TVC: Interview with the Vampire (IwTV)

I first stumbled upon the Vampire Chronicles (VC) series when I caught a rerun of the movie adaptation of the series’ 1st book “Interview with the Vampire”, while channel surfing. Sceptical at its title and subject content, I was ready for a mindless and overly dramatic B-grade pseudo-horror movie. Man, was I wrong. Before the movie even ended, I was furiously searching for (and happily found) all associated materials that could feed my hunger to learn more of Anne Rice’s enthralling denizens of the night.

In honour of the revival of the VC series with the release of “Prince Lestat” today, I have decided to start a series of posts on my favourite VC books. And of course, I must start with the book that began it all.

Overview
The post-modern/ gothic-horror book takes the form of a night-long interview, in which a 200 years old vampire, Louis de Pointe du Lac, tells his life-story to an unnamed boy reporter. In his mortal life, Louis was a young French plantation owner in late 18th Century New Orleans. Depressed after the death of his brother, Louis was turned into a vampire by the alluring blond French vampire Lestat de Lioncourt.

Introspective and bound by the strict moral strictures of his Catholic upbringing, Louis spiralled into endless despair at the unalterable fact that, in order to live, he now had to kill and drink blood. Moreover, he became disillusioned with Lestat’s callous behaviour in killing his victims and his refusal to tell him anything deeper about his vampiric nature other than the self-evident need to drink blood. Equally, Lestat became disgusted with Louis for clinging to his humanity by drinking blood from animals, avoiding killing humans, and reading for the sheer pleasure of it.

As their relationship deteriorated, Lestat sought to bound Louis to him by turning a 5 years old girl, Claudia, into a vampire. He succeeded and the 3 of them lived in a sort of pseudo-family structure for the next 70 years or so. Eventually, Claudia came to hate Lestat both for turning her into a vampire (hence trapping her mature mind and soul into the body of a child for all eternity and forcing her to depend on others for survival) and for withholding answers about their vampiric nature and whether there were other vampires around. After Louis and Claudia revolted against Lestat and left him for dead (twice), they set off for Europe in search of other vampires who can answer their existentialist questions on vampiric existence.

It was only in Paris that Louis and Claudia finally managed to find other “proper” vampires: the Théâtre des Vampires, a coven of vampire actors who “pretend to be humans pretending to be vampires”. The nominal leader, Armand, the self-professed “oldest vampire alive” seems to welcome them and provides them with vampire-related information. However, other members of the theatre troupe are wary of the pair as (1) it is a serious offence to create a child vampire like Claudia, and (2) they suspected that they killed their maker Lestat, an even more heinous crime in the vampire community.

Louis and Armand quickly formed a mutual admiration society and Louis decides to leave Claudia for him. At Claudia’s request, Louis turned a doll-maker Madeleine, who loves Claudia presumably because she resembles her deceased daughter, into a vampire, to care for Claudia. Unfortunately, the other vampires (under the supposed instruction of Lestat, who came back from the dead) deemed Louis and Claudia guilty as charged: they buried the former alive (who was rescued by Armand) and burnt the latter by sunlight. Enraged at what the other vampire mummers have done, Louis set the theatre ablaze and killed them all (with some help from Armand).

After travelling with Louis for several years, Armand finally tells him the truth and then leaves him: (1) Lestat did not die in the fire and was in fact back in New Orleans (yes, yes, I know: just how many comebacks can this guy stage?), (2) he killed Claudia, and (3) he is disappointed with Louis, who is now a shell of his former self. Louis meets up with Lestat, finds him in a decrepit and fearful state and leaves him, despite Lestat’s appeals for him to stay.

At the end of Louis’ story, the interviewer asked to be made a vampire. In furious disbelief that he did not seem to have understood the torment of eternal damnation, Louis drains him to the point of death and the interviewer passes out. When he wakes up, he immediately sets off to find Lestat in New Orleans. And so ends the beginning of the VC series.

At Last, A Moral Monster
It is widely accepted that IwTV is the seminal book that first gave vampires a human voice, character and conscience. Through our Byronic narrator’s eyes, we are able to explore the psychological dilemmas of an immortal monster who desperately wants to be good. Not only did Louis continually question the morality of all the death and violence, which he caused as a vampire, he also struggled with reconciling them with his Catholic faith and is largely consumed by his thirst to understand the vampiric nature and origins. By the end of the book, Louis is despondent, feeding on humans (albeit at a subsistence level and feeling guilty about it), has abandoned Lestat and slaughtered lots of vampires. So is he now good (as he still feels conscience-stricken), evil (because he has killed and will kill again), neither? Or is this question even relevant anymore?

