Classic Literature’s “Infinity Girls”

“Homeless” Millennial Book Girls

As author Sarah Clarkson put it, women who love books today had childhoods wherein they were considered “book girls.” These girls found their truest friends between the pages of books as well as in school or extracurricular activities. Some of them collected books the way other girls collected Barbies or American Girls, Lisa Frank merchandise, or Lip Smackers lip gloss. For many “book girls” of recent generations, the books and series they grew up with still play a big role in who they are today and how they socialize.

In particular, many millennial women align themselves with a book series, or several standalone books, that fostered their love of reading or shaped their childhoods. If a millennial woman loved Bonnie Bryant’s The Saddle Club or Joanna Campbell’s Thoroughbreds series, she was likely a “horse girl.” Another millennial woman might have grown up loving Nancy Drew and styled herself as a “mystery girl” or “girl detective.” As millennial girls got older, many of them gravitated toward books like the Sweet Valley High series, the Nancy Drew Files, The Princess Diaries, or Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging, which bloomed into the Georgia Nicholson series. For grown-up millennial girls, it was not enough to be a “bookworm” or a “book girl.” One needed a series or genre to make her own, a literary “home.”

The Princess Diaries
The Princess Diaries book cover.

Some millennial girls did not fit easily into these subsets. Such “book girls” may have read and enjoyed some of the above series without committing to a “fandom.” Similarly, these girls may have enjoyed books popular with childhood peers. Yet “growing into” or relating to the plotlines of series like The Princess Diaries or Sweet Valley High was difficult. The plotlines of such series, geared toward high school students and young adults, are appropriate for young adults, but still edgy. Plus, the fantasy of living the life of a princess, or living in an idyllic Southern California setting as a turquoise-eyed blonde with a perpetually size six figure, is appealing. Yet some “book girls” found the plotlines’ edginess off-putting and the characters within them unrealistically mature, but somehow shallow.

Such an experience with adolescent literature left a small but important group of readers with an interesting “story” of their own. On the one hand, their reading let them form unique identities and understandings of their world. Arguably, those identities and understandings let these bookworms mature faster than their peers, leaving them better prepared for academic, emotional, and social challenges as adults. But these girls did not have a peer group to which they could easily attach themselves. Peers who weren’t deeply interested in books might have shunned them, and fellow bookworms were probably distant.

Therefore, even though girls without a “literary home” didn’t seek a “label,” they did not have a way to identify, style, and craft themselves as their fellow bookworms did. They were homeless, nameless, on the fringes of book world. While some, if not most, were content to “float” to whatever standalone novel or series fed their interests, this was not the same experience as being a “book girl” with a like-minded circle.

Building a New Literary Home

Little Women
Little Women book cover.

A female Tumblr user, or Tumblrina, recently posed a question about these readers on the site. Paraphrased, she asked, “If the Saddle Club is a direct line to ‘horse girl,’ and books like Goosebumps are a direct line to ‘goth girl,’ what is Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, and Little Women a direct line to?'” Like so many other grown-up millennial “book girls,” the Tumblrina sought to discover where her reading experience had led and was leading. She asked the questions, is there a healthy way to embrace that experience and use it to shape who they are as adults, the way more “mainstream” girls have? More importantly, would adult “book girls” who did not find their homes in their peers’ series or groups benefit from doing so now as adults?

These questions have complex answers. Yet they are still easily answered if we examine the books and protagonists these millennial women gravitated toward as children and teens. When we give the books in our discussion close readings, we find the books and protagonists have several key elements in common. Those elements unite, letting each formerly homeless millennial bookworm craft not only her own identity, but her identity within a literary circle. They are the “boards” with which these women can build the “homes” they didn’t have in the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s. Unlike the “horse girl” or “goth girl” or “mystery girl” home however, these “boards” will likely end up crafting a smaller, yet much more eclectic, home. The nature of the grown-up girls living inside this home means that its foundations may look formulaic enough to fit into the archetype of a millennial series reader. But while this literary home is formulaic in one way, in others, it is extremely complex. It demands much of its residents–one could argue, a lifetime commitment.

The Ultimate Security Deposit

Sweet Valley High
Sweet Valley High book cover.

The use of this phrase feels extreme. Adult women who once loved Sweet Valley no longer aspire to find a long-lost twin or live the high-drama lives of Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. Women who consumed The Princess Diaries franchise might enjoy it with their daughters, granddaughters, or nieces, but do not expect to be whisked to an unknown European principality and crowned sole ruler. If anything, the idea of an adolescent reading experience is, the reader grows out of it and into something and someone else.

But the perceived extremity of a “lifetime commitment” actually draws the homeless book girls we have discussed, because as adults, they often still struggle with finding ways to channel their interests and feelings. That is, adult horse girls often participate in other sports, or seek out occupations dealing with athleticism or animals, if they don’t own ranches, camps, or equines outright. Adult mystery girls are our police detectives, our forensic analysts, our judges and attorneys. Adults who loved The Baby-Sitters’ Club or The Princess Diaries often become beloved teachers, school administrators, business owners, or experts in political science. In contrast, the grown-up girls once drawn to heroines like Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Jane Eyre, and others aren’t sure where to go. They don’t know how to shape their identities and often weren’t allowed to do so. A literary home built from their interests, but for the 21st century, becomes perfect for them.

“Disabled Book Girls?” Not Quite

Liberating Neurodivergent Book Girls

The heroines of the books in our discussion all possess traits common in autistic females, as defined by diagnosed autistic females today and clinicians who are familiar with the autism spectrum. Sometimes, they possess traits common to other neurodiversity, such as certain types of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or certain types of anxiety. Perhaps because of this, all these heroines’ books contain environments in which they must first survive unusual odds to thrive. That is, all fictional protagonists face hardships. For these heroines though, the odds and obstacles are often longer lasting, more traumatic, or connected to higher stakes than typical. Those parameters tend to play up a heroine’s coded neurodiverse (ND) traits, for good or ill.

Neurodiverse

If for ill, the heroine garners sympathy through victimization, or relatability because while her actions aren’t ideal, they are human. In either case, ND traits used for ill will force a young classic heroine to mature and grow. Conversely, if a heroine’s ND traits work for her or are viewed positively, she becomes more secure in her identity. She gains allies on her journey, and she’s able to tap into her strengths with the help of that support system. As she taps into those strengths, she can become “more neurodiverse,” which might put her more at odds with the people and environment around her. Yet becoming “more neurodiverse” can also help the heroine learn not only who she is, but what her purpose is inside a world not geared toward people like her, and where she belongs in it.

Be careful though, not to lock the heroines we discuss into neurodiversity as their only identities or distinctive traits. That is, these heroines can be coded ND, and we could use “ND girls” or “spectrum girls” to describe them the way we use “goth girls” to describe Goosebumps fans or “horse girls” to describe Saddle Club fans. But in the case of these “book girls,” such an identity would read more as an unfair label.

Neurodiversity, especially autism, encompasses disabilities with complex histories. It has been so misunderstood and maligned since its discovery, calling someone “autistic” or “ND” or “spectrum” just because they enjoy a coded heroine or book is minimizing and ableist in tone. It is more respectful to acknowledge the readers, the book girls themselves, as possible or probable spectrum-dwellers who found “coded” kindred spirits in fiction.

Women art
Art by Pep Boatella.

Simultaneously, we must liberate these book girls from any ableist connotations associated with autism, ADHD, or other neurodivergences. We must use a less clinical, less loaded name. We must speak of fictional heroines and real readers in accessible, empowering terms that communicate being this type of “girl” is about what a reader has, not what she lacks. It is about sisterhood and mutual enjoyment, not a social or behavioral deficit.

From here on then, we will call the real and fictional girls in our discussion “infinity girls.” This name originates from the infinity symbol, which the autistic and neurodiverse communities have adopted to show that everyone can fit into the wider world regardless of neurotype. It also originates from the symbol’s color, gold, which delineates our real and fictional heroines as “sparkling” in their stories, and contrary to how they are treated otherwise, “golden” or “the best” at who they are and what they are meant to do. Finally, the name “infinity girls” reflects these heroines’ “infinite” imaginations, perspicacity, creativity, exuberance, and other traits seen as unusual for their worlds.

What Makes an Infinity Girl?

Finally, we should set clear parameters for what makes an infinity girl. The easiest way to do this would be to say, “An infinity girl is coded ND,” and again, this is mostly true. However, just as every female (and male) presentation of neurodiversity is different, so is every presentation of an infinity girl. Therefore, while most traits will line up with what we know today as spectrum traits, some may not, or may point to both ND traits and the external situations in which these heroines find themselves.

ND Woman

In brief, a fictional heroine qualifies as an infinity girl if she displays atypical social, academic, or emotional behavior, but does so in ways today’s experts recognize as specific to females. Examples include but are not limited to:

-Deep and limited “special interests” still typical for most girls (e.g., books, fashion, dolls)
-An ability and desire to socialize, yet with older or younger friends, or with adults instead of peers
-Imaginary play beyond “typical” age/frequent, elaborate daydreaming, fantasizing, or overtalking/personifying or anthropomorphizing
-Defiance of authority (e.g., questioning, telling the truth at times deemed inappropriate), yet without conscious desire to aggress
-Under- or overreacting/reacting in ways considering inappropriate to a given situation/trouble with emotional regulation, but lacking physical aggression

Many other characteristics exist, as we will discover. However, these are the most common among our heroines. We will refer to our heroines as “ND coded” or having “infinity traits.” Recall that because neurodiversity was unknown during the eras of these heroines’ stories, none of them would have carried neurodivergence diagnoses. Nor are they meant to be read as “ND” through a 21st-century lens. Rather, our infinity girls are meant to be read as such because neurodiversity is a relatable commonality for 21st-century readers.

Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Green Gables book cover.

First published in 1908, Anne of Green Gables is not the first classic novel to boast an infinity girl heroine. It will be first in our discussion though, because its author, Lucy Maud (L.M.) Montgomery, is most famous for it, and because Green Gables spawned an entire series of nine books starring Anne Shirley. In the decades since Green Gables’ publication, readers’ love of Anne has birthed four films from Sullivan Entertainment, the sequel television series Road to Avonlea, and the three-season Netflix retelling Anne With an E. Anne Shirley then, is perhaps the most relatable infinity girl of all, the one who succeeds in “crossing over” and reaching the widest neurotypical audience. Still, she remains an infinity girl at her core, and the perfect one to lead the fictional group.

Divergent in Appearance and Behavior

Anne Shirley sets herself apart from the minute she comes to Avonlea. With her green eyes, pale, freckled skin, and “hair as red as carrots,” she can’t help being noticed. Today’s readers might know Anne’s phenotype only belongs to about 10% of the world’s population. Thus, Anne’s new peers and neighbors have likely never seen someone like her before. Worse, Avonlea is a small, insular town on the already isolated Canadian province Prince Edward Island (PEI). Anne’s adoration of fiction and extensive vocabulary, bordering on what we know as hyperlexia, already point to both ND coding and a level of education Avonlea residents probably aren’t used to from a preteen girl. Add that Anne is an orphan, with no real memory of or link to biological parents, and she becomes much more mysterious and suspicious.

