Welcome to 17th Street

Welcome to 17th Street, a website dedicated to Caleb Carr and the Alienist books. It features the latest Caleb Carr news, a full author biography and interview list, book summaries and timelines for The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness along with synopses Caleb Carr's other work, analyses of the characters from the Alienist books, and information on the real history behind the Alienist books. Navigation for this site is at the top, showing the different sections of the site. Relevant links within the section (if applicable) will show up in the left column.

Latest News

Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler: A Travel Blog – Part Two

View Part One and Part Two of Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler: A Travel Blog.

As regular visitors would be aware, I took a slightly different approach with the 17th Street blog last week by posting up an account of my recent Alienist-related travels that took me from Toronto, down through New York state following the Hudson River, before finally arriving on the Upper West Side of New York City. This week, I conclude my travel blog with an account of the second half of my holiday in New York, predominantly spent in the historic districts around Union Square where I was finally able to visit the locations that make up the heart of the Alienist novels. Enjoy!

The Inn At Irving Place

Following my short walk in Central Park with thunder rolling in the distance and storm clouds threatening, I moved from my hotel on the Upper West Side to my second hotel in the East 17th Street/Irving Place Historic District where I stayed for my final five nights in the city. When I had originally decided that I wanted to spend at least a portion of my trip down in the Union Square area, I looked at a number of different hotel options but ultimately couldn’t go past The Inn at Irving Place.

Ideally situated, the boutique hotel offered an experience I would not get anywhere else: an opportunity to get a taste of my favourite characters’ lifestyles by staying in a restored New York brownstone located only two blocks from Gramercy Park to the north, two blocks from Stuyvesant Square to the east, and one block from Union Square to the west. After checking in with the manager whose desk was located in the front parlor (see photos 3-4 below), I stayed in the “O Henry room” (see photos 6-12 below) which was tastefully appointed with genuine antiques and was well-proportioned, quiet, and had an unexpectedly large bathroom (for New York City). Located at the back of the brownstone on the second floor, the room had a pleasant view of the terrace and surrounding buildings (see photo 13 below). My regular breakfast spot in the tea room on the first floor also offered a delightful view, both inside and out (see photos 14-15 below).

All in all, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice of hotel and highly recommend it for any Alienist readers or lovers of history who want to experience life from an earlier time in a restored New York brownstone. Watch the steps, though — they are steep! (Something I experienced later on at the Merchant’s House Museum, too.)

Given the storm that had moved in, I decided to stay close to the hotel for the rest of the day by getting a spot of lunch at Barnes & Noble on Union Square before going for a wander across to a very wet Stuyvesant Square where I saw an astonishing number of squirrels — a novelty for this Australian, and the most I had seen in any one spot during my entire trip! — until I finally admitted defeat and retreated back to The Inn. I couldn’t help feeling on this first afternoon as I listened to the thunder overhead and saw the trees outside my window being blown around that I had been transported into the summer storm described in Chapter 53 of The Angel of Darkness which the characters quietly wait out in the safety of Dr. Kreizler’s home, watching the wind-tossed trees in Stuyvesant Square across the road. | Continue reading →

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Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler: A Travel Blog – Part One

View Part One and Part Two of Following The Footsteps of Dr. Kreizler: A Travel Blog.

Coinciding with our author’s 60th birthday today (many happy returns, Mr. Carr!), I have something a little different to offer for 17th Street’s visitors this week. For the past three months, I have been away from my Australian home and hearth for work-related travel in Canada. Given my close proximity to New York during this trip, I decided to take the opportunity to add on two weeks of pleasure-related travel at the end of the trip for a holiday in New York City — my first ever visit to the city! The following two-part blog series documents the Alienist-related components of my travel. Although I have tried to focus these blogs on locations visited during the books, I have also included a few other historical attractions that might be of interest to readers of the Alienist books even though they are not directly relevant to the books. So, without further ado, I invite you to join me as I follow the footsteps of Dr. Kreizler and the rest of the team on my holiday in Canada and New York.

The Bata Shoe Museum

The first attraction that I want to document might be the only one not located in New York state, but it is also the only one that quite literally involves following the footsteps of Dr. Kreizler — or, at least, Sara Howard. Those of you who have ever visited the History section of 17th Street will know that I have long adored historical clothing, particularly 19th century clothing, so you can imagine my excitement when I saw, on my final day in Toronto, that the Bata Shoe Museum was featuring an exhibition (until June of 2016) on “the pleasures and perils of dress in the 19th century.” The “Fashion Victims” exhibition showcases the Bata Shoe Museum’s collection of 19th century footwear along with a smaller but no less stunning array of matching dresses and under garments, including a pair of the Empress Elisabeth of Austria’s impossibly narrow shoes and gloves, and a beautiful but deadly Emerald green ball gown containing arsenic.

