Rice and Sexual Politics: The Early Novels
James R. Keller
Jefferson & London: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2000.
$28.50, 181 pages, ISBN 0-7864-0846-4.
Université de Rouen
James R. Keller is professor of English Renaissance literature at
the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. Those are two good
reasons why he should have developed an interest in Anne Rices
fiction. Rice often expresses great admiration for the Renaissance
(Italian rather than English though) and sets numerous scenes of her
vampire novels in that period. And anyone with a connection to American
Womens Studiesas surely a professor at a womens
university is bound to haveshould look at Rices work at
some point, and ponder what it has to say to women.
The words sexual politics in the title of the book, however,
obviously do not merely hark back to Kate Millet and sixties / seventies
feminism. Keller also addresses the gay question, so central in Rice,
in a way that owes much to post-Foucaldian Queer Theory. Using various
thinkers to further his research, Keller takes a magnifying glass
and subjects Rices novels to pitiless examination. There is
a lot of Freud, a bit of Lacan, but no Jung to speak ofsurprisingly.
Anne Rice belongs to that particular species of American writers:
popular novelists who delight millions of indulgent fans and manage
at the same time to raise keen interest in academe. Keller writes:
Rices choice of subject matter reveals a negotiation between
high and low culture, between the elite and the popular, between literature
and commercial fiction.  Many university professors would
agree to say that she cannot write to save her life, but that does
not make her any less thrilling. Some mock her for the way her English
characters speak (nobody talks like that), but her ideas are
utterly fascinating. And her characters even more so.
One of the most striking features of her vampires, as Keller notes,
is their sexual ambiguity. Of course, vampirism in any work of fictionbe
it on film or in printcan be read as a metaphor for homosexuality.
But Rices vampires are gayer than other peoples, as it
were. And in this day and age it is easy to see them as politically
ambiguous too. Anne Rice belongs to that particular species of women
writers who can never get enough male gay sensibility in their worksometimes
even Camplike Mary Renault, Elizabeth A. Lynn, or Poppy Z. Brite.
Anne Rice has had a long association with the gay community, which
includes keeping her residence for many years in the Castro district
of San Francisco. In addition, she has broken the culturally imposed
silence upon the issue of homosexuality in virtually every one of
her novels, a move that is both bold and socially significant in popular
fiction because it is obligatory silence that perpetuates repression
and myth. 
people see Rice as the quintessential New Orleans resident, so the
critics do not usually make much of her San Francisco years. But she
has certainly had her share of gay entourage, wherever she has lived.
Her own son Christopher Rice is an out novelist. Biographical criticism
having been out of fashion for more than a century, we wont
worry unduly as to whether her mixing with gays led to her writing
very gay fiction or vice versa. The fact is, she does address very
topical gay issues in her novels. One example in particular is the
(more or less dysfunctional) alternative families she presents. Those
vampire recomposed families have all sorts of vampires playing all
sorts of roles, quite independently from their gender or actual age.
Keller shows that when vampires Louis and Lestat adopt
Claudia, having turned her into an eternally childish-looking vampire,
they very much evoke gay parenting. So of course, if things go wrong,
the disastrous results could be seen as a condemnation of gay parenting.
And this is where Rice cannot win. Whatever she does, considering
she writes horror stories, horrible things are bound to happen.
Thank God she never actually strives to be politically correct. As
a matter of fact, you can pull apart every one of her vampire novels
and demonstrate that the gay (sub)text is positive, just as you can
demonstrate the very opposite. At least she does write about homosexuality
if not homosexuals, as Keller acknowledges. His first chapter,
Interrogating the Vampire: Heterotextuality and Queer Reading
The queer family in Interview could be an intentional parody
of the normative family, intended to create an irreverent bourgeois
horror story. If the intention of horror fiction is to frighten, it
is probable that the people whom Rice intended to spook are the heterosexist,
middle-class people who regard homosexuality as an insidious threat
to the family politics and as a danger to the normative sexual development
of their children. Thus the queer family becomes a camp parody [
In his second and third chapters entitled Engendering Whiteness:
The Politics of Race, Gender, and Class in The Feast of All Saints
and The Purloined Penis: Castration Anxiety in Cry to Heaven,
Keller very convincingly examines two non vampire novels that usually
fail to delight Lestat aficionados as much as the Chronicles,
although they are extremely interesting, and of course ideal for psychoanalytical
criticism. As for the last chapter, Rape Fantasies: Constructing
a Masculine Prototype among the Mayfair Witches, it is as splendid
as Rices Mayfair Witches series itself.
I recently supervised an MA dissertation on Anne Rice that spoke of
little else but sexual politics and gender politics, and so it should
have. But when my student asked me if she should take into account
the stuff Rice published under the names Anne Rampling and A. N. Roquelaure
I said no. I am perfectly aware of the fact that those erotic / sentimental
books are constantly reprinted with Anne Rice writing as
on the cover, but in the same way I would not dream of lumping Gore
Vidals novels with those he wrote as Edgar Box, I myself tend
to stay away from Rampling and Roquelaure, at least when it comes
to exegesis. So I do not care as much for Kellers fourth, fifth
and sixth chapters, devoted to books like Exit to Eden and
Belinda, however persuasive. Maybe its my conservative
The book as a whole, anyway, is an indispensable addition to the library
of anyone who has ever enjoyed Anne Rices work.