Part Two: The Big Damn Vampire Soap Opera
We return once more to the house of the moping, beautiful dead. If you’ll recall, last time our narrator Louis spent a great deal of time talking about how his maker (and ex) Lestat was SUCH A CALLOW, STUPID JERK AND WE SHOULD ALL HATE HIS ROTTEN GUTS, NO REALLY, and then he burned down the plantation where they were living in order to escape a scene chock full of such side-eye worthy lowkey racism that my skin wants to crawl directly off and hide in a corner.
So, the plantation is burning and our vampires need to find somewhere to hole up right quick before the sun rises and the angry mob comes for them (not necessarily in that order). Lestat, Louis tells us, wanted to try and make a break for New Orleans, but follows Louis to Babette Freniere’s plantation up the river instead.
At this point, we get a bit of what I am beginning to term (mostly affectionately), Lousplaining, as he catches us up on what Babette’s been doing since Lestat killed her brother and Louis became her Angel of Middle Management. It seems that Babette was doing okay with the whole running a plantation thing, but was concerned about ostracized from society. But DON’T WORRY, Louis came to her with the idea to hold a charity ball as a means of getting back into everyone’s good graces, and now she’s married and everything is fine.
Of course Louis’ pervasive problem is that he has difficulty understanding the perspective of others, and we’re limited to seeing what he can see (oh boy, are we ever), but there’s something so VERY patriarchal about his telling. “And then I showed up and gave her this advice, and everything was fine because I had shown her the way.” Dude. You’ve seen her twice and she’s running a thriving business and family life and has been for years. Dial it back a little.
Having heard the commotion from up the river, Babette is understandably reluctant to harbor this dude, who she’s now realized is the owner of Pointe du Lac and also possibly a murderer or something equally awful. And while he’s trying to talk her into giving them a place to stay, THE MOST AMAZING THING IS HAPPENING:
I could see the figure of Lestat at the window. He was in a panic.
Just. Just imagine it with me, readers. The gestures. The faces. The hair pulling. I weep that there has never (to my knowledge) been fanart of this glorious moment. In the end, Babette lets them hole up in the cellar and then (wisely) locks them down there so that the next night they don’t creep up and murder the whole house. Lestat is not happy about this, but hold that thought.
The scene of Louis convincing Babette and the following night is actually a bit lengthy, drawn out by a discussion between Louis and Daniel as to whether Louis was in love with her. Which causes Louis to go on about Lestat.
I was thinking at that moment, wordlessly and rather deeply, how sublime friendship between Lestat and me might have been; how few impediments to it there would have been, and how much to be shared. Perhaps it was the closeness of Babette which caused me to feel it, for how could I truly ever come to know Babette, except, of course, through the one final way; to take her life, to become one with her in an embrace of death when my soul would become one with my heart and nourished with it. But my soul wanted to know Babette without my need to kill, without robbing her of every breath of life, every drop of blood. But Lestat, how we might have known each other, had he been a man of character, a man of even a little thought. The old man’s words came back to me; Lestat a brilliant pupil, a lover of books that had been burned. I knew only the Lestat who sneered at my library, called it a pile of dust, ridiculed relentlessly my reading, my meditations.
Ah, you can practically see the book grasping a 70s reader gently by the hand and saying, “okay, he’s admitted he thinks he loved Babette. And now he’s going to talk about how he longed to be close to Lestat using the exact same terms he described becoming close to her, do you – you got distracted by the word friendship, didn’t you, you stupid fuck.” And as an aside, you’ll notice that Louis’ solution is not “perhaps I should try to engage with him and see if I can find some common ground, knowing what I do of his past,” but “fuck it, he doesn’t communicate in the same way as I do, we’ll never understand one another.” Oh, Louis.
And while all of that is going on, Louis seems to be unaware that Daniel is completely and totally smitten by this point.
The vampire turned toward him and studied him, so that the boy flushed and looked away again anxiously. But then he raised his eyes and looking into the vampire’s eyes. He swallowed, but he held the vampire’s gaze.
The boy rose. “I can’t say I understand all you’re telling me. You’d know I was lying if I said I did. So how can I ask you to go on, except to say what I do understand…what I do understand is like nothing I’ve ever understood before.” He took a step toward the vampire. The vampire appeared to be looking down into Divisadero Street. Then he turned his head slowly and looked at the boy and smiled. His face was serene and almost affectionate. And the boy suddenly felt uncomfortable. He shoved his hands into his pockets and turned towards the table. Then he looked at the vampire tentatively and said, “Will you…please go on?”
