Nick’s review of Harriet the Spy (Harriet the Spy #1) > Likes and Comments

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message 1: by Esther (new)

Esther I will never read Harriet the Spy the same way again.


message 2: by Chris (last edited Apr 10, 2014 06:51PM) (new)

Chris As someone officially diagnosed with autism when I was a kid, I can tell you that Harriet probably has Aspergers, and I'm guessing the reason is because the author probably had it, and was writing what she knew.

Seriously, reread your description of her. She's oblivious to the fact that her family has money, is strict about routine and gets upset if it's disrupted, doesn't understand why people do the things they do or how they think, is both mature and immature for her age, has difficulty with apologizing and lying, and there's other aspects of Aspergers/high-functioning autism that you missed. Like how she bosses her friends around (due to not understanding their point of view and not instinctively thinking about it), and how her outfit is totally practical rather than fashion-oriented, and her lack of concern with being cool and truly fitting in. All of this described me as a kid (though I was upset about not fitting in), though I was a very different person than Harriet.

Go read about Aspergers/autism and see if you think Harriet the Spy fits the description. Because as someone officially diagnosed with the condition, I can tell you, she very much has it. And being that the book was written at a time when no-one knew what high-functioning autism was (save for Hans Asperger himself), the author probably had it and transferred personality traits she understands, to her character. Unfortunately, there is next to no information about Louise Fitzhugh's life, so finding out for sure is impossible.

Really, this book should be considered Aspergers literature. Not that stupid "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" crap, which was written by a non-autistic who doesn't understand us, researched us, then proceeded to screw up the first-person narration and portrayal of the lead character, but THIS book. Harriet the Spy is best remembered as a classic for introducing realism to kid lit, which it certainly did, but it also introduced Aspergers before people had a name for it.


message 3: by Chris (last edited Apr 10, 2014 06:49PM) (new)

Chris Esther wrote: "I will never read Harriet the Spy the same way again."

It's the very earliest example of Aspergers lit. I have autism and many of Harriet's characteristics applied to me as a kid. My guess is the author had Aspergers and wrote about a character who was more or less herself as a kid. The irony is that despite many people not being able to relate to someone on the spectrum, Harriet the Spy was praised for its harsh realism. Not that people with autism are unrealistic, but that our thought processes and ways of life are so different that it's really quite impressive that the book caught on the way it did.


message 4: by Nick (new)

Nick If the author had ever indicated that Harriet's personality was worthy of examination, I would agree with you. Have you ever seen anything to indicate that Louise Fitzhugh was anywhere along the autism spectrum, or that this was a deliberate attempt to write something about what was later to be called Asperger's?
I've read a moderate amount on autism, and did catch some of what you're talking about, but not all. The thing of bossing the other kids around didn't strike me as symptomatic. Note that I DID say that today she would at least be checked for Asperger's.
My real issue was with people who say what a wonderful book this is, without ever examining Harriet's behavior.


message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris I tried to find info about Louise Fitzhugh's life, but there's so little available that I have no way of knowing. All that's known is that she was a butch lesbian, attended multiple colleges but didn't finish any of them, and that her well-off parents divorced when she was a kid.

College attendance is rather high among those on the high-functioning end of the spectrum (I'm a graduate myself), and some suffer difficulties in college due to stress, anxiety, and/or social problems. Does that mean Ms. Fitzhugh attending multiple colleges was the result of autism/Aspergers-related problems? No, but it could be, and more importantly, her character is so full of high-functioning autism/Aspergers traits, along with even the story itself (subverting gender roles when it comes to Sport and Janie, or even Harriet; people on the spectrum are very androgynous), that it seems to me to be likely.