Anne of Green Gables

However, Anne would still stick out in Avonlea if, as she says, “I were very beautiful and had nut-brown hair…and lovely starry violet eyes.” She would even stick out if she had living parents. Her dialogue gives away one reason why. Anne views the world with an idealistic and dramatic flair. She ascribes overblown adjectives to the most mundane things and places. For instance, when Matthew Cuthbert brings her home to Green Gables from the train station and shows her places like Barry’s Pond and The Avenue, Anne immediately re-christens them “The Lake of Shining Waters” and “White Way of Delight.” Anne is so enraptured at The Avenue’s cherry blossoms, she stands up in Matthew’s wagon and briefly puts the two of them, plus the horse, in danger. Yet she seems fearless when this occurs, pointing to a combination of both autistic and inattentive ADD tendencies.

Anne and Matthew
Anne and Matthew.

Anne’s divergence continues as she adjusts to Green Gables and the expectations of Matthew and Marilla, who are not the foster father and mother she’s used to, but rather two aging, single siblings. Matthew finds her enchanting, a breath of fresh air in the monotony of increasingly hard farm life. But to Marilla, Anne is a conundrum, a burden who can’t help the way the boy she and Matthew needed could have. Anne “prattles on without stopping for breath,” “[sets her] heart too much on silly names,” and “is next door to a perfect heathen,” as the reluctant foster mom finds out when Anne reveals she’s never been expected to say her prayers and has never cared for God because He made her hair red on purpose. Marilla, with her down to earth personality and more stable history, doesn’t consider Anne is relating to new concepts the only way she knows how, through big emotions and bigger verbalizations related to her special interests, as happens when she says her first bedtime prayer aloud and sounds like she’s “addressing a business letter to the catalogue store.”

To a point, Anne “rolls with the punches” of her new life like a seasoned foster kid. Like a real infinity girl with autism, ADD, or both, she retreats into her books and daydreams as much as possible. Anne With an E shows her playing at being “Princess Cordelia” and monologuing on several occasions, lightening a mood often shadowed with traumatic memories. In addition, Anne constantly seeks connection with Matthew and Marilla, even when weaknesses like poor time management and her tendency to overtalk get in the way. For example, she asks to call Marilla “Aunt Marilla,” and begs to be called Cordelia in turn, thinking that although these aren’t their real names, the monikers will bring them closer.

Anne With an E
Anne from the adaptation Anne With an E.

Turned down on both counts, Anne is naturally disappointed. She’s let down again when Marilla fails to understand her attachment to her “window friend” Katie Morris. Yet this leads to a “hope spot” for Anne when Marilla takes Katie’s presence as a sign her foster daughter needs real girl friends. When it’s suggested Anne attend an upcoming Sunday school picnic, Anne immediately longs to go and meet her first “bosom friend.” Yet to earn this privilege, she must face a trial that will put all her ND traits, and thus the fullness of herself, through a “baptism by fire.”

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Despite initial missteps, Anne wins enough of Marilla’s approval for the woman to give her a trial period at Green Gables. Marilla doesn’t specify the length or conditions of the trial, but Anne intuits she must use it to prove she can become what Matthew and particularly Marilla expect. She must mind how much she talks and about what; she must keep her frilly descriptors and desires to herself; she must not voice anything that would sound prideful, ungrateful, or ungodly, such as dissatisfaction with her hair and freckles. Anne doesn’t bottle her whole personality up. She emotionally and almost physically can’t. But a 21st-century reader might recognize in her a neurodivergent child trying, or indeed being forcibly trained, to suppress what neurotypical parents, teachers, or others in authority do not approve, in order to obtain tangible or long-term rewards.

Marilla and Anne
Marilla and Anne. Art by Ellen Beier.

For a short but crucial period, Anne succeeds. Yet when she fails, she fails miserably. One such failure revolves around Marilla’s treasured amethyst brooch. Anne has admired it before, so when it comes up missing, Marilla asks if she’s seen it. “I pinned it on yesterday, just to see what it looked like,” Anne confirms. Marilla jumps on the confession–“You had no business to meddle,” and presses harder. “Did you take it out and lose it?” Anne has done no such thing, but Marilla is so angry, so determined to believe otherwise, the girl can’t stand up for herself. Marilla declares Anne will stay in her room until she confesses to stealing the brooch, Sunday school picnic or no. Anne agrees because the truth is getting her nowhere, and a few days later, confesses she took the brooch, bent to look at her reflection in Barry’s Pond with it on, and let it slip into the water.

Marilla is ready to send Anne back to her former orphanage over her “crime.” Anne has stolen a valuable item, possibly an heirloom, and told yet another dramatic “story” to manipulate the situation. Anne With An E takes Anne’s plight further, having Marilla actually send her back alone, so Anne must retreat into overblown imaginings just to cope. In both cases, Matthew facilitates resolution, spotting the brooch clipped to Marilla’s church shawl in the original story, and going to fetch Anne in With An E after the jewelry is recovered. In both cases, Marilla is humbled because, when she fixates on Anne’s fabricated confession, she has to admit that as Anne says, “You wouldn’t believe the truth.”

Painful Yet Liberating Truth

Real-life infinity girls often find the brooch incident painful because they’ve been in Anne’s shoes, although the exact circumstances are usually different. A common neurodivergent trait revolves around speaking and acting in total honesty as much as possible. Contrary to stereotypes, this doesn’t mean neurodivergents (NDs) believe neurotypicals (NTs) are liars. It simply means NDs often bypass the subterfuge and social niceties NTs often use when getting to the “truth” of some story or incident.

Anne and Marilla
Anne and Marilla from Anne with an E.

Bypassing subterfuge is what Anne did, and coupled with her dramatic “confession,” it caught Marilla off guard, making Anne look ironically sneaky and dishonest. Real-life infinity girls often report similar experiences on social media, whether they’re confrontations over small “lies” to parents, or misunderstanding team-building games with complex rules at school or work, or getting in trouble because they were seen as backstabbing a coworker. Regardless of the specifics, they were guilty until proven innocent.

Anne with parents

Still, infinity girls cheer for Anne at the conclusion of the brooch incident, because L.M. Montgomery lets honesty, and neurodivergence, win in equal measure after they lose. Marilla has to face the fact, she has a brilliantly honest child under her roof, and one who will obey her exact words–“You said you’d keep me in my room until I confessed, so I…thought up a good confession.” Marilla, who bases her righteousness on her religion, must acknowledge she’s probably righteous in that count, but Anne is the one who’s going to walk away forgiven in the brooch situation, in the eyes of a higher authority.

Conversely, Marilla, who is the “typically” well-behaved and accepted person, has to admit wrong and ask forgiveness–which Anne is open enough to grant. Anne was guilty based on personhood alone, which is a horrid injustice. But she reclaims a double portion of innocence because of who she is, and comes away stronger. In fact, it is this strength of character and reliance on absolute truth, frilly or not, that helps Matthew and Marilla grant her a place as a daughter of Green Gables.

Scarlet Emotions, Sensitive Heart

Throughout the rest of Anne of Green Gables, Anne’s ability, indeed her desire, to fit into Avonlea is often in doubt. Her future there is settled fairly quickly. Though Matthew and Marilla have the option to send Anne to work as a servant for Mrs. Blewett, a harsh woman with a brood of unruly children, the Cuthberts soon realize they don’t want that outcome for Anne or themselves. As Matthew notes, Anne “ought to have all the kindness we can give her,” and has brought too much joy, humor, and yes, usefulness as a physical and emotional help to Marilla, into their lives for them to let her leave. Plus, Anne With An E hints the physical and mental abuse Anne endured in orphanages and other foster homes has left her too traumatized for more loss.

Still, Anne continues “getting into scrapes” that cause both peers and adults to reject her in some form and make her look bad just because she is neurodivergent-coded. Many of these incidents come down to what Rachel Lynde calls “a temper to match her hair,” such as when Anne smashes her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head for calling her Carrots, or when she responds to Rachel’s tirade against her looks and orphan status with “How would you like to be told you’re fat, and ugly, and a sour old gossip?”

Gilbert Blythe
Gilbert Blythe from Anne With An E.

Other incidents come from Anne’s tendency to let emotional fantasies, fueled by her literary daydreams, run away with her. This occurs once when she reenacts Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott” and ends up sinking John Barry’s boat, which she and her friends borrowed presumably without asking. The flaw pops up again when a mouse drowns in Anne’s attempt at plum pudding sauce because she used the cheese cloth as a veil while imagining herself as a nun. Refer back to our infinity trait of imaginary play at an unusual age and note that she is a high school and rising college student at both points.

But just as Anne’s brutal honesty and dramatic flair worked against her during her first days at Green Gables, her overall “scarlet” emotions match her hair and work in tandem with a highly sensitive heart.

Bosom Friends Lost and Regained

Anne and Diana
Anne and Diana.

One of the best examples of Anne’s “scarlet sensitivity” lies in her friendship with Diana Barry. Like many infinity girls, Anne nurses this one close friendship throughout her book series and films. She has other girl friends and eventually, a romance with Gilbert Blythe, but Diana is her first, deepest, and most loyal companion. Anne calls her a “bosom friend,” meaning “best friend” but connoting a much deeper bond. TV Tropes calls theirs a “Romantic Two-Girl Friendship,” in reference to the Japanese custom of a “Class S” friendship between two adolescent females, meant to prepare them for, and give them acceptable intimacy other than, marriage. The original Green Gables novel contains a scene where Anne sobs brokenly to Marilla over the very idea of Diana getting married and “leaving” her.

In other words, Anne and Diana are extremely close in every way other than sexual. They hug, hold hands, and might kiss on the cheek as was more common in the 19th century, but are chaste in all intentions. Especially for introverted and socially starved Anne, Diana is her ideal sister-friend, someone who finally understands and loves her the way no other peer ever has. Therefore, Anne gives Diana 100% emotional intimacy even if, as in Anne With an E, the other girl begins as a bystander to classmates’ bullying. Anne sometimes engages in fantasies of rescuing Diana from danger, such as nursing her through smallpox, subsequently dying so Diana can water a rosebush planted beside Anne’s grave with her tears.

Anne and Diana
Anne and Diana. Painting by Kasia1989.

Fortunately for Anne, Diana is strong enough to disengage with bullies, but enough of a “follower” to participate in her adventures, fantasies, and wild stories, such as of a haunted forest. Diana finds them amusing and a great escape from her more typical, ladylike life. But when Anne mistakes currant wine for raspberry cordial at the girls’ first “adult” tea, their idyllic friendship shatters.

Mourning and Maturing

Diana drinks three tumblerfuls of wine, and the ever-proper Mrs. Barry blames Anne, the orphan of unknown origin with an already questionable behavioral record. “Diana will never see you again,” she decrees. An incensed Marilla stands up for Anne, explaining her daughter made an innocent mistake and anyway, her currant wine isn’t meant to be drunk in such great quantities. If anything, Diana should be [“sobered up] with a darn good spanking!” Minister’s wife Mrs. Allen attempts to reason with Mrs. Barry as well, and arranges a secret meeting between the devastated girls. But Mrs. Barry won’t budge, and Anne remains heartbroken for the rest of the summer.

Anne and Diana in Anne With An E
Anne and Diana in Anne With An E.

