Dakota Fanning Cast As Sara Howard

TNT announced today that Dakota Fanning (American Pastoral) has been cast as intrepid police secretary, Sara Howard, in the upcoming TV adaptation of The Alienist. According to The Hollywood Reporter, this will be Ms. Fanning’s “first significant TV foray since her turn in Steven Spielberg’s 2002 Syfy miniseries Taken.” In the intervening time, she has appeared in films including The War of the Worlds (2005), The Secret Life of Bees (2008), the Twilight saga (2009-10), Effie Gray (2014), The Benefactor (2015), and most recently American Pastoral (2016). In the coming years, she will also be appearing in The Bell Jar and Ocean’s Eight.

In addition, there appears to be some good news for Alienist fans hoping for a loyal adaptation, with TNT’s press release describing the character of Sara Howard in terms consistent with the source material (see below). It will be exciting to see who is cast for the remaining members of the investigative team, as well as the important historical figure of Theodore Roosevelt. Production begins in early 2017 in Budapest.

Fanning’s character, the primly dressed but beautiful Sara Howard, is the first woman hired by the New York Police Department and she is determined to become the first female police detective in New York City. Self-possessed and intelligent, Sara grew up as an only child who was doted on by her father. She not only “shakes hands like a man,” but considers herself just as competent –- if not more so –- than any of the men on the force. Well-bred and well-spoken, Sara has a keen interest in crime-solving and is immediately intrigued by the case being investigated by Kreizler and Moore.

Mandatory Photo Credit: Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Variety/REX/Shutterstock (5895246bj), Dakota Fanning of ‘American Pastoral’, Variety and Shutterstock Portrait Studio, Day 1, Toronto International Film Festival, Canada – 09 Sep 2016


Audition Recordings from The Alienist TV Series

Earlier this week, I reported that a troubling audition recording for the role of Marcus Isaacson in The Alienist TV series had surfaced publicly on Vimeo. The recording suggested that Marcus had taken a woman with a baby into his family’s house so that he could “fornicate” with her. As any Alienist reader would know, this is completely inconsistent with Marcus’ portrayal in the novel. Since posting this, I have been made aware that several more — equally troubling — audition recordings have surfaced, also publicly on Vimeo (see below).

I am making this public because it disturbs me significantly that the team working on this adaptation appear to be corrupting the characters from the novel. Please note that this concern does not relate to the actors whose recordings have surfaced; it relates exclusively to the script they are reading from. Although most of the recordings have now been pulled down, I strongly encourage Alienist readers to share your feelings about what is being done to your favourite characters and spread this news to any other fans of the novel that you know.

Sara Howard

One of the most offensive portrayals in the audition recordings relates to Sara Howard. In the worst scene, Sara is portrayed as silly and immature, giggling and unable to bring herself to say the word penis, before naively asking her maid about the size of one she saw earlier that day. (This from a character who, in the The Angel of Darkness, told John, “even through the sheets I could clip off both your testicles with one shot — so I advise you to unhand me.”)

In another scene that does not appear in the novel, she indicates that she could be enticed to steal coronial reports, betraying Theodore Roosevelt’s trust, if John would portray Roosevelt and herself in a more flattering light in The New York Times.

The recording has now been removed.

Transcription from the recording —
Sara: “Tessie, have you ever seen a…”
Tessie: “Yes, miss?”
Sara: “I’m trying to say the word but I’m failing…”
Tessie: “What is it, miss? Is it a man’s… manhood?”
(They both giggle.)
Tessie: “Oh dear, what sort of things have they been exposing you to downtown?”
Sara: “It has been mainly civilised, Tessie, I swear it. But I did see one today. And it occurred to me, I didn’t know whether it was a large one or a small one.”
(She tries to demonstrate size using her fingers.)
Tessie: “Was it rigid?”
Sara: “Dear God, Tessie, I didn’t touch it! Have you ever…? I’m sorry, I’m being impertinent, aren’t I?”
Tessie: “No, it’s fine, miss. I never thought I’d have this conversation with you of all people. Yes.”
Sara: “Yes! And…”
Tessie: “It felt… dangerous.”