The muted palette of black, white and gray reflect Louis’ eternal inner turmoil, and the sombre outfit, which he wore to give the interview. To evoke the 18th/ 19th Century silhouette, which Louis favoured, I have used classic menswear elements like the black coat, the laced brogues and the gray straw hat. The blood-red colour and flame-like shape of the ring symbolises the intense emotions (not to mention, the pyromaniac tendencies) hidden beneath Louis’ calm façade. Finally, in reference to Louis’ constant quest for vampiric knowledge, I have added a “Dracula” book clutch to complete the outfit.

Vampire Chronicles: At Last, A Moral Monster

 

Decadent Doll
Although Louis is the narrator and protagonist of the novel, I would say that Claudia is the main force that drives the plot. It is she who kept Louis and Lestat together. It is she who (somewhat) shook Louis out of his melancholic state as he was forced to act as a guardian for her. It is she who convinced Louis that they had to get rid of Lestat, and masterminded the attempt at killing Lestat. It is her death that provoked Louis into killing the coven of the Theatre des Vampires. And finally, it is the revealing of her true killer that caused Louis to retreat into a solitary existence.

Intelligent, manipulative, and remorselessly violent (even her most ardent supporter, Louis was forced to admit that she is “less human than either of us, less human than either of us might have dreamed”), Claudia’s true nature is totally contrary to her angelic and doll-like appearance of a chubby little girl with golden curls and blue eyes. Still, her adult mind showed itself in flashes of latent sexuality through, for example, her choice of clothes and jewellery (Claudia had a passion for rings and brooches “that children did not wear”), and the way she walked.

In this layout, the pink babydoll dress and the cloche straw hat reflect the empire waist dresses and bonnets that were fashionable in what would have been Claudia’s mortal lifetime (early 19th Century). The white flowers in the hat make reference to the large white bouquet of chrysanthemums she carried when she killed the family servants and had a first major clash with Louis and Lestat. The white fluffy cardigan and Mary Jane flats are contrasted with the ornate black pearl jewellery to represent the incongruity between her childish and innocent façade and the maturity and darkness of her true nature.

Vampire Chronicles: Decadent Doll

 

Eternal Passions
Love, hate and lust are hopelessly intermingled in almost all the principal relationships in the book. As a mortal, Louis was mostly enthralled by Lestat’s looks and charms. And then the entire description of Lestat turning Louis into a vampire looks as though it could be ripped out of an erotic novel. Not only was the act itself intimate, what with all the close physical contact and exchanging of large amounts of bodily fluid, Louis himself described it as being “not unlike the pleasure of passion” and that Lestat behaved in a lover-like manner. Their subsequent relationship seemed to yo-yo between extreme highs and lows. Despite Louis’ rebuffs and attempted killings of Lestat, Lestat repeatedly clawed his way back from the grave to Louis and still wanted Louis to stay with him in the end.

In the Louis/ Claudia relationship, Claudia loved Louis for his unquestioning devotion and his similar pursuit of vampiric knowledge. But she also despised him for participating in turning her into a vampire, and being “weak” as a vampire. Likewise, Louis adored Claudia for her congenial companionship but simultaneously feared her utterly conscienceless nature. Moreover, as unsettling as it may sound, Louis actually found Claudia “sensual” and described their relationship as “Father and Daughter. Lover and Lover”. Finally, their relationship is so strong that Louis was (1) willing to help out in killing Lestat as she wanted and (2) proactive enough to massacre the entire Theatre des Vampires in vengeance for her death, which are possibly the 2 most emotional responses Louis has ever had to anything.

Vampire Chronicles: Eternal Passions

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DEBUT: The Picture of Dorian Gray

I chose to cover “The Picture of Dorian Gray” (TPoDG) by Oscar Wilde in my debut post as, despite all its flaws, it has left a deep impression on me. There are perhaps other books with more fully fleshed characters, more exciting plotlines, or more subtle messages and themes. Heck, I even feel that Wilde’s signature style of bitingly witty epigrams and ironic statements work far better in his plays, rather than this novel. But somehow reading TPoDG was an oddly intimate experience, as though Wilde was simultaneously baring his soul for the world to see and expounding on how the theory of Aestheticism might play out in practise.