Anne continues struggling when school resumes, showing us another infinity trait. Diana resumes socializing, but the next time we see Anne, she’s alone in the schoolyard. Moreover, she looks crushed because Diana and other friends appear to be laughing at her. Indeed, if they lose their deep friendships, real-life infinity girls tend to lose any social moorings. They may also fear negative behavior they see in peers’ circles is directed at them, or that normal peer behavior is secretly negative. Anne never comes out and says anything, or does anything that reveals she feels thusly. But she does retreat into a social shell, until she meets new teacher Muriel Stacy.

As Anne’s instructor, Miss Stacy can’t provide the type or level of friendship Anne needs from a peer. As infinity girls do though, Anne attaches herself to the teacher in as deep a way she did to Diana, if differently. These two are mentor-mentee, not “Class S” partners. But Anne immediately identifies with Miss Stacy’s intelligence and zest for life. She hungers for her teacher’s praise and when she displeases her, corrects the misstep as soon as possible. Miss Stacy, for her part, is able to nurture Anne’s imagination and sensitivity in a way no other adult has bothered to before. She’s able to help Anne learn balance between the escapism of fantasy and the need for reality. That balance helps Anne self-regulate her “scarlet” moments so that when they happen, she feels more controlled. Over time, she’s able to “channel” them as they happen and put them to good use.

Anne and Miss Stacy
Anne and Miss Stacy from Anne With An E.

Anne does not “regulate” herself out of her deep emotions completely. To do so would be a high, harmful level of neurodivergent “masking” that would probably cost her what social ground she has gained. Yet as Anne takes the more dutiful and mature path more often–eschewing fiction when she has a geometry assignment or spending more time learning life skills from Marilla–she does show she can meet neurotypicals halfway when needed. In turn, she deepens her mentee relationship with Miss Stacy, puts aside some of her rivalry with Gilbert Blythe, and garners new friendships with girls like Ruby Gillis and Jane Andrews. These friendships are warm, but more casual than what Anne experienced with Diana. Still, they set her up for success when she needs more permanent community support as a young adult.

Rebuilding from Literal Ashes

Anne is best known for her love of books and writing; readers and viewers see her devouring books and writing novels, poetry, and nonfiction throughout her adventures. But one deep interest, or “special interest” in today’s ND terminology, that Anne’s media series explore is her acumen with medicine and lifesaving. The original Anne films and Anne With an E give this infinity heroine unique opportunities to use skills developed from these interests. Both incidents let Anne carve a permanent niche in Avonlea.

The Anne With an E incident is placed earlier in Anne’s story timeline, before Diana’s brush with currant wine and before Anne meets Miss Stacy. However, for those who accept both the Netflix series and the Sullivan films as possible canon, it is one of Anne’s “most golden” infinity moments, and it is used in her favor when she’s maligned for intoxicating Diana. In this timeline, Anne is still new to Avonlea, her future at Green Gables is shaky, and she has no school friends yet. But when classmate Ruby Gillis’ home begins to burn and the whole town shows up to contain the blaze, it’s Anne who jumps into action. “Close the windows!” she cries when the adults try to keep them open. “Fire feeds on oxygen!” She runs headlong into the house, slamming all openings closed.

An Inward Treasure is Born
From the Anne With An E episode “An Inward Treasure is Born”.

Anne’s right, and her observation, plus other quick thinking, saves Ruby and her family. Matthew, Marilla, and astounded neighbors ask Anne how she knew what to do; Anne explains in her orphanage, she had nothing to read except a fire safety manual. Starved for material and knowledge, she read it over and over, and committed the information to memory. On the surface, this is a classic “neurodivergent” thing to do; many ND individuals will read the same books or watch the same media to the point of memorization for comfort, or from anxiety or boredom.

Remember though, Anne doesn’t devour education for its own sake. To gravitate to fire safety, she already needed some level of interest, or at least sensitivity that made her care for fellow orphans’ lives, even if she had no sympathy for her abusers. When it came to the Gillises, Anne probably reacted from a mix of a post-traumatic trigger, concern for unknown people who might still become allies, and the thought, “I know what to do here. If I do it, maybe these people will accept me.” Again, she’s proven right. Her heroism wins back the Barry family’s favor when she needs it, and secures her a place in the community.

Trauma Redeemed, A Child Saved

The Sullivan Entertainment film Anne of Green Gables ties Anne’s medical acumen and cementing into Avonlea more closely to the regaining of Diana’s friendship. In fact, it becomes one of the defining moments of her early teens, if not the moment that marks her beginning of young womanhood. A few months after establishing a mentorship under Miss Stacy, Anne has earned the privilege of being in “the Queens class,” after-school instruction for older students who are eligible to attend college in Charlottetown. Her studies, and her determination to best Gilbert Blythe academically, take Anne’s mind from her broken fellowship with Diana. But shortly before Christmas break, Anne finds her distraught best friend crying on her doorstep.

Minnie May is sick with croup
Minnie May is sick with croup in the 1985 film adaptation.

Diana’s preschool-age sister Minnie May is sick with croup, and the girls’ parents are out of town at the same political rally Marilla and most of Avonlea, including the local doctor, are attending. In 19th century PEI, croup is a serious respiratory illness, known to kill without quick, consistent treatment. Matthew’s home, but he must take the family’s own carriage and track down a doctor. Anne, the closest thing to a levelheaded adult in this scenario, is hit with some “scarlet” realities. Helping Diana now means risking further shunning. Worse, Minnie-May’s condition is triggering. Anne has been forced to nurse abusive foster parents’ biological kids through croup before, with no regard for her own health. She knows what will work, but if she gets the treatment wrong, Minnie-May could die, and that could ruin Anne’s life in myriad ways. For once, an overreaction or retreat into a dramatic story would be neither out of place nor unforgivable.

Anne from the 1985 adapatation
Anne from the 1985 adaptation.

Instead, Anne makes the most honest, black-and-white, and truest to self decision she can. The strongest truths rise to the top of her brain: Diana is still her kindred spirit, and if Anne doesn’t act now, an innocent will die. No matter what other wrongs have been done, that is wrong no matter what. Resolved, Anne grabs some ipecac–after double-checking the label, having learned from the cordial vs. wine mix-up–and hoofs it to the Barrys’ place. She takes charge of the situation with an “infinity” signature, using truthful sarcasm with an inept babysitter and barking orders without regard for social niceties.

By the time a doctor arrives, Minnie-May’s lungs are clear. “Would’ve been too late by the time I got here,” the doctor observes. “You saved this little baby’s life.” And indeed, while Mrs. Barry reads as empty-headed for only accepting Anne after that fact, everyone else simply offers the praise she was due. Anne did not become a neurodivergent, life-saving “inspiration.” She took advantage of the chances to use the gifts she always possessed. She became the best person to bring new ways of thinking to Avonlea and real-life book girls.

Mary Lennox, The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden
The Secret Garden book cover.

In 1911, Great Britain would give book girls another infinity girl with whom to identify, Mary Lennox from Frances Hogsdon Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Again, Mary Lennox is not the first infinity girl in classic literature’s Western canon. She’s not the first British one, as we’ll see later. As with L.M. Montgomery though, Burnett is most famous for Mary and The Secret Garden.

Like Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden has never been out of print. It has achieved equal or greater fame, spawning not only three feature films (1949, 1993, and 2020), but a 1975 BBC miniseries sometimes packaged as a film, a Broadway musical, an anime series, and a modern graphic novel retelling, The Secret Garden on 81st Street by Ivy Noelle Weir and Amber Padilla. The popularity of Mary’s story can’t be denied or escaped. Yet, add in her kinship with infinity girls, which has only been explored in recent decades, and her character becomes more fascinating than her story. It begs for someone to take some literary gardening tools and “dig deeper” into why so many readers still gravitate toward her.

The Rose Has (Useful) Thorns

At first blush, Mary Lennox is the kind of person an infinity girl doesn’t want to identify with. She’s the stereotype of an ND person, the type doctors and other clinicians point to as a reason to malign neurodivergents and autistics in particular. Frances H. Burnett describes Mary as “the most disagreeable girl anybody had ever met,” “always ill in one way or another,” “sallow,” and “imperious.” Mary is used to getting her own way all the time, not shy about saying so, and prone to verbal abuse if denied anything. It’s somewhat understandable given that she’s a British child growing up in colonized India. Yet the way she calls native-born household staff “pigs” and “daughter of pigs,” knowing this is a grave insult in their culture, and slaps them around, is abysmal behavior.

The Secret Garden Mary
Mary.

Burnett reveals Mary is emotionally stunted, ND-coded or not. Cognitively and physically though, she’s typical if not advanced. In the beginning then, reading her as ND wouldn’t net her any sympathy or empathy. Mary might instead be blacklisted as a neurodivergent who “knows better” on some level, but makes the population, real or fictional, look bad. To a real infinity girl, she might read as someone on whom clinicians might use certain forceful, abusive therapies.

Real girls might shun Mary because she reminded them of their traumas and represent the reason ND kids and adults continue experiencing abuse. Failing that, real infinity girls might shun Mary because they feel superior to her. They either don’t express their emotions in “abnormal” ways like Mary does, or they’ve been taught not to, often because they went undiagnosed or got forceful treatment along with a diagnosis, even if that treatment wasn’t classically abusive. Thus, Mary Lennox is the “more coded” or “more disordered” person these girls can’t identify with, lest they risk rejection or punishment.

Yet even the infinity girl readers who shun Mary Lennox can find a “kindred spirit” in her. Tenacity, a strong sense of justice, and a unique brand of “street smarts” exist inside her thorny exterior, not in spite of it. She’s gorgeously, unapologetically an infinity girl, but not in all the soft, winsome ways of Anne Shirley. Mary Lennox unites some of Anne’s infinity traits–creativity, mature intelligence, and a kind of sensitivity–with the neurodivergent traits parents, teachers, peers, and clinicians often find more “difficult.” She displays what today’s disability experts call “problem behavior” before or instead of the compliance, quiet, and social innocence those experts expect of today’s ND girls. Yet it is Mary’s “thorns” that make her stand out, turn her into a heroine, and draw real infinity girls toward her.

Melting Down and Standing Up

The more time readers and viewers spend with Mary, the thornier she acts. Neurodivergence and disability experts would likely brand her with labels like “uncooperative” or “noncompliant,” and those around her would likely agree. After Mary’s largely absent parents die of cholera (casualties of an earthquake in one film), she’s sent back to England from India to live at her uncle’s mysterious Misselthwaite Manor. In the interim, she’s sullen and uncommunicative with the children she meets, unresponsive to both their friendly overtures and their teasing. In one adaptation, she pulls back from a chaperone’s well meant pat on the shoulder, looking ready to spit in his face.

Mary and Mrs. Medlock
Mary and Mrs. Medlock.

Upon meeting Misselthwaite housekeeper Mrs. Medlock, Mary maintains a flat, snappish tone when answering her questions. She combines said tone with biting honesty–“My mother didn’t have time to tell me stories,” “[My father] was always ill…he didn’t care about me.” She responds to offers of food with a surly, “I’m not hungry” and demands help undressing from her traveling clothes. When Mrs. Medlock voices a child of nine should be able to dress and undress independently and asks if children in India get carried around in baskets, Mary barks, “How dare you talk to me with such disrespect?”