Actual lovestruck teenager Daniel Molloy
Not that you can blame the poor kid. When Louis talks about Babette he talks about his desire to “understand” her, a “desire for communication,” which you can see Daniel parroting back in an attempt to become what this mysterious stranger wants. Hell, he goes so far as to say that Babette wasn’t truly listening to him, not like Daniel is in the present. It’s no wonder the kid is beginning to think he’s special in some way, that he might have a chance of meaning something to this incredible, ethereal being. Wouldn’t we all be the same if we wound up like that, after all the stories about being singled out and “chosen?”
Back in the past, Louis has one last confrontation with Babette while Lestat tries to corral a carriage to get them to New Orleans. It…it does not go well. They have a back and forth where Babette accuses him of being the Devil, and Louis has an existential crisis about how he doesn’t know if the Devil even exists (though he clearly feels like he SHOULD know this by virtue of now being a supernatural being). The long and short is that it ends with Babette throwing her lantern at Louis, causing him to catch fire. Lestat doesn’t take this well either.
Lestat was shouting from the darkness, ‘Put it out, put it out, idiot. It will consume you!’ And I felt something thrashing me wildly in my blindness. It was Lestat’s jacket. I’d fallen helpless back against the pillar […]
All this happened in a matter of seconds. The fire was out and I knelt in the dark with my hands on the bricks. Lestat at the top of the stairs had Babette again, and I flew up after him, grabbing him about the neck and pulling him backward.
“Then you’d stopped Lestat just in time,” said the boy.
“Yes. Lestat could kill and drink like a bolt of lightning.”
It’s worth noting that up to this point Lestat was pretty pissed at Babette for locking them in the cellar, but had left her alone while he took care of the necessities (probably knowing Louis would be angry at him for trying to kill her). But then she hurts Louis, and ALL BETS ARE OFF. He charges in to put the flames out, even though they’re as much a danger to him as Louis, and then in a FIT OF RAGE charges the woman who did it, who Louis had always spoken of like a saint (the fact that Louis was able to intervene at all seems to imply that the attack was far more about retribution than the need to feed on her blood).
Hold on, I have to put another tally in my “Lestat is a tactless bastard, but he’s so very in love” column.
They do indeed escape to New Orleans and get themselves a room, though Louis is still reeling from what happened at the Freniere household and his oncoming existential crisis. He wanders the streets, looking for rats to eat (being deep into his whole “I won’t kill humans” phase – there’s a big chunky conversation about the morality or lack thereof in aesthetics that I’m sparing you), and comes instead upon a little girl in a house plainly struck by plague. Louis is struck with pity for the girl and her already decomposing mother, but he’s also psychologically in a bad way.
I might have fled the room had I chosen and fed and gotten back easily. But the question pounded in me: Am I damned? If so, why do I feel such pity for her, for her gaunt face? Why do I wish to touch tiny, soft arms, hold her now on my knee as I am doing, feel her bend her head to my chest as I gently touch the satin hair? Why do I do this? If I am damned I must want to kill her, I must want to make her nothing but food for a cursed existence, because being damned I must hate her.
Louis’ struggles might be, unexpectedly, one of the most alien things about the book, given the way society’s interactions with spirituality have evolved since its publication. I’d wager that the sort of reader in 2016 who would be drawn to this novel is probably, if not Atheist/humanist/materialist/what have you, at the very least of a perspective on faith that eschews these harsh principles of damnation (not least because, well, the appeal is largely in the queer relationships, and we’ve all had quite enough of that I wager). So while Louis’ preoccupation is intensely real to him, and possibly born of a deeply debilitating anxiety in addition to his obvious depression, it can be hard to find purchase on and thus hard to sympathize with. Here, I think, is where we get the claims of “whininess” that Louis tends to get saddled with.
Speaking of people who’ve accused Louis of whining, Lestat catches Louis feeding, and being a creature of tact proceeds to mock him for breaking his “no humans” rule. Really endearing yourself to the man you love there, champ. Louis runs back to their shared apartment, apparently out of his mind, and then….something happens. There’s a big blank chunk in the narration. Louis says that he locks Lestat out of the apartment, he’s pacing around looking for something to use in the fight, and then –
Reason had altogether left me, so that I was consummate rage, and when he came through the broken glass, we fought as we’d never fought before. It was hell that stopped me, the thought of hell, of us bing two souls in hell that grappled in hatred. I lost my confidence, my purpose, my grip. I was down on the floor then, and he was standing over me, his eyes cold, though his chest heaved. ‘You’re a fool, Louis,’ he said. His voice was calm. It was so calm it brought me around. ‘The sun’s coming up,’ he said, his chest heaving slightly from the struggle, his eyes narrow as he looked at the window. I’d never seen him quite like this. The fight had got the better of him in some way; or something had.