Plot Overview

At the start of the novel, Dorian Gray was young, beautiful, rich. And innocent. Basil Hallward, an honest and conventional painter and Dorian’s friend, worshipped Dorian for the vitality, which he gave to his art, and the goodness, which Dorian seems to represent. Lord Henry Wotton, Basil’s friend, came to know Dorian and introduced him to ideas that the power of youth and beauty, as well as the pursuit of pleasure and sensual experiences/ the “new Hedonism” should be the highest goal in one’s life. Disillusioned at the thought that his most important characteristics are his fleeting youth and beauty, Dorian hastily made a wish that a portrait of him painted by Basil would bear all the burdens of age and sin while he himself remained as he was in the bloom of youth.

Somehow, someway, Dorian got his wish: the portrait became a living allegory of the state of his soul: it grew old and ugly in his place. The first wickedness, which it had to bear, was Dorian breaking off his engagement with an actress, Sybil Vane, who lost her acting talent after she fell in love with him, thus driving Sybil to commit suicide. Although Dorian was initially conscience-stricken, he quickly got over it with Lord Henry’s encouragement to see the suicide as merely a romantic and artistic ideal.

Lord Henry then gave Dorian a “yellow book”, which guided Dorian in the pursuit of decadence and debauchery. Over the years, Dorian underwent a rapid moral descent with all his secret (and not-so-secret) vices: opium addiction, ruining many of his friends’ reputations, murdering Basil, blackmailing one of his old friends etc. Yet, as there is no concrete evidence against Dorian, he continued to be welcomed by polite society by virtue of his remaining young, beautiful, rich. And seemingly innocent.

Towards the end of the novel, Dorian became increasingly neurotic about his wrongful acts being discovered. To offset them and make the portrait of himself beautiful again, Dorian tried acting good by not seducing a peasant girl who fell in love with him. But there was no change in the portrait, except that it took on a hypocritical expression. In a last ditch attempt to save himself (or the painting?), Dorian used a knife to stab the painting. Alas, Dorian and the painting were one and the same and he ended up killing himself. What’s more, in his death, his corpse looked aged and hideous, while his portrait regained its unblemished looks.

 

Good VS Evil

The age-old battle between good and evil is the overarching theme in the book. Not only does it take place within Dorian’s own conscience over his lifetime, it is also clear from his friends’ influence: Lord Henry played the Devil’s Advocate while Basil was on the side of the Saints. Yet was it so clear-cut? Dorian took Lord Henry’s idea of the “new Hedonism” to heart and became increasingly corrupt over the years. However, the fact that Dorian so readily adopted Lord Henry’s stance suggests that perhaps they are subconsciously Dorian’s real thoughts and that he was never truly innocent. Moreover, as Lord Henry’s role was generally passive after he first mentioned his concepts to Dorian/ gave him the book and Lord Henry did not seem to have committed as many wrongs as Dorian did, it seems that Dorian’s moral decline was inevitable anyways.

I have blended together gray, black and white shades to suggest the fluid state of Dorian’s morality. To highlight the diametrically opposite roles, which Lord Henry and Basil have played in Dorian’s life, I used winged and studded accessories to represent the former and soft ethereal details to symbolise the latter.

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Good VS Evil

 

 

Paradoxes

Paradoxes are a huge part of both the characters and the plot. An example would be, as Basil puts it in not so many words, Lord Henry only talks superficially of the daringness of the “new Hedonism” at dining tables and cynically dismisses conservative moral norms, but never puts his supposed ideals into practise by giving up his conventional lifestyle as a fashionable man-about-town.

Another example would be the moralistic contents of the 2 main works of art in the novel: the painting reflects the dissipation of Dorian while the yellow book leads him to further degeneration. Despite Wilde’s support of the Aestheticism/ Decadence movements which believes that art has no purpose other than to be beautiful, these works of art seem to be more in line with the wider Victorian beliefs that art is morally instructive and arguably serves as a cautionary tale against the overzealous quest of aestheticism itself.

To bring out the essence of paradoxes, I have juxtaposed elements that are suitable for different occasions and weather conditions in the same ensemble. It cannot be conceivably be worn anywhere but simply creates new associations between familiar elements.

 

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Paradoxes