Many young readers meeting Mary for the first time would observe her behavior and think she’s being a spoiled brat. After all, Burnett has described her in everything but those words. Even this writer, who herself has cerebral palsy and still needed some help with the finer points of dressing at Mary’s age, was flabbergasted at how she dare act around adults. Any identification the two of us might’ve had at that point disappeared quickly. Slightly older and more sympathetic readers might still notice Mary tends to phrase her dialogue in terms of “me,” “how dare you not defer to me,” and other self-driven cadences.

Mary
Mary, by Emma Carpenter.

An adult reader looking back at Mary though, an infinity girl in particular, will see something different in her behavior. Mary is, yes, a child raised in a self-centered environment. Yes, she doesn’t have a concept of deference to adults. At the same time, the adults around her such as Mrs. Medlock are being unreasonable to expect anything else. Mary was raised by servants, not parents. She was cared for physically, but never educated or nurtured from an emotional, moral standpoint. She never had other children to interact with; she has no reason to know or expect that negative behavior earns ostracism. She can’t be held responsible for performing life skills she’s never been taught. Yet when she expresses frustration at any of this, Mary gets scolded and shamed for the way in which she expresses herself. It’s never considered that Mary might be having an ND-coded meltdown. This is forgivable in an era where meltdowns weren’t known or named, but through a 21st-century lens, the cues and less than ideal responses are easy to spot.

Most importantly, Mary is a grieving child for whom the entire world has changed at a breakneck pace. She doesn’t grieve the way kids in her era are expected to. In the 1993 adaptation, it’s noted several times, “She never cried when her parents died.” Mary herself tells us she doesn’t know how to cry. But her grief becomes the overarching umbrella for her infinity girl coding and heroic arc. That is, Mary never has one big meltdown or breakdown the way contemporary ND characters sometimes do. But she does scream out at her servant Martha when the latter makes assumptions about Indian culture–“You don’t know anything…none of you, nothing!” and collapses into a sobbing fit. She bursts into tears in the miniseries at the frustration of being the lone kid in a house full of adults too busy to play, and lashes out privately when Medlock refuses to let her out of her room or tell her who’s crying down the hallway.

Mary from the 1993 film adaptation
Mary from the 1993 film adaptation.

Every time Mary melts, infinity girls can empathize, no matter what caliber of meltdown they’ve had or experiences they’ve attached to them. More importantly, they can find a blossom beginning to grow on the stalk of Mary’s infinity “plant.” Mary has always struggled with imperiousness and impatience, but at as she settles into Misselthwaite, we recognize those weaknesses have reasons. They’re birthed from a spoiled, neglected, brilliant kid who’s never been treated as a person. Now, within a new environment, Mary has the chance to reshape herself with help. She’s melted down a lot and shown the worst of herself, but in doing so, she’s let herself become vulnerable. In many ways, melting down has prepared her to stand up for herself and others.

Blooming Under Correct Care

Mary becomes less imperious as The Secret Garden progresses, but never loses her “edgy infinity girl” persona. Those edges make her the perfect fit for Misselthwaite just as Anne was the perfect fit for Avonlea. To wit, Misselthwaite is a mysterious, “closed circle” setting. All the book’s action takes place within the manor or on the grounds, and any unanswered questions revolve around the house’s secrets, as if the building itself were a character. In many ways, The Secret Garden almost reads like Gothic horror for kids. Therefore, it needs a young heroine who remains likeable but tends away from sweetness and light. That heroine needs to grow and flourish, but cannot become a model child of her era once she reaches “full bloom.” Like all infinity girls, Mary Lennox needs and finds a social circle, but it’s an intimate and atypical one that works for her.

Martha from the 1993 film adaptation
Martha from the 1993 film adaptation.

Real-life infinity girls often turn to older children or adults as friends, and Mary is no exception. True, Misselthwaite’s population is mostly adult. Yet Mary’s acerbic take on life and being left to her own devices for her first decade or so, already predispose her to seeking grown-up company, as long as those grown-ups feel safe. For instance, once Martha shows she’s willing to show Mary grace and patience, the younger girl relates to her more as an equal and confidante. The two speak amicably about Martha’s life on the moors with eleven siblings and a loving single mom. Martha brings Mary a gift of a skipping rope taken from her own wages. Mary accepts with confusion but gratefulness, and lets Martha teach her the use of the toy. Similarly, Mary develops a friendship with footman John in the BBC miniseries. Said footman treats his young charge like an adopted sibling from a foreign country. He uses reverse psychology to teach her basic politeness, risks breaking rules to play a noisy card game when she needs cheering up, and is ready to dive into the manor pond when Mary goes missing and might be in danger.

Later, Mary develops what TV Tropes calls an Intergenerational Friendship with Ben Weatherstaff. Ben is the oldest and longest-serving gardener on Misselthwaite’s staff. As for Mary, her principal interest is in flora and fauna. Her first few meetings with Ben involve her asking him to identify strange English flowers for her, or to explain how he became close with a particular garden robin. Though unsociable himself, Ben obliges. In fact, it’s his unwitting brand of “reverse psychology”–walking away when he’s done conversing, refusing to capitulate to Mary as that era’s servants “should”–that gets her to relate to him more like a typically polite kid.

Ben and Mary
Ben and Mary.

Mary remains neurodivergent in their interactions. For example, she relates better to Ben’s plants and robin than the man himself at times, because he is still an adult whose authority makes little sense. And when Ben dishes out hard truth–e.g., it’s not hard to believe Mary’s never had any friends–she dishes it right back. For example, Ben shouldn’t believe everything he perceives or hears about others, like her cousin Colin being a “poor cripple” with “crooked legs.”

Mary then, gets to “bloom” just as the garden in her story does. Like real-life infinity girls though, she can only bloom under the right “gardeners'” care. Interestingly, it’s not her Uncle Archibald or Mrs. Medlock, the assumed “proper” guardians, she turns to. These two mean well, depending on the story version you’re consuming. But Archibald is away more than home, and still enmeshed in grief over the death of his wife and the weakened, ill state of his only son. As for Medlock, she’s a housekeeper, a high-ranking servant with an entire house and staff to look after. Moreover, she’s become what TV Tropes calls a “Well-Intentioned Extremist.” She’s so determined to keep Colin well, watch over Misselthwaite, and keep her job, she sees Mary, a prepubescent orphan who’s largely raised herself, as a threat rather than a child in need. Real infinity girls might see in Archibald and Medlock the well-meaning “experts” who tried to help, but suppressed, shamed, or worst-case scenario, abused them. Conversely, they might see in Martha, John, or Ben the people who provided support, kinship, or comfort, although they weren’t experts in neurodivergence.

Unlocking Doors, Breaking Barriers

Mary
Mary.

Infinity girls are often seen as unusually compliant. They are rule-followers, organizers, and though they prefer working alone, will be team players if the situation demands it. Infinity girls may get vocally upset if someone intentionally breaks rules. Their male counterparts can experience this, too, but with infinity girls, it usually goes unnoticed because “infinity guys” are more likely to come across as aggressive. They’re also more likely to be excused for aggression or vocal dissatisfaction, whereas girls are not, even in a society striving for a more egalitarian mindset.

Mary Lennox fits this trait, but she’s an unusual encouragement to real infinity girls. From page one of The Secret Garden, she’s surrounded with people and situations that break the rules, literally and figuratively. Her parents break the rules of good parenting with their neglect. They then break the ultimate rule by dying and leaving her with no one except an uncle she doesn’t know and who also breaks guardianship rules because he’s another absentee. The English servants she meets break the rules she knows govern servants because she orders them to do things for her–and they outright refuse, using adult or late teen status as justification. But Mary doesn’t understand this because adult status has never mattered before, nor is she given any context for why it suddenly does.

When Mary meets her cousin Colin, she discovers he’s allowed to break the rules that govern her because he’s sick and disabled–but despite the evidence of this she can see, it doesn’t add up when she compares Colin’s strong, if sour, spirit to whatever meek stereotype of disability she’s absorbed. Nor does it square with the adults’ obsequious attitudes. Real-life infinity girls find themselves nodding along with Mary’s mounting frustration. They might say, “No wonder she’s yelling and smart-mouthing these people. They’re being totally unfair!”

Collin and Mary
Collin and Mary.

But Mary’s not just an encouragement because she lives the reality of a rule-breaking world. Unlike so many infinity girls who’ve been taught, “trained,” or outright abused into compliance, Mary gets to break rules right back. Our heroine quickly learns that in the world of Misselthwaite, one in which nothing is as it seems and no one will tell her the whole story, she has no other choice. Her thorns stand her in good stead again, because as she rejects Misselthwaite’s conventions, Mary carves a niche in her new house and her new world. Like a flower pushing up through concrete she declares, “No. The environment may be hostile, but I’m going to grow. I didn’t choose to be here, but this is my home now, and I will make sure I belong.” Every time she pushes, she lets her real readers or viewers know they can, too.

The Secret Garden: Physical Barrier, Physical Space

Mary’s first few days or weeks at Misselthwaite don’t look too promising. She’s already clashed with Mrs. Medlock, and while she gets Martha to help her with tasks like dressing, she’s basically shooed away to play by herself every day without supervision. She barely eats and has no education or socialization, yet gets in trouble if she goes looking for a book to read or something to do in the house in general. Yet Mary does latch onto a few new things and experiences, like the aforementioned robin and new flora, such as snowdrops and crocuses. And when Martha lets slip that the manor has a locked garden, Mary fixates on the story like a modern neurodivergent girl with a cool new interest. She perks up, full of questions. Where is this garden? When and why was it locked? Has anyone been inside?

Mary and Dickon
Mary and Dickon.

Mary gets some help adjusting to her new environment, such as when Martha brings her the skipping rope, or when Martha’s brother Dickon sends her a package of children’s gardening tools. Yet the secret garden itself remains Mary’s primary focus, even as she subconsciously opens up to Martha, Dickon, Ben, and others. The implication is, Mary finds social connection difficult, partly because of grief, partly because of neurodivergence, and largely because social interactions have never been positive. But she tends to succeed when alone or with animals (an early scene in the book shows her making brief friends with a snake in her parents’ dining room). So in seeking the garden, Mary is doing what many ND people do in real life, seeking a physical space where they can be themselves without judgment. When she unearths the key to the garden, then, it’s a moment of triumph on two counts. She breaks a longtime barrier of Misselthwaite, part of the “spell” she tells us in narration hangs over the house in the 1993 film. More importantly, she unlocks a success to a physical avenue toward emotional success, accomplishment, and healing.

1975 miniseries
From the 1975 miniseries adaptation.

The moment Mary unlocks the garden door is one of the most touching in her story. “I am standing inside the secret garden,” she whispers, hardly daring to disturb the decade-long, almost sacred silence. The 1975 miniseries accompanies this with a gentle, almost haunting oboe melody as Mary explores her new domain and muses about being “the first person that has spoken in here for ten years.” She revels in the stillness, and as she notices evidence of living plants, her latent nurturing instincts toward flora take over. She begins clearing weeds and detritus, becoming so involved in the task she loses all track of time, and talking soothingly to the little shoots. “I’ll let you all breathe, I promise,” she comforts them. In her voice, it’s easy to hear the little girl who never got comforting words from her parents and gave up on receiving such gentleness, but wants to give it another chance. Perhaps that desire, along with natural ND coding, drives her to pursue gardening despite the fact that doing so means admitting ignorance, a circumstance she wouldn’t have tolerated before.

