Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice

Prism of the Night: A Biography of Anne Rice - Katherine Ramsland [These notes were made in 1993.:] I have never been as rabid a fan of Anne Rice's work as some people I know, but I have read of enough of her, under her various pseudonyms, to realize that there would be some interest to me in her background, her mental processes, and the unfolding of her life, because we quite clearly have some attitudes and some obsessions that coincide. I was briefly suspicious, when I started the book, that "Katherine Ramsland" might turn out to be yet another "R" pseudonym (Katherine was the name of Anne's mother), but I eventually dismissed the notion that this was a cloaked autobiography on the grounds of style, as well as the quite candid-sounding quotations from Anne's relatives and friends, observations which could have been made to a biographer but hardly to an autobiographer. Ramsland is an academic by trade; she teaches philosophy, and appears by her blurb to have a strong interest in psychology and psychotherapy. Her style is pedestrian but readable, and the lines of analysis she takes are directed towards the understanding of Anne Rice rather than the understanding of the book under discussion, although I am far from being enough of a New Critic to take the line that the one will not enhance the other. In fact a book like this, written during the lifetime of and with the cooperation of the author, is one of the best arguments for biographical criticism I have seen in a long time. The connections made between events in Rice's life - the loss of her mother, the untimely death of her child, for instance - and the characterizations and structures of her fiction seem to me not only plausible but compelling, because they are not facile, but carefully qualified, and allowance is always made for the power of the creative mind and the faculty of rational choice. Ramsland reduces neither the fiction itself nor the deep and half-understood psychological needs and movements which find expression in it with glib pronouncements that "this equals that." Rice emerges as a strong character, one who battled her way out of a Catholic background and a family tradition of alcoholism, one who dealt with her own very present sensual feelings and sense of not conforming to gender type with a creative fascination with androgyny, trans-genderism and gay men generally. This, as you may imagine, interested me greatly. I was particularly entertained by a segment (p. 105) which spoke about Rice's fascination with gay men, long before she first published. "[Gay men:] inspired in her a strong feeling of kinship, of not fitting socially acceptable definitions. 'I felt that the terrific response I had to men physically must mean that I'm a gay man trapped in a woman's body.' ... the interest was a natural extension of her tendency in high school to idealize equality and courage. Characters in her fantasy world were already 'coming out of the closet.' She saw homosexuality as a physical realization of that ideal and looked to gay men as figures that exhibited the erotic aspects of gender while transcending the negative aspects. A man who transcends gender, she felt, sees the world more clearly. Yet there was something about them that reached more deeply into her, that released her from becoming anchored in stereotypical feminine roles." There were a few other traits in Rice that I also identified with - she writes best when she writes fast, takes criticism very badly, does not willingly surrender the integrity of her ideas to other people's adaptations (her efforts at collaborative writing, for the screen, etc., have not worked out) and does not seem to be able to summon up any sort of false shame in connection with either the reading or the writing of sexually explicit material. Almost as interesting as the similarities were the differences - our backgrounds, for instance, are very different, and she is married and has had two children. That large part of her mental landscape which deals with the fear and overcoming of death is not yet a major part of mine, though I understand exactly what Ramsland means when she says that Rice is obsessed with the notion of a continuing witness, who makes the things (and people) witnessed real. I find, perhaps not surprisingly, that it is the period up to and including her early thirties where I found the most to identify with, and, just as I grew impatient with the books she wrote after that age, so too I found Ramsland's analysis of the progressions she was making after that age less interesting. Perhaps I should read it again in ten years! The book could not be more up-to-the-minute, by the way - it discusses projects all the way up to the end of 1992. She has apparently written a new script based on the Vampire stories - I wonder how much of the homoeroticism will be preserved?