Claire Harman, recent author of Charlotte Brontë: A Life, believes that many of Emily Brontë’s documented idiosyncrasies may have been the result of Asperger’s.
The author’s literary genius, her infamous reclusivity, and her bad temper are all characteristics which Harman cites as being indicative of the condition. Charlotte Gaskell, the Brontë sister’s first biographer, made note of one particularly disturbing display of violent anger by Emily. She apparently punched her dog in the face, leaving it “half blind and stupefied”, for having dirtied the laundry. Harman said at the Edinburgh International Book festival that Gaskell characterized the outburst as “a sign of Emily’s strength of character”.
Harman was far more disturbed by the account. She spoke of Emily’s effect on her family, stating that they lived somewhat in fear of her.
She was such a genius and had total imaginative freedom … Containing Emily, protecting Emily, not being alarmed by Emily, was a big project for the whole household. She’s an absolutely fascinating person – a very troubling presence, though.
Harman believes that Wuthering Heights is often times romanticized, and readers overlook a lot of the violence in the text. Inability to properly socialize, and bouts of rage may have run in the family. Harman suspects the Brontë’s father may have had a similar condition.
He gave them an immense latitude in terms of his interest in issues of the day that transferred very readily… But he was a very chilly man, very emotionally strange. He was clearly hugely egotistical and I think, also a bit Asperger’s-ey too.
Whether or not it was the result of Asperger’s, Emily, a fascinating and challenging individual, was clearly able to channel her extremity of being into beautiful captivating literature.
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