Marcus Isaacson

As I explained above, Marcus is portrayed in the following recording as a man who would take a woman with a baby into his family’s house under the pretext of caring for his mother so that he can “fornicate” with her. He also chuckles inappropriately at the conclusion of a bastardised ‘prayer’ he sings over the mutilated bodies of the Zweig children that, according to another tape in which the prayer is read in English, translates to: “May the Lord bless us and keep us and our loved ones off the autopsy table.”

Although the recording has now been removed, much of the same dialogue can be found in a Lucius Isaacson audition that is still publicly available.

Transcription from the recording —
Marcus: “Doesn’t the Torah say desire is no more a sin than hunger or thirst?”
Lucius: “If you’d bothered to read the Torah, you’d know it says no such thing. It says there are impulses we have to control. That’s what makes men different from beasts.”
Marcus: “I guess I fall somewhere between the two, then.”

Dr. Laszlo Kreizler

No audition recording has surfaced as yet for Dr. Kreizler. However, hints about how his character has been changed can be found in lines that appear in auditions for other characters. For example, he appears uncharacteristically rude in the preceding Sara audition:

Transcription from the Sara Howard recording —
John: “Miss Sara Howard, this is Dr. Laszlo Kreizler. Dr. Kreizler, Roosevelt, and I were at Harvard together.”
(Sara holds out her hand to Dr. Kreizler.)
Sara: “It’s a pleasure to meet you, doctor. I believe I’ve read a great deal about you.”
(Kreizler does not return the handshake.)
Kreizler: “A pleasure to know you can read. We’re here to see the Commissioner.”

The Sara Howard audition also suggests that Theodore Roosevelt does not want to associate himself with Dr. Kreizler, in complete contrast to Kreizler and Roosevelt’s relationship in the novel.

John Schuyler Moore

As with Dr. Kreizler, no recording of John has surfaced as yet. However, the first scene from the Patrick Connor recording suggests that John is no longer a crime reporter in the adaptation, while the first scene from the Sara Howard recording suggests that he is a society reporter who has published a piece containing the following line: “Her [Sara’s] father was a childhood friend of Commissioner Roosevelt, although the intimacy of their working quarters calls decency into question.”

As anyone who has read the book would realise, this is the last thing John would ever write about either of his friends. In addition, Sara would have to be exceptionally young in order for Sara’s father and TR to have been childhood friends.

Patrick Connor

The recording that has appeared of Captain Connor indicates that he is being used in place of Sergeant Flynn when the body of Giorgio Santorelli has been discovered, and that he has multiple scenes in the adaptation long before he first appears in the novel. While the decision to blend Flynn and Connor may not appear problematic at first glance, I would like to remind readers that Connor’s role belongs exclusively behind the scenes for most of the novel. If he is introduced this early, what will be the big reveal two thirds of the way into the story at the meeting with J. P. Morgan?

The recording has now been removed.

Please share this news with any other Alienist readers who may be interested.


The Education of Sara Howard – Part Three

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

Today’s final installment in the Education of Sara Howard series moves beyond our hypothetical Sara’s college years to focus on the career choices a young woman of Sara’s social class in New York had available to her in the 1880s and 1890s. As indicated at the conclusion of Part Two, the life choices female college graduates faced in the years immediately following college during the late 19th century could be stressful, with many young women forced to make difficult choices between the family claim and the social claim, the choice between marriage and a career, and the limited number of professions open to women if they did decide to pursue a career. However, a determined minority — of which Sara was one — pushed beyond societal expectations and made choices women earlier in the century would never have dared dream about. These college graduates were known collectively, in America and abroad, as “the new women”, and this is their story.

