TVC: The Style: Queen of the Damned (QoTD)

Clash of Old and New
As mentioned in my previous post on “Queen of the Damned”, what I like most about QoTD is how it alternately hurled us back and forth between the mystical and distant reign of Akasha and the world of the modern vampires.

Through the use of multiple narrative perspectives, the dizzying cacophony of voices that reverberated through the novel lets you peep into the lives and minds of the other vampires in the series. Not only do we revisit old friends, we are also introduced to a whole cast of new characters who each bring their own personality and experiences to fully flesh out the Vampire Chronicles universe. And of course, Rice’s ever-lavish descriptions (e.g. Lestat’s glittering rockstar career, the technology-filled sanctum, which Marius had built to house Akasha and Enkil, etc.) further helped to reinforce this point.

In this ensemble, I have tried to emphasise the novel’s skilfully woven juxtaposition between the past and the present, the old and the new. The simple gold jewellery, almost austere-looking white dress and the sandal-like heels echo the relaxed silhouette of ancient Egypt. On the other hand, the overall minimalism of the outfit, the nearly monochromatic palette, as well as the edgy details (i.e leather, studs, cut-outs) symbolise the glamorous world of rock stars and electric lights.

Queen of the Damned: Clash of Old and New

Feminine Mystique
The main narrator of QoTD, Lestat, is male. Indeed, it seems that most of the vampires that populate the Vampire Chronicles are male. Yet, whilst the Vampire Chronicles series has been criticised for being overly male-centric, in QoTD, at least, the overarching plot is driven by the acts of 3 immensely powerful female vampires.

Akasha presents a fiercely proactive, strangely naïve and brutally straightforward solution to supposedly end all the problems in the world. At the same time, Maharet shows us another way of leading the vampires: caring, wise, logical, and possibly a little too reticent to effectively deal with the tumultuous events that unfolded in QoTD.

Arguably, neither style is perfect and it is only when Mekare combined the traits from both, that the deadlock in the vampires’ council meeting could be resolved. Mekare acted logically and without illusions (insomuch as she could) to bring down Akasha, by sending out streams of telepathic images to communicate her story with vampires all over the world and slowly but surely making her way to the vampire council meeting. Simultaneously, she acted simply but violently to exact her revenge on Akasha.

In this outfit, I have combined elements to represent the two competing ideologies. Akasha’s desire to build a “warrior goddess” cult-like following presumably arose from her queenly status in mortal life, as well as the god-like worship of royalty in Ancient Egyptian culture. This is symbolised by the ornate gold details, and the “hardness” of the materials used. The dominance of the various shades of red (which could represent life, victory, anger and evil in Ancient Egypt, depending on the context), is also apt in describing Akasha’s attitude throughout her campaign.

On the other hand, Maharet’s “Earth Mother” model of leading the vampires seems to be rooted in her spiritual powers as a witch. The use of white (which represented cleanliness and purity) and green (which represented nature, growth and regeneration), as well as the various floral accents, reflects her strong links with the natural world.

Queen of the Damned: Feminine Mystique

Part 1 of my post on the “Queen of the Damned” can be found here: The Book: Queen of the Damned (QoTD).

The first of my series of posts on the Vampire Chronicles novels can be found here: Interview with the Vampire.

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Vanity Fair

“Vanity Fair” by William Makepeace Thackeray is one of those books which I am happy to read again and again, as it feels like a new story on each read. I love the novel’s wicked satirical humour, as well as the countless real-life references and allegories that both allow a glimpse into the gentry/ aristocratic world of Regency England and foreshadow the eventual fates of the characters. It is also refreshing to see “A Novel without a Hero” (the subtitle of the book), as the story feels much more realistic with characters who are flawed in various ways and in varying degrees.

Plot Overview

Set in an environment where the ultimate aim in life is the pursuit of wealth and position, the novel follows the lives of 2 women, who are set up as the binary opposite of each other. In the beginning, Rebecca is a poor orphan, who is born to Bohemian parents and has to support herself by becoming a governess to the blue-blooded Crawley family. Dissatisfied with her limited prospects, Rebecca was determined to use her charms and wit to improve her situation. Amelia Sedley starts out as a veritable “angel in the house”: good-natured, domestic, passive and naïve. With the support of her well-off parents and an engagement to her childhood sweetheart, the handsome and charming George Osborne, whom Amelia is deeply in love with, Amelia seems to be settled for life.

Rebecca marries Rawdon Crawley, in the hopes that his aunt will leave her fortune to him, her favourite relative. However, contrary to the aunt’s self-professed liberal ideals and love for “imprudent matches”, she was furious at the discrepancy in their ranks and instead left most of her money to Rawdon’s elder brother, Pitt Crawley. Undaunted, Rebecca slowly climbs up the social hierarchy by leveraging on her husband’s family name, living beyond their income but convincing creditors that their debts will be paid, helping Rawdon to cheat men at gambling and attracting the attentions of rich and powerful men.

All of these came to a screeching halt when Rawdon discovers Rebecca apparently committing adultery with Lord Steyne, a well-known reprobate. Rawdon refuses to see Rebecca again and takes a post in Coventry Island (ironically, Lord Steyne obtained it for him before the abovementioned debacle took place), where he eventually dies of yellow fever. With her reputation in tatters and without the Crawley name to protect her from creditors, Rebecca fled to Continental Europe, abandoning her son to the care of his Crawley relatives.

