Anthony Comstock Character Profile

As regular 17th Street visitors would be aware, I am (very) slowly completing the supporting character profiles for historical figures that appear in The Alienist. As part of this, I recently completed the profile for the notorious United States Postal Censor, Anthony Comstock. You can now find his character profile below as well as on the supporting characters list.

Anthony Comstock

Comstock, Mr. Anthony

Appears in The Alienist

The fanatical moral reformer Anthony Comstock (1844-1915) only appears in The Alienist on one occasion, but he plays an important role in the novel behind the scenes. Born in Connecticut and raised in a devout Congregationalist home, Comstock served two years in the Union Army before moving to New York City where he married and found work in a dry-goods establishment. Appalled by the city’s rampant vice, Comstock helped to form the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1872. The following year, he came to prominence for convincing legislators that abortion and birth control was as much of a threat to public morality as the “obscene” material (i.e., pornography and indecent literature) targeted by existing legislation. He argued that the consumption of such material resulted from increasing promiscuity among younger generations that was concealed through contraceptive use and abortifacients. Until this point, there had been no federal restrictions on abortion or birth control.

As a result of Comstock’s lobbying, Congress passed An Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use, better known as the Comstock Law, in 1873. The act strengthened existing legislation as well as banning the importation, sale, or distribution of any materials relating to abortion or contraception. Penalties for breaking the law included fines of up to $5,000, or jail and hard labor for a maximum of 10 years. Following the passage of the act, Comstock was appointed as a “special agent” of the United States Postal Service, a role he maintained from 1873 to 1915. During his time as Postal Censor, Comstock’s zealous enforcement of the law resulted in more than 3,600 arrests, and drove at least sixteen people to suicide, including the well-known abortionist Ann Lohman.

Although originally concerned with birth control and abortion, Comstock’s moral crusade had expanded to such a point by the time The Alienist was set in 1896 that he was even attempting to suppress nudity in artwork and medical anatomy textbooks, resulting in indiscriminate raids on art galleries and art schools. By this time, he had also written several books to educate the public about moral dangers in the urban environment.

Click here to read more. Warning: Contains spoilers for The Alienist

Sources and further reading: Kenneth T. Jackson (Ed.), “The Encyclopaedia of New York City” (1995), Wilbur R. Miller (Ed.), “The Social History of Crime and Punishment in America: An Encyclopedia” (2012), and Luc Sante, “Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York” (1991).

What do you think? Leave a comment!

Social Media Updates

Over the past few weeks a considerable amount of news has been released about TNT’s TV adaptation of The Alienist, along with Caleb Carr’s upcoming novel, Surrender, New York. As more news will continue to appear over the coming weeks and months for both of these projects, I’ve decided to take this opportunity to highlight a few social media channels that may help you stay up to date. In addition to these, remember that the fastest way to stay up to date is via Twitter and Google+.


If you haven’t already taken a peek at 17th Street’s new instagram account, I recommend you do so. In addition to posting occasional news from 17th Street, it is currently featuring a virtual tour of several New York City locations from The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness, presented in the order they appear in the novels along with relevant quotes from the novels. So far (see below) we have visited John at 19 Washington Square North, accompanied him to the first murder scene at the Williamsburg Bridge, and have arrived at the Kreizler Institute for Children to visit Dr. Kreizler. What location will be next? To find out, follow us @17thstreetnet!


Although 17th Street does not have a dedicated Facebook page, you can find the latest information about Surrender, New York at a Facebook page that has recently appeared. As we get closer to the release of the novel, presumably the dates and locations of book signings, along with any other news that may be of interest of Caleb Carr’s readers, will be released there as well as on 17th Street.


Surrender, New York – Cover Released

Surrender, New YorkEarlier this week, the finalised cover for Caleb Carr’s upcoming novel, Surrender, New York, was released by Random House — and I, for one, love it! To view the cover in full size, click the image to the right.

Atmospheric and reminiscent of The Alienist’s original cover, it seems like a perfect fit for a contemporary thriller whose protagonist, Dr. Trajan Jones, is described in the novel’s synposis as, “the world’s leading expert on the life and work of one Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, the hero of The Alienist, in whose brilliant but unconventional footsteps he follows.” On the novel’s page at Amazon, Caleb Carr also noted, “This book is essentially a modern application of the principles and theories of Dr. Laszlo Kreizler to criminal behavior, especially that directed at children.” To read the full synopsis, please visit the new Surrender, New York page in the ‘Other Books’ section of 17th Street.

This should be an exciting addition to Mr. Carr’s oeuvre for readers who enjoyed the Alienist books, and it is due for release by Random House on August 23, 2016. If you would like to pre-order, you can do so at Amazon or via one of the other retailers listed on the Penguin Random House website.


New Caleb Carr Novel

Caleb CarrExciting news, Caleb Carr readers! Penguin Random House have updated their website with the first information about a new novel from Caleb Carr to be released later in the year. “Surrender, New York” is due for release in hardcover on August 23rd, 2016 and will be 624 pages long.

No cover image or further details have been released, but the novel is listed on the Penguin Random House website in the “Mystery & Suspense” and “Literary Fiction” genres. Could this be the “other crime novel … with many historical overtones” that Mr. Carr mentioned in the New York Times web chat in 2013? Time will tell, but in the meantime keep your eye on 17th Street for the latest news about this exciting new development.


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