Essay suggests Jane Eyre might be on the autism spectrum

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Woodpeace
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21 Apr 2009, 5:04 am

In her long, detailed and fascinating essay: On the Spectrum: Rereading Contact and Affection in Jane Eyre, Julia Miele Rodas of Bronx Community College, City University of New York suggests that the eponymous heroine of the Victorian novel by Charlotte Bronte is on the autism spectrum: http://ncgsjournal.com/issue42/rodas.htm .

Rodas describes the characteristics and traits of autism in a wonderfully positive way from a neurodiversity perspective, and relates these to Jane. She refers to an incident in her childhood when her nurse Bessie tells her: "You are such a strange child, Miss Jane [...] a little roving, solitary thing [...] you're such a queer, frightened, shy little thing."

Indications of Jane's autism are "her sense of aloneness at Lowood even after many years of residence; the feeling of peace and wholeness she seems to derive from nature, from gardens, from plants instead of people; her silent impatience with a talkative roommate."

Nonautistic people often have the mistaken belief that autistic persons have little or no feelings. Instead the opposite is likely to be true. "Autistic persons typically experience intense sensations and emotions but may habitually reduce the appearance of feeling or shield the self from a barrage of overwhelming external stimuli (including dialogue and other forms of communication) in order to preserve an integrated sense of identity."

Rodas extensively refers to autobiographies by autistic persons such as Dawn Prince-Hughes, Daniel Tammet and Donna Williams.

She suggests that other characters in the novel - such as Bertha Mason (Mr Rochester's first wife) have autistic traits. She is "imprisoned -speechless - in the windowless attic room at Thornfield, a tempting human 'enigma'; clearly the so-called madwoman demonstrates what Leo Kanner identifies as 'disturbances of affective contact'."

Although Rodas does not mention Helen Burns (a fellow pupil with Jane at Lowood orphanage), there is evidence to suggest that she might be autistic.

She is abrupt with Jane on their first meeting, has no friends of her own age and prefers to be "absorbed, silent, abstracted from all around her by the compnionship of a book." She often daydreams: "She looked as if she were thinking of something [...] not round her or before her."

I have read feminist analyses of Jane Eyre which place Jane as a proto-feminist, but suggesting that she is autistic is new to me. Outsiders figure prominently in the novel: Jane, Helen Burns and Bertha Mason are all outsiders, especially Bertha. She is Creole, mad and large. This madwoman described as half human, half animal is locked in the attic at Thornfield. When Mr. Rochester loses his eyesight and one hand while attempting to rescue Bertha from the fire she caused, he becomes disabled and an outsider.



TPE2
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21 Apr 2009, 5:41 am

If it is problematic to diagnose dead people, even more complex is to diagnose imaginary people.

What "X might be on autistic spectrum" really means, if "X" is an imaginary people?

That the author as intended to portray the character as "autistic"?

That the author created the character inspired in people who were autistic?

That many real people with the same traits of the character are autistic?



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21 Apr 2009, 5:44 am

Perhaps a better field of research could be "the Bronte sisters were on the spectrum?"



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21 Apr 2009, 6:43 am

I also noticed such traits in Jane, Helen, and Bertha.



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21 Apr 2009, 6:50 am

TPE2 wrote:
If it is problematic to diagnose dead people, even more complex is to diagnose imaginary people.

That the author as intended to portray the character as "autistic"?

That the author created the character inspired in people who were autistic?

That many real people with the same traits of the character are autistic?



Any or all those things. See elsewhere on this forum where I feel the fictional character portrayed by Jodie Foster in Contact fits what the outside would be. A high functioning in business person. yet the signs are all there.

Furthermore, the author of Contact - Carl Sagan, was an Aspie! Not sure if diagnosed (see http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Asperg ... 1885477859 references his name) Maybe he wrote this one fictional piece in his mostly scientific career - to express what we all say "wrong planet". as the story centers around this scientific (and obsessive, anti-social) character literally going to another planet.



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21 Apr 2009, 7:07 am

I want to come back and make a very important point.

I think especially for the undiagnosed adults that keep coming up. Many tell of stories of not being realized or diagnosed until age 30, 40, 50, or even later.

For me, the realization came when I started to look more at myself from the outside looking in. I started to think about how I behaved in social situations and how others described it.

When I associated with a particular characters in TV shows or movies in the social problems they showed. It was that ability to observe characteristics of myself that allowed me to put into words (language processing) the conflict with the world that was going on inside.

(( My user name was picked here on this forum with the association with the character Toby Ziegler http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toby_Ziegler -- which I associated with a critical scene where his ex wife he was trying to win over said to him "you are too sad!" ))

Language processing is a big part of autism. For some, it's a lot easier to relate to a fictional character than to describe themselves to a doctor or answer relative questions about choices. It is the outside looking in that makes you see your reflection in a mirror - to only notice that what you THOUGHT you saw and what you REALLY see that something is "wrong". That how everyone else describes a mirror, it doesn't look the same.

Prior to understanding, it had never been clear to me just how different others (NT) process emotions, feelings, and situations. I had felt this was just people not being "open minded" and "we are all different". I had just assumed I was a nerd and always used my brain, and that others were just lazy about using their brains. I didn't realize how emotionally different (insensitive?) I was, how intellect controlled almost all of my conscious brain. And why I found people so exhausting. And when that intellect gets overwhelmed, how my childish behaviors (meltdowns, shutdowns see: http://sites.google.com/site/gavinbolla ... -Meltdowns ) were deeper than self-control issues.



