The need for family in vampire fiction – Benefiel

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Back in 2004, Candace R. Benefiel wrote; “In the vast, dark landscape of Gothic fiction in late twentieth-century America, the seminal figure of the vampire wanders in ever-increasing numbers. Much as the Gothic has seen a flowering in the past twenty-five years, the vampire has risen from the uneasy sleep of the earlier part of the century and experienced his own dark renaissance. Prior to 1976, in film and fiction, the vampire was portrayed in the mold into which he had been cast by Bram Stoker in the greatest of the nineteenth-century vampire novels, Dracula – an essentially solitary predator whose presence was the stimulus for an intrepid group of vampire hunters to form and bay in his pursuit, and whose time on center stage was limited to brief, menacing appearances and capped with a spectacular death scene. The vampire was, to borrow a term from film, a McGuffin – a device to drive the plot and give the vampire hunters something to pursue.
In 1976, this changed […when] Anne Rice published her first novel, Interview with the Vampire, and turned the vampire paradigm on its head. This breakthrough novel focused not on vampire hunters, but on the vampires themselves – and what a different breed they were.” (p.261) [Note that I think  Bruce A. McClelland (in Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead (2006)) might have something to say about Benefiel’s approach to the slayer and their vampire)]

“After Rice, and even in her subsequent novels in the ‘Vampire Chronicles series, the vampire was used to provide a vehicle for social commentary, and vampirism itself became a convincing metaphor for such varied topics as drug addiction, homosexuality, AIDS, and the general selfishness and narcissism of the baby boomer generation. Vampire literature in itself has become a vast and varied body, and one whose many facets cannot be contained in one model. The figure of the vampire, so varying and adaptable in the hands of many authors, became a liminal, transgressive figure, a stage upon whom the fears and secret desires of society could be acted.” (p.262)

“Despite the general perception, particularly in vampire film, of the vampire as a solitary predator, many texts have sought to portray the vampire as a part of a family grouping.” (p263)

“Oddly, [Rice’s] vampire family is so close to the norm as to constitute a parody.” (p.264)

“The vampire family is a key topic in Interview with the Vampire. Throughout the novel, images of kinship abound….” (p.266)

Benefiel concludes her study of ‘the family’ in Interview with the Vampire, by writing: “‘A gothic text positions its reader in a potential space where the psyche’s repressed desires and the society’s foreclosed issues can be engaged and thus where healing can occur’ (Veeder 32). The family group of Interview with the Vampire, as well as subsequent iterations of the vampire family, allows the reader to explore issues of alternative family structures and incestuous attraction within the family, and to play out the consequences for good or ill of these imagined scenarios. The vampire, aloof from human considerations, nonetheless stands in for the reader. Whether the nuclear family, either in its distorted but disturbingly realistic portrayal in Interview with the Vampire or in a more prosaic setting, remains a viable mode of existence at the turn of the twenty-first century is a question that readers and viewers must answer for themselves. Anne Rice’s creation, the vampire Louis de Pont du Lac, loses his mortal family, and later, his immortal family, when Claudia and Madelaine are killed in Paris in a replay of that ancient trauma. After that, he loses what had remained of his humanity, what might be termed his soul. The need for family, in whatever configuration, remains constant.” (p.270)

Ref: Candace R. Benefiel (2004) Blood Relations: The Gothic Perversion of the Nuclear Family in Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire. The Journal of Popular Culture 38(2), pp.261-273

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