Although the exhibition featured footwear and clothing from as early as 1820, the photos I have shown here are a small selection of my favourite footwear exhibited from the late 19th century, not unlike those Sara would have kept in her wardrobe for more formal occasions; she presumably would have also kept a wide selection of more practical footwear for her day to day and sporting activities — not to mention the nail-studded climber’s boots we see her don in Chapter 2 of The Angel of Darkness. From left to right, the photos shown below include: a pair of elegant embroidered boots created by the firm of the most famous French shoe manufacturer of the late 19th century, Jean-Louis Francois Pinet, from approximately 1885; a pair of calf-hugging handmade, bespoke Swedish or German boots designed to look like a stockinged leg from the 1890s; a pair of button boots made with brocaded fabric (an alternative to the embroidery seen on the other boots in these photos) from the 1870s; a mass-produced boot made by the Parisian shoe manufacturer L. P. Perchellet with its original shoe box from 1875; and a stunning embroidered boot also created by Jean-Louis Francois Pinet from the 1880s.

In addition to the Fashion Victims exhibition (worth the price of admission alone), while I was there the museum also featured exhibitions of footwear through the ages, “the curious history of men in heels,” footwear of famous individuals donated to the museum, and something that probably would have been of great interest to Franz Boas and Clark Wissler: an exhibition of native North American footwear. As enjoyable as those exhibitions all were, as they weren’t relevant to the Alienist books I haven’t included any photos here. However, if you happen to be in Toronto at any stage in the future and have an interest in historical clothing, I can highly recommend that you allocate half a day to visit the museum. It was, without question, one of the highlights of my three month trip.

A Journey Down The Hudson River

After departing Toronto, I travelled by train down to Niagara Falls where I spent a day and night (an amazing experience that I would highly recommend if you ever get the chance) before embarking on a nine hour rail journey via Amtrak’s Empire Line down through New York state to New York City. While the first half of the journey took us through several hours worth of pretty if somewhat unremarkable farming scenery along with the occasional (mostly industrial) view of cities like Buffalo and Syracuse, the second half of the journey — from Albany onwards — saw the train snake alongside the Hudson River until we reached New York City, and this was unquestionably another of the highlights of my trip. I had been utterly unprepared for the size and beauty of the Hudson and mountains that lay beyond, bringing to mind my all-time favourite quote from either of the two Alienist books, spoken by the ever insightful Stevie Taggert.

The Angel of Darkness, Chapter 13:

“But it wasn’t any attempt at being rational that finally mended my spirits; no, it was the sight of the river itself, which always made me feel, somehow, like there was hope. She has that quality, does the Hudson, as I imagine all great rivers do: the deep, abiding sense that those activities what take place on shore among human beings are of the moment, passing, and aren’t the stories by way of which the greater tale of this planet will, in the end, be told…”

Nevertheless, those of you who have read The Angel of Darkness will know that the majestic Hudson River plays far bigger role in the novel than the scene in which Stevie makes that observation. Indeed, during The Angel of Darkness the team are are drawn from their usual haunts around Manhattan to the small town of Ballston Spa in upstate New York where they stay for at least half the novel; and to get to Ballston Spa, Dr. Kreizler decides to travel up the Hudson River on a steamer, the Mary Powell, as far as Troy (a town near Albany), before taking the train to their final destination. On this scenic interlude in the novel, the book’s narrator, Stevie Taggert, spends a considerable portion of his time smoking on the promenade deck with various other characters, first taking in the beauty of the Palisades and then at the “manor houses of the old Dutch and English river families” that dotted the hillsides further upstream. However, for Stevie, as for me, it was the untamed beauty of the Catskills and other mountains on the route that struck most profoundly. | Continue reading →

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Caleb Carr joins The Alienist TV series team

Caleb CarrIn an exclusive with Variety today, it was revealed that Caleb Carr has joined The Alienist TV series team as a consulting producer. In a statement released to Variety, Mr. Carr commented on this development as well as the production as a whole:

“After twenty years of tough struggle and countless failed attempts, I’m delighted that Paramount Television, Anonymous Content and TNT have decided to join forces and bring ‘The Alienist‘ to life in what, based on the material I’ve read, has the potential to be a faithful and exciting TV series … The array of talent already gathered for the project, for whom I’m pleased to be acting as consultant producer, is deeply impressive: Cary Fukunaga, Eric Roth, Hossein Amini, Gina Gionfriddo, E. Max Frye and the legendary John Sayles seem determined to do what many people said couldn’t be done: adapt the story in the ‘Alienist’ for live action in a way that both preserves the intellectual and historical integrity of the tale, while adding a gripping cinematic dimension to it. It’s my hope and expectation that, working together, we can all make this effort meet the standard expected by the very patient fans of the book, whose loyalty I consider a trust that I personally will do everything I can to protect.”

