Interview with Elizabeth "Libby" Shaw, the
Lead Character from The Prince.
are pretty single-minded about achieving your goal to
become a doctor even though the social norms emphasized
women lacked the physical and moral nature to be physicians
or surgeons. But it is obvious you could not do it without
Ziyaeddin Mizra who is your greatest supporter and advocate.
Thanks for the interview.
Cooper: So why do you want to be a surgeon?
The human body is absolutely fascinating, especially
the skeletal and muscular systems. Also, I like solving
puzzles and making order of that which is disordered.
When the body is broken or damaged, I find great joy
in repairing it.
Are you going to pretend the rest
of your life that you are a man or do you think eventually
society will accept that there can be women doctors?
a. I know you said “Once I have proven myself
equal to men in my program I will reveal the truth and
they will all have to accept me”
I haven’t plans beyond achieving my diploma, which
will require several more sessions of classes and the
completion of a diploma project and then the exam. I’ve
no intention of quitting until I have accomplished this
and gained entrance into the Royal College of Surgeons
How did your father influence you?
My father is an extraordinarily talented physician and
an exceptionally generous teacher. I had an unusual
childhood—for a girl—following him from
patient’s bedside to bedside, assisting him in
his practice. His belief that I had the capacity of
mind to understand medicine allowed me to learn at his
Are there any great problems to pretending to be a man-what
is the worst?
The freedom men have to urinate anyplace and any time
they wish, which I do not also enjoy. There are other
inconveniences, but this has caused me the most trouble
so far, when I am among my fellow students and find
myself in desperate need, and there are no alternatives
to exposing my sex—quite literally!
That is so gross and unsanitary!
Then how would you compare being a man versus being
Each has its benefits and drawbacks. But I believe the
restraints that our laws and customs impose on women
are more noxious than those imposed on men, including
barring women from entering many professions for which
they are perfectly well qualified.
Do you consider yourself a bookworm nerd?
I am unfamiliar with the word “nerd.” I
would never actually ingest the pages of a book. I have
sometimes cursed bookworms aloud for eating away sections
of entire pages that I have needed to read! But you
certainly must mean the use of the word “bookworm”
I meant a person unusually devoted to reading and studying?
How delightful that we use that word in that manner,
equating the physical hunger for food with the intellectual
hunger for knowledge or the emotional hunger for entertainment
found in a book. I had a largely solitary childhood,
and books gave me both education and amusement, and
also companionship. I guess I do spend as much time
inside books as any paper-eating maggot. It is true
that when I am especially agitated it becomes difficult
to read. These moments are vexing.
Would you diagnose yourself as being obsessive-compulsive
I am unfamiliar with that exact term. But I do sometimes
find myself overly preoccupied with certain thoughts
and worries. Occasionally such worries grow so large
that I feel obliged to take actions that will stanch
the worry some.
When you first me Ziyaeddin what was your first impression?
I met him more than two years ago at Haiknayes Castle,
the home of the Duke of Loch Irvine, who is a particular
friend of my father and me. I went to the library to
retrieve a book and the strange man there teased me.
He is a dreadful tease, actually. I tell him not to,
yet he teases me anyway. At first it disconcerted me;
I prefer direct speech. But I have become accustomed
to it and have even learned to tease him, which I think
Were you offended when he told you your idea was “absurd?”
I don’t take offence easily. I thought he was
wrong to reject the idea so speedily (and look how well
it has turned out, after all—so ha ha!). But mostly
I felt desperation. I really had no other choice.
Do you think you as a future surgeon and he as a portrait
painter have a lot in common regarding the human body?
Not particularly. But he does. He insists on it. He
is exasperating. And very handsome. And kind. And generous.
And unexpectedly fierce at times. But exasperating.
It is true that I have come to see that he paints not
only what is on the outside of a person, but also what
is within that person—pain, longing, fear, joy.
He is an exceptionally fine artist. I wonder sometimes
why he wishes to paint me. What I am within is entirely
on the surface for everybody to see.
It seems you have feelings for him-Does he have feelings
I don’t know that he has feelings for me beyond
exasperation and perhaps a mild curiosity. And amusement.
I do amuse him. And friendship; I believe he does consider
me a friend, despite constantly telling me to “be
gone” whenever I interrupt him—but he is
an artist and must have his quiet, so I concede that
to him. As for me, I have felt frustrated with him almost
from the start and attraction and exceptionally strong
sexual desire, and affection. Regarding this last, I
like most people. I don’t like cruel or unkind
people, or people who think only of their own needs
and desires or of superficialities.
Are you saying he is cruel?
NO! He is none of those. I have liked him from the second
instance upon which we met, when we spoke in the alleyway
and he teased me about my whiskers, which, it’s
true, were horrendous. But I think it is also due to
his character. There is a peace within him that, I believe,
must have been hard won. I don’t know how. But
I suspect he has suffered quite a lot in his past, and
his strength came from surviving that.
How would you describe your relationship with Ziyaeddin?
He tolerates my interruptions, studies me for his art,
and sometimes looks at me in a manner I cannot understand.
I admire his health, his generosity, his strength of
both body and character, and his stillness. He is verystill
(which I am never). That is at least partially due to
his lack of a proper prosthetic foot (which I will remedy,
despite his objections)
How did you come up with the idea of a prosthetic leg-I
thought they did not exist?
Humans have made prostheses since humans have lost limbs—that
is, forever. There are prosthetic hands, arms, feet,
legs, eyes, even phalluses. There have been for centuries.
That said, modern foot and leg prostheses are especially
excellent, employing springs and hinges that cause the
replacement limb to mimic the motion of the actual limb.
In the case of prosthetic legs, this can impact the
wearer’s stride dramatically and save unnecessary
bone loss and degradation of joint tissue. I have told
Ziyaeddin this, and that a replacement foot will relieve
his chronic pain, but he is very stubborn.
Let’s go back to the previous question because
I do not think you answered it?
Oh—I suppose we are friends. That is, I am perhaps
his friend, and he is my friend whom I very much want
Do you think you are pretty forward for a woman-telling
Ziyaeddin you want to kiss him and to ask him to show
you how the male anatomy works?
A true person of medicine must study the human experience
in all its varied functions, actions, and reactions.
I am a true person of medicine. Also, he is very handsome.
What do you do for fun?
I study medicine. That is really the most fun anybody
can have. But I think you are asking me what I do for
amusement in addition to that. I catalogue my collection
of plaster bones, teach my friend Coira how to read,
and occasionally assist Mrs. Coutts in drying herbs
for the kitchen, some of which I use in my personal
apothecary. (Ziyaeddin has just come into the room and
asked me what I am doing, so I told him this question.)
What does he think?
He says that I must respond, “I disturb my host’s
peace to excess.” But I don’t specifically
do that for amusement, so I cannot include it in the
list here. I will not, by the way, share with him any
of my actual responses to these questions. And after
all, he already knows that I find him physically appealing
and that he exasperates me.
What are your interests?
Medicine. Anatomy. Surgery. Fixing illnesses and injuries.
And, if I must be entirely honest (which I always am;
it is my most inconvenient trait), I am interested in
the foreign-born portrait artist with whom I now live.
If you could turn back the clock would you do anything
What a nonsensical question.
Is there anything you want to add, if so please do?
Thank you for this invitation to speak with you. You
are very kind.
Thank you for doing this. I appreciate your openness
and honesty about your life