Dickon Sowerby: Social Barrier, New Social Headway

Mary opens herself to this risk with Martha’s younger brother Dickon Sowerby, and she’s rewarded. A couple years older than her, Dickon is still whimsical, and rather like Mary, a rule-breaker. He’s more comfortable with his cadre of animals, some of them formerly wild, than people; in fact, the 1993 version has him meet Mary because his pet crow Soot escapes in the manor’s garden paths. Dickon also doesn’t let Mary’s higher class, or prickly emotional armor, deter him. Actually, neither child “sees” class. They relate almost as guarded, but friendly fauna. Mary is the colorful new bird with an injured wing. Dickon is the garden native and expert who looks plainer but fascinates his new friend and is eager to show her she’s safe.

Mary and Dickon from the 1993 adaptation
Mary and Dickon from the 1993 adaptation.

Dickon agrees to keep Mary’s secret of the “stolen” garden, and the two go to work restoring it together. At first, they bond because they don’t have to socialize. Over time though, Mary finds it easy to talk with Dickon, and vice versa. Any distinctions or prejudices they might still have lie forgotten in the soil, and Mary maintains the first true peer friendship she’s ever had. The fact that it’s an ND-coded friendship, written in an era before the spectrum was known, is a bonus for infinity girls. The fact that Mary was able to form this friendship while allowing someone into her sacred physical space, can also give real infinity girls encouragement that this is possible when the person and time are right.

Colin and Archibald: Emotional Barriers, Emotional Safety

As with the garden, Mary has been confronted with mysterious crying in the manor’s corridors since her arrival. As with the garden, the adults have ignored her questions or put her off. In this case, they’ve outright lied. Martha once blamed the crying on a young maid’s toothache; the 1993 film shows Medlock blaming the household dogs and dragging Mary back to her bedroom, threatening to box her ears, when the girl tries to investigate. Most commonly, Mary is told she’s hearing the English moor’s wild nighttime winds, which sometimes sound like a wailing person. Mary never buys the excuses, although it is a particularly rainy, windy night when insomnia drives her to investigate again.

Medlock and Mary
Medlock and Mary.

This time, with no one else awake to catch her, Mary tracks the crying all the way to its source, her cousin Colin. Colin is her age, but much paler and thinner even than she was on arrival to Misselthwaite. When Mary asks why he was crying, Colin explains he was in pain and ill. “I’ve spent my whole life in this bed,” he tells her in the 1993 film, adding, “I’m going to die.” Mary asks what his diagnosis is, but Colin just shrugs. “Everything,” he says. “If I live, I may be a hunchback.” He goes on to say he can’t walk, has never been outside, and can’t bear for people to see or talk about him. He must also receive anything he asks for, and no one in the house dares upset him. Any stress could send Colin spiraling into fatal illness, and since he is the heir, that’s unacceptable. He is master in the absence of his father, so everyone has no choice but to abide by his wishes.

Mary accepts Colin’s reality to a point. She visits Colin regularly, sharing stories with him about what it’s like in the gardens and enjoying his massive collection of books and playthings. The 1993 film shows the cousins playing with a puzzle and puppet show together, while the original book and miniseries show them exclaiming over a parcel Mary’s uncle sent her, which contains a book about gardening, a silver pen, and a monogrammed writing case. Mary doesn’t tell Colin she’s unlocked the secret garden, but lets him believe that no one knows about it except the two of them. Using stories of the potentially magic locale, she helps Colin believe–again, to a point–that his future might hold something other than the illness and early death everyone from the household servants to his doctor to his personal nurse have predicted.

Collin and Mary
Collin and Mary.

But as brilliant and tough as she is, Mary is still a little girl. Breaking her own emotional barriers has been hard enough, and Colin’s are taller and thornier than she can handle. One night, she finds Colin in the throes of one of his frequent temper tantrums, screaming and wailing because of back pain and phantom sensations of lumps. Mary loses her own temper, good and sick of having Colin act like a “rajah with emeralds and diamonds…stuck all over” around her and everyone else. “I wish everybody would…let you scream yourself to death!” she exclaims, going on to inform Colin he doesn’t have a “single lump” on his back. “It’s just hysterics and temper,” our heroine “diagnoses,” making it clear she won’t coddle her cousin.

Shocked out of hysterics, Colin calms down. He begins to accept, as he admits when the cousins are alone, “Maybe I’m not ill.” Mary confirms she’s never seen signs of actual sickness in Colin, only understandable weakness. She coaxes Colin to sleep with tales of the secret garden and a plan to take him there in his wheelchair with Dickon’s help. In making this plan to help Colin, our heroine will find she has taken her barrier-breaking as far as she can by herself.

The Flowering of Acceptance

Releasing the “pressure valve” on her bottled frustration, especially with other people who’ve been allowed to do whatever they like, has set Mary up to do her next heroic act, breaking Misselthwaite’s largest and strongest emotional barrier. Yet just as real infinity girls need the right support, often from older kids and adults, to succeed, so does Mary. She gets Colin to the garden successfully, and she, Colin, and Dickon enjoy several idyllic afternoons there, glorying in multicolored flowers and the companionship of Dickon’s pets. Some adaptations show us moments like Colin feeding a baby lamb, Mary and Dickon sitting on a swing while Colin takes a picture, or Mary and Dickon racing Colin down a path in the latter’s wheelchair. In all adaptations, Colin’s character arc culminates in his walking again.

Mary, Collin, and Dickon
Mary, Collin, and Dickon, from the 2020 film adaptation.

For Mary though, resolution isn’t as easy as the TV Trope “Throwing Off the Disability” (which, though accepted in Burnett’s day, carries unfortunate implications). In the 1993 film especially, infinity girls see that Mary could get Colin to the safety and “healing” of the garden. She could get him to admit he accepted the narrative of illness and death because of his youth, naivete, fear, and parental neglect. She could nurture the garden and symbolically nurture herself, taking part in her own healing. What Mary couldn’t do, still cannot do, is heal herself completely. Like a real infinity girl, she needs authentic acceptance, not only from her home, friends, and a space she calls hers. She needs love and wanting at a depth she hasn’t yet experienced.

Since Mary is ten and living in an era well before solid foster families were common or “families of choice” routinely accepted, she almost must have this need met through a biological guardian. Unfortunately, her Uncle Archibald remains emotionally unavailable up to the end of The Secret Garden. He is neither abusive nor cold. Most adaptations paint him as intrigued with his niece, who reminds him of his late wife. Archibald also understands Mary is “just a child” and means no harm to his home or son, as he sternly tells Medlock in the 1993 film. He recognizes her concrete needs, such as clothing, food, education, books, and toys. But until story’s end, he’s oblivious to Mary’s emotional needs and struggles. It takes seeing how well she’s tended his garden, and what that symbolizes, to wake Archibald up to what, and whom, he’s missed in the decade since his wife’s death.

Uncle Archibald and Mary
Uncle Archibald and Mary. From the 1993 film adaptation.

The original book and most adaptations touch on this in fairly detached ways, as the main characters are seen bonding in the garden one last time, with most of the focus on a healthy, abled Colin. The 1993 film, though, puts the focus on Mary and her uncle. When she rushes off by herself to the garden stream crying, “No one wants me,” Uncle Archibald follows her, coaxing softly, “What is it? Why are you crying?” When Mary expresses grief for the garden and Colin in angry tears–“It wasn’t wanted…you never wanted to see,” consumers know she’s really talking about her heart, though she doesn’t know and can’t articulate those deep emotions. Archibald does know though, and comforts her. “Don’t be afraid. I won’t shut it up again,” he promises, speaking of both the garden and his neglected heart and spirit. The two share a hug, and Mary notes through narration that this is the moment her uncle learned to laugh, while she learned to cry. The implications are, Archibald will stick around for his niece and son, and life at Misselthwaite will become healthier and brighter. Mary will have a home where she’s given proper support, and she’ll grow up like a child her age should, but into the unique girl she was always supposed to become.

Sara Crewe, A Little Princess

Frances H. Burnett gave readers and viewers another infinity girl in her lifetime, Sara Crewe of A Little Princess. Sara’s story was published before Mary’s, as a novel in 1905 and as a serialized story a few years prior. Yet Sara’s placement after Mary in our discussion is intentional, because she is the lesser-known of Burnett’s heroines, and a controversial addition to our lineup. Sara is the star of a novel, but A Little Princess is probably better known because of its three film versions–a 1939 Shirley Temple film, a 1986 BBC/Wonderworks miniseries collaboration, and a 1995 film starring Liesl Matthews, who was unknown at the time and only went on to act in one more movie.

A Little Princess
A Little Princess book cover.

Furthermore, Sara doesn’t read as an infinity girl the same way Mary Lennox or Anne Shirley do. She exhibits some key infinity traits, such as atypical socialization, engagement in imaginary play beyond the typical age, and unusual interests. Yet Sara’s manifestations are different from Anne’s or Mary’s, markedly so. She also begins her story at a significantly younger age than the other two. At seven, she’s three years younger than Mary and five younger than Anne. At that age, she’s expected to leave her one living parent and constant adult presence for boarding school, so her ensuing reliance on fantasy seems more natural than neurodivergent.

But on close analysis, Sara Crewe more than earns the “infinity girl” title. Her characterization may seem typical for a displaced if mature child, but her ND traits push themselves forward in ways tailored for Sara’s personality alone. More importantly, her external circumstances are the longest and most difficult we have seen yet. They take up the bulk of “real time” in Sara’s story rather than influencing it from off-page or offscreen. Sara, then, is not only an infinity girl. She is the infinity girl real ones can draw courage from when their core selves are threatened.

A Princess in Exile

Like Mary Lennox, Sara Crewe spends her childhood in colonized India. She’s the child of widower Captain Ralph Crewe, who dotes on her when at home. Still, Captain Crewe’s military duties take him away more often than either father or daughter like, and Sara is usually left in the care of household staff. Therefore, Captain Crewe makes the most of the time he can spend with Sara, and she does become spoiled.

Sara Crewe

Unlike Mary Lennox, Sara is the TV Trope “Spoiled Sweet.” She has every possible material blessing, from expensive toys to a full-size, authentic stuffed tiger, from piles of books she reads and enjoys to luxurious clothing in vibrant colors. At the same time, Sara adores her father and other caregivers. She relates to servants as grown-up friends and enjoys learning everything about India from the Hindi language to the names and functions of different Hindu deities. If Sara makes observations modern readers would consider prejudiced, they are totally innocent on her part. If she relates to servants as “lower” than herself in any way, it is always with respect, and only because she lives in an environment where they are expected to meet her needs. She embodies the trope “Nice to the Waiter.”

Sara is physically and emotionally generous, immediately grateful for everything she is given, and hungry for intangibles like time with her dad more than new possessions. In fact, Sara never outright asks Papa or any other adult for anything tangible. If she gets a possession like her new doll Emily, it’s because the purchase was a mutual idea between Papa and her. Burnett makes it clear in A Little Princess’ earliest chapters that Sara’s “spoiling,” if we must call it that, comes from a deep bond between father and daughter. For the first seven years of Sara’s life, they have only had each other in a foreign country, in a culture where they are treated as superior but remain minorities and might not be well-received outside their home (the Sepoy Mutiny was less than 50 years in the past when A Little Princess was published as a novel, about 30 during its serial publishing). Captain Crewe has likely kept Sara close, physically and emotionally, since losing her mother, presumably in childbirth (the 1995 film references Sara’s deceased baby sister).