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21 Apr 2009, 8:19 am

In one paragraph, the author mentions the purpose of her Jane Eyre analysis. She begins by discussing formal diagnosis and how, if an individual can thrive without such intervention, formal diagnosis is beside the point. I'll quote the rest:

Quote:
Likewise, for a fictional character, formal diagnosis can bring no benefit. At the same time, while diagnosis may not always be advantageous, coming to an understanding of autistic personality and a recognition of autistic characteristics, both within ourselves and in the world around us, can contribute to a more complex sense of identity and an enriched political consciousness. Thus, the suggestion of this essay—that Jane Eyre is an individual on the autism spectrum—is intended not as an end, not as an incarceration of the character within the rigid framework of diagnosis, not as a gesture that cuts off meaning and interpretive possibility, but instead as a device to reopen discussion of the novel’s politics and to challenge what seem to be some of our larger presuppositions regarding the political and social meaning of the individual.



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21 Apr 2009, 10:28 pm

I have always counted the character Jane Eyre, as one of my favorites. I have read that book countless times. I always thought of Jane as a fairly intelligent introvert. But as for being an Aspie, I doubt it.


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Woodpeace
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22 Apr 2009, 6:47 am

Over the last forty years or so literary criticism has expanded to incorporate readings of texts from previously unknown perspectives such as gender, race, sexuality and disability. To include neurodiversity is a continuation of this development. Victorian novels are a rich mine to be quarried for these readings.

Helen Burns can be read as being autistic and/or having Attention Deficit Disorder. At any rate she is not neurotypical. She is gifted and is most likely the most intelligent girl at Lowood orphanage school.

When Jane Eyre first meets her she is reading Rasselas [a novel by Samuel Johnson]. She lets Jane look at the book. When Jane returns it to her "she was about to relapse into her former studious mood", but she lets Jane ask her questions, until she says:

Quote:
You ask rather too many questions. I have given you answers enough for the present.

On the evening of the following day, Jane finds Helen kneeling by a fireplace:
Quote:
I found Burns, absorbed, silent, abstracted from all around her by the companionship of a book, which she read by the dim glare of the embers.

She continues reading the book, Rasselas, for another five minutes until she finishes it. Jane thinks that she can perhaps get her to talk. They start a conversation in which Helen says:
Quote:

I am, as Miss Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things in order: I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say like you, I cannot bear to be subjected to systematic arrangements.

She goes on to tell Jane that when she was in class that morning:
Quote:

when I should be listening to Miss Scatcherd, and collecting all she says with assiduity, often I lose the very sound of her voice; I fall into a sort of dream. Sometimes I think I am in Northumberland, and that the noises I hear round me are the bubbling of a little brook which runs through Deepden, near our house;- then, when it comes to my turn to reply, I have to be awakened; and having heard nothing of what was read for listening to the visionary brook, I have no answer ready.

When Jane tells Helen that she had replied well this afternoon, she says that it was because she is interested in the subject.

After they had talked together some more:
Quote:
Helen's head, always drooping, sank a little lower as she finished this sentence. I saw by her look that she wished no longer to talk to me, but rather to converse with her own thoughts.

Some months later Helen dies a pious and edifying death from an unspecified illness.



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28 Aug 2022, 10:05 am

The subject line of this thread would be more accurate if it said, “Clueless Person Writes Essay on Unprovable Topic for An Easy Grade”. Fictional characters who seem to have autistic traits may be nothing more than the result of an archaic writing style, which many autistic people seem to mimic. To say this proves the fictional character is autistic is to confuse cause and effect, at the very least.


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28 Aug 2022, 10:12 am

I collaborated with the author on autism and the neuroqueer voice in literature.

Jane presents with autistic characteristics which are representative of Charlotte's neurodiversity (probable ASD).
Lucy Snowe (Villette, 1853) is arguable the most autistic of all Brontë's characters.



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28 Aug 2022, 10:17 am

IsabellaLinton wrote:
I collaborated with the author on autism and the neuroqueer voice in literature. Jane presents with autistic characteristics which are representative of Charlotte's neurodiversity (probable ASD). Lucy Snowe (Villette, 1853) is arguable the most autistic of all Brontë's characters.
Someone who displays today the kind of behavior that was considered normal 170 years ago would likely be considered autistic.

But someone who lived 170 years ago and displayed behavior common to that era would likely have been considered ‘normal’.


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Fnord
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28 Aug 2022, 10:31 am

IsabellaLinton wrote:
Sure, Fnord. Whatever you say.
Sure, ‘Bella, I could be wrong.

But that is how it seems to me, and I am just expressing my opinion.

I do not delve as deeply as others into the subject -- e.g., diagnosing fictional people written by real people who died long before they could receive an official diagnosis of autism for themselves -- because it seems as pointless to me as diagnosing Tom Sawyer with halitosis.


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Last edited by Fnord on 28 Aug 2022, 10:48 am, edited 1 time in total.

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28 Aug 2022, 10:48 am

Jane Eyre is one of my very favorite books. I’d have to agree with Fnord here. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to diagnose fictional characters (and their authors) from 19th century literature with autism. Also, I’m not a psychologist.

Getting diagnosed with autism requires rigorous testing.


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28 Aug 2022, 10:53 am

Twilightprincess wrote:
Getting diagnosed with autism requires rigorous testing.
Tell that to the ‘psychologists’ diagnosing people they have never met or people who never existed. Maybe they need to re-calibrate their ‘aspidar’.

:roll:


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