Things are terrifying right now, I know. I’m scared too, and I can’t make the threats coming down the pipe go away. But I can try to distract you with some queer, trashy vampires, and I intend to give that my all.
When last we left off, Lestat had popped up in 1980s New Orleans (which was a PARADISE for WOMEN AND MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES, JUST THE BEST); discovered that Louis had aired all their dirty laundry told filthy lies about him, and decided that the only sensible response would be to write his autobiography and ALSO become a rock star in hopes that Louis will catch wind of what’s up and take him back.
And now, from the prologue that makes no fucking sense as to how and where it exists narratively (was it published in a subsequent edition of the autobiography? Is it a piece of the in-universe sequel? Did someone not think this through in the midst of thinking it would be neato to have Lestat talk to the reader?), we’re no plunging into the text of the book Lestat wrote and published himself. With the help of his lawyer that he has and also the millions of dollars that come from being super old. Probably with minimal help from editors, because they just slow the CREATIVE PROCESS down, am I right?
By the way, you can tell he didn’t have sufficient oversight, because the laborious in-universe title of this autobiography is The Early Education and Adventures of The Vampire Lestat. I guess A Portrait of the Vampire as a Young Man was a little too on the nose.
We open on a fragrant pile of bullshit.
In the winter of my twenty-first year, I went out alone on horseback to kill a pack of wolves.
Now, I very rarely see this fact called into question, despite the fact that it’s the single most unbelievable, self-aggrandizing opener in the business. But Lestat said it, and in future books he never records anyone calling this into question (…in the books where he’s the narrator, the writer, and presumably the editor, with total control over what gets told), so clearly it must be objective fact.
Yeah, lemme just put on my skepticals here
This thing about trying to pull this brick out is that it’s pretty foundational to everything Lestat tells us about his mortal life. He killed the wolves, which is why his family finally had to respect him. The townspeople were so awed that they made him a beautiful cloak out of the pelts. Everyone recognized him as a hero, and that coat was so beautiful and arresting with its red lining that when he wore it Armand initially mistook him for master elder vampire Marius (who always wears red velvet, and whom Lestat blatantly adores – in other words, in his mind the single most flattering person he could be compared to).
In fact, as Lestat tells it this brave, brave act of killing this wolf pack was the reason he was chosen to be made a vampire. This act that was SO BRAVE and SO FEARSOME that he was picked out special for eternal life, because he was worthy. It all sounds pretty good, right? Nothing at all like the petty, vulnerable tempest of a man that Louis described. It all falls cleanly into place. In one stroke, everything that happened in the first 21 years of Lestat’s life, his long lost mortality, makes sense as a beautiful story where everything comes together to build to this inevitable conclusion.
Except that’s not how life works. Life is a series of events we all struggle through and try to make sense of later, our minds naturally trying to string together a sense of cause and effect to explain how we got to where we are. When we read fiction, we accept that we’re reading life with the boring bits cut out – things make sense, characters have contained arcs, and there IS discernable cause and effect, because we read fiction partly to make sense of life and ourselves.
So if this were just a book about a vampire who happens to be Cool and Awesome and Such, without any layers on top of that, it would be one thing to just shrug and accept that. But it’s not. This is series where previous installments all exist in-universe. It’s a book that opens with a prologue wherein our narrator specifically declares his intent to tell a TRUE AND CORRECT version of the story, with the implicit agenda of making himself the hero. It reminds us of the mechanisms of story and how they’re put together. And it does it by giving us an actor as a storyteller, someone with a knack for pleasing the crowd and knowing how a story is shaped to be satisfying (as opposed to Louis, who was a philosopher but not a performer). A liar by trade, in other words, is our Lestat.
Having laid out the thesis on why this major narrative element is a bunch of crap, let’s jump back into it and pick out the “real” along the way.
These were bitter years for me. My father was the Marquis [of Auvergne], and I was the seventh son and the youngest of the three who had lived to manhood. I had no claim to the title or the land, and no prospects. Even in a rich family, it might have been that way for a younger boy, but our wealth had been used up long ago. My eldest brother, Augustin, who was the rightful heir to all we possessed, had spent his wife’s small dowry as soon as he married her.