Gold Barely There, or Struggling to Sparkle?

When we meet her then, Sara reads less as spoiled and maladjusted, or neurodivergent, than a child entwined with her only parent. But this tendency could read as an infinity trait, too. Neurodiveregent children already tend to relate better to adults than other kids. Sara is one such child. Couple this with her keen intelligence and “mature” interests (e.g., languages, religion), and consumers see infinity traits blossoming almost before her story begins.

Papa and Sara
Sara and Papa, from the anime adaptation Princess Sarah.

However, Sara’s ND-coded traits, and her identity as a powerful infinity heroine, don’t come out fully until she’s taken from the familiar. She and Papa leave India for London, where Sara will attend Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies. Presumably, she’ll be there for the next decade while Papa discharges military and other obligations in India, various African nations, and other impractical, inhospitable locales.

Sara has no objection to boarding school itself. She’s a bright girl eager to embrace the experience and please her father. Yet transitioning from a world in which she is Papa’s “little princess” to a much bigger one where love might not come so easily, causes some natural trepidation. The 1995 film shows Sara brooding at the ship’s rail on the voyage to New York City (a change from London, as in the book). Later, the film’s camera angles so she appears to shrink while staring up at Miss Minchin’s front door.

Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe
Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe.

Right after the “shrinking” episode, Sara runs up the front steps, smiling at Papa and grabbing his hand. Similarly, the 1939 Shirley Temple version of the story shows Shirley’s Sara tilting her chin and determining to be her daddy’s “good soldier,” while the novel shows Sara putting on her most polite face and voice for an immediately impressed Miss Minchin. But these cues coupled with Sara’s introspection in the book that Minchin is “sickly sweet,” and her hesitation to follow Papa and Minchin in both films, signal she’s “masking.” Both males and females on the ND spectrum can mask, but females tend to do it more frequently. Females are more adept maskers because they are better “mimics” or “actors” than males, and because “society demands social interactions between girls.”

Sara’s School Supplies: Books, Inkwell, Quills…Mask?

Again, some of the “mask” is typical for Sara’s situation. She’s sweet and polite. She’s mature enough to recognize the separation is as hard for Papa as it is for her, and in the case of the films, he’s actually leaving for war. It wouldn’t be out of line for a consumer to say, “This girl is not ND. She’s being brave for her dad. It’s heartbreaking, but not a signal of a disability.”

Other consumers though, will likely see Sara differently. Real infinity girls will probably catch hints of Sara’s mask much sooner than Burnett or film directors could’ve anticipated. More than their male counterparts, infinity girls can “mask” because like Sara, their interests and behavior can be handwaved as girls being girls. If girls hesitate to do new things, it’s because they’re careful. If they throw themselves into languages, religion, or other academic subjects, it’s because they love to learn. If they cling to Dad or Mom, it’s because they’re obedient or understand Mom and Dad are safe when the world might not be.

Sara and Miss Minchin
Sara and Miss Minchin.

Furthermore, infinity girls mask because they tend to understand on a different level than boys that the alternative won’t be well received. In A Little Princess, for instance, Sara muses that she could tell Papa what she’s really thinking about Miss Minchin–she’s a phony–or being left at school–she’s unsure at best and hates the idea at worst. But she won’t, Sara decides, because to do so would invite unpleasant consequences. So like infinity girls before and after her, Sara keeps her mask on and continues as a princess in exile. Her infinity traits remain unknown in that no one knows she’s struggling under the mask. And Sara, as her father’s “princess” who must now take a “warrior” mantle, can’t or won’t take the mask off.

Wearing a Heavy, Hidden Crown

Along with her “warrior” mantle and mask, Sara gradually takes on a new facet of an old identity once alone at Miss Minchin’s. She has always embraced her role as her father’s beloved daughter and “princess.” The 1995 film clarifies her belief that she, and all girls, can be princesses once Papa confirms, “You are, and always will be, my little princess.” In school though, Sara needs a way to cope with losing her parent so she can focus effectively on academic and social demands. Over time, she behaves as a princess as much as possible, so much that her peers begin thinking of her as a princess. Youngest student Lottie Legh says it out loud on more than one occasion.

Anne Shirley
Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables.

Note Sara doesn’t actually believe she’s a princess, despite cruel misuse of the title from Minchin and bullying student Lavinia. Her engagement in the fantasy is also not completely ND-coded. It’s a coping mechanism a neurotypical girl might use too, if that girl were privileged, creative, and a bookworm. Remember though, ND girls are given to imaginary play beyond the “typical” age, whether that involves imaginary friends, worlds, identities, or some combination. Anne Shirley engaged with “window friend” Katie Morris at ages 12 and 13; Mary Lennox wasn’t given to this type of play but related to animals and plants through personification. Sara engaging in “play” that casts her as a “princess” in late childhood and preteen years then, would be unusual for a typical adolescent. Given her external situation plus other traits, it feeds her coding.

As with Mary and Anne’s ND traits, Sara’s “princess identity” sets her up to succeed and fail by turns. This is not as apparent in the first part of Sara’s story, while she lives the privileged, externally “royal” part of her life. Yet it lays the groundwork for her to act heroically later. For instance, when Sara tries to tell Miss Minchin she is already fluent in French, and innocently asks if she must take classes in it, Minchin assumes the girl is acting like an entitled brat. She takes the misunderstanding personally when Sara explains herself, in French, to Monsieur Dufarge and the French instructor sides with her. Later, Minchin accuses Sara of rubbing her privilege in the other girls’ faces when the latter changes a story’s depressing ending during a required reading hour.

Sara is never openly defiant during these and other confrontations with Minchin. Real-life infinity girls who experience “black and white thinking” may recognize her dilemma. She must maintain commitment to the truth, but also must not disrespect anyone, because disrespect is wrong no matter what. Here, Sara “fails” in that maintaining “princess” behavior in the face of an enemy with power over her, costs her mentally and emotionally. That price may in fact be too high for a girl her age to pay, and is likely higher than she estimated. Yet as Sara discovers later, she “succeeds” because her “princess identity” protects the fullness of her true self, mask or no. It protects her in the eyes of her peers, although her friendships are not always what she might have hoped for.

Social, Yet Set Apart

A Little Princess

Sara Crewe is our most social infinity girl so far. Charity, the writer and moderator of the Funky MBTI website, pegs her as an Introverted Intuitive Feeling Perceiver (INFP), indicating although Sara is introverted, she has high levels of intuition and understanding. These let her “read” people, as she did Miss Minchin upon their first meeting. Sara becomes somewhat popular with most of the students at her new school in a short time. She’s not close with them as Anne was with Diana, but she’s so emotionally generous, most peers want to be close to her even if they can’t give her the emotional intimacy she needs. Additionally, despite Sara’s wealth, most peers don’t stay on her good side for access to her possessions. They genuinely like her for her compassion and exuberance, both much-needed in Miss Minchin’s rigid, unforgiving environment.

Sara returns her peers’ affection, becoming “best friends” with one or two, as well as she knows how. Sara’s first friend is Ermengarde St. John, a “hapless” classmate the other girls avoid because she’s fat, shy, and inept at schoolwork. Ermengarde’s father is an authoritarian academician, and Miss Minchin delights in threatening the girl with telling him about her continued poor performance, knowing she’ll be shamed and punished. So when Sara takes Ermengarde under her wing, promising to tutor her, the other girl is as awestruck as a peasant whom a real princess has given jewels or a fine cloak. It’s a win-win situation in many ways. Ermengarde’s schoolwork improves, as does her social circle because the other girls see her differently once she gains Sara’s approval. Sara gains her first real, same-age friend because she sees Ermengarde as an equal as best she can. Miss Minchin loses her power over Ermengarde, and Sara wins against her yet again, coming ever closer to exposing this villain for who and what she truly is under her veneer.

Ermengarde
Ermengarde from the film adaptation.

Despite all these positives, Sara remains “set apart” from Ermengarde, very much in a “princess” role, though she doesn’t mean to be there. Like many real-life infinity girls, Sara wants and tries to relate to Ermengarde as a peer. In fact, that’s what she’s doing as far as Ermengarde knows, because neither girl has had much experience in that field. But Sara actually relates to Ermengarde more as a teacher or mentor, more as someone making her “acceptable” to others.

Many real infinity girls do this if, or because, they don’t understand or acknowledge the mental and emotional boundaries between themselves and adults. They’ve heard or been told they are “little philosophers” or “little professors,” so they slide into that mold, if unconsciously. Failing that, they seek to help others out of genuine compassion, as Sara does, but their maturity makes this come across as “teaching” more than “helping.” Again, Ermengarde doesn’t seem to mind, and again, the friendship holds up, at least to a point. But when this type of friendship is tested and privilege crops up, both girls find it hasn’t done them any favors.

Sara and Becky
Sara and Becky.

Sara finds herself in a similar bind with her other close same-age friend, Becky. Becky is the school’s abused scullery maid, and depending on adaptation, either Cockney English or African-American. In either case, she is lower class and considered a second-class citizen even in America (the 1995 film, the only one set in the U.S., takes place in 1914). From day one, Sara is saddened and frustrated at Becky’s mistreatment, and wishes to be friends because she understands the other girl is her age and might have some of the same desires and interests, class and racial differences or not. But as with Ermengarde, Sara’s innate privileges block her from equal friendship with Becky, until externals intervene.

A Princess Dethroned

Sara’s friendship with Becky begins while the former is still considered “princess” of Miss Minchin’s, and called so in various situations. “I told her that’s what you were,” Lottie says innocently when Lavinia makes fun of Sara’s status in the 1995 film. Most of Sara’s peers go along with this, whether in the book, a film, or a stage play (A Little Princess has been adapted into two off-Broadway musicals). Yet none seem so eager to embrace Sara’s “royalty” as Becky. Depending on adaptation, Becky is either Cockney and therefore a member of one of the lowest classes in England, or Black American From day one, Sara is struck by the disparity in the girls’ lifestyles despite their being the same age (films age both girls up to between 10 and 12). True to her infinity girl nature and privileged upbringing though, she isn’t as successful as she could be in beginning a true girlhood friendship with Becky.

Sara makes some friendly gestures to Becky while her wealth is intact, such as inviting her to listen while the former spins her famous stories for classmates or, in the films, giving her gifts of food, sweets, or sturdy, warm shoes. However, this reads as another “infinity” friendship wherein Sara takes the role of “giver” or “adult provider,” until tragedy forces both girls onto equal footing.

Miss Minchin
Miss Minchin from the film adaptation.

When Sara’s father dies after a recent investment in African diamond mines goes bust, Miss Minchin is only too thrilled to tell Sara she is alone in the world and penniless, since the British government has seized all his assets. Minchin will keep Sara at the school as an act of “charity,” and Sara will work there as a servant indefinitely, until she can pay off the debt she has incurred. Miss Minchin will seize everything she owns–“your clothes, your toys, everything…though it will hardly make up for the financial losses I’ve suffered.”

