The Education of Sara Howard – Part Two

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

Late last month, we began an examination of Sara Howard’s historical context in an effort to understand 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. I termed this woman a “hypothetical” Sara, and today’s post will build upon on last month’s to discuss the pre-college and college educational opportunities our hypothetical Sara would have had during the 1870s and 1880s in New York.

The Pre-College Years

The Alienist, 90-1:

“… My father was an expert marksman. My mother, however, was an invalid, and I had no siblings. I therefore became my father’s hunting and trap-shooting partner.” All of which was perfectly true. Stephen Hamilton Howard had lived the life of a true country squire on his estate near Rhinebeck, and had trained his only child to ride, shoot, gamble, and drink with any Hudson Valley gentleman – which meant that Sara could do all those things well, and in volume.

As described in Part One, our hypothetical Sara was an only child born to an upper-class New York family in the mid-to-late-1860s. Given her father’s ownership of a Hudson Valley estate as well as a city home on Gramercy Park, it seems reasonable to assume that he would have shared some of the values common among old New York gentility such as the importance of “good looks, health, grace, and cleverness” in women. However, as the quote above describes, this particular father seemed to be determined to provide his only daughter with the same advantages he would have offered a son. Although this would have resulted in our hypothetical Sara receiving an education superior to that received by many girls during the same period who were frequently educated in “practical” subjects at home for most of their youth, statistically Sara’s was not an unusual upbringing for girls raised by educated parents in middle- and upper-class families in the Northeast—provided, of course, that their daughters were only children or had few brothers. Even though most of these parents still ultimately desired their daughter enter the respectable sphere of domesticity once she reached her early-to-mid-20s, a good education during her formative years reflected the family’s belief in the value of self-improvement and personal advancement (also see Part One). | Continue reading →

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Final Main Character Profile

I am pleased to report that Dr. Laszlo Kreizler’s character profile has finally been added to the main characters page of the full character list. A copy of the doctor’s profile can be viewed below.

Kreizler, Doctor Laszlo

Appears in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness

laszlokreizlerDr. Laszlo Kreizler, the leader of the investigative team in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, is a specialist in child and criminal psychology. He is a pioneer in the theory of “context,” the idea that personality and behaviour is determined by an individual’s childhood experiences, and he applies this theory to the creation of psychological profiles of the killers being pursued by the investigative team. In this way, Caleb Carr has stated that he wanted to create Dr. Kreizler as a character who would be able to “solve all the crimes [Sherlock] Holmes couldn’t, in which there’s little or no physical evidence and no apparent motive — the product of aberrant criminal psychology.”1 In keeping with this, Dr. Kreizler is described as one of the foremost experts on criminal insanity in New York, and when he is not involved in the team’s investigations, he works as an expert witness on criminal cases as well as running the Kreizler Institute for Children, a centre he founded for the study and treatment of children with psychological disorders brought about by environmental factors.

Dr. Kreizler’s drive to understand the origins of criminal behaviour and to help children with troubled backgrounds originates in his own childhood. Although the doctor’s parents were popular socialites in upper-class New York society, we learn midway through The Alienist that behind closed doors Dr. Kreizler’s father was an abusive alcoholic. The elder Kreizler frequently beat his son, with the worst confrontation permanently disfiguring the younger Kreizler’s arm, and he was also emotionally abusive, leaving his son “full of doubts about his own judgment and abilities.” Dr. Kreizler’s mother appears to have offered little solace. Even though she was not abusive, she turned a blind eye to the abuse taking place in the household. This, too, influenced the younger Kreizler; within The Angel of Darkness, we learn that as a young man he formed an attachment to a woman who reminded him of his mother because, on an unconscious level, he had wanted to be able to change her.

Although these dark elements of the doctor’s past help to drive him professionally, they also cause him to stumble occasionally during the team’s investigations. Due to his troubled childhood, Dr. Kreizler is quite emotionally distant and prefers to analyse his emotions in an objective manner rather than confronting them. Although this ability to objectively analyse emotions helps to make the doctor highly perceptive of the emotions of others, his tendency to avoid his own emotions makes it difficult for him to think rationally on the occasions when emotions overwhelm him. One noteworthy incident occurs during The Alienist when, after discovering a number of parallels between the killer’s early life and his own, Dr. Kreizler makes additional inferences about the killer’s past based solely on his own personal experience, a phenomenon known as “the psychologist’s fallacy.”