My father’s castle, his estate, and the village nearby were my entire universe. And I’d been born restless – the dreamer, the angry one, the complainer. I wouldn’t sit by the fire and talk of old wars and the days of the Sun King. History had no meaning for me.
Lestat is big into not caring about history. He mentions it again like two pages later. But we’re meant to trust his true account of the past few centuries without even a little bit of question. Yeah. Okay (PS I’m not including the shot he takes at how in the 18th century men were wearing hose and powdered wigs but he’s done up like a MANLY HUNTING MAN, but I am remembering his adoration for fine and fancy things in the Rue Royale years; Lestat, come on, you can admit you like pretty things and still be “manly,” as long as we’re pretending that word has any intrinsic meaning).
A manful sparkle boy
Back, for a moment, to the aftermath of the Very Real Wolves. Lestat tells us of his glorious battle, where he went out in his family’s historic armor with a bunch of muskets and a flail and a sword and was definitely able to stand up and also maneuver in deep snow despite having never trained with that much weight, and then he comes tramping bruised and bloody back to the castle after his dogs are dead and he’s sad but triumphant and whatnot. He’s got some serious PTSD wafting about him (“By the time I reached the castle gates, I think I was not Lestat. I was someone else altogether…”), but he manages to relay the tale to his assembled family.
Oh wait, I’m wrong. There is one person who thinks that Lestat’s story isn’t true.
“You little bastard,” [Augustin] said coldly. “You didn’t kill eight wolves!” His face had an ugly disgusted look to it.
But the remarkable thing was this: Almost as soon as he spoke these words, he realized for some reason that he had made a mistake.
He started to babble something about how incredible, and I must have been almost killed, and would the servants heat some broth for me immediately, and all of that sort of thing, but it was no good. What had happened in that one single moment was irreparable, and the next thing I knew I was lying alone in my room.
Ah, I see. Lestat’s childhood tormentor didn’t believe him, therefore we are cads if we likewise do not. Clever. But the wolves don’t really matter to the poignancy of this moment – it feels almost as though this stands in for twenty one years of being ignored and belittled and shut down, none as big and grand as one moment of obvious heroism like the one we’re presented with, but no less battering on Lestat’s young psyche. In other words, while the events of this moment might be fabricated, the emotions of it are real.
This is as good a time as any to actually give this boy credit: Lestat’s a compelling protagonist underneath all his bluster. As he says, he’s the youngest son of a family of disgraced nobles left to rot, unable to leave them behind because he’s in charge of doing the family’s hunting. He’s angry at feeling trapped by this life he hates, and as he lies alone we’re told of the times he tried to get away.
Through this, we’re introduced to Lestat’s one ally throughout his childhood: his mother, Gabrielle, who is an untouchable queen and none of us deserve her. Don’t get too attached, though, because Anne doesn’t like her; meaning that after her part of the backstory she doesn’t appear much. We call this being Daniel’d.
So, this is Gabrielle. She is the best.
I had a great and unshakable love of her. I don’t think anyone else did. And one thing that endeared her to me always was that she never said anything ordinary.
She read all the time; in fact, she was the only one in our family who had any education, and when she did speak it was really to speak.
They’re two of a kind, both trapped in a place they can’t get away from and far smarter and more imaginative than the men who hold the actual power in the house. Gabrielle came up as an educated noblewoman living in Italy shipped off to the asscrack of France’s countryside to marry a man that she certainly doesn’t love now, if she ever did. She bore seven children and watched four of them die, and still unwaveringly stood by the youngest whom she saw herself in. But she DIDN’T HUG HIM ENOUGH BECAUSE IT’S COUNTER TO HER PERSONALITY, SO FUCK HER I GUESS. THANKS ANNE.
Lestat does have some resentment of his mother – while she’s able to read and write she didn’t have the patience to teach him and by all appearances never tried, locking him out of the things that were such a comfort to her in their shared hellish experience. But he also acknowledges that she’s the only ally he ever had. At around 12 Lestat tried to do a not uncommon thing for the third son of a noble-born family: go to a monastery and join the priesthood. And it was Gabrielle who went to bat for him.