In order to intentionally write about a character with autism/Aspergers, you have to know what it is. In the 1960s, high-functioning autism/Aspergers wasn't known at all, and if Ms. Fitzhugh had it, she would not have been diagnosed growing up. I imagine it's likely she wrote about a character she could relate to, which would be one who shared her traits.


message 6: by Nick (new)

Nick Like the bossing around, I didn't catch Sport and Janie as being symptomatic. In real life, I've never thought of "androgynous" as being a good descriptive term for the folks I've met at the high-functioning end of the spectrum. At least some have strong gender identification. It would be interesting to find out more about what Fitzhugh thought of Harriet's character, though.


message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris By "androgynous" I meant like, less likely to be inclined to totally follow gender roles, though they still tend to lean towards the roles for their biological sex (I am male, I identify as more "human being" than "man" specifically, but my interests are largely "male"). Sport and Janie and the other kids are likely based on kids the author knew, as in she may not have known what was going through their heads, but she wrote what she saw them do and how she saw them talk. Harriet was likely based on the author herself.

Sport and Janie's defiance of gender roles (Sport takes care of his dad, Janie is obsessed with science experiments) could have been Fitzhugh making a statement that "boys can do this, girls can do this; we don't have to be what you tell us to be", and may just as easily be sparked by other aspects of herself such as her being a butch lesbian, or it could be she felt limited by 1960s gender roles (again, due to being butch, but possibly also due to being on the spectrum) and was making a statement.


message 8: by Nick (new)

Nick To me, Sport and Janie were the best part of the book. I had always assumed that they were a deliberate attempt by Fitzhugh to change the limits of what boys and girls do. Granted, Janie is likely to grow up to be a mad scientist and try to take over the world, but normally that role is given to boys. :-)


message 9: by Lorna (new)

Lorna Chris: If I'm right, this will blow your mind. I think the author based Harriet on M.E. Kerr. Seriously: I read Kerr's autobiography, where she goes into a lot of detail about how she was "Marijane the Spy" as a kid. Years later, she met Louise Fitzhugh, and then one day, Fitzhugh published Harriet the Spy. Kerr, by her own account, was upset at this: "You can't do that -- that's my story!" Fitzhugh: "Too bad; you didn't write about it and I did." Kerr is still alive, so I'll check and see if she ever mentioned this in another context.


message 10: by Chris (new)

Chris Really? I wonder where the huge number of surprisingly accurate Aspie traits came from though. The author's in-depth knowledge of that way of thinking had to come from somewhere.


message 11: by Lorna (new)

Lorna Dunno, but since we're on the subject, have you ever read The Late Great Me by Sandra Scoppettone? There's another maybe-Aspie character in that. The main character's friend, B.J. (Betty Jean) mystified me as a kid. It's stated repeatedly that B.J. *never* gets jokes, takes *everything* literally, and hasn't made a new friend since elementary school because it's so hard to communicate with her. As an adult, I reread it and thought "Aspergers! Maybe?"


message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris I'd never read it. I do think there are a lot of "accidental Aspie" characters in some books (like, for instance, Peter in My Teacher is an Alien). These "accidental Aspies" are basically characters who show a lot of Aspie traits, to the point where if the author wasn't an Aspie, they knew somebody who was, and based the character off that person.


message 13: by Lorna (new)

Lorna Yes, I thought BJ might have been based on someone. And perhaps M.E. Kerr was/is an Aspie!


message 14: by Chris (new)

Chris What were you able to find about M. E. Kerr?


message 15: by Lorna (new)


message 16: by Chris (new)

Chris It doesn't indicate if there is an "Aspie" in either Kerr or Fitzhugh. It's so hard to find real info on Fitzhugh.


message 17: by Nick (new)

Nick Fitzhugh's comment that "all kids are spies" is a legitimate one. Kids are naturally inquisitive, and a bit nosy by nature. Also, it's a fun game. When I was a kid, I was given a telescope, and one of the first things I did was to find out was whether I could see people doing things. Nothing special or creepy, just curious what I could see. It turned out that the city mayor had a big picture window that lined up with our back yard. I never saw anything really cool or particularly interesting, so I gave up on that game.
There's a recent book, The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher, which is about two girls who are a bit like Harriet, but nicer. They misunderstand what they SEE when they're spying, which is what causes the problems. I think because it's two kids engaged in "social" spying, it's not as creepy.


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