Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire is a gothic horror novel published on May 5, 1976. Infused with romance and seductiveness, the book retains an enduring fandom nearly 50 years after its release. Rice was monumental in establishing the angsty, sensual version of vampires that persist in supernatural media of all kinds today, and her influence on the vampire genre cannot be understated. But while many people adore Interview with the Vampire for its queer subtext and its brooding protagonist, this book has much darker inspirations than one might imagine. Let’s take a look at the various influences that shaped Interview with the Vampire into the book we know and love today.
Rice cited the 1936 film Dracula’s Daughter as one of her earliest inspirations for the novel. As a child, Rice’s fascination with vampires began after watching this movie. The idea of the tragic vampire transfixed her, and this film’s exploration of the idea of a vampire who despises drinking blood and longs for humanity was something Rice brought into her novel with the character of Louis — a 200-year-old vampire who constantly agonizes over the conflict between his need to drink blood to survive and his moral objection to killing humans.
It [the film] established to me what vampires were — these elegant, tragic, sensitive people. I was really just going with that feeling when writing Interview With the Vampire.Anne Rice in an interview with The Daily Beast
Dracula’s Daughter is the sequel to the 1931 film Dracula, which is based on the 1924 stage play of Dracula, which itself is adapted from Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel of the same name. Bram Stoker’s Dracula may very well be the most influential and widely known piece of vampire media to date. However, Rice admits that before writing Interview with the Vampire, she hadn’t read Dracula. It therefore wasn’t an influence on her novel, as some may tend to believe.
Rice derived her vampire lore more from movies than from previous vampire literature like Dracula. In many ways, Interview with the Vampire’s mythology was a response to existing aspects of vampire lore that didn’t resonate with Rice.
I went along with what I inherited from Hollywood — that vampires burn up in the sun. I didn’t know that wasn’t part of the original Dracula. And the rest I sort of made up. I thought if they responded hysterically to garlic or crucifixes, that was not as interesting as their being nihilistic and atheistic, and not having a ‘magical’ response to something but having definite limitations and rules.Anne Rice in an interview with The Daily Beast
By creating more concrete limits to vampire abilities, Rice was able to amplify the angst of her characters and introduce moral quandaries surrounding a vampire’s very nature, which is an emotional conflict underscoring many contemporary vampire narratives.
Death and Grief
In 1970, Anne Rice was a graduate student in the Creative Writing program at San Francisco State University, pursuing her lifelong dream of becoming a writer. However, it was at this time that Rice’s daughter, Michelle, who was about four years old, was diagnosed with leukemia. Two years later, her daughter died, and Rice fell into a severe depression. Eventually, in 1973, Rice’s grief would thrust her to work on her novel.
I was a sad, broken and despairing atheist when I wrote Interview with the Vampire. I pitched myself into writing and made up a story about vampires. I didn’t know it at the time but it was all about my daughter, the loss of her and the need to go on living when faith is shattered.Anne Rice in an interview with The Independent
Rice also seems to have had a rather peculiar relationship with death, as evidenced by the fact that she once attended her own funeral.
I was driven in an old-fashioned glass hearse, with a bunch of musicians from the French Quarter alongside. I lay in my coffin listening to this mournful Dixieland jazz and feeling every jostle and bump along the way; it was a wonderful experience.Anne Rice in an interview with The Independent
This fascination with death was also a significant factor in Rice’s interest in vampires. To her, the immortality of vampires seemed like a perfect lens through which to explore the complexities of human mortality and aging.
Here you have a monster with a soul that’s immortal, yet in a biological body. It’s a metaphor for us, as it’s very difficult to realize that we are going to die, and day to day we have to think and move as though we are immortal.Anne Rice in an interview with The Independent
Altogether, Rice’s various tethers to death gave a philosophical depth to her world, which greatly enriched her characters, especially Louis and Lestat, who, in many ways, operate as ideological foils to each other. Their conflict is not only a draw to readers who pick up on the homoerotic tension underlying their interactions; it is the emotional throughline of the entire story.
In 1968 or 1969, Rice wrote a short story, also titled Interview with the Vampire. The story, which was about 30 pages in length, was initially told from the perspective of the interviewer, who in the novel is only referred to as “the boy.” After the death of her daughter, Rice rewrote the short story into a 338-page manuscript in a matter of five weeks, researching by day and writing by night.
I have always wanted to be a writer, and was writing a novel and short stories long before my daughter became ill. I was majoring in Creative Writing when she was born. When I set out to write Interview with the Vampire after her death, I drew on my earlier short story with that title.Anne Rice in an interview with Atlas Obscura
Rice drew from her life experiences to inform her writing in many ways. In addition to extracting several of the book’s major themes from her feelings toward death, Rice also based several of her characters on real-life people, including two of her family members. Claudia, the doll-like vampire child who was sentenced to death for trying to kill Lestat, was based on Rice’s daughter, Michelle. Meanwhile, the character of Lestat was based on Rice’s husband, Stan Rice.
Lestat was very much based on my husband, Stan, on Stan’s physicality — Stan being a lithe, athletic man of great strength and self-confidence and also an atheist who shook his fist at the stars.Anne Rice in an interview with telegram.com
Lestat — whom Rice saw as decisive and unburdened by the moral dilemmas that plagued Louis — mirrored her husband’s surety, while Rice herself felt closer to Louis, who was constantly in doubt of himself and bound in a neverending feud with his own rectitude.
After the death of her daughter, Rice found herself in the throes of depression, turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism. She was no stranger to the dangers of drinking. When she was only 15, Rice’s mother died of alcoholism.
I think she [Rice’s mother] swallowed her tongue.Anne Rice in an interview with Rolling Stone
Rice’s drinking problem was at the forefront of her mind as she wrote Interview with the Vampire. Throughout her career, she has spoken quite candidly about what this time was like for her.
I wrote Interview with the Vampire and got drunk at night.Anne Rice in a YouTube video celebrating her 28 years of sobriety
Rice’s struggle with alcohol was a clear influence on the book, most evidently in the way that Louis’s blood consumption is framed as a sort of addiction. Louis has a strong aversion to killing humans, but he needs to drink blood to survive, so he subsists on animal blood and donations from his various lovers. However, at several points, Louis backslides and kills humans, an apparent allegory to the way that an addict might relapse.
All the while, Louis is tormented by this inner conflict, and Lestat shames him for refusing to submit to his true nature. Louis’s moral convictions, although they may be rooted in the made-up mythology of Rice’s supernatural universe, have applications to the real world and true human plights.
The Human Experience
At the heart of this book is a metaphor that encapsulates the eternal struggle of human beings: belonging.
The vampire is a powerful metaphor for the outsider, for the isolated, alienated suffering soul in each of us, and for the predator in each of us, and people of all ages respond to that metaphor.Anne Rice in an interview with telegram.com
As Rice says, vampires are a metaphor through which to convey essential truths about us all via supernatural melodrama. This is the aim of much genre fiction, an aim that Rice thoroughly succeeds at accomplishing with this novel. The characters in Interview with the Vampire feel uncannily human because Rice’s very human life experiences are imbued in them. Her grief, suffering, and desire for moral certainty are inseparable from this story, and that is exactly what makes it so powerful.
A Lifelong Dream
But perhaps the biggest inspiration of all for Rice was her passion for storytelling.
I love writing. I am that person who grew up to be just what she dreamed of being.Anne Rice in an interview with telegram.com
Rice certainly achieved the ultimate dream of many writers — to create a story that continues to resonate with people for decades. Interview with the Vampire transcends genre and gets to the root of what it means to be a person in this world — human or otherwise.
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