I know I keep coming back to the fact that Louis lies and leaves things out of his story above and beyond his own ignorance of others, but it’s a crucial thing to return to in parsing out some manner of “truth” from the events we’re being told about. Between this account and Lestat’s own bitterness-tinged declaration that follows is an actuality, and the ambiguity of what defines that “truth” is very much at the heart of what allows these books to survive from one generation to the next. Even as parts become antiquated, you can always read a truth behind the bluster that speaks to you in a way Anne’s writing wasn’t able to cover. The ideas of these outsiders outlive the frame.
For a final touch on the subject, here’s an important moment from a little bit earlier.
“But you mustn’t be afraid to ask me anything. If I held something too close…” And when the vampire said this his face darkened for an instant. He frowned, and as his brows drew together a small well appeared in the flesh of his forehead over his left brow, as though someone had pressed it with a finger. It gave him a peculiar look of deep distress. “If I held something too close for you to ask about it, I would not bring it up in the first place,” he said.
So Louis as good as admits that he’s hiding things. It’s our job as readers, from here, to suss out where those lines get drawn.
The next night will be memorable to any of you who’ve seen the movie, since this scene is lifted almost verbatim from the book: Lestat invites two women up to the apartments, then seduces and kills them in order to make a point to Louis about his nature as a vampire (though notably, this scene occurs just BEFORE Louis’ breaks his no-eating-humans vow in the film). The other main different being that Louis does indeed kill the dying woman when Lestat orders him, knowing that she’s going to die soon.
Yeah, this one. With the pretentious Shakespeare quotes.
“I don’t read books” MISTER LIES BY OMISSION
Well, that and the fact that this is when Louis decides he wants to make his big declaration that he’s absolutely going to leave Lestat, for realsies this time.
“ ‘I thought as much,’ he answered, sitting back in the chair, ‘and I thought as well that you would make a flowery announcement. Tell me what a monster I am; what a vulgar fiend.’
“ ‘I make no judgements upon you. I’m not interested in you. I am interested in my own nature now, and I’ve come to believe I can’t trust you to tell me the truth about it. You use knowledge for personal power,’ I told him. And I suppose, in the manner of many people making such an announcement, I was not looking to him for an honest response. I was not looking to him at all. I was mainly listening to my own words.
Do you all want to facepalm together, or shall I lead the charge?
Louis de Pointe du Lac: a dramatic reenactment
This little speech does have an effect of sorts, though. Lestat finally opens up and speaks candidly to Louis for the first time (or at least the first time we’re privy to). And I’m going to quote some big chunks here, because Lestat-through-Louis’-eyes is fascinating.
‘All that you say makes sense,’ he said to me, taking a drink. ‘You are an intellect. I’ve never been. What I’ve learned I’ve learned from listening to men talk, not from books. I never went to school long enough. But I’m not stupid, and you must listen to me because you are in danger. You do not know your vampire nature. You are like an adult who, looking back on his childhood, realizes that he never appreciated it. You cannot, as a man, go back to the nursery and play with your toys, asking for the love and care to be showered on you again simply because now you know their worth. So it is with you and mortal nature.
“ ‘That is the way it is,’ he answered. ‘You talk of finding other vampires! Vampires are killers! They don’t want you or your sensibility! They’ll see you coming long before you see them, and they’ll see your flaw; and, distrusting you, they’ll seek to kill you. They’d seek to kill you even if you were like me. because they are lone predators and seek for companionship no more than cats in the jungle. They’re jealous of their secret and of their territory; and if you find one or more of them together it will be for safety only, and one will be the slave of the other, the way you are of me.’
“ ‘I’m not your slave,’ I said to him. But even as he spoke I realized I’d been his slave all along.
Lestat looked at me. ‘I expected you to feel these things instinctually, as I did.’ He said. ‘When I gave you the first kill, I thought you would hunger for the next and the next, that you would go to each human life as if to a full cup, the way I had. But you didn’t. And all this time I suppose I kept from straightening you out because you were best weaker. I’d watch you playing shadow in the night, staring at the falling rain, and I’d think, He’s easy to manage, he’s simple. But you’re weak, Louis. You’re a mark. For vampires and now for humans alike.’
And then, as I said, Louis drains the dying woman; he even allows Lestat to lead him out into the street, Lestat talking all the while about how they’re meant to kill, and that it will bring Louis peace at last.
I was nodding at Lestat as he nodded at me. ‘Pain is terrible for you,’ he said. ‘You feel it like no other creature because you are a vampire. You don’t want it to go on.’
