An Intolerable Asp?

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a young man in possession of all his faculties, yet who is a complete boor in social situations, must have Asperger’s Syndrome, sometimes referred to as an, “Aspie.”

At least, that is the conclusion of modern day students of literature and medicine, who tend to diagnose even fictional characters such as Mr. Darcy, Sherlock Holmes, and Frankenstein as having Asperger’s syndrome. Do a search anywhere for Darcy and Asperger’s and you will see what I mean.

I happen to have some experience with Asperger’s, a form of autism. In fact I have quite a bit of experience with it, in the same way that someone who has lived through a tornado has experience with summer windstorms. Our daughter is autistic (autism, regular, hold the fries), and my husband has Asperger’s syndrome (autism, lite). Coping with our daughter’s condition was the primary force behind my journey into writing and then publishing. So Darcy as a romantic hero, with autism, is appealing. Through loving Elizabeth he comes to realize his boorish behavior in public, reforms himself, and becomes a better person.

But sorry, I’m not buying it. Autism? Asperger’s? Don’t make me laugh.

Darcy changes because he can change, and because he wants to change after seeing himself through Elizabeth’s eyes. He reflects on his upbringing and finds that it was lacking in some ways, and by his own will power makes up for his slightly off-kilter childhood training. It’s a great love story whose moral is: true love can make us better people.

People with autism or Asperger’s cannot change their inherent nature. They are who they are, and we accept them that way, warts and all, just as we accept anyone without a special challenge in their life. A person with Asperger’s (or autism) may learn how to cope better with their condition. They may learn social skills through therapy, behavior analysis, and repetition. They may even, in some situations, learn how to cope so well that casual observers might not realize something is “off”. But it is not an effortless, overnight transformation.

So don’t read about Mr. Darcy with any thought of him having Asperger’s. We love him because of his inherent goodness, the noble character that enables him to realize where he was wrong and to do everything in his power to correct it. To write off his character flaws as symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome is to miss the whole point of his wonderful story. And that, as Jane Austen would say, would be intolerable.

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