The Post-College Years

In 1896, a manual for young women was published that discussed common problems faced by female college graduates in America. Entitled “After College, What?“, the manual explained that most young women faced a “blank nothingness” at the conclusion of their college degree that left them feeling a “deep and perplexing unhappiness” until they either got married or were able to find “something [useful] to do”. Having spent four years immersed in an environment that fostered the development of independence and autonomy that was not encouraged in the typical patriarchal family home, these young women completed their college degree with a yearning to go out into the world at large and fulfill their “social claim” — a calling to use their advanced education in the same way that their brothers could; as an independent citizen with a role beyond that of wife and mother. However, upon returning to the family home following graduation, the majority of women found their parents in direct opposition, asserting the “family claim”.

marion-talbotAlthough these middle- and upper-class families had permitted — and even encouraged — their daughter to pursue self-improvement in the form of advanced education, by the time their daughter reached her early-to-mid-20s, she was expected to turn her attention to domestic responsibilities, devoting herself to taking care of parents and siblings until she could find a suitable husband, and filling any spare hours with charity work and sewing circles. For many young women who had for the first time started to think of a world beyond the home being made possible by her four years away at college, these conditions were stifling. Their girlhood friends who saw marriage as the only possible step once they returned from finishing schools, trips abroad to the continent, and formal debuts, did not want to mix with the young college graduate “whose aims were so different from their own”, and the college women faced “what was almost social ostracism”. One young graduate lamented, “We college girls are made to feel that we are different, we feel our separation.” Another, Marion Talbot, who would eventually become Dean of Women at the University of Chicago in 1895 recalled of her own difficult years immediately post-college in the early 1880s, “Here, then, was Marion Talbot with a college degree and an absorbing desire to make herself and her education useful, but with as barren an outlook for such a future as one can imagine.”

However, not all parents during this period were unsupportive or asserted the family claim. As a result of her daughter’s negative experiences, Marion Talbot’s mother founded the Association of Collegiate Alumnae in 1882 for graduates from Oberlin, Vassar, Smith, and Wellesley Colleges, and Michigan, Wisconsin, Cornell, and Boston Universities to provide support that young women often lacked following graduation, and to help them through the anxiety and depression that frequently resulted from their feelings of isolation. In another example, Hilda Worthington Smith’s mother encouraged her daughter to volunteer for mission work following her graduation from Bryn Mawr College in 1910 as she felt that life as a homemaker was “too much to ask” of Hilda, and she went on to encourage her daughter to find a paying position a few years later. On the subject of her mother’s atypically supportive attitude toward entering the workforce, Hilda commented:

This I knew was a great concession, as several of her friends had warned her against letting me venture into the untried world of women’s work. Those women who did it were still thought very “advanced.” Any such excursions from home might lead to a daughter wanting her own apartment and becoming alienated from her family.

Mrs. Smith’s “advanced” views served her daughter well. Hilda went on to become Acting Dean and Dean of Bryn Mawr College from 1919 until 1922, and then Director of Bryn Mawr Summer School for Women Workers from 1921 until 1933. Fortunately for the clever and independent Sara, it appears as though her parents views were as similarly “advanced” as Hilda’s mother’s, which we get a glimpse of in The Alienist, 78, when John Moore relates one of her post-college activities:

…right after Sara’s graduation from college, her family had gotten the idea that her education might be fully balanced by some firsthand experience of life in places other than Rhinebeck (where the Howards’ country estate was located) and Gramercy Park. So she put on a starched white blouse, a dreary black skirt, and a rather ridiculous boater and spent the summer assisting a visiting nurse in the Tenth Ward.

However, perhaps the most important thing to note, regardless of how supportive or unsupportive families were, is that for almost all of the young women who belonged to the pioneering generation of female college graduates in the late 19th century, parental attitudes and family ties were the key factor in the decisions they made about what to do following graduation. Although there were rare college graduates who decided to find a means of supporting themselves in order to live completely independently immediately following graduating in order to avoid the need to consider the family claim at all, these women were the exception rather than the rule — and given her supportive family and the influence they had on her decision to gain firsthand experience as a visiting nurse in the Tenth Ward, it seems safe to say that Sara would not have been one of them. | Continue reading →

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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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