‘No,’ I answered him. ‘I’ll feel as I felt with her, wed to her and weightless, caught as if by a dance.’
“ ‘That and more.’ His hand tightened on mine. ‘Don’t turn away from it, come with me.’
And then they go off to the scene which ultimately becomes their undoing, and my heart fucking breaks. This entire scene is at last a beginning: Lestat has protracted pieces of dialogue instead of singular lines. He’s opening up about his life and his deeper thoughts in the way Louis always longed for him to do, and Louis is actually being open to Lestat’s perspective for a change (even if he describes it as feeling “dazed.” And then, as if that weren’t enough, they’re walking down the damn street holding hands while Lestat tries to ease Louis’ terror about damnation. They are TALKING TO ONE ANOTHER. THEY ARE TRYING.
Lestat’s speech about vampires “enslaving” one another is a pretty damning indicator of what he’s seen in his past, though when he recounts it he’s going to pretty up quite a few things and attribute CERTAIN PEOPLE with kinder motives than they probably (read: absolutely) deserve. But the fact that he says this to Louis now, coupled with how he behaves after, makes it seem less like gloating and more an attempt to change a flaw he’s recognized in himself. “Other vampires create hierarchies, but not me. I’m going to try and connect. I’m going to try and make him happy.”
And…and he does. Hold on, pause break while I weep for what’s coming.
They walk to a sickroom where orphans left behind by the plague are being held, and where Lestat has found the child Louis attacked. He pretends to be her father and then takes her back to their rooms, where he urges Louis to finish what he started. And Louis, remembering how entranced he was by her strong will to live, does. This proves to be part of Lestat’s plan, for when she’s almost empty of blood he takes her away and feeds her his own, making a tiny child vampire. Her name is Claudia, and it’s almost without doubt that she’s one of the first things people think of in regards to both book and film. Drawn from Rice’s experience of losing her own young daughter, she provides the powerful, anguished core of the novel.
“ ‘Yes, Claudia,’ he said. ‘They’re sick and they’re dead You see, they die when we drink from them.’ He came towards her and swung her up into his arms again. We stood there with her between us. I was mesmerized by her, by her transformed, by her every gesture. She was a child no longer, she was a vampire child. ‘Now, Louis was going to leave us,’ said Lestat, his eyes moving from my face to hers. ‘He was going to go away. But now he’s not. Because he wants to stay and take care of you and make you happy.’ He looked at me. ‘You’re not going, are you, Louis?’
“ ‘You bastard!’ I whispered to him. ‘You fiend!’
“ ‘Such language in front of your daughter,’ he said.
“ ‘I’m not your daughter,’ she said with the silvery voice. ‘I’m my mamma’s daughter.’
“ ‘No, dear, not anymore,’ he said to her. He glanced at the window, and then he shut the bedroom door behind us and turned the key in the lock. ‘You’re our daughter, Louis’s daughter and my daughter, do you see? Now, whom should you sleep with? Louis or me?’ And then looking at me, he said, ‘Perhaps you should sleep with Louis. After all, when I’m tired…I’m not so kind.’
AND THEN THAT HAPPENED. Yup, entrapment via child wasn’t quite enough, was it Lestat. You had to throw in that one last barb implying that Louis had better not leave this child he’s as instantly endeared to as a parent of their newborn, or Lestat might just up and decide to kill her. It is a monolith of dysfunction, truly awe-inspiring. And as I said, it’s made all the worse for the fact that Louis and Lestat were at last beginning to reach out to one another and form an honest connection literal hours before this impulse caused everything to take a sharp left turn.
Actual commercial release, this.
The story’s always been suited to a manga style
BUT NO, apparently Lestat’s brief moment of revelation turns right back into wielding leverage and fear as a means of maintaining emotional ties. Which, even before Claudia’s arc begins, necessitates a break here. Louis and Lestat can’t go on as they are; there’s common ground and connection there, but the damaging cocktail of codependency, miscommunication, and mistrust means they’re downright bad for one another without a long, long time apart to become better people with better senses of themselves (and while Lestat certainly bears the lion’s share of the blame, Louis does his fair share as far as his passive-aggressive refusal to voice his complaints until they’ve built up enough to explode in a fit of shouting or out and out violence, compounded by that combination martyr-superiority complex he’s carrying around with him).
And then there’s Claudia herself. She’ll be the major focus of our next dive into the book; as its strongest character, she more than deserves it. Louis notes at her turning that her body is to be forever frozen in its shape, an eternal five year old child.
Her mind, unfortunately for her, will not.
NEXT TIME: Things are happy for like five seconds, which of course means that we have to have a really giallo-worthy bloodletting to balance it out.