Amelia’s engagement to George clearly shows the reader how selfish he is, from the limited attention which he gave her, his indifference to her love letters and him using money that was meant for Amelia’s present to buy jewellery for himself. Things become worse when Amelia’s father became bankrupt: George’s father, a snobbish merchant, demanded that George break off the engagement to marry a mixed-race heiress, in order to rise from his middle-class background. Persuaded by his best friend, William Dobbin (a simple and honourable man who was secretly in love with Amelia), George married Amelia anyways, angering his father who disinherited him.

After George dies in combat, Amelia lives in genteel poverty with her fiscally irresponsible father and her self-pitying mother, while perpetually mourning for George. While Amelia doted on her son, she gives him up to his paternal grandfather’s care to ensure that he was well provided for. Although Amelia tries to stretch her income, she fails at every attempt. Amelia was only restored to a “respectable” position when William and her brother Joseph Sedley (a rich civil servant) returned from India.

A few years later, while the Sedleys and William were travelling on the Continent, they unexpectedly met up with Rebecca, who was reduced to gambling at casinos and giving music lessons for her living. After Rebecca shows Amelia a note written by George stating that he wanted to run away with the former merely a few months after his marriage, Amelia realised that her husband was not worthy of her love and was convinced to accept the affections of the long-devoted William.

Rebecca finally managed to ensnare Joseph, which she failed to do at the start of the book. After Rebecca makes herself the main beneficiary of his life insurance policy, Joseph dies in mysterious circumstances, which suggests that Rebecca contributed to his death. With Joseph’s money and financial support from her long estranged son (now a baronet after his uncle Pitt and his cousin dies), Rebecca ends up living as a seemingly charitable and respectable woman in Bath.

Vanity Fair: Fashion-ified

“Vanity Fair” symbolises a social setting where social-climbers forever attempt to outdo each other by accumulating as much material gains as possible, as well as an opportunistic mind-set dominated by the dogged pursuit of money and power. In particular, in an era where women had minimal means of supporting themselves, the concept of marriage being the sole means of financial security was well explored (e.g. Rebecca’s hunt for a husband as soon as she left school; Rose Dawson, a working class girl who became a baronet’s 2nd wife and died loveless and friendless; the unmarriageable plight of Bute Crawley’s plain and poor daughters).

In this layout, I have piled on gold and jewelled accents to represent the main tenets of Vanity Fair. Contrasted with a innocuous-looking white gown (I thought it was a nice touch that it has an Empire waistline reminiscent to Regency era dresses) and a headband with “orange blossoms” (stated in the book as representing bridal purity, even when the marriage in question was a purely “pragmatic” May-December relationship), it highlights how the institution of marriage is turned into a farce by mercenary concerns.

Vanity Fair: Fashion-ified

Ambiguity and Secrets

In the shadowy world of “Vanity Fair”, mysteries and duplicitous behaviour are everywhere. In fact, they are the main drivers of many of the pivotal moments of the books. Rebecca fabricating her ancestry to gain acceptance by the Crawleys; Rebecca lying to Lord Steyne to wheedle more money out of him; Pitt manoeuvring to get rid of other competitors for his aunt’s fortune; Amelia finding out that her piano was a gift from William, and not George, after 18 years, and the list goes on.

Thackeray was curiously coy as to whether Rebecca did actually commit her 2 greatest sins: (1) committing adultery with Lord Steyne and (2) murdering Joseph. Like a good court case, the concrete evidence presented can really go either way, depending on what the reader thought about Rebecca’s character. Thackeray was also ambiguous about giving his characters the endings, which they morally “deserved”. Seemingly “bad” characters like Rebecca, seem to end up just as comfortable, if not better, than “good” characters like William (he himself eventually admitted that the insipid and weak-willed Amelia was not worth his devotion and gradually fell out of love with her after their marriage).

To evoke the hazy, convoluted, enigmatic and surprising world of “Vanity Fair”, I have used shapeless forms, shades of gray, unexpected details and finally, the clichéd anonymous big hat and sunglasses.

Vanity Fair: Ambiguity and Secrets

The Gentleman

For a book where both its protagonists are female, “Vanity Fair” spends a surprising amount of time discussing the idea of what being a gentleman entails. Although Thackeray concluded that William is the only true gentleman in Vanity Fair due to his honest and principled character (the “internal” aspect), it can be said that the other main male characters represent other parts of what being a gentleman means. Rawdon Crawley represents the “traditional” concept of what a gentleman is, by virtue of his aristocratic blood and all the respect, which it naturally entails; George Osborne represents its “external” facet through his (excessive) pride in his personal appearance.

This outfit combines the classic elements of menswear (fedora, tailored vest, blazer, bow tie, peter pan collar, satchel bag) to symbolise the “traditional” idea of what a gentleman looks like, with the flamboyant details (bright colours, clashing stripes and polka dots, oxford heels) that reflect the aesthetics of a fashionable man-about-town.

Vanity Fair: The Gentleman