Austen's 'autistics'

6th April 2007 at 01:00
AT LAST the mystery of Mr Darcy's tight-lipped manner has been solved. The handsome bachelor was autistic, at least according to a new book designed to liven up GCSE English.

So Odd a Mixture, by speech pathologist Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer, diagnoses a string of characters in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice with the developmental disability. Mr Darcy's stilted conversation is attributed to autism, as are clergyman Mr Collins's lacklustre dance moves.

Ms Bottomer quotes Austen's description of Mr Collins, "awkward and solemn, apologising instead of attending, and often moving wrong without being aware of it", and says that "the words epitomise some of the co-ordination problems those on the autistic spectrum can have".

The book has already been dismissed by the National Association for the Teaching of English as "wonderfully absurd". But the publishers believe it will make a valuable contribution to the debate around the much-misunderstood condition, which causes social problems and a preoccupation with routine tasks, and affects an estimated 133,500 under-18s in the UK.

"I hope it will help people understand the sometimes subtle challenges faced by those on the mild end of the autistic spectrum and serve as a reminder not to judge too quickly," said Ms Bottomer.

Squabbling couple Mr and Mrs Bennett are also placed on the spectrum, and Lydia Bennett, the heroine's younger sister, is framed as a possible sufferer of Attention Deficit Disorder after she elopes with the dastardly Mr Wickham.

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