Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

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Knitterlywitch
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Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Wed Dec 08, 2010 7:55 pm

So, in General Chatter, Aurelia Combeferre, Rose In Misery and I were discussing the possibility of Enjolras being on the Autism Spectrum. I'd like to know you all's opinion on the matter.

I really... don't know what else to add, should I post the 'evidence' from the other thread?

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby thoroughly_mod_mizzy » Wed Dec 15, 2010 6:45 am

Oooh. This sounds like my type of conversation. I could see Enjolras being vaguely autistic. Very high functioning, of course.

Care to elaborate on your theory?
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Aurelia Combeferre » Wed Dec 15, 2010 2:56 pm

Well one of the hints is his seemingly being reserved and not inclined to participate in conversations (notice how laconic he is in the backroom chapter) or some social activities.

I'd get my Kaplan psychiatry book and my copy of the DSM IV-TR (the ultimate diagnostic manual), but that will have to wait till my knee has recovered and I can lug the books down the stairs.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Rose In Misery » Wed Dec 15, 2010 8:18 pm

I definitely think he could have some form of high functioning autism. He is just so focused on what he believes in. My Dad and both have/have traits of Asperger's syndrome and if there is something that we care a lot about, then we become completely consumed by it. I also remember, and this is going from memory here, that Enjolras could "see the finer details of the big picture". People on the autistic spectrum usually have a great eye for detail in a way that most people do not. My Dad and I also look young for our age, as do other people I know on the spectrum. People with autism are often described as looking angelic and well...one of Enjolras' many fanon nicknames is Angelras.

It could also account for his behaviour towards women and relationships in general. Despite all of Hugo's classical allusions, Enjolras appears to me to be asexual and there's a link between Asperger's and asexuality. It would also explain his slightly unusual reaction of staring aggressively at any woman who dare try chat him up. As far as I know, most non-autistic guys are inclined to politely reject the advances of women they do not fancy.

Of course, you can just see him as an interesting and complex character but I think if you need an explanation for lots of his personality traits, then HFA is the best answer I can think of. I would love to know what Victor Hugo thought. Asperger's and other spectrum disorders weren't diagnosed until the early 20th century (I think) so he probably wouldn't have had a name for it anyway.

EDIT: Was just doing some more research into autism and found this article: http://www.paains.org.uk/articles/beautiful.htm

'Ethereal beauty' being common among children with Asperger's? Interesting... :wink:
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby thoroughly_mod_mizzy » Wed Dec 15, 2010 10:08 pm

Wow. I have a tendency to spend my free time diagnosing characters with... everything under the sun, really, and I actually briefly considered that Enjolras might have been autistic, but never found enough evidence. I'm sort of relieved that I wasn't just making something out of nothing, and that other people have considered it as well.

Some time back, thanks to the handy dandy resource that is Wikipedia, I seem to recall researching schizoid personality disorder and thinking it also fit him rather well: cold, aloof, asexual... Not everything fit, but it came close enough to make me feel like I had accomplished something.

But I like the autism theory a lot.

An inordinate amount of my favorite fictional characters have autistic traits.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Marianne » Wed Dec 15, 2010 10:39 pm

Am I the only one who doesn't see it? Yes, he exhibits a lot of the traits, but to me it seems incidental and coming from a different source--it's not that he doesn't understand social situations, he's reserved because he's always thinking about other things. To me he seems like the guy who sits in the corner, says nothing, doesn't appear to be listening, and knows exactly what's going on.

Put it another way, Asperger's is a subset of "extremely focused and socially aloof," and while the latter definitely fits Enjolras, I'm not sure he's in that particular subset. All the Aspies I've known tend to come off as obnoxious to NTs who think they don't know when to stop talking because they don't take non-verbal/non-explicit hints very well. Most people who aren't assholes revise their opinions once they realize direct communication is necessary, but that's the thing--Enjolras seems fine with indirect communication.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Rose In Misery » Wed Dec 15, 2010 11:25 pm

Well, I suppose you could argue that he only exhibits certain traits. No two people with autism are alike, there are just a set of general traits that most people on the spectrum have. By that logic, Enjolras could still be on the spectrum but be able to understand indirect communication.

This whole autism theory is purely supposition on our part. It could just be completely coincidental like you said. I suppose you could probably find autistic traits in every character in the Brick. I personally find the idea of Enjolras being on the spectrum particularly interesting. In all of literature I haven't come across a character like him and this intrigues me. I found it quite hard to imagine him as a person because he seemed more like a concept than a human being. The idea of him having Asperger's or HFA makes him seem more of a real person. And I have Asperger's, so that's why the idea really appeals to me.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:24 am

thoroughly_mod_mizzy wrote:Oooh. This sounds like my type of conversation. I could see Enjolras being vaguely autistic. Very high functioning, of course.

Care to elaborate on your theory?


Yeah, I go to a school for kids on the Autism spectrum and he seems to have a lot of the traits we have, like he's very idealistic, charismatic but doesn't date (a lot of boys on the spectrum can handle enough understanding of social cues for friendships but not relationships) he wants everything his way and seems to have trouble seeing other's viewpoints (very common trait among us).

