Before I understood the theory of semiotics, the way in which a word, an image, might change its meaning for an individual, based on its relevancy to past experiences and desires, I was always amazed, that, I equated so much comfort and sanctity with the idea of gardens. My meditations were not of a room down a long corridor, or a place in the desert, but, rather, of a dying garden, under a stormy sky, of hanging vines, roses, cracked paving stones, the cool air on my face, the smell of jasmine on the wind. Even now when I picture it, I feel calmer and, more exuberant, at once. Only now, later in my life, with my study of the sign, and my obsessively keen approach to vampire literature, can I see the ties between my sense of security, and the work of Anne Rice. The concept of the Savage Garden has permeated her novels since the very first, even before the term was coined by Lestat, the descriptions that are recalled most vividly by the majority of her readership, is the description of flowers, night-blooming flowers, and their fragrances and colours, and, the sounds they emit, the cicadas resting on them, the rustling… It evokes a deep sensuality for her words which, is oftentimes, overlooked, except by those looking for it.
Once one begins to seek out these references, they are hard to miss. And, the chapter of her latest novel, Prince Lestat, entitled, “Marius and the Flowers,” is intriguing, in that, the chapter seems to appear so innocuous, at first, until one scratches beneath the surface to uncover the subtle symbolism inherit in the piece.
As an amusing study, I Googled “Marius and the Flowers” and got…. Nothing, by way of explanations as to what I was looking for. Oh, I was inundated with florists… Apparently, florists are all christened with the name Marius – and I was treated to a Youtube video of Les Misérables’ “A Little Fall of Rain,” but, no insights into the seeming sadness of a most beloved vampire. I don’t like to see these little forays into Google as coincidental, however, so, I chose to incorporate what I uncovered into my findings, to attempt to make sense of this chapter, whose name instantly stood out for me among all the others. Wild flowers for Pandora. Roses and pearls for Bianca. Flowers are synonymous with women – the giving of them almost a praise of the female, with the female.
Firstly, I would like to review the actions in the chapter itself. We see Marius, again, for the first time in over a decade, and, as is to be expected, he is not with his former loved ones, but, rather, with Daniel, once his ward, now, it appears, his companion. Whatever unstable hierarchy previously existed in their relationship seems to have vanished in the space of ten years, with Marius being as paternal as ever, but, also, needing Daniel as much as the very young vampire needs the ancient. The Roman, as is also more than usual for the character, is surrounded by his regular tableau, paints and canvas. Even if his canvas is now the walls of the city. At this point, it’s interesting to note the lack of the use of first person in this novel. Lestat, of course, speaks from his heart, that is how the reader is used to perceiving him, but, the last time Marius was encountered, he too spoke of his own journey. Now, we revert back to hearing his voice through the omniscient narrator, instead of feeling his emotions ebb and flow as they do. This sets a subtle distance between the reader and the character. After a decade, it is almost a feeling of being… shut out. Of being locked behind glass, away from a loved one. Marius is lamenting a modern era, where he is forced to leave his designated “canvas” by city officials and law men, who do not approve of his colouring the walls of their city with the hues of his maddened mental state. Maddened of course by the resurgence of the Voice, calling him to exact terribly unguided justice on young blood drinkers.
Of course, Marius is too rational of mind to bow to these wishes. He allows his passions to leak from him through art – a possibly interesting statement on the calming effect artistic sway has over the mind’s tendencies towards hysteria in times of turmoil. Even in Marius’ tale, he retreats to the solitude of his studio when the world does not bend as he wishes it. Now, he lets his madness out through his art once more, making it ever more difficult for the Voice to use him against the young and the weak. When it is clear that the ancient will not do its bidding, the Voice leaves him with a mockingly lyrical taunt, “I have always so loved the flowers.”
Flowers, are, have always been, a symbol of thought, to those wounded, sick, loved, and admired. For so many reasons do we give flowers. And why? Because they are beautiful. Why does Marius paint them? He paints beauty. What forces the desire in him to go into a desert place and paint every surface he finds with more flowers, faces, limbs, stylised elements? The intent to make a barren thing, a plain thing, beautiful. To be left to his own devices, and to delve into beauty as he wishes. Possibly, even, to offer up those flowers to what he admires, solitude, and peace, when company eludes or disappoints him. To a creature that will, ostensibly, live forever, watch the earth crumble, flood, crumble again, humanity die out, or flee to another planet, flowers are the ultimate symbol of mortality. So beautiful, yet, so short-lived.
Flowers, traditionally, in terms of the Romantic period in literature itself, are a signifier of Nature, and the strident, impassioned dance of femininity versus the strictures of the rational male mind. This notion, of Marius, painting flowers, brings to mind his millennia-long chase, of his beloved Pandora, of seeking her out through – as the story of his own paintings tell, full of myth and folklore and a plethora of goddesses, all wearing Pandora’s face – the wilderness of the world, across lakes, through forests, and fields of flowers. Pandora, herself, is like that very stylised Romantic female, sharp-tongued, intelligent in a way far more knowing than her male counterpart, touching of nature on a basic level of understanding, and as tempestuous as the sea. Marius idolises her memory without ever realising that he does. He idolises her, as that unattainable, nonsensical female form of the natural world. Beautiful to look upon, but, nearly impossible to hold or keep.
Another strong woman, to whom the ancient offered his flowers, his buds of adoration, was the queen herself, Akasha. A shrine filled with vases of flowers. Walls painted with murals, of flowers, all in a quiet, unacknowledged worship of a deity that never demanded much more of him than that he keep her secrets. For a man too rational to worship, this seems the perfect relationship. He need never have really prayed to her, as, she never moved, questioned, or demanded. However, it was also a wearing relationship, on the Roman. Slowly crumbling his facade of stern sensibility in the face of all that might turn him from his staunch stability. And, most importantly, it is important to note the nature of the Voice. The very spirit residing in the Queen – quite possibly controlling her in every manner. Her silence, her unspoken demands, her decision to allow the keeper’s fledglings to drink from her, but, very few others. When it becomes clear to the reader that, Akasha’s mind was, more than likely, overridden by Amel, it also becomes clear that, many of her actions may have been his doing as well.
And, that little mocking taunt with which he parts ways with the Roman, “I have always so loved the flowers,” becomes that much more sinister. That, in proffering gifts of buds and petals to Akasha, Marius was under the scrutiny of the Voice all along.