Few people realize that there are two Dutch Jewish women who have become known for their diaries written during the Second World War. Anne Frank is the most famous, but equally interesting is Etty Hillesum, who was in her twenties when she wrote her diary. Etty’s diary differs from Anne in that her age brings a more mature perspective. Etty becomes a kind of mystic, as she tries to understand why the Jews are forced to endure such suffering. Recently I have been reading Anne’s diary, as reading about people stuck inside their homes because of authoritarian regimes that weaponize fear currently appeals to me for reasons you can probably figure out yourself. What struck me immediately is that she writes in a manner I would not associate with a girl of her age. Specifically, her diary gives off an Asperger vibe.
People tend to say of boys with Asperger’s that they seem like little professors, whereas people tend to say that the girls seem like little philosophers. Greta Thunberg is of course the most famous example, most of these girls who become famous stay in the closet or never find out for themselves, but if you go back further in time, you’ll stumble upon a few other candidates. Asperger’s isn’t new, it’s a modern way of referring to a particular personality profile that subtly deviates from the norm and has been with us for generations. Emily Bronte is a relatively well known case, but another interesting case few people have pointed out so far is the famous German-Dutch girl, Anne Frank. If Anne Frank had been born later, I think we would have recognized her autistic traits.
Why is that? We can start with the most obvious. People around her knew her as a shy quiet girl. Her own father was shocked by her diary, as it revealed a girl with a very rich internal world. She wrote in a manner that revealed such maturity that we struggle to associate it with a teenage girl. Note how Greta Thunberg and Anne Frank encounter the same problem: Detractors don’t believe Greta writes her own speeches, neo-nazi’s don’t believe Anne Frank wrote her own diary.
There are other hints too. Anne was bisexual. She describes how she wishes she had a girlfriend and enters ecstasy when she sees the Venus of Milo. She also seems to be autoerotic, in that she felt attracted to her own body. These are traits that hint at autism.
Anne writes in her diary how she could entertain herself, simply by reading about family trees of royalty. She moves from one obsession to another. At one point she’s obsessed with royal family trees, then it’s Greek and Roman mythology, then it’s ballet. These are just not the sort of things that interest average teenage girls. She notes how people seem amazed by her encyclopedic knowledge of movie stars. These are typical Aspie traits. They can get addicted to knowledge, as the years go by they can transform into walking encyclopedias. It shouldn’t be hard to see how having some people with traits like this around would have been useful before the printing press was invented.
Another interesting thing is how she writes about her desire to be alone in nature. She claims that God meant for people to be content in nature and insists that almost all misery can be solved by simply being alone in nature. This is reminiscent of Asperger’s for two reasons. First of all, we tend to find idiosyncratic religious beliefs in Aspie girls. God for them tends to be a mystical impersonal force, more a product of abstract contemplation than a set of doctrines they were taught about. Second, the desire to be alone in nature speaks for itself.
Anne also has a very strict routine, it upsets her when she’s forced to deviate from it. She describes how she couldn’t pray with her mother, she could only pray with her father before going to bed. She feels terribly guilty towards her mother for insulting her, but she can’t help herself. She can’t deviate from this routine.
The most telling sign however, is how she described social dynamics between people. People say of Wuthering Heights that the dialogue looks like it’s written in hell. The same thing applies to Anne’s diary. Now you might say to me that people hidden away in a small house are inevitably going to annoy each other and that’s a fair argument, but we can tell from her diary that she also has some positive relationships, specifically with her sister and her father, she just barely mentions them. Instead, her diary is filled with endless analysis and scathing criticism of the psychology of her love interest Peter’s mother, Mrs. van Daan. She complains about her flirting with her father, she complains about her eating patterns, everything van Daan does is wrong.
What you tend to notice with intelligent girls on the spectrum is that they make terrific writers about unspoken social dynamics. The reason for that is because they spend their whole life struggling to adjust. Imagine having to consciously think about how to walk, when to lift your leg, when to put it down again, etc. To some degree, that’s how social interaction works for Aspies. Social interaction for most people goes intuitively, they barely even think about other people’s motives or what to say to them, so they can’t write well about it. The reason Anne writes so entertainingly about it is because it’s something she has to consciously work to understand.
Girls on the spectrum desire social interaction, more so than the boys, but they simultaneously find it very stressful and intimidating. They also seem to take a peculiar masochistic delight in negative social interaction. Consider Greta’s hobby of referring to herself with famous powerful men’s insults towards her. Most girls don’t have that tendency. Most girls want to be liked and don’t want to draw negative attention to themselves, but Aspie girls just tend to want people to have strong feelings about them. It’s most noticeable in their teenage years when the hormones are raging, as they grow older they figure out it’s unladylike and become more discreet.
Anne endlessly describes how everyone complains about her, how they consider her arrogant, how they accuse her parents of raising her wrong, how they think she’ll fail to be happily married as an adult, because her mind is too mature for her age and she will be bored by whatever husband she ends up with. It really seems as if she revels in all the negative attention. Particularly she seems to like it when everyone attacks her and her dad stands up for her. These are typical narcissistic girly Aspie traits. We know that Anne has some narcissistic tendencies, she starts out the diary by bragging about all the guys who “worship” her.
Overall, my impression is that Anne was remarkably mature for her age and had the talent to become a great author. Talent alone is rarely enough to write something truly interesting, unusual life experiences help greatly. Unfortunately however her life ended in tragedy, buried in a mass grave in Germany because of people who blindly followed authority figures and the fashionable political ideals of their time, so all we have are her diary and a few short stories. I had relatively low expectations of her diary and found myself pleasantly surprised. I was expecting a politically correct book with endless tales about menstruation, but I would recommend reading the diary, because it is primarily a tale of an unusual teenage girl who is faced with severe misery and develops her own perspective on the human condition as a result.