New Integrated Forums

17th Street Community ForumsThe 17th Street community forums have now been fully integrated with the rest of the website. I hope this makes the forums and website easier to navigate, and encourages discussion among interested visitors to the website. Also note that you can now sign in to the forum through your Twitter account to make joining the forum even easier!

If you haven’t previously visited the forums, please feel free to have a look around now. There are a variety of pre-existing topics up for discussion including which historical figures you would most like to see included in a new Alienist book, the development of the relationship between Laszlo and Sara throughout the novels, and who would make the best narrator for a new Alienist book. The full transcript from the chat with Caleb Carr conducted by The New York Times can also be found at the forums, as well as discussion on Caleb Carr’s non-Alienist works.

Things might be a little quiet over on the forums now, but the more people who get involved and talk, the better this area of the site can be for everyone. I hope to see you there soon!

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Happy 155th Birthday, Theodore!

The 27th of October, 2013 marks the 155th birthday of Theodore Roosevelt. One year on from the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial reopening at the American Museum of Natural History, why not celebrate the occasion by learning more about Theodore’s conservation efforts — a passion shared by the Alienist books’ author, Caleb Carr — at the Museum’s YouTube channel.

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New Character Profiles

As the most frequently visited section of 17th Street is the full character list, I have decided to slowly work on expanding it from a simple list of character names to include short profiles for each of the characters. Four of the main character profiles are now complete: Sara Howard, Lucius Isaacson, Marcus Isaacson, and Cyrus Montrose. Once the remaining main character profiles have been written, I will begin work on the supporting characters. In the meantime, a copy of Lucius’ profile can be viewed below while the remainder of the completed profiles can be viewed on the main characters page of the full character list.

Isaacson, Detective Sergeant Lucius

Appears in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness

lucius-isaacsonDetective Sergeant Lucius Isaacson is the younger brother of Detective Sergeant Marcus Isaacson and provides forensic medicine expertise to the investigative team. Lucius and Marcus were among the new police recruits hired by Theodore Roosevelt in his attempt to rid the police force of corruption, and were handpicked by Roosevelt to join the investigation in The Alienist due to their lack of loyalty to any of the force’s corrupt ‘old guard’ as well as their progressive methods in the newly established forensic sciences. We know little of Lucius’ background prior to joining the police force except that his parents were Jewish immigrants, he has one younger sister, and he went to medical school before joining his brother in working at the Pinkerton Detective Agency for a brief time. As with Marcus, he is a bachelor and the brothers still live at home with their mother for the duration of the novels.

Both of the Isaacson brothers are hyper-analytical and were drawn to detective work after reading Wilkie Collins’ novels as boys. Of the two brothers, Lucius is more prone to anxiety and can be easily flustered, but he also has a tendency to “grandstand” which is frequently the source of many bickering arguments between the brothers throughout the novels. Even so, the younger Isaacson’s competence is unquestionable and his skills in forensic medicine are an invaluable asset to the team. It is Lucius, for example, who discovers that the coroner’s report on a three year old cold case related to the murders in The Alienist was incorrect in concluding that the victims died of cut throats as he finds damage to the laryngeal structures on the corpses that indicates strangulation instead. In the same cold case, he also observes knife marks in the eye sockets that were overlooked by the coroner, thereby providing the team with crucial evidence that the killer used a particular type of hunting knife to remove the eyes of his victims.

Although Lucius continues to make these kinds of important discoveries throughout The Alienist which are then translated into a psychological profile of the killer by Dr. Kreizler, his role in The Angel of Darkness is slightly smaller as there are fewer tasks specific to his skills that are required of him. However, he and Marcus conduct the initial examination of Señora Linares’ injuries following her attack in Central Park, thereby providing the team with clues such as the approximate height of her attacker and the type of weapon employed, and it is Lucius who also has the idea for Kat Devlin to help the team by stealing one of Libby Hatch’s jackets for fingerprint and hair fiber analysis. Later in the novel, Lucius also helps Marcus conduct the ballistics testing and fingerprint analysis on the gun and bullets used to murder the Hatch children while the team stay in Ballston Spa, and he takes responsibility for presenting the ballistics evidence in court later in the novel.

What do you think? Leave a comment!

The Education of Sara Howard – Part One

View Part One, Part Two, and Part Three of the Education of Sara Howard series.

Beyond the enigmatic Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, the character that appears to intrigue readers of the Alienist books the most is the brave, independent, and feisty police secretary turned private investigator, Miss Sara Howard. Although we have yet to learn Sara’s complete background story, I thought it might be interesting to devote a blog series to examining her character more thoroughly based on the information we have been provided with thus far. Was the derringer-toting Sara Howard’s unique brand of feminism appropriate for the time period in which the books are set? What educational and career opportunities would a real Sara Howard have had during the late 19th century?

As we currently lack adequate detail about Sara’s background to overview her particular education and career choices as intended in the books, the present discussion will focus instead on what I am terming a “hypothetical” Sara. Specifically, throughout this blog series I will be examining the kind of upbringing, education, and career choices a young woman born in a similar decade and socioeconomic group to Sara would have had available to her in the late 19th century. Today’s post in the series will focus on our hypothetical Sara’s historical context, particularly the notion of the “woman’s sphere”, an ideology that pervaded upper- and middle-class American culture throughout the 19th century.

The Woman’s Sphere in 19th Century America

The Alienist, Chapter 5:

Back in the early seventies, when I was in my teens, [Sara’s] family moved into a house near ours on Gramercy Park, and I’d subsequently watched her spend her single-digit years turning that decorous neighborhood into her private rumpus room.

womans_sphereAs indicated by John Moore’s quote above, in order to fit the timeline put forward in the Alienist books, our hypothetical Sara Howard would have been born in approximately the mid- to late-1860s. This period immediately following the Civil War was a time of great upheaval for women’s roles in American society. During the latter half of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, the idea that men and women should rightly function in two separate “spheres” was a core tenant of American thinking. Although women had been considered inherently inferior to men for centuries leading up to this point, with women holding no legal rights to property or legal standing in society, the agricultural nature of early America had made labor equality within most households a necessity. Despite holding subservient positions in the household, wives and daughters were considered an integral part of family farming and cottage industry businesses. They frequently learned crafts from husbands and fathers, and were often capable of carrying on alone if necessity required. However, societal changes resulting from the rise of the Industrial Revolution prompted a dramatic shift in the American home that changed women’s roles dramatically in the latter half of the 18th century.

Instead of households or small shops producing custom goods for small self-sustaining agricultural communities, mass production of goods through factories changed living and working conditions throughout the country. Money was now the primary means of obtaining basic commodities, and it became increasingly important for men in the household to take on the role of “bread winner” by working outside the home in the newly established commercial world to earn money for the family’s survival. With the rise of this new capitalism, a woman’s role in her household had evolved from equal contributor in the family business to that of a homemaker, and her most important responsibilities had been reduced to those requiring the “feminine” traits of patience, nurturing, and altruism: the raising of children and the care of her husband. The male sphere of the commercial world outside the home, on the other hand, was viewed as an aggressive, competitive domain that required men to act in less than virtuous ways in order to get ahead, and consequently the idealisation of women — or, more specifically, of wives and mothers — in writings of the day was prevalent. The image we have today of the docile, submissive, and loving Victorian wife who soothed her husband’s cares in the evening and instilled her children with good Christian moral values throughout the day originates from this period. | Continue reading →

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