In one moment, Sara finds herself stripped of the only security she possessed in her remaining parent. Miss Minchin makes clear “there will be no communication exchanged” between Sara and the other students from the next day forward, so Becky is her only constant human contact. Becky then, takes on the role of Sara’s “teacher” and “adult,” guiding her through her first few weeks as a “maid of all work” as best she can. Sara, for her part, loses her access not only to wealth, possessions, and education, but her way of understanding how to interact in the world, for which her only friends at school were microcosms.

Removing the Royal Mask

Sara

For an infinity girl like Sara, and one whose infinity traits were loved no matter what, this is absolutely devastating. She sinks into depression. This is an understandable response for any kid who’s lost a parent and any kid in an abusive environment, but a disproportionately common one for ND females. Becky attempts to understand, offering to “wait on” Sara like she used to, and gently coaching her through the realities of servanthood. But Miss Minchin has no patience for Becky’s gentleness, and the other servants enjoy lording Sara’s status change over her too much to allow it.

More than our other infinity girls, Sara faces the challenge of finding her way through the dark side of neurodivergence and trauma alone. She faces the challenge of living with abusers every hour of every day, one in particular who has hated her since the two met. Granted, none of these abusers know Sara is ND or would have a frame of reference for such. But Minchin knows Sara is morally, ethically, mentally, and intuitively superior to herself. Such knowledge in Sara’s era is enough for Minchin to become a more formidable and dangerous abuser than the average fictional villain who stops at beating, berating, or starving a protagonist. Sara knows Minchin can and will do her best to incapacitate her beyond repair. Therefore, if Sara is going to be a heroine as an infinity girl, she must acknowledge she’s been masking, and remove the mask.

Lottie
Lottie from the film adaptation.

Sara has removed her mask before, by inches. It’s less apparent in the book, but viewers of certain films have seen her do it, such as when she sobs for Papa on the attic floor in the 1995 film. However, as Charity of Funky MBTI notes, Sara usually keeps her emotions private, or expresses them only in acceptable ways, like when she calmly informs Lottie, “It’s very hard to study with you carrying on like this.” Being an abused drudge however, will make anyone’s mask slip off if not shatter if they ever had one. This is especially true when we remember, Sara is at most twelve during most of her story (the book spans a few years). Yet she is expected to complete such heavy chores as scrubbing floors, carrying full coal scuttles, cooking on a young adult level, blacking boots, and going to market alone.

Accepting the Ragged Reality

Sara’s new physical labors exist top of teaching younger students for no pay. She’s expected to complete all these tasks indefinitely, until at least her late teens, again, with no pay because any money would go toward “her” debt to Miss Minchin. Knowing the schemer Minchin is, consumers have every reason to believe she would find ways to keep Sara under her thumb after, or if, all Captain’s Crewe’s money was recouped. Such a fate means Sara would be subjected not only to physical abuse and mental fatigue, but the mental and emotional abuse of Minchin and the other servants, into adulthood. She would sustain Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) with no “Post” involved. In fact, this is already happening. Sara begins losing her grip on her royal mask because she can’t help herself. At one point, she lashes out at Ermengarde for asking if she’s hungry–“I’m so hungry I could eat you!

Sara Crewe
Illustration from the book.

However, it is not until Sara purposely lets her mask go that she can start embracing this new, ever-growing and subtly braver, version of herself who is coming to life in Miss Minchin’s scullery. As with other incidents, some of her transformation happens bit by bit. The original A Little Princess and two of the films give us scenes wherein Sara either finds or is gifted a sixpence, or enough American money to purchase a large “sweet bun” or cinnamon roll (six miniatures in the novel). Though she’s literally starving by now, Sara gives more than half this bounty, sometimes the entire thing, to a younger child who is filthier, dressed more poorly, and clearly hungrier than she is. Whereas before, she thinks of such a gesture as “scattering largess” to people in need, Sara battles with herself over this decision. The only thing that turns her in generosity’s favor is the reality of how little stands between Sara and the younger child’s position.

In other scenes, Sara’s transformation happens in larger, more dramatic chunks. One key scene shows her trying to relate to her favorite doll Emily, the last gift she bought with Papa and one of the only treasures she was allowed to keep. In her “princess” life, Sara related to Emily like a human. She engaged in not only imaginary play, but toy play, well into the late stages of her childhood. Having been cast out and victimized though, Sara learns Emily can no longer give her solace. “You’re nothing but a doll, a stupid doll!” she screams. She throws poor Emily across the room and lets herself dissolve in tears.

Sara and her favorite doll Emily
Sara and her favorite doll Emily.

Embracing Riches and Rags

The incident with Emily is not the first time readers or viewers have seen Sara cry. The difference, as Charity from Funky MBTI notes, is that before, Sara has given vent to her emotions quietly and privately. She’s been a perfect example of the Single Tear trope, or she’s waited until she thought anyone nearby, like Becky, has been absent or sleeping to cry audibly. After Emily though, Sara does not cry. She weeps, audibly and openly.

“Weeping” has the connotation of mourning, meaning Sara finally acknowledges the fullness of her loss. She faces the loss not only of Papa, but of a life she loved, an education she can’t finish, physical needs like food and sleep that may never adequately be met again, and countless other entities. The fact that she does this after symbolically abandoning Emily makes the scene much more heartbreaking. In these actions, Sara reads like a mother abandoning a child. She could be either a mother in deep mourning, or a mother who has given up on that child because otherwise, she won’t survive.

A Little Princess

Not every adaptation of A Little Princess gives us the Emily scene. Some give us other, more positive forms of Sara giving up her ND-coded mask, or combine the Emily scene with a more positive “final mask drop.” The 1986 miniseries, for example, has Sara “make up” with Ermengarde and let her know they can still be friends despite their new class differences. In fact, their roles have reversed, in that Sara now needs Ermengarde’s help if she hopes to survive this new phase of her life. The girls plan to share a sumptuous “care package” Ermengarde’s favorite aunt has sent her. The 1995 film gives us a scene where Sara pulls Becky into an imagining of a banquet after Minchin locks them in the attic and denies them food for an entire day. The girls imagine themselves dressed in velvet, fur-lined capes and diamond-encrusted gowns, playing at “banquet” with no care for their real lives or who they “should” be.

A Princess Ever After

Sara’s “mask drop” leads her toward the completion of her character arc. Externally, completion looks like escaping Minchin’s clutches, which the original book and its several adaptations all handle differently. But underneath Sara’s external rescue lies her internal triumph. Said triumph involves the dropping of her royal mask and her acceptance of a real “crown” as a fully realized girl who can become her own person.

Sara’s final act of courage takes many forms. In the 1939 film, it’s reuniting with Papa while Queen Victoria looks on, giving real royalty’s approval and legitimacy to Sara’s “title.” In the 1995 film, it’s her forgiveness of Lavinia and acceptance of Becky as an adopted sister, choices she makes before meeting Papa to go home and which mark her as a “princess” who acts independently of a “regent” adult. The novel and 1986 miniseries though, give the best example of her growth and “coming into her own.”

Sara and Becky
Sara and Becky from the 1995 film adaptation.

Both these cases show Sara moving into the Carrisford home and learning the true fate of her father and his diamond mine investments. Namely, Papa did die of illness contracted in Africa, and his best friend Mr. Carrisford initially mishandled the investments. Yet, he was able to recoup the losses, making Minchin’s hold on Sara completely unfounded. When Minchin discovers this, she’s desperate to get Sara back into her school as a revenue source. “I appeal to you, Sara,” she says in the miniseries. “I have not spoiled you, perhaps, but I have always cared for you.” She backs up her claim with the assertion that children “mistake discipline for lack of concern” and Sara is deceitful and delusional. “She thinks she’s a princess, you know,” she fires at Carrisford.

Sara Crewe

Sara remains cool and dignified. “No, Miss Minchin,” she asserts, voice perfectly level. “You never cared for me, and I will not go back with you.” In terms of Minchin’s claim that Sara thinks she’s a princess, the girl smiles and responds, “No…all I ever did was try to behave like one.” That truth, spoken so coldly yet so graciously, sends Minchin back to her school in humiliation she cannot conceal. When her sister Amelia dresses her down for being “a hard, selfish, worldly woman” and Sara’s peers almost immediately leave to visit their new friend, consumers are meant to understand Minchin is no longer a threat to anyone.

Sara, the girl who was most different and most vulnerable to an abuser like Minchin at the beginning of her story, rises to a place of social and familial acceptance because by the end of her story, the “princess” identity she treasures is not for Papa, nor part of a mask she must wear for survival. It becomes, instead, the truest form of who she is. She leaves real infinity girls not only with the hope they can find and embrace their “true forms” and true crowns, but the reality that these forms can be lived in and can stand them in good stead against bullies, abusers, and outright villains of all sorts.

Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre

Our final infinity girl is one of the first in the Western literary canon. Jane Eyre, protagonist of Charlotte Bronte’s eponymous novel, was introduced to readers in 1847, more than 50 years before any of our other infinity girls. In addition, some authors speculate that the Bronte sisters, particularly Charlotte, were neurodiverse themselves. If so, Jane Eyre would be the first infinity girl in our discussion created by an “infinity author.”

Jane Eyre (1847)
Jane Eyre (1847) showcases heroine’s individualistic character in Victorian England. Painting by Athanasios Shields.

Jane Eyre is also one of the more famous infinity girls in our lineup. Her novel has been considered a classic across centuries rather than decades. Students have studied the story from junior high through graduate level classes, and films based on the novel have been produced as early as 1910. Jane Eyre has joined her fellow infinity girls in receiving a miniseries, stage plays, and an off-Broadway musical, as well. With such credentials, it seems incongruous to place her in the last spot, or anywhere but first.

As with the other girls however, Jane’s placement in our discussion is intentional. Jane is our last infinity girl not because she has a potentially neurodiverse author and is therefore the “most severely” ND, not because we are “working backward” in time, and not because Jane is the oldest girl so far, as one might think. Jane is placed here because unlike our other girls, her story encompasses most of her life. Jane not only shows infinity girls what coming of age with their neurotypes looks like, and how to triumph with them as children and adolescents. She goes further, showing real infinity girls how to triumph with their neurotypes into adulthood if, and perhaps because, they continue facing adversity and discrimination.

Misunderstanding and Misunderstood

Jane from the film adaptation
Jane from the film adaptation.

One of the key traits and experiences real infinity girls report is a sense of misunderstanding. They don’t always understand their peers or the world around them, and in turn, their peers don’t often understand them. Despite the fact that infinity females are often better communicators, “actors,” and “maskers” than their male counterparts, they live with ND traits like specialized interests, executive function troubles, sensory disorders, and at times, chronic physical symptoms. Infinity girls melt down, struggle to articulate needs, and experience communication breakdowns just as males do.

Often, communication breakdowns end with infinity girls getting negative labels like “too sensitive,” “drama queen,” or “manipulative.” When an infinity girl feels real sadness or anxiety, she might be accused of “freaking out” or using “crocodile tears” to “get her way.” And although infinity girls are often seen as more compliant than infinity boys, they are conversely called out more for “misbehavior.” That is, if these girls are “pushed to the limit” enough to stand up for themselves, it’s seen as rare and shocking noncompliance or manipulation, if not outright aggression. Infinity girls who are known as particularly intelligent often hear things like, “Everything is a fight with you” or “I’m not having this discussion/playing your games.” The irony is, the girls themselves are trying to understand and clarify, often through communicating the way they’ve seen peers and authorities do so. Their interpretation of communication simply gets in the way, as if they were speaking a completely different dialect of the same language.

