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!

Another Interview with Caleb Carr

Caleb CarrCaleb Carr appeared a podcast with James Altucher earlier this week. During their hour long discussion, the pair touched on numerous different topics ranging from Mr. Carr’s childhood through to his latest novel Surrender, New York. They also discussed the process of writing, and touched on his methods when writing The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness. An excerpt from the interview appears below along with a link to the full podcast.

James Altucher (JA): “So, fast forwarding, you did a bunch of best-selling novels. You also did a lot of nonfiction books about military history, terrorism; you’ve done a ton of essays. I recommend people read all of them actually, because they’re all so intelligent. But I do want to get to Surrender, New York. Why now? Why is this … the first time you’re doing a contemporary thriller set in modern times? You’ve done future, you’ve done past — you haven’t done now.”

Caleb Carr (CC): “Two reasons. I reached a point in my life where I wanted to write something that would give people really close insight into my life without it being blatant. I wanted to return to that idea. Get a little closer than the Alienist books did. And also, I’m now going to do two more Alienist books.”

JA: “A sequel and a prequel, right?”

CC: “A sequel and a prequel, right. And they’re both going to be told by Kreizler.”

JA: “Which is different than The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness.”

CC: “Right, and I needed to find a way to speak in the voice of what’s always considered the man behind the curtain in these things. Like Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle wrote one story told by Sherlock Holmes — terrible failure. But Kreizler’s a very different character. I wanted to find a way to speak about these matters — about all the things we’ve been discussing, these psychological matters and personal matters — in a way that would make people comfortable … so it didn’t sound like a case file, so it didn’t sound like a scientific study. So it gave you insight into the character because people really are fascinated by Kreizler. They want to know what gives with this guy.”

You can listen to the full interview on James Altucher’s website.

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The Alienist at Turner Upfront

The Turner Upfront presentation for 2016-17 held in Madison Square Garden earlier this week included a teaser for TNT’s upcoming adaptation of The Alienist. According to Deadline, the President of TBS and TNT and Chief Content Officer for Turner Entertainment, Kevin Reilly, who is apparently “a huge fan of the book,” has promised that the TV series “will be marquee programming.”

Although several other trailers have since appeared on TNT’s YouTube channel, the teaser for The Alienist does not appear to have been released online yet. However, the few comments I was able to locate on Twitter from various members of the entertainment press in response to the teaser for The Alienist were positive. Diane Gordon, freelance event reporter for Variety and New York Magazine, described the teaser for the series as having “great production value,” while Michael Schneider, executive editor for Indiewire, revealed that ten scripts for The Alienist have now been finished, and casting is underway.

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The Alienist TV Series: No Longer Shooting In Montreal

The Statue of LibertyEarlier this month it was reported on The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) Montreal website that The Alienist TV series would be shooting in Montreal this summer. On Wednesday of last week, however, Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva reported that, “The Quebec city [Montreal] is losing two American series to New York, as I hear TNT’s straight-to-series The Alienist also recently decided to relocate.”

At this stage, I have been unable to find another source to confirm the report that shooting has moved to New York City. Nonetheless, the series is no longer listed on ACTRA Montreal “What’s Shooting” pre-production list, so at the very least it appears to have been confirmed that shooting has moved from Montreal. It would certainly be exciting to hear that the production has moved to New York — after all, many of the book’s settings still exist, as 17th Street’s maps of Alienist locations demonstrate — so as more news comes to light about this development, it will be reported here.

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