The protagonist of both Alienist books, Dr. Kreizler’s role as a psychological profiler is essential to both investigations. He is responsible for initiating the investigation within The Alienist in collaboration with Theodore Roosevelt, and although it is Sara Howard who is first presented with the child abduction case in The Angel of Darkness, she knows that without Dr. Kreizler’s help, the investigative team will be unlikely to solve the case. Nevertheless, Dr. Kreizler knows that hunting for the killers in both investigations is not a one-man job, and early in The Alienist he is responsible for determining what additional expertise the investigative team requires for him to be able to successfully perform his role as a profiler. Without the forensic expertise of the Isaacson brothers, John Schuyler Moore’s knowledge of New York’s criminal underground, Stevie Taggert and Cyrus Montrose’s knowledge of life on the streets, and Sara Howard’s skills as a private detective, the doctor would be unable to construct the profiles necessary for pre-empting the next move of the killers in both novels; profiles that eventually result in their identification and apprehension.


1. Naparstek, Ben, “Carr Trouble”, The Age 6 November 2005. Link.

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More Character Profiles

The character profiles for John Schuyler Moore and Stevie Taggert have now been added to the main characters page of the full character list. This means that the only remaining main character who lacks a character profile on the full character list is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, and I expect this profile will be added later this month. In the meantime, a copy of Stevie’s profile can be viewed below.

Taggert, Master Stevie

Appears in The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness

Stevie TaggertStevie Taggert, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler’s loyal ward and part-time driver, provides ancillary assistance to the investigation in The Alienist before graduating to the role of narrator in The Angel of Darkness. Although Stevie is only in his early teens during the novels, he is unusually bright for his age and demonstrates a high degree of emotional maturity that allows him to provide insight into the actions and motivations of the killers pursued in both novels that other team members occasionally overlook. These aspects of his character, along with his bravery and resilience, are likely to have originated in Stevie’s early youth spent fending for himself on the streets of the Lower East Side.

Stevie started his life in a one-room rear tenement flat near the Five Points district, and learnt to pickpocket from an early age in order to support his mother’s drinking habits. Growing tired of the “string of men” his mother would bring home to the flat, as well as her transition from alcohol to opium, Stevie left home at the age of eight to sleep on the streets with a gang of street arabs. During this time, Stevie became notorious as a “banco feeler, pickpocket, and general criminal handyman” (AoD 58) and was approached by Crazy Butch from Monk Eastman’s gang to work for the kids auxiliary of the gang. After a short time with the gang, Stevie was apprehended for breaking a store owner’s leg during a theft and was sentenced to two years at the Boys’ House of Refuge on Randalls Island. Returning to court three months later after attacking a guard who had attempted to molest him, Stevie was given an opportunity to be interviewed by Dr. Kreizler who recommended that he be entrusted to his care for rehabilitation rather than being returned to a correctional facility.

Stevie’s role in The Alienist primarily relates to his occupation as part-time driver for Dr. Kreizler, although he does take an active part in a few key areas of the investigation such as the stakeout atop disorderly houses. He also demonstrates his bravery during the novel by rescuing John Schuyler Moore early in the story from the Paresis Hall where the latter had been drugged, and by refusing to reveal the whereabouts of Dr. Kreizler and John Moore when the doctor’s home is invaded; an action that results in him nearly being killed.

Stevie’s role as narrator in The Angel of Darkness ensures that his involvement in the Libby Hatch case is considerably larger. He takes part in nearly all aspects of the investigation, frequently accompanying Dr. Kreizler or Sara Howard on important interviews, and his skills in breaking and entering are invaluable when the team need to secretly enter Libby Hatch’s home to search for Ana Linares. Stevie’s street contacts also prove essential to the success of the investigation, with his love interest, Kat Devlin, able to provide the team with critical evidence that Ana Linares is in Libby’s possession, while an old friend, Hickie the Hun, loans the team his trained ferret to help scent Ana Linares in Libby Hatch’s home. Finally, it is through Stevie’s open-mindedness in accepting and befriending the Filipino pygmy, El Niño, that the team are not defeated by Libby Hatch in their final confrontation at the conclusion of the novel.

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