Angels and Devils in the House: The Evolution of Women in Gothic Vampire Fiction (II) – Anne Rice’s Claudia

Sarah McFee is a MA English graduate from Teesside University. Her research focuses primarily on disability in the Victorian Gothic and representations and constructions of gender and race in Neo-Victorian fiction. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

Anne Rice’s Neo-Victorian novel Interview with the Vampire (1976) is recognised as belonging to a canon of literature representative of the second wave of feminism and the agitation of the patriarchy. Doane and Hidges describe the novel as centralizing “the rage of a monstrous girl vampire against her infantilisation and dependency in a world defined by the fathers”.[1] The novel is therefore analysed as a story of rebellion, part of a ‘literary culture’ of the 1970s that Susanne Becker interprets as being “strongly influenced by the feminist practice of consciousness-raising: with the emphasis of telling about women ‘as they really are’, both to destroy traditional images of women and to produce new female role models”.[2] However, I argue that, alternatively, Rice reinforces a patriarchal perception of women because of the actions and behaviour of the child vampire Claudia.

The late 1960s to early 1970s generated radical, cultural and social change for women in the U.S.: maternity leave began to gain legal protection from the late 1960s, following the Equal Pay Act of 1963. And women were to an extent sexually liberated with advances in contraception and abortion being made legal in 1973. Women were reinventing themselves as independent and capable and, as opposed to the Victorian perception that ‘free’ women were ‘dangerous’, feminists were arguing that, alternatively, they wanted to have choice and freedom of expression. Feminists argued that real freedom for women consisted of not just changes to the law, but a change in the general perception of women as capable, intelligent and independent and that women were not dangerous and uncontrollable just because they now had some legal rights.

However, these radical alterations to the law and women’s capacity to be sexually liberated may have conceived conflicting feelings in Rice who was raised under a strict Catholic education. The legality of abortion in particular goes against the views of the Catholic Church. For Rice, being part of a culture that supported these legal changes, and suffused with loyalty to an education that opposed these transformations, may explain the complexity of Claudia’s character in Interview.

Rice may have found the legalisation extremely difficult to contemplate especially as she had already lost a child of her own. Rice had also seen the contraceptive pill become available for women throughout the UK and USA. Instead of viewing the pill as a form of protection from unwanted pregnancies, Rice and other women of the era may have perceived it as a total rejection of family life and values. The figure of a fiercely independent woman with the inability to procreate is a possible inspiration for Claudia.

However, Rice did not have to create a submissive ‘Victorian’ female character to affirm her Catholic background, and could instead have constructed one with strong morals who is also individualistic and intelligent, therefore adhering to both Catholicism and liberation. Claudia fights against the patriarchal system, yet Rice fails to convey a woman deserving of sympathy from her readers. Claudia is a dangerous character who struggles to deserve compassion: “She was the most beautiful child I’d ever seen, and now she glowed with the cold fire of a vampire.”[3] This image of a beautiful yet unfeeling monster is how many men in the 1970s perceived women who were beginning to reject their established roles, instead craving independence from motherhood. Rice fails to provide an honest and fair representation of a liberated woman; instead Claudia is unkind, has no clear role within society and lashes out at those around her because she feels lost and isolated. Her inability to mature physically means she cannot be either a loving wife and mother or an independent liberated woman. She is trapped between both ideals of 1970s womanhood, unable to fulfil either, and is a tangible threat to society because she is completely uncontrollable. Even though Claudia is not a sexual character, she does manipulate people with her appearance and therefore represents both the dangers of sexually liberated women within society, and also the failure of the law in protecting society from these women who were powerful enough to change legislation.

If Claudia was created by Rice to gain sympathy from readers, then perhaps her creators would be punished or faced with consequences. However, it is Claudia who dies, and Louis and Lestat are never berated for their creation. They turn innocence into evil and their motives are never made clear. Louis even suggests that Lestat “ushered Claudia into vampirism for revenge”.[4] Their actions, though they do highlight the potential evil of patriarchy, are never challenged, and when Claudia later seeks revenge she is killed. Claudia is a liminal being trapped between childhood and adulthood, independence and imprisonment, life and death, loneliness and anger. Claudia’s conflicting position represents the tension in Rice herself as she is poised between her burgeoning liberated culture and strict Catholic education. Rice ultimately exposes the unfair society of the 1970s as masked by changes in the law. Because Rice herself possibly struggled to understand the character, she never provides her readers with the opportunity to empathise with Claudia whose story is told through the eyes of a man.

vamp

Claudia, portrayed by Kirsten Dunst in the 1995 movie. Source: https://thevampireswife.com/blogs/stuff/kirsten-dunst-interview-with-a-vampire

Interview is told completely from Louis’s perspective which already places Claudia in an unfair position. For Rice, the consequences of feminism were only just beginning and the views of these consequences could be extremely ambiguous. Rice could neither evidence a world filled with confident, independent women or one where all women aimed to obliterate traditional values such as those surrounding the importance of mothers. This is why she created a vampiric figure who is trapped between two realms of being, both as a child and a woman and yet not exclusively either.

Claudia “clings” to Louis because he is a vampire, but he is not like her: “I knew her to be less human than either of us, less human than either of us might have dreamed. Not the faintest conception bound her to the sympathies of human existence.”[5] Louis has human feelings and emotions and remembers his life as a mortal with morals and values. As Claudia was only a child when she was transformed, she cannot empathise with humans as she was not one for long enough to understand them; the only morals and values she has acquired are those of a monstrous vampire. The character of Claudia suggests that men have failed to treat women fairly for so long that they have been forced to fight to be equal, but have instead become something beyond their comprehension.

Rice reinforces the patriarchal notion that women are believed to be monstrous if they rebel against the patriarchal structure and thus emphasises the belief that independence leads to disorientation. In the 1970s, critics such as Peter Gay boldly used the term ‘offensive women’ to describe “women who leave their assigned sphere and make men ask uncomfortable questions about their own roles”[6] and Rice’s Claudia might be understood from this perspective, with Rice deliberately creating a woman who is punished for her ‘objectionable’ behaviour.

Notes

[1] Janice Doane and Devon Hidges, “Undoing Feminism: From the Preoedipal to Post Feminism in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles,” American Literary History 2:3 (1990) 424.

[2] Susanne Becker, Gothic Forms of Feminine Fictions (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1999) 106.

[3] Rice 93.

[4] Rice 95.

[5] Rice 147.

[6] Peter Gay, qtd. in Becker, “Postmodern Feminine Horror Fictions” 60.

Sarah McFee has written other posts for this blog on:

ANGELS AND DEVILS IN THE HOUSE: THE EVOLUTION OF WOMEN IN GOTHIC VAMPIRE FICTION – BRAM STOKER’S MINA HARKER

MARK TWAIN’S ‘THOSE EXTRAORDINARY TWINS’: CHALLENGING CONSTRUCTIONS OF ABNORMALITY, CONJOINMENT AND DISABILITY

SINS OF THE FATHER: EMBRACING THE PAST IN NEO-VICTORIAN FICTION

 

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