I would go, she said, if I wanted to. And she sold one of her jewels to pay for my books and clothing. Her jewels had all come down to her from an Italian grandmother and each had its story, and this was a hard thing for her to do. But she did it immediately.
Lestat takes vociferously to learning to read and write and to the general life of the monastery, leading to a phrase that never fails to break my heart.
When I was corrected, which wasn’t often, I knew an intense happiness because someone for the first time in my life was trying to make me into a good person, one who could learn things.
THIS. This is the Lestat I love, the one I find truly relatable and endearing: a neglected, emotionally and physically abused kid starving for affirmation; someone who wants to be good and to help others but deep down fails to believe he’s worthy or capable of these thing, who keeps trying anyway with this impossibly open heart to the few people who bothered to show him an ounce of kindness (and boy does he have a low bar – wait til we get to his boyfriend). This person is infinitely more interesting to me than the posturing, do-no-wrong rock star with a new power for every day of the week that the later books fell in love with. Lestat is fascinating when he fucks up and knows it and keeps trying, without the books breaking their spine to try and justify why he was never wrong in the first place.
STOP IT ANNE
Alas, the monastery life doesn’t last long. Lestat tries to declare his vocation, and his brothers come and drag him home (his middle brother and father are never referred to by name, incidentally). They tell him he was an idiot, and Lestat begins a long career of resenting the hell out of people who tell him not to go after things he wants.
Translate all that to mean this: We have no money to launch a real ecclesiastical career for you, to make you a bishop or a cardinal as befits our rank, so you have to live out your life here as an illiterate and a beggar. Come in the great hall and play chess with your father.
And lo, the seeds of Lestat’s FUCK YOU, I’LL DO WHAT I WANT attitude were sown. Seeing her son in torment over the loss of something that made him happy, Gabrielle continues to be the best by taking him out and buying him giant dogs to breed and train and his first musket for hunting, thus providing his one reliable escape up into adulthood, because she is a person who shows her affection through acts rather than words and physical intimacy.
Fast forward a few years, and 16 year old Lestat discovers the marvels of acting when a troupe of traveling actors rolls into the village. They’re players in the commedia dell’arte, an Italian theatrical form wherein each actor in the troupe will have a standard, established archetype they play (the lovers, the pervy old man, the lusty maid, etc), and then all of the actual shows are improvised. Considering that this is a form of art that offers the chance to control one’s situation and the reactions of others, creating an image of yourself for them to admire, Lestat takes to it immediately.
You knew your name, your character, and you understood him and made him speak and act as you thought he should. That was the genius of it.
I went into the wagon with the players and examined all the costumes and the painted scenery, and when we were drinking again at the tavern, they let me act out Lelio, the young lover to Isabella, and they clapped their hands and said I had the gift. I could make it up the way they did.
I thought this was all flattery at first, but in some very real way it didn’t matter whether or not it was flattery.
Being a teenager and thus a reliable maker of good decisions, Lestat decides that the only thing for it is to run away with them and take up a life of acting. They sneak him out with them as they leave town the next day, and he gets to give one whole performance in the next town before his brothers show up again to drag him back home. Perfectly horrific, you see, to take up a shameful job like ACTING.
I was beaten severely, and when I cursed everyone, I was beaten again.
The worst punishment, however, was seeing the look on my mother’s face I hadn’t even told her I was going. And I had wounded her, a thing that had never really happened before.
But she never said anything about it.
Gabrielle de Lioncourt once cried a single tear
Tragically she wasted it on the agony of almost dying in childbirth, leaving none to make her angsty teenager son feel better about himself
And if it doesn’t come up, you can carry on acting like everything is fine! Just worry about your own wants and don’t worry about trying to suss out the emotional needs of others. This little flashback sequence ends on a bit of chilling note. For all Lestat talks about wanting to correct Louis’ story, in two paragraphs he himself lays out the exact mindset that will someday lead to the fraught family situation in the Rue Royale.