Like I mentioned in my other post it is possible he was able to mimic enough social skills to function. After all this was back when people who couldn't hide their disabillity were sent to horrible insane asylums or locked in basements. He'd have to try his hardest to blend in, by pretending to make eye contact, mimicing the way others acted in social situations, ECT.

The fact that he reminds me of a good friend from school (other than the whole hates girls thing, because my friend likes me and I am female... gay, but female) might be helping me see him this way more than others might.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby MmeJavert » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:31 am

Marianne wrote:Am I the only one who doesn't see it? Yes, he exhibits a lot of the traits, but to me it seems incidental and coming from a different source--it's not that he doesn't understand social situations, he's reserved because he's always thinking about other things. To me he seems like the guy who sits in the corner, says nothing, doesn't appear to be listening, and knows exactly what's going on.

Put it another way, Asperger's is a subset of "extremely focused and socially aloof," and while the latter definitely fits Enjolras, I'm not sure he's in that particular subset. All the Aspies I've known tend to come off as obnoxious to NTs who think they don't know when to stop talking because they don't take non-verbal/non-explicit hints very well. Most people who aren't assholes revise their opinions once they realize direct communication is necessary, but that's the thing--Enjolras seems fine with indirect communication.


This, actually. I was getting kind of squirmy at the thought of trying to shoehorn what characterisation we get for Enjolras into modern psychiatric diagnoses.

People who are not loud, not outgoing, and focused on a specific goal/ideal do not necessarily have traits of autism or Asperger's. I mean, I get where you guys are coming from with the traits, but I just don't see it myself.

Enjolras is idealistic, he is intelligent, he is not a social butterfly, he does not date. Because he is so focused on his ideal, achieving a utopian republic, he simply does not do other things. Hugo says he dropped his eyes before all else, including gambling, drinking, seducing women, frivolous things. He didn't care for them; this does NOT mean he wasn't capable of them. The problem with 'diagnosing' Enjolras is that Hugo meant him more to be a sort of metaphor for The Ideal of the Republic/The Revolution personified, not as a real person, so traits we are seeing in Enjolras are possibly exaggerated more than for any real person. Courfeyrac and Combeferre are more realistic sketches of a person than is Enjolras. A real-life Enjolras might not be *as* driven, focused, single-minded, and completely abstemious, as the one Hugo shows us.

That, and ... okay, I'm not trying to say this to disregard anyone's opinions, or blow them off, but ... autism, Asperger's, AD(H)D, and other mental disorders are, while not "new" disorders, things that just didn't "exist" in the 19th century. Whether ANYONE in that era suffered from such disorders is certainly possible, but the thing is modern psychiatric diagnoses are extremely recent. Historical novels, especially those written by people who lived in the time periods the books were set, kind of seem to me an odd place to try to diagnose characters. You won't have the background information you need, and the authors will describe the characters being completely ignorant that someone 150 years down the road might see them as having some sort of mental/psychiatric disorder or condition. Y'know?

Someone exhibiting Enjolraic traits *today* could well be pegged as possibly having said traits, but they could also be mentally functioning perfectly. I know a number of folks in high school who were Very Quiet and only came out to talk if the conversation/class discussion circled around to something they really cared about (one in particular, Elizabeth, who was so quiet and painfully shy--except when doing musicals, because she was in her element on stage.) -- and none of them, to me, seemed Aspie or having autism or anything like that. Therefore I see Enjolras in the same light as I saw Elizabeth and others I knew.

I have known autistic children, too, so I'm honestly not making stuff up about autistic people I've never come in contact with -- my step-mom used to run a daycare out of her house, and she loves little kids, ESPECIALLY little kids with special needs or developmental disorders or the like, and she had one very sweet 6-year-old autistic boy. Before my stepmom shut down the daycare and I never saw him again (he was 3-4 when I met him, and 6 the last tiime I saw him), I very gradually got to know him. He didn't talk, he only looked at you if he knew who you were, he still wore diapers, but he was the most adorable boy. The only way he resembled Enjolras was his GORGEOUS white-blond hair and blue eyes and charming little smile. That boy will have girls running after him when he's older, god help him. (And please understand, I'm not saying this the same way as people saying, "lol I'm not racist because I have black friends", just to say what I've seen of autism. I've been acquainted with other people with autism/Asperger's, but this little boy was the closEST acquaintance I have and therefore the best anecdote I can give. Maybe there are autistic people who would be exactly like Enjolras; all I know is that it Enjolras' character is not 'typically' autistic.)



I have held off saying anything for a little while because I wanted to sit down and think about it. I really hope I don't come across wrong; I still have difficulty explaining myself when it comes to these sorts of developmental/social disorders and feel like I'm coming across as ableist or condescending or something. :/
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:38 am

Its okay, MmeJavert, I just like thinking Enjy is on the spectrum because I want someone to identify with in the book in that way.

