Vampires and Feminism
‘In the land of the living women’s power is limited – in the realm of the undead, which lies across and between that of the living, it might be greater’.-Linda Ruth Williams.
In my opinion, October 6th, 1941 serves as a significant literary landmark, for it calls attention to the birth of Anne Rice, the acclaimed authoress predominantly renowned for her gothic fiction and erotica. Notwithstanding the popularity of The Vampire Chronicles, it can be argued that the series lacks strong female characters. With regard to Interview with a Vampire, it cannot be denied that once pitted against the overly romanticised, brooding Louis Pont du Lac, or the alluring, charismatic Lestat de Lioncourt, members of the fairer sex become almost inevitably marginalised.
For instance, it is undoubtedly conceivable that feminists across the globe metaphorically wept for Claudia, the immortal child frozen in her doll-like body, who epitomises the patriarchal ideals of womanhood. Furthermore, in respect of the somewhat perverse family unit which she inhabits with Lestat and Louis, Sedgwick aligns Claudia with the traditional and necessary mediator, whose presence enabled the strengthening of homo social bonds, and the concealment of homosexual fantasies, which in short, reduces her to a piece of ‘exchangeable, perhaps symbolic property, for the primary purpose of cementing the bonds of men with men.’1 Be that as it may, Interview with a Vampire is the first of twelve chronicles, and in honour Anne Rice’s seventy-fourth year, I will combat the plausible assertion described above by offering a brief feminist critique of the sadly overlooked, yet personally esteemed Gabrielle de Lioncourt.
Making her first appearance in The Vampire Lestat, Gabrielle de Lioncourt is an eighteenth century French/Italian aristocrat. As if plucked from a macabre fairytale, she is imprisoned by virtue of her ill-suited marriage to a boorish and impoverished nobleman, and bound by maternal duties towards her three sons. Her awareness and subsequent despair of her subjugated position is duly noted, for it is observed that: “she hated the inertia and hopelessness of her life” (VL, p. 45). Moreover, in true Freudian fashion, her only means of exerting power or experiencing freedom in a male-dominated environment is to live vicariously through her books and the exploits of her youngest son Lestat, a beholder of the symbolic phallus: ‘a secret part of her anatomy, of [he] being the organ for her which women don’t really have’ (VL, p. 72).
It may seem absurd to rejoice at the prospect of death by dint of consumptive lung disease. However, for Gabrielle, death is accompanied by the bestowal of the ‘Dark Gift,’ which ironically culminates in a rebirth of sorts. As a result of her transformation, Gabrielle rejects the socially imposed image of womanhood, for she not only discards her restrictive clothing in favour of male attire, but also cuts her long fairytale-like tresses, removing what Jane Plumb construes to be ‘the final symbol of her previous oppression and constructed femininity’.2 Standing in opposition to the stereotypical females of the era, encumbered by weakness and frailty, Gabrielle is endowed with “rampant strength” (VL, p. 190). Moreover, as Plumb has noted, whilst the exchange of the ‘Dark Gift’ culminates in a ‘master/slave’ relationship’ between creator and fledgling, Gabrielle refuses the dynamics of any such alliance, for she hunts, seduces, and kills in solitude, acts which in turn supplant and destabilise the ‘homoerotic coupling of the male vampires’.3
In light of the above, one might conclude beyond reasonable doubt that Gabrielle is empowered by her vampiric state. The evidence lies in her systematic rejection of socially imposed gender roles as described above, and equally acknowledged by Lestat: “she was “no mother anymore… she was simply was who she was” (VL, p. 174). Furthermore, it is plausible to unearth deeper connotations beneath her rejection of patriarchal mores, for as the acclaimed gender theorist Judith Butler argues: ‘There is no gender identity behind the expressions of gender… identity is performatively constituted by the very ‘expressions’ that are said to be its results’.4 Therefore, if gender should be fluid, and above all, a choice to conform or deviate from prescribed roles, then Gabrielle epitomises the desired result in her newfound freedom as a cross-dressing, sexually ambiguous, androgynous being, for as Lestat recognises: “She was not really a woman now, was she? Any more that I was a man” (VL, p. 190).
In addition, having previously sought solace in literature, she then declares that she is now “done with books… they are what I read when I could do nothing else” (VL, p. 348). Rejecting the claustrophobic world of the scholar, Gabrielle seeks the excitement of an intrepid explorer, travelling to primordial terrains untouched by humans or vampires. Moreover, it is equally significant to note that she chooses to sleep in the earth itself, as opposed to the traditional man-made coffin. Initially, one might accuse Anne Rice of reproducing patriarchal definitions of femininity by associating Gabrielle with nature as opposed to culture. However, it could equally be argued that she is drawing upon the theories of Helen Cixous, referring to ‘a creative power into which woman can tap only if they can relocate the mother within’.5 Therefore, Gabrielle does not define herself through man-made philosophies, but through the philosophy of Mother Earth.
I hereby end this article by expressing my belief that in her creation of Gabrielle de Lioncourt, Anne Rice conveys a positive transformation from a self sacrificing model of wife and mother, to a self-affirming, independent being.
Butler, Judith Gender Trouble (New York: Routledge, 2006).
Cixous, Helen, ‘The laugh of the Medusa’, in New French Feminisms: An Anthology edited by Elaine Marks (New York: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980).
Plumb, Jane Dark Angels: A Study of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (University of Warwick, 1998).
Rice, Anne Interview with a Vampire (New York: Alfred A. Knopf Press, 1976).
Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985).
1 Sedgwick, 1985: 26.
2 Plumb, 1998: 102
3 Plumb, 1998: 94.
4 Butler, 2006: 25.
5 Cixous, 1981: 245.