Neurodivergent Representation in Sherlock Holmes

During today’s group discussion, I asked a question regarding Sherlock Holmes’s refusal to remember what he considers unnecessary information. Specifically, Holmes says, “You see, I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. A fool takes in all the lumber of every sort that he comes across, so that the knowledge which might be useful to him gets crowded out, or at best is jumbled with a lot of other things, so that he has a difficulty in laying his hands upon it” (Doyle 9). Obviously, being a jack of all trades is of not importance to Holmes, even though most men during this period valued well-versed education as a symbol of elevated social status. In addition to this oddity, Sherlock Holmes focuses his brain power on two specific fields: forensic science (5) and detective work (both of which go hand-in-hand). In fact, one could go as far as to say that Sherlock Holmes’s infatuation with detective work borderlines obsession. He applies most of his time and brain power to solving cases and developing new methods to do so. As a result, Holmes is viewed as “eccentric (3)” by those who know him–all except for Watson.

Davis brought up a good point about Sherlock Holmes’s potential neurodivergence. Although Arthur Conan Doyle makes no effort to diagnose Holmes with Asperger’s or any other type of condition (Asperger’s was not described in the DSM until the mid-twentieth century), he arguably represents the condition in the most digestible manner for his audience at the time. Not only is Holmes’s obsession with forensics indication of the likelihood of his neurodivergence, but also his communication style and his extremely close observations of people and his environment are tell-tale signs of his unique thought process, which Watson notices and grows to admire throughout the novel. What we may consider dry humor or flatness of character in Holmes’s verbal responses may actually be an indication of his inability to verbally engage other people in a usual, more inviting manner. In addition, Holmes’s attention span is very short, and Watson notes many occasions during which Holmes’s body language is notable for its unusual nature (Doyle 21).

This opens up a bigger discussion about the ways in which 19th century authors such as Doyle, Collins, and even Bronte attempt to portray disability without having the current language to name it. How could Catherine Earnshaw’s “personality” be analyzed as a result of trauma, and what language does Bronte use to convey such a framework? I think there is a lot to delve into here.


The Complexity of Mr. Provis

“To state that my terrible patron carried this little black book about the world solely to swear people on in cases of emergency, would be to state what I never quite established; but this I can say, that I never knew him put it to any other use. The book itself had the appearance of having been stolen from some court of justice, and perhaps his knowledge of its antecedents, combined with his own experience in that wise, gave him a reliance on its powers as a sort of legal spell or charm. On this first occasion of his producing it, I recalled how he had made me swear fidelity in the churchyard long ago, and how he had described himself last night as always swearing to his resolutions in his solitude (Great Expectations, 324).”

The “little black book (324)” mentioned in this excerpt by Pip is actually a worn copy of the Bible (which is referred to as a ‘Testament’), one that Pip assumes Mr. Provis swiped from court at some point during his being tried. The excerpt above establishes Provis’s character as one of a complexing nature, and it reminds the reader of Mr. Provis’s long-lasting impact on Pip’s coming-of-age experience.

Although it is merely an inference made by Pip, the notion that Mr. Provis carries this Bible “solely to swear people on in cases of emergency (324)” indicates Provis’s lack of religious knowledge or faith. Pip further states that “[he] never knew [Mr. Provis] put it to any other use (324).” This assessment is important to the development of Mr. Provis’s character, as it could be partial reasoning for his immoral and criminal patterns. This is not to imply that religion cures lawlessness, but rather that a knowledge and devotion to the religion associated with the Bible would denote Mr. Provis’s belonging to a society that, at the time, was heavily intertwined with the Christian faith. Pip goes on to say that the Bible in Provis’s possession “had the appearance of having been stolen from some court of justice.” The irony of a book as sacred as the Bible being illegally obtained by someone is crystal clear. It is indicative of Provis’s unique understanding of the Bible’s significance, which, according to Pip, derives from the legal tradition of solemnly swearing by the Bible before testifying in the court of law. Instead of valuing the Bible by its content, Provis values its symbolizing of trust and honesty. Therefore, trust and honesty appear as Provis’s prioritized qualities in every aspect of life, especially in his assessment of other people.

Pip recalls the time when Provis forced him to swear by the same copy of the Bible in the graveyard when he was a child (324). Along with his criminal record, Provis proves to be consistent in seeking honesty from other individuals. In addition, Provis’s early presence in Pip’s life was foreshadowing of Estella, his daughter’s, later appearance and significance in Pip’s life. This is highlighted by the parallels between the way in which Mr. Provis first appears at the beginning of the novel, a solitary, ragged figure, coming out of the woodworks of a graveyard (4), and the way in which Estella reappears for the last time at the end of the novel, “a solitary figure (471)” in a garden mist.