You're entitled to your opinion though! :D

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby MmeBahorel » Thu Dec 16, 2010 12:46 am

Jumping in with Mme Javert, I think it's also important to consider that psychiatric disorders change in response to social stimuli - which seems obvious when you think about it but it isn't. This NY Times Magazine article from earlier this year, The Americanization of Mental Illness is something important to keep in mind when considering the presentation and effects of a psychiatric disorder in an environment other than where it was initially studied. (basically, mental illness is expressed differently in different cultures, but the increasing globalisation of both popular culture and medical research has meant that American-trained doctors in non-western countries are diagnosing non-western forms of mental illness with American techniques and identifying American disorders, which in some cases is beginning to change the way in which mental illness is expressed among those populations.)

Not harshing anyone's squee, just presenting additional support for Mme Javert's point because I'm a nerd like that :)
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Col.Despard » Thu Dec 16, 2010 1:18 am

I'm inclined to weigh in with the skeptical camp as well...I've seen autism mentioned in connection with Enjolras before (as well as suggestions he's a highly functioning sociopath!), but am inclined to skepticism when it comes to putting literary and historical figures on the couch. It's hard enough to diagnose people in person correctly, let alone where the evidence is sketchy/someone is deceased. This goes for physical medical conditions as well as mental conditions...I'm always reminded of the once-popular POV that Akhenaten had Marfan's syndrome, based on his depiction in Amarna art (rather than the now more readily accepted idea that Amarna art incorporated abstract and exagerated elements).

Enjolras is actually an extraordinary good communicator, and quite empathic - it is he, after all, who notices the elderly woman with the candle and what it signifies, and considers it important enough to convey to Combeferre in their brief conversation when they fetch the uniforms. He is also adept at more subtle, non-verbal communication, and can be seen in some instances to use it in preference to direct verbal communication.

The "chastely dropping his eyes" bit suggests to me that he is making a very conscious decision to adhere to his interpretation of Republican vertu, not that he is unaware of or that these temptations have no appeal whatsoever. I suspect that he is naturally austere, reserved and possibly asexual, and that these traits have been tempered even further by his own idealism.

I don't think he is that insistant on having things his own way...what is surprising is how tolerant he is of his freewheeling compatriots. He might not be *participating* in their horseplay and highspirits, but we don't actually seeing him raise objections to it - neither in the backroom of the Musain or on the Barricade. We are told he rejects Grantaire, which implies to me that it is Grantaire who is proactively approaching him. Otherwise, we see Grantaire in full rant in the Musain, and Enjolras does nothing to intervene and stop him. He is also very willing to delegate at the barricades, and rather than the control freak we see in some fanonical interpretations, he even allows Bossuet and Courfeyrac to determine the site of the barricade.

I do understand the appeal of identifying with a character by seeing them face similar medical issues to those we face...I have to temper it in my responses to Grantaire, as I'm inclined to see his behaviour as indicative of the illness I have, and it certainly has coloured some of my written interpretations of his character. So there's nothing wrong with batting these ideas around or exploring these possibilities. In Enjolras' case, though, I think it would be taking away something of his conscious decision to adhere to his principals to assume that they stem from an inherent mental condition rather than from his intellectual beliefs.
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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby MmeJavert » Thu Dec 16, 2010 2:57 am

Yes--thank you MmeBahorel for expanding on one of the thoughts I had. :D

In keeping with what Despard has said ... I don't see it as a problem if you wanted to explore, say, autistic Enjolras (or depressed!Grantaire or ADHD Courfeyrac) in fanfiction -- because really, that's what fanfiction is for. It really only bugs me when people start taking canon characters and saying "they had X" or "they were Y" based upon our modern medical/psychiatric understanding. Because while they may have existed in the technical sense, i.e., there were people who did have those mental deficiencies... they just did not exist the same way as we do, here, in the modern developed West. And even among Western countries it's not the same, because as MmeBahorel, says various cultures have different social and societal norms and expectations and such ... so things that may be seen as a deficiency or a disorder here might not be prevalent or indeed noticed in other countries, simply because of cultural/societal differences.
and to this day, she's glided on
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like a word misplaced
nothing said, what a waste

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby Knitterlywitch » Thu Dec 16, 2010 3:04 am

I understand.

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Re: Enjolras on the Autism Spectrum?

Postby thoroughly_mod_mizzy » Thu Dec 16, 2010 3:12 am

I agree that it's not a perfect theory. And I agree with what MmeJavert has said, that Enjolras as something other than a symbol might not be as crazy-obsessive/driven as Hugo's symbolic!Enjolras. I often have trouble finding a balance between Enjolras in the Brick and Enjolras as a functioning human being, which I have found to be way more necessary in a modern context. (Yes my fanfiction is weird...)

But I have to admit (because this is a personal hobby of mine) that, if you can take Enjolras at face value on any level (that's a big if), he's kind of fun to speculate on. In fanfiction and the like, of course, as MmeJavert said. I wouldn't have the nerve to speak for Hugo on the subject.
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