I became a little crueler for what had happened, and I never, never went to the village fair. I conceived of the notion that I should never get away from here, and oddly enough as my despair deepened, so my usefulness increased.
I alone put the fear of God into the servants or tenants by the time I was eighteen. I alone provided the food for us. And for some strange reason this gave me satisfaction. I don’t know why, but I liked to sit at the table and reflect that everyone there was eating what I had provided.
You’re happy because you’ve been forcibly made helpless throughout your entire childhood and come to see not just your abusers but anyone who tells you “no” as an oppressor, leading your to seek control in the petty details of others’ lives as a means of asserting your own sense of worth and reminding people that they need you (because you are afraid that they don’t and will realize this).
I’VE SOLVED YOUR CHARACTERIZATION PUZZLE, LESTAT.
All of this brings us back around to Gabrielle visiting Lestat in the wake of the Totally Real Wolves debacle, wherein Lestat tells us that the two of them aren’t just kindred souls but are in fact close enough in appearance that they could be twins. Also, Gabs has had a cough all winter but don’t worry about it. She’s fine.
Lestat talks a bit more about how he resents her – she can read fluently, he’s really only basic at it, and she has people outside of the castle she can write to and hear exciting stories from but he’s not allowed to meet any new people. Also, he resents her for being stoic while he’s extremely expressive. Lestat…is not good at recognizing that different people have different ways of processing. This is fairly understandable now, when he’s barely more than a dumb teenager. It will be less understandable but equally true in a few centuries.
Oh, and in the middle of this quality time, Lestat admits to having some Concerning Thoughts.
Finally I was convinced that she wouldn’t get up and go away, and I found myself to speaking to her.
“Mother,” I said in a low voice, “there is more to it. Before it happened, there were times when I felt terrible things.” There was no change in her expression. “I mean I dream sometimes that I might kill all of them,” I said. “I kill my brothers and my father in the dreams. I go from room to room slaughtering them as I did the wolves. I feel in myself the desire to murder…”
“So do I, my son,” she said. “So do I.” And her face was lighted with the strangest smile as she looked at me.
Dramatic reenactment in progress
Lestat’s afraid that he doesn’t know who he is anymore, himself or this wild resentful impulse to hurt others. Gabrielle tells him that he doesn’t need to kill everyone or go out of his mind in order to get away, which is both a revelation and a relief after all the years where that was…super not true. And she rewards his openness with her own confidence.
“You know what I imagine,” she said, looking towards me again. “Not so much the murdering of them as an abandon which disregards them completely. I imagine drinking wine until I’m so drunk I strip off my clothes and bathe in the mountain streams naked.”
“And then I imagine going into the village,” she said, “and up into the inn and taking into my bed any men that come there – crude men, big men, old men, boys. Just lying there and taking them one after another, and feeling some magnificent triumph in it, some absolute release without a thought of what happens to your father or your bothers, whether they are alive or dead. In that moment I am purely myself. I belong to no one.”
WELL THERE’S A BIT THERE TO UNPACK, ISN’T THERE. Of course there’s the surface fact that our two twins, at least bound by mortality as they are now (which will change down the line, gloriously), are also bound by things that are acceptable for a Man and a Woman – he thinks of escaping through violence, her through sex.
But deeper than that, it highlights the complete opposition in their worldviews despite the similar framing. They’re both imagining extravagant, showy reactions at odds with what’s socially acceptable, but his is still based on a need to be seen and recognized. Implicit in it is that his victims will know it’s him, and presumably what they’ve done to deserve it, and he’ll get to feel the satisfaction of bringing it all down. For Gabrielle, none of the people in her fantasy matter except for herself, and the freedom to completely throw away what’s expected of her. Her freedom doesn’t need anyone. This will be a bone of contention, shall we say, in future.
Oh, and she closes this little mother-son bonding session by telling him that she’s dying, probably won’t live through the spring, don’t worry about it though son. You just worry about getting out of here.
NEXT TIME: Lestat’s super great artistic deep (hipster) boyfriend arrives and they make a break for Paris, where things go just swell