The Gothic Inversion in Wuthering Heights

“They shut the house door below, never noting our absence, it was so full of people. She made no stay at the stairs’-head, but mounted farther, to the garret where Heathcliff was confined, and called him. He stubbornly declined answering for a while: she persevered, and finally persuaded him to hold communion with her through the boards. I let the poor things converse unmolested, till I supposed the songs were going to cease, and the singers to get some refreshment: then I clambered up the ladder to warn her. Instead of finding her outside, I heard her voice within. The little monkey had crept by the skylight of one garret, along the roof, into the skylight of the other, and it was with the utmost difficulty I could coax her out again. When she did come, Heathcliff came with her, and she insisted that I should take him into the kitchen, as my fellow-servant had gone to a neighbour’s, to be removed from the sound of our ‘devil’s psalmody,’ as it pleased him to call it. I told them I intended by no means to encourage their tricks: but as the prisoner had never broken his fast since yesterday’s dinner, I would wink at his cheating Mr. Hindley that once.”

Excerpt From: Emily Bronte. “Wuthering Heights (Barnes & Noble Classics Series).” Apple Books.

It is in this excerpt that Emily Brontë’s use of gothic terminology and imagery inverts the reader’s understanding of what is good and what is evil. After throwing hot apple sauce in Edgar’s face, Heathcliff is confined to the estate’s attic. In this scene, what happens “above” and “below” confounds the reader’s usual understanding of good, evil and their respective locations (based on religious doctrine). Usually, things that are associated with “light” and “goodness” are elevated to parallel the location of Heaven or divinity. However, the joy and festivities are happening behind the “house door below”. In this way, the activity that one would register as joyful and lighthearted is occurring on a lower physical plane in proximity to “hell” and “darkness”. Conversely, Catherine must ascend a set of stairs to retrieve Heathcliff from the attic in which he is imprisoned. The situation of Heathcliff’s imprisonment can be likened to darkness and evil, as Heathcliff is perceived by the people of the estate, but the elevation of the room in which he is confined indicates otherwise. Additionally, “the skylight” that peaks through the cracks of the garret indicates that there is a subliminal battle between “light” and “dark” forces. While the plot itself influences the reader’s initial understanding of Heathcliff as evil and the people of Thrushcross Grange as good and joyful, the location of each of these scenarios inverts our understanding of their respective characters and likeness to good and evil.

In addition to the elements of location, certain terms and phrases used in this excerpt indicate the impure nature of the people who were responsible for Heathcliff’s confinement. The word “communion” is used to describe the conversation that occurs between Catherine and Heathcliff in the attic. While this is a general term that describes an intimate gathering between people, it also evokes the thought of Christian practice, especially the biblical story of The Last Supper, the final dinner between Jesus and the apostles before his crucifixion. In addition, Catherine refers to the festivities that are occurring downstairs as “‘devil’s psalmody,'” further indication of the evil nature of the celebration and its participants.


The Uneven Relationship b/w the Employer and the Weaver in Gaskell’s Mary Barton

Excerpt: “At all times it is a bewildering thing to the poor weaver to see his employer removing from house to house, each one grander than the last, till he ends in building one more magnificent than all, or withdraws his money from the concern, or sells his mill, to buy an estate in the country, while all the time the weaver, who thinks he and his fellows are the real makers of this wealth, is struggling on for bread for his children, through the vicissitudes of lower wages, short hours, fewer hands employed, &c” (Gaskell 23).

This excerpt appears in Chapter III of Mary Barton during the narrator’s discussion of John Barton’s involvement in the Trade’s Union. In the excerpt, a multitude of commas and coordinating conjunctions such as “and” and “or” work together to create what becomes a run-on sentence of the narrator’s train of thought regarding the relationship between the employer’s splurging and the weaver’s hard work. When describing the standard employer’s lifestyle, the narrator uses words like “grand” and “magnificent,” conveying the extravagant nature of the employer’s material acquisitions, such as an “estate.” In the next section of the sentence, the narrator discusses the weaver’s perspective, and he uses terms that are indicative of lack to do so. The words “struggling”, “vicissitudes”, “lower”, “fewer” and “short” all demonstrate the weaver’s position at the short end of the stick in the wealth distribution system. While the employer reaps the benefits of the weaver’s hard work, the weaver is the fuel for a never-ending cycle from which he receives nothing.

The formation of this sentence illustrates the uneven cycle or exchange between the employer and the weaver. The description of the employer’s abundant life is substantially longer than that of the weaver’s life. The uneven nature of the descriptions, which puts more emphasis on the employer, indicates that the employer receives many more benefits from the labor cycle than the individuals who do the labor.