Within the Alienist books, we are introduced to a wide variety of unusual characters. As Stevie Taggert, Dr. Kreizler’s ward, tells readers in The Angel of Darkness, “It’s always seemed to me that there’s two types of people in this life, them what get a kick out of what might be called your odder types and them what don’t; and I suppose that I, unlike Mr. Moore, have always been in the first bunch. You’d have to’ve been, I think, to have really enjoyed living in Dr. Kreizler’s house…” (AoD 97). Indeed, one of the more endearing of these eccentric characters is introduced in The Angel of Darkness by Stevie when the team require the assistance of a scenting animal to help locate an abducted baby, Ana Linares, in the home of their primary suspect. Known to readers only as ‘Hickie the Hun’, this old friend of Stevie’s is a petty criminal with a trademark lisp and a soft spot for animals. Among the menagerie of animals that Hickie keeps in his basement home on the Lower East Side is a ferret named Mike who has been trained to assist Hickie in his robberies. Entertaining though Hickie is as a character, it is the youth’s “homegrown methods of animal training” that make the strongest impression on Dr. Kreizler when the streetwise orphan drops the ferret off at the Doctor’s house.
The Angel of Darkness, 211-2:
“It’s really rather remarkable,” the Doctor said, after Hickie’d made his good-byes to Mike in my room and then headed back downtown. “Do you know, Stevie, there is a brilliant Russian physiologist and psychologist—Pavlov is his name—whom I met during my trip to St. Petersburg. He is working along similar lines to this ‘Hickie’—the causes of animal behaviour. I believe he would benefit greatly from a conversation with your friend.”
“Not likely,” I answered. “Hickie don’t much like leaving the old neighborhood, even on jobs—and I don’t think he can read or write.”
Chuckling a bit, the Doctor put an arm on my shoulder. “I was,” he said, “speaking rather hypothetically, Stevie…”
Hypothetically, what would Pavlov have thought of Hickie’s homespun brand of ‘behaviorism’ if he’d had a chance to learn of it? With my own background in psychology, I have decided to spend some time in the 17th Street history blogs over the next few months on the real history of the discipline as included in the Alienist books. In this month’s history blog, we will start by overviewing the work of the famous Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov, whose work with salivating dogs nearly everybody is at least partially familiar with, in order to examine, first, how Dr. Kreizler may have known him, and second, how his work ties into Hickie’s animal training methods. In order to fully address the second of these questions, however, we will need to expand beyond Pavlov into the broader realm of ‘behaviorism’ as a branch of psychology at the turn of the century. However, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s start back at the beginning with Pavlov. | Continue reading →