As someone who has an invested personal interest in autism, it was only natural that I would love this book. While I had long suspected that Emily Dickinson had Asperger's, I did not know that Lewis Carroll, Melville, Yeats, Sherwood Anderson and Hans Christian Andersen were also on the spectrum.
Brown, a gifted author researches each of these literary figures and provides compelling evidence that they were most likely on the autism spectrum. Emily Dickinson certainly fit the classic profile of a socially stunted person with a more severe form of Asperger's. In fact, as with any spectrum, there are overlapping behaviors and Emily Dickinson appeared to be closer to the autistic end of the spectrum.
Highly intelligent people with Asperger's often have the ability to concentrate on things of personal interest. In the case of Aspies with high literary ability, it is this singleness of purpose, this ability to stay focused on writing that makes their work all the more distinct.
Each one of the people featured in this book demonstrated the "linear thinking" that is often a hallmark of Asperger's. Many of the writers followed a theme and would later rearrange said theme so as to fit in with the rhythm and flow of the story. In keeping with the "jigsaw puzzle" analogy that is so often applied to people with autism, the writers featured here often moved whole sections of their poems/stories so as to "fit" and "flow" with the main theme, not unlike fitting together a puzzle in the literary sense.
Jane Austen, from the way she has been described in other biographies certainly makes one wonder if she was on the autism/Asperger's (a/A) spectrum as well. In fact, she certainly sounds as if she was on the a/A spectrum and I believe that she was. Her characters from "Pride & Prejudice" are featured in So Odd A Mixture and that author makes a VERY compelling case for how Jane and 8 of her characters certainly had a place on the autism spectrum.
Highly intelligent people with Asperger's tend to be extremely logical, but many of their neurotypical (NT) counterparts often miss the rationale behind the behavior and creations of people on the spectrum. Many writers with Asperger's rely on symbolism (think "Moby Dick," which is an allegory and Carroll's books) and find character development more challenging. Each one of the writers featured in this book fit the profile for Asperger's. The writing style of many gifted Aspies goes against standard tradition; to wit we have Andersen's gruesome endings and events in some fairy tales; Carroll, who would later influence John Lennon (not that John Lennon was on the spectrum) created neologisms and weird literary fantasies. John Lennon loved Carroll's books as a boy and in 1964, borrowed largely from Carroll's style of using neologisms and spoofs on words, e.g. "I was bored on the 9th of October....Madolf Heatlump bombed England..." Emily Dickinson created her own brand of poetry replete with her own rhythm and imagery. Sherwood Anderson, long loved for his short stories about small-town life in Ohio would line his stories up, not unlike many people with more severe autism lining objects up and create a novel out of the separate stories.
I do believe that each one of these authors had Asperger's. Asperger's is as old as time and was only identified in 1944 by Dr. Asperger who studied a group of boys whose behaviors fit a certain pattern. By 1994 Asperger's would be included in the DSM-IV and I have no doubt that each one of these authors had Asperger's.
Asperger's, as with any other condition is a spectrum. There are Aspie writers who are quite good at character development and can speak of emotions naturally and comfortably. There is no "one size fits all" paradigm. There is a wide variability among the spectrum, but there are some persistent features that are recognizable.
This excellent book will certainly give readers a different view of these authors and a new appreciation for them and for Aspies in general.