It was exactly as she described it.
Gnarled oak roots curled and clawed their way to the surface
cracking the sidewalk in a seeming effort to trip up, even
block, any and all visitors. The somber lavender-gray walls
rose as sharp and straight as a blade out of damp dirt that
surely only two centuries ago must have been marsh land. Four
white columns striped the front, but instead of reminding
me of the Greek temple from which the architect borrowed,
they reminded me more of trapping, sapping prison bars. And
the black wrought iron fence, both surrounding the yard and
crossing the balconies, looked as clotted as a spider web
heavy with flies and gnawing gnats.
The flagstone, uneven, dark, might as well have been winding
me into the very mouth of hell as leading me up to and around
this house. While unexpectedly clean, the pool looked less
inviting for a cool, refreshing dip and more like it was the
river Styx itself-I would not have been surprised to see Charon
rowing across it-or perhaps it looked more like it was the
pool featured in the opening scene of Sunset Boulevard-I
would neither have been surprised to find a dead body floating
in it, face down.
As Sue Tebbe, executive assistant to bestselling Anne Rice,
lead me around the grounds of the novelist's mansion, the
same mansion featured in The Witching Hour, I had an
While critics often praise Toni Morrison for the concrete,
immediate, and well-developed sense of place in her novels,
they could just as well praise Anne Rice for this same skill.
As we wander through the pages of The Witching Hour,
we likewise wander through the Garden District of downtown
New Orleans. She deftly creates the gloomy grandeur of the
same fading families that floated across the pages of such
great twentieth century writers as Tennessee Williams and
William Faulkner. As I stood in front of the house on First
Street, the house that she had described so accurately in
her novel, I could have sworn I saw Deirdre Mayfair herself
sitting on the porch with a man in a brown suit with brown
eyes and brown hair leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.
I also realized that Rice's own environment does much to
inspire her dark imagination. The nearly daily rain, the suffocating
humidity, the swarming mosquitoes, the peeling, old mansions-witnesses
to so many dead, the wicked Spanish moss. Even the old orphanage,
St. Elizabeth's, Rice purchased but a few blocks away, reeks
of tragic, parent-less circumstance, of strict nuns rapping
knuckles with rulers, of cold Dickensian porridge.
Anne Rice vividly portrays place in her novels, but the place
within which she lives eases that task as it is as dark, as
rich, as nefarious as anything she might wish to describe.
After walking around her house on First Street, I can agree
that it indeed looks, as she describes it in her novel, like
"a breeding place of evil."