Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer’s So Odd a Mixture: Along the Autistic Spectrum in ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was an essay published about 10 years ago; it seeks to show that Mr. Darcy, far from being arrogant or aloof, suffered from a type of high-functioning autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome. After all, he is “continually giving offense”, seems cold and unfeeling, and doesn’t seem to care about, nor even to realize, the emotions of other characters.
Mr. Darcy is also a character in Jane Eyre Gets Real by Annabelle Troy. Darcy, when asked by Miss Troy what he thought of Ms. Bottomer’s analysis, politely replied that it is Sherlock Holmes who has Asperger’s–he, Mr. Darcy, is simply behaving like a gentleman. Though technically not an aristocrat, as he lacks a title, Mr. Darcy’s wealth, education and standing in his community put him on a par with the cream of his society. With his very proper and rigorous behavior, as well as his ability to leave both his own and others’ feelings unacknowledged, he was only being comme il faut.
Darcy is not the only character in the world to be viewed differently when taken out of social context. In a world of single mothers, Hester Prynne’s refusal to name her baby’s father might be seen as independent rather than rebellious. Judged by the standards of today Emma Bovary might be consumer-oriented rather than extravagant and Jane Eyre might seem foolish to have fled from the very married but nonetheless very eligible Mr. Rochester. In short, society’s diagnosis is forever changing where manners, character, and psychology are concerned.
However, common sense remains constant. The advice below, taken from a Regency book of etiquette, published in 1804 and written by John Trusler, is surely still prudent:
“If a man of rank, a superior, make you a visit, and you ‘know of his coming, ’tis a mark of respect to meet him at his coach-door, and having brought him into the best room of the house, reach him a chair, and when he begs you to sit, seat yourself by him, but in a chair without arms.”