“We all suffer under a curse, the curse that we know more than we can endure, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing we can do about the force and the lure of this knowledge.”
– Anne Rice, Vittorio, the Vampire
Vittorio, the Vampire is a novel from the short-lived spin-off to The Vampire Chronicles series, entitled New Tales of the Vampires. It is the only work of Anne Rice’s vampire literature to stand entirely on its own, the story of a vampire who in no way equates himself with the Coven of the Articulate. Who, in fact, has gifts that might seem incomprehensible to those others who so easily put pen to paper.
The tale is woven, as with the others, from Vittorio’s tight first-person perspective, offering the reader a glimpse of the vampire’s mind which is both attentive to detail and prone to digression into the wonders of the era in which he was born, as well as the horrors of what befell him and his family. The true beginning of his story is the burning image that he sears into the mind, of a nightmare in which the severed heads of his young siblings stare blindly at him. This, compiled with his assertion that he is not happy, that, five hundred years later he would not write the reader a story of a happy vampire, promises a grisly story.
In the year 1450, Vittorio di Raniari is a sixteen year old nobleman in the northern part of Tuscany where his father is the lord of a vast portion of lands. His family is slaughtered by vampires, though he does not yet realise what they are, and he alone survives by the intervention of one of these creatures, presumably because of his striking beauty. Vittorio’s nightmare of his siblings severed heads comes true in this gruesome telling and, of course, it is this image among the others of bloodshed, which spurs him towards revenge.
He gathers what riches he can find that remain from his family’s wealth and flees on his mission towards Florence, arriving, at nightfall, in a strange village. The village harbours no sick, or dying, or elderly, or poor. In essence, it is the image of perfection, only the robust and healthy stalking its streets, though Vittorio, in his grief and fear seems not to notice. He spends the night in an inn where he is seduced by the vampire that initially prevented his death at the hands of her coven, Ursula. Ursula leads Vittorio to an ancient castle, slipping him in among her coven with the intention of having him turned into something like herself, whether it be out of loneliness or in awe of his beauty or a combination of both. Vittorio watches as a feast begins, the vampires selecting sacrifices from an array of victims, all of them weak, sick, elderly, poor, and he realises why the village has been so blessedly free of riff-raff. Vittorio discovers that the village has a deal with the vampires. That the good people will be left in peace, if, by night, no one stirs as the monsters come to take away their ‘unsavoury’ citizens. These souls are then kept in a coop of sorts, fattened and pacified on broth infused with vampire blood.
The protagonist’s description of the court in which he finds himself, the Court of the Ruby Grail, fashioned after French nobility and lazy finery without intent, is dizzying and hallucinatory, as one would expect from a mortal in the purview of so many mercurial vampires. Especially a mortal boy sick with the desire for vengeance and confusion in the face of the supernatural. He describes the music as dull and repetitive, the faces of the monsters around him as bored with sharp spikes of cruelty. As Ursula attempts to introduce him to her world, Vittorio strikes out and severs the head of one such monster which creates an uproar and dents her plans to endear her lover to her coven. The leader of their troupe, Florian, a beautiful youth with long pampered blonde hair is clearly not fond of the mortal boy, this is especially exacerbated by the fact that Ursula, as it turns out, is Florian’s wife and child.
But, regardless of his displeasure, Florian bends to Ursula’s wishes and offers Vittorio immortality. The boy, enraged, declines the offer and is left weakened and sick on the streets of the village that feeds the parasitic coven.
As he tries to devise his plan from this point, Vittorio spies two beings arguing in a doorway. These two creatures are surprised that the boy can see them. Their nature as angels, and the guardians of his idol, Fra Filippo Lippi, becomes clear, and they inform him that he too, has guardians, that every person has two angels to watch over them. It is with the help of these two, Ramiel and Setheus, as well as his own angels, and a fifth, awe-inspiring figure cloaked in shining armor, Mastema, that the vengeful son strives to take his vengeance on the Court of the Ruby Grail. Notably, Vittorio’s own angels are present, but they appear as insubstantial, shadowy, and the reader never even learns their names. This is forewarning of the instability of the hero’s future. If Vittorio’s guardians cannot stand and be seen and noted by the reader, then how will they ever guard him from the machinations of those monsters that wish him dead?
He carries out his plan in the daylight hours, working tirelessly to decapitate each member of the coven that killed his family and throwing their heads into the sunlight. But when he comes to Ursula, he stays his hand, hesitates just long enough for her mind to ensnare him, in spite of Ramiel and Setheus’ pleas that he execute his task quickly and efficiently.
Ursula tricks Vittorio into becoming a vampire, filling his mind with visions of the two of them in the sunlight, in fields, as lovers, and when he comes to, he is as undead as the vampires he sought to destroy.
Vittorio’s uniqueness of character comes from his very human ability to see these angels, and also to see the retribution that they visit upon him for the crime of not carrying out the sacred duty they tasked him with. The angels are furious that he did not kill Ursula, that he believed he could save her soul instead, allowing her to ensnare him with her beauty and visions of herself as a human girl. He never ceases to see the angels, though he tries to flee from them, taking Ursula with him as they run from place to place, drinking and killing and trying to escape Vittorio’s demons. Only, in this sense, his demons are in no way figments of his mind.
Nor are they demonic. But rather heavenly.
When the angels do corner him, their retribution is not the fiery kind of vengeful smiting either. Rather his punishment is to be the psychological dismay of seeing each human soul depart from his victims as he takes their lives. Vittorio is cursed to spy in every human upon whom he feeds, the creator’s light, and to witness his murder as the departure of spirit.
The novel Vittorio the Vampire is evidentially a precursor to later angel tales and an insightful follow-on from Memnoch, the Devil. Where the vampire is blatantly punished simply for being what he is, for allowing himself to succumb to the ensorceling beauty and whit of a monster. But the question must remain, do his actions preclude him from Goodness? Or is the fact that he feels dismay when he sees a soul depart beneath his hands a sign that he, himself, is in possession of a Good spirit?
Often the angels are depicted as cold so as to almost be cruel, bitter and self-righteous, and the actions of these celestial beings are no different as they entrap him with this curse, almost, not as a punishment for being monstrous, but as punishment for not heeding their words. The possibility is evident, that Vittorio’s ability to feel remorse, to proclaim himself as evil, is, in fact, a sign of inherent Goodness. That only a being capable of Good can perceive its actions as Evil.