What exciting news for all Alienist readers, especially those of us who desire a faithful adaptation of the book. 17th Street wishes Mr. Carr well in his new role.

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Maggie, A Girl of the Streets by Stephen Crane

We return to the 17th Street book blogs this month by moving far away from the world of Fifth Avenue mansions and upper class society for a journey into the slums of old New York. Although Caleb Carr has not, to my knowledge, referenced the work of late nineteenth century journalist and novelist Stephen Crane as an influence for the Alienist books, readers of Crane’s atmospheric New York novellas will instantly recognise the same city that was so vividly portrayed in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. Given that I have utilised the 2001 Modern Library Classics edition of Crane’s New York writings for this blog, which contains the definitive versions of his novellas Maggie, A Girl of the Streets (1893) and George’s Mother (1896), along with a comprehensive selection of his other Bowery tales, we will be considering both of Crane’s New York novellas together in the following post, rather than just focusing on Maggie, the most famous of the pair.

What’s it about?

Maggie, A Girl of the StreetsMaggie, A Girl of the Streets opens with a scene that would not be out of place if glimpsed in one of the Alienist books. Jimmie, “the little champion of Rum Alley,” is embroiled in a fight with a gang of street urchins from nearby Devil’s Row. Battered and bruised, with blood “bubbling over his chin and down upon his ragged shirt,” the fight only comes to a halt when Jimmie’s father arrives on the scene, obtaining his son’s obedience through violence of his own. As this opening scene suggests, life in the family home is no less frightening than life on the streets for Jimmie, his quiet older sister, Maggie, and his confused and neglected baby brother, Tommie. With a drunken father and an equally drunken, vicious mother who can match her husband blow for blow, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets chronicles the stories of Jimmie and Maggie as they grow up to find their own places in the poverty-stricken world that surrounds them, with one child embracing their fate while the other tries in vain to search for a way out.

In George’s Mother, the sequel to Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, we return once more to the tenement building of Jimmie’s family. Unlike Maggie, however, George’s Mother explores the inner struggles of George Kelcey, the hard-working son of a loving, patient, and temperance supporting mother who has only one fear for her sole surviving child: that he will succumb to the vice that lurks on every street corner in their neighbourhood, and turn to drink. Through these contrasting family portraits, Crane vividly demonstrates the powerful hold that alcohol maintained in the lives of the poor in late nineteenth century New York, and doesn’t shy away from chronicling its effects on the lives of children and adults alike, both inside and outside the family home.

My thoughts

My first impression upon reading the opening lines of Maggie, A Girl of the Streets, along with George’s Mother following it, was that I had once more been transported back into the world that John Moore and Stevie Taggert so vividly describe in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. Once again, the reader is there, looking down on the dusty streets from surrounding tenement buildings as we hear the howls arising from a gang of children hurling stones at a small boy who is standing atop a heap of gravel in a vain attempt to defend the honour of Rum Alley. Similarly, in George’s Mother we find ourselves “in the swirling rain that came at dusk” on a broad avenue glistening “with that deep bluish tint which is so widely condemned when it is put into pictures,” through which we witness,

George’s Mother, Chapter I

… the endless processions of people, mighty hosts, with umbrellas waving, banner-like, over them. Horse-cars, aglitter with new paint, rumbled in steady array between the pillars that supported the elevated railroad. The whole street resounded with the tinkle of bells, the roar of iron-shod wheels on the cobbles, the ceaseless trample of the hundreds of feet. Above all, too, could be heard the loud screams of the tiny newsboys, who scurried in all directions. Upon the corners, standing in from the dripping eaves, were many loungers, descended from the world that used to prostrate itself before pageantry.

Although Crane’s masterful portraits of the streets he knew so well are reason enough for any Alienist reader to pick up these stories, it is his examination of the role that alcohol played in the lives of the poor, and its contribution to other forms of vice ranging from violence to prostitution, that make these stories so compelling. | Continue reading →

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