“Herman Melville was a truly great American writer. His Asperger’s syndrome helped him to be a great observer and to focus obsessively on his work. He had a highly fertile imagination; contrary to received wisdom, persons with Asperger’s syndrome are capable of this”.
Throughout Melville’s life, he displayed many common behaviors of people with Asperger’s Syndrome. Mainly he was obsessive over his writing and over keeping his routines. He also was hyperactive, helping him be able to write for hours on end. It was discussed in Fitzgerald’s book that Melville’s daily routine often consisted of him shutting himself into his office in order to write the entire day, usually not emerging until late afternoon for his first meal. Melville didn’t always work so intensely but was insistent on having things done the way he liked. He would become enraged when his wife or staff didn’t do things the way he imagined them to be done. This was likely because he had trouble empathizing with others and imagining other’s thought processes. I was surprised that his lack of emotional connection with others stretched far enough to make him appear detached when his own son committed suicide. Melville’s social awkwardness and lack of emotional awareness is apparent enough that he was described as being a misogynistic bully towards his family and staff.
I think it’s interesting to see an unkind personality being represented in someone on the Autism Spectrum. Like we’ve talked about in class, when someone with ASD is being portrayed they are usually put in a light of innocence or thought of as being angelic. I think it’s refreshing that it is known that Melville wasn’t an innocent type of person and that people don’t really need to feel pity for. I further find it interesting that Melville writes about his autistic character, Bartleby, as if he is a charity case for the lawyer. Melville has Asperger’s himself yet portrays Bartleby with different behaviors from his own. This makes me think he doesn’t see himself in Bartleby or vice versa. As if he is denying a connection between himself and other people on the spectrum. This implores me to disagree with one of Brown’s statement: “[Bartleby] reveals how it’s author understood his own neurological difference and its impact on his work like and family life”. I completely disagree with this statement. From the descriptions of Melville, it doesn’t sound to me like he understood how his behaviors affected his relationships with people at all. I just don’t see how Melville addressed his own struggles through the character of Bartleby specifically…
However, I do see small similarities shared between Melville and each of the characters. The lawyer and Melville both have keen observational skills; Bartleby and Melville both refuse to do what is normal in additional to both being unapologetically particular people; Turkey and Melville both indulge in heavy, frequent drinking; and Nippers and Melville have unrepentant ambition. I don’t know if these traits were intentional by Melville but I think it’s cool to see how the different personalities mix. Almost like a glimpse of how Melville feels internally with these characteristics being juggled.
Brown, Julie. (2010). “Herman Melville.” Writers on the Spectrum: How Autism and Asperger Syndrome Have Influenced Literary Writing. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp.81-94.
Desmarais, Jane (2001). “Preferring not to: The Paradox of Passive Resistance in Herman Melville’s ‘Bartleby’”. Journal of the Short Story in English. London: Presses universitaires d’Angers.
Fitzgerald, Michael. (2005). “Herman Melville (1819-91) (Chapter 3).” The Genesis of Artistic Creativity: Asperger’s Syndrome and the Arts. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. pp.50-55.
Melville, Herman. (1963). “Bartleby.” Works of Herman Melville. New York, NY: Russel & Russel Inc.. pp.19-65.