Sexualized Saturdays: Subverting the Lolita Trope in Interview with the Vampire

(Trigger warning for discussion of pedophilia and rape apology.)

The sexualization of young girls is an ongoing issue in our society, and it constantly trickles down into our pop culture. Every day someone misreads Lolita as a romantic story, and every day someone has inappropriate thoughts about the Sailor Scouts (who are thirteen in the narrative, FYI). In recent months both Marvel and DC have come under fire for sexualizing young female characters; DC for the cover of Teen Titans #1, which featured a ludicrously busty Wonder Girl in an inappropriate-for-battle tube top, and Marvel for including a controversial scene where Falcon sleeps with a character who claims to suddenly be twenty-three after having been portrayed as a teenager for years.

In real life, the people who commit sex crimes against young, sexualized girls often defend themselves by saying the girls acted older, or were mature for their age—even that they led the offenders on. That they were mentally older than their physical appearance would state. This is some hot, rape-apologist bullshit, but characters like this—actual adult women trapped in childlike bodies—do exist in pop culture. An easy example is the Batman: The Animated Series villain Baby Doll, an actress who, because of her childlike appearance, can only play kids’ parts, and who longs for nothing more than to be treated as an adult woman. These stories tend to walk a fine line between subverting and confirming the idea that young girls can “ask for it”. On one hand, these characters are presented as tragic figures who struggle with their situation, and so we want to root for them to be treated as adults; on the other hand, the Venn diagram of people you want to have a relationship with and people who want to have romantic/sexual relations with children’s bodies are two circles that don’t touch. I started thinking about this trend a few days ago, after rewatching Interview with the Vampire for the thousandth time.

ClaudiaMovie In Interview, the vampires Louis and Lestat turn a young girl they name Claudia after they find her dying of plague. They take her in and treat her as their daughter, lavishing her with dresses and dolls and all sorts of gifts, but things rapidly take a turn for the worse. Because Claudia was turned as a child, she will never get any older physically. At first she does behave just like any spoiled kid might, but she soon begins to age mentally. Louis and Lestat continue to treat her as though she’s still a ten-year-old, and it becomes clear that her creation was not so much out of pity, but rather another play in the constant back and forth between the two men.

Even when she lashes out and tries to kill Lestat, she’s still scolded as though she’s an errant child and not an equal who almost successfully murdered her cohort. She suffers constantly because she’s trapped in her young body, unable to be taken seriously or to have any sort of meaningful romantic or sexual connection with someone her mental equal; even unable to make the most superficial of changes to her appearance. (And that’s on top of the baseline distance she’s expected to keep from other non-vampires.) interview_dead from the sunWhen Louis and Claudia finally meet another group of vampires, that group is appalled that Claudia even exists, because creating child vampires is understood as verboten in the larger vampire community. (The fact that she made an attempt on Lestat’s life leaves her even worse in their graces). In the end, they kidnap her from Louis and leave her out in the sun to die—a tragic end for a tragic character.

Looking at Claudia, you can see that she does embody the idea of a girl who appears young but acts and thinks like someone much older. She’s wily and engaging, and while neither Lestat nor Louis’s interest in her is carnal, she is capable of holding the attention of a much older man. Looking at it one way, she’s more of the Lolita ideal than Dolores Haze herself, because she really is a woman who looks like a child but is capable of thinking like an adult (unlike Lolita‘s titular character, who’s just made to look that way because of an unreliable narrator). In theory, this could serve to reaffirm the societal idea that young girls can be temptresses—Claudia is exactly the sort of young-but-mature character that pedophiles victimize, but with the added benefit of actually being mentally older.

But Claudia is more important as a character because she subverts this trope. The narrative shows us that a woman’s intellect in a child’s body is not remotely sexy—it’s horrifyingly tragic, and would result in tremendous psychological scarring for someone who is forced to experience it. And while Claudia may long to have an adult body, the movie never portrays her in such a way that her young body is sexualized in an adult way. The narrative is intent on driving home the idea that this situation is tragic and wrong. (It helps that anyone who does try to victimize this ‘little girl’ end up as dinner.) 

claudia madeleineDigging deeper, it also shows us that, when adult men take young girls’ bodily autonomy into their own hands, it will end in tragedy. If Louis had not drunk from Claudia’s dying body, and Lestat had not turned her on a whim, Claudia would never have been put in this situation. She is the child Lestat and Louis had as an attempt to fix their marriage, basically, and like most children conceived for said reason, she suffers for it. When she insists on her own autonomy, rather than allowing herself to still be treated as their doll, they lose interest in her, and when she lashes out, she pays with her life. In the books, a fellow vampire makes a last-chance attempt to give her an adult body before she is put to death for attempting to murder Lestat, but he’s unsuccessful and she is locked away in the sun. Would she have died in the plague house if Louis had not found her? Almost certainly, but the alternative is almost as grim, and ended in death anyway.

In the end, I’d prefer if we didn’t have this adult-women-in-children’s-bodies trope at all (and it’s almost exclusively women that fall victim to it). It’s too easy for a badly-written or misunderstood incarnation to feed into the sexualization of young girls rather than subverting it. But the trope is handled very carefully in Interview with the Vampire, and while Claudia’s story is pitiable, it’s also a refreshing departure from other Lolita-inspired plots.

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1 thought on “Sexualized Saturdays: Subverting the Lolita Trope in Interview with the Vampire

  1. For a take on the male version of this trop, have your heard of the Highlander TV episode with Kenny, who’s been 10 years old for 800 years? It brings up a lot of the same issues, including the utter horror of the situation.

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