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
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
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 of Edinburgh.
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 side.
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 a woman?
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
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
When you first me Ziyaeddin what was your
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 he enjoys.
Were you offended when he told you your idea
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 for you?
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
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
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 to kiss.
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
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
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 differently today?'
What a nonsensical question.
Is there anything you want to add, if so please
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