).
During this time, she had also worked on a screenplay for a mummy movie, one of her favorite kind of films from childhood. But Hollywood couldn’t accept the more creative aspects of her screenplay, and so she turned it into a book, The Mummy or Ramses the Damned, which was published as a paperback original in 1989. The Mummy is the story of a great king who rises from immortal sleep to save a twentieth-century woman. It was intended as pure escapist fiction, but it still asks the questions that are important to Rice, and it adds new twists to an old genre.
Returning home to New Orleans was a psychic awakening for Rice. She told an interviewer, ”I’m picking up threads that were totally ruptured by leaving…. I feel complete, at peace, less afraid of dying” (Ferraro, 76). In another interview, she talked about the twilight sky and the lush beauty that is found nowhere else, ”the romance and the gloom,” adding that even if she began a book somewhere else, her characters always ended up in New Orleans (Wadler, 133). New Orleans inspired her second series, the Witches Chronicles, beginning with the epic of the Mayfair witches, The Witching Hour, which was published in 1990. Lestat then required another book, The Tale of the Body Thief, in 1992, a book in which he finally gets to choose vampirism of his own free will by fighting to get his immortal body back from a psychic thief who has stolen it. But the next year in 1993, Anne returned to her witches, publishing Lasher, the story of the demon who has plagued the Mayfair witches and of Rowan, the most powerful witch whom he almost destroys. In 1994, she published Taltos, the history of a supernatural race that is part of the Mayfair legacy.
Lestat demanded one final appearance, one in which he argues with God and the Devil, and Memnoch the Devil was published in 1995. Anne said on ”The Larry King Show” that this is Lestat’s final appearance since he has now said all he has to say. For her first book signing for Memnoch, she had a New Orleans jazz funeral and rode in a coffin dressed in a white wedding dress. As a symbol of the death of one era in her life and the beginning of a new one, her funeral-wedding assures her fans that while Lestat may have left Rice’s stage, there will be more books to come, certainly one about a Hebrew ghost titled Servant of the Bones in 1996, and possibly one about the most captivating of all the Mayfair witches, Mona, a character Anne has said she very much wants to write more about.
Whatever she writes, Anne Rice will tackle the big questions of our time, questions critic David Gates has summarized as ”What does it mean to be human, and what does it matter?” (Review, Body Thief, 62). Rice has spoken of her need to get to the core of meaning, to get closer and closer to the truth, and she has said, ”To write something great, you have to risk making a fool of yourself” (Gates, ”Queen,” 77). Part of Rice’s genius is that she’s always ready to take that risk to get closer to the core of what she’s writing. Whether her novels succeed or fail, no one will ever accuse Anne Rice of taking the safe way to her truths.
Mark Cella thanks Questia Media America, Inc. http://www.questia.com for this great assessment. Publication Information: Book Title: Anne Rice: A Critical Companion. Contributors: Jennifer Smith – author. Publisher: Greenwood Press. Place of Publication: Westport, CT. Publication Year: 1996.