Young Jane Eyre, from the 2006 mini-series adaptation.

Jane Eyre lives this experience from childhood forward. Hers is an extreme example because it results in heavy emotional, psychological, and occasional physical abuse. Still, Jane’s example of a lifelong, neurodivergence-based struggle might be the most encouraging one in our discussion. Jane’s struggle never quite resolves into the “happy ending” we saw with Anne, Mary, or Sara. It’s much more balanced against positive events in her life, some of which still have negative undertones. Therefore, despite its extremity and lack of “politically correct psychology,” Jane’s story could give real, and older, infinity girls the most hope.

Animalistic or Advocating?

More than any of our infinity girls, Jane Eyre begins her story with neurodivergence against her. Unlike even Sara Crewe, who spends over half her story being bullied and abused, Jane has no doting parent to undergird her with reassurances of love, worthiness, and inner royalty before the hand of death snatches them from her. Ten-year-old Jane’s only family is her Aunt Reed, her deceased mother’s sister, and her three older cousins John, Eliza, and Georgianna. Uncle Reed apparently would’ve loved Jane had he lived, but he is long deceased. With no known relatives on the Eyre side, Jane is left with the Reeds, who view her as a burden and troublemaker.

Aunt Reed
Aunt Reed.

Within Jane Eyre’s first chapter, it becomes clear Aunt Reed and the cousins aren’t simply abusers. They don’t abuse Jane because she’s an orphan, as some of Anne Shirley’s foster parents did. They don’t abuse her because of external circumstances like the debt Sara Crewe’s father left. Rather, the Reeds think Jane needs and deserves their abuse because she is naturally a “bad” child. In the novel’s first scene, Jane overhears John Reed telling his sisters, “[Jane] is not here…tell Mamma she is run out in the rain–bad animal!” Additionally, the Reeds find Jane’s personality and disposition “incomprehensible,” and note they dislike some specific “behaviors” of hers, such as her tendency to be restless or quietly watch everyone else’s movements. No one states so outright, but readers infer the Reeds also dislike Jane’s other habits, such as hiding behind long curtains to read books.

Jane’s nature mystifies and frightens her aunt, who allows her children to browbeat the younger girl physically and verbally. The novel’s inciting incident involves John, who is at least twice Jane’s size in height and weight, yanking her out of the window seat where she had taken refuge and hitting her with a hardback book he claims she “stole” from the family library. The injury and shock knocks Jane off-balance. She falls, hitting her head on a table corner and drawing blood.

John
John.

Like our scarlet-hearted Anne Shirley and our rule-breaking Mary Lennox, Jane Eyre is not one to let this injustice go unnoticed. She screams out for help the only way she knows how, emphasizing what a horrid boy John is and how she wasn’t doing anything wrong. She “flies at” him and hits him back, a valiant attempt at self-defense. But Aunt Reed takes John’s side, partially because he is her son while Jane is a niece, but mostly because in her eyes, Jane looks hysterical and deceitful.

John gets reassured and coddled, while Jane gets scolded for her “fit of temper” and locked in the “red-room,” an isolated guest chamber where it is said Uncle Reed breathed his last. Jane hurts her case more as she continues begging for understanding–“No, no, I cannot endure it!” She’s overreacting for a child of ten, and after all, did not have permission either to take the book or read alone while the rest of the family was in the parlor.

Many if not most infinity girls will recognize shades of Jane’s plight. For example, some may recognize that no matter how innocuous the “red room” punishment looks, Jane is experiencing emotional and psychological abuse. The chamber itself is, as noted, extremely isolated. Jane is locked there for several hours, into the night, as punishment for actions that no matter how one looks at them, are not worthy of discipline (the book came from a family library, and Aunt Reed hadn’t stipulated rules about where the children could go in the house). This actually makes Aunt Reed’s actions worse. She’s punishing her niece for defiance against unspoken expectations, which ND people generally struggle with on principle.

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre art by Santiago Caruso.

Those infinity girls who have not been abused in the classic sense will still recognize Jane’s struggle when it comes to living with her relatives and failing to make them understand her. Real-life infinity girls may never have physically or verbally assaulted someone as Jane does to John, but many of them report being accused of wrongs they never committed, or having communication break down between them and neurotypical people because they were misunderstood (but the NT person was the one assumed in the right). Many neurodiverse women have taken to social media in recent years, reporting incidents like this happening at school, in the workplace, or with relatives who were not their primary caregivers. Such incidents are particularly common in relation to group work, team-building exercises, or as with Jane, conflicts wherein a sibling or cousin is older, more apt to speak up, or more easily understood.

Although many experts say infinity girls are usually “compliant” or “submissive” when compared to male counterparts, the girls and women themselves have reported being accused of “throwing tantrums” or “throwing fits” when they tried to express their feelings. This could be because of a misconstrued meltdown, which is different from a temper tantrum. Alternatively, it could be because like Jane, these girls and women grew up [“knowing] no medium…between absolute submission and determined revolt…[observing] the one almost to the point of bursting.” Thus, it becomes apparent why Jane Eyre and her real-life counterparts were and are compared to animals or tantrum-throwing toddlers in a bewildered or bigoted sense when in actuality, they were both behaving much more intelligently than a toddler or animal. When pushed to what Jane calls “volcanic vehemence,” Jane and her centuries-younger, but not always better served, counterparts are not lashing out without purpose. They are advocating–inappropriately for the wider world perhaps, but in the only way the wider world will let them do so, or will hear.

A “Veiled” Yet Determined Rebel

Helen and Jane. From the 1996 film adaptation
Helen and Jane. From the 1996 film adaptation.

Jane’s misunderstanding of others’ expectations and motives dogs her as she grows up, leading to further hurtful and traumatizing events. For instance, she’s relieved and excited at the prospect of going away to Lowood Charity School, but becomes incensed when Aunt Reed tells Headmaster Brocklehurst he must be aware Jane is a pathological liar. Jane lashes out in denial, either unaware, uncaring, or both, that she is not helping her case, although she wants to prove herself a “good” child. One film version of Jane’s story from 1996 shows her at Lowood a bit later, standing up for fellow student and friend Helen Burns. When Brocklehurst insists Helen’s long red hair be cut because it is a mark of sin, Jane speaks up to the contrary and immediately offers her hair to the scissors as well. Yet Helen, while grateful, gently scolds Jane for her indignance and lack of Christlike humility in general.

Jane finds Helen’s attitude frustrating and bewildering. She’s similarly bemused at the truly merciful personality of her teacher Maria Temple, who doesn’t outright condemn Jane’s lack of Christlikeness, but doesn’t rebel against Brocklehurst or authoritarian fellow instructors like Miss Scatherd, either. As NeuroClastic contributor Annie Kotowicz points out, Jane is a “fiery rebel” who “interprets questions and statements literally,” as most infinity girls are to some degree. It’s not that Jane wants to “misbehave” or displease anyone, nor does she have an aversion to Christ or imitating Him. To the contrary, as she grows up, she becomes more devout and more willing to react with meekness and mercy when her ND coding is misinterpreted. As a ten-year-old though, Jane is not psychologically ready for abstract thinking. Couple this with her bent toward taking everything literally, and it’s easy to see how she would conclude, “If my responses are questioned, it means I’m a bad person and can never be viewed as anything else.”

Bessie
Bessie. From a live-action adaptation.

Jane’s inner struggle, and real girls’ empathy toward her, intensifies when her trauma is recalled. Jane’s only family has always called her things like, “a pitiful…whining thing” and a “toad” they could not love, among other names. Her nursemaid Bessie did show her kindness, but never responded well to Jane’s needs. For instance, when Jane outright begged not to be scolded, in part because the loudness hurt her ears, Bessie passed it off as an odd and overdramatic trait. As a Lowood student then, Jane retains her “rebel” spirit, but it gradually becomes much quieter.

Some of the “quieting” is owed to Miss Temple and Helen, who offer legitimate friendship and healing, skewed as it might be. (Recall Helen, while more mature than Jane, is still her age, and still approaches heavy concepts like faith-based healing with the mind of a child). But some of Jane’s “healing” comes from her determination to mask her ND traits, or as she calls it, go behind a “veil.” “Veiling” often involves suppressing Jane’s unique urges to “stim,” such as by pacing to calm herself. It can mean physically working to school her facial muscles, “which I feel rebel insolently against my will.” Veiling, then, is as painful for Jane as it is for real-life infinity girls. But Jane gains a significant advantage over some real infinity girls when she becomes an adult. She finds something, and someone, plenty of real infinity girls struggle to find for years, even and perhaps especially in the 21st century.

An Unexpected “Nest” for a Rare Bird

Everyone needs and wants a place to fit in and a social circle they can trust. For an ND person however, these things are not just important. They are crucial for survival. Again, females need such a sense of “place” and “circle” for survival more than males, although females “look” as if they can get along “better” in the neurotypical world. To wit, because infinity females usually function well in the neurotypical world, they spend more time in its public sphere than their male counterparts. They require more of themselves in terms of maintaining their “veils,” so they are more likely to experience exhaustion, loneliness, and a loss of identity–but say nothing.

Maria Temple
Maria Temple. In a live-action adaptation.

Unfortunately, infinity girls are still unlikely to find the social circle and sense of place they seek in the 21st century because there are comparatively few of them. In Jane Eyre’s era, when the infinity girl was unheard of, our heroine would have felt much more unmoored and alone, and that’s without any concept that her mind and emotions worked any differently from anyone else’s. All Jane would have had to go on was an 1840s sense of abuse, neglect, and trauma, plus the well meant but inconsistent support of people like Helen Burns and Maria Temple. In fact, by the time Jane is ready to leave Lowood, Helen has died after a years-long battle with tuberculosis. Miss Temple has risen to an administrative position and mentored Jane through her years as a Lowood teacher, but is now leaving Lowood for the next phase of her life. As the song “Sweet Liberty” hints in the musical version of Jane Eyre, Jane herself has “outgrown” Lowood and its expectations for her, but is unsure what lies ahead.

As an educated, but single and fairly poor woman in the Victorian era, with no familial connections, Jane finds the deck stacked against her. Readers or viewers also know that although Jane doesn’t carry a diagnosis, her habits and temperament mean finding employment or friends won’t be easy. Jane does carry a letter of reference from Miss Temple and a promising advertisement from a place called Thornfield Hall, whose residents are seeking a governess.

Thornfield Hall
Thornfield Hall.

As any 21st-century infinity girl knows though, the promise of employment is not a guarantee. Once neurodivergence, or in Jane’s case, unusual behavior, is disclosed, the employment offer may be withdrawn. If not withdrawn on disclosure, the promise of employment–therefore, independence, interpersonal connections, better mental health, and the fulfillment of other needs–may be withdrawn when differences become apparent in the everyday. Therefore, 21st-century infinity girls root harder for Jane as they realize she has found a place that feels like home in every way in Thornfield. So too, feel her anxiety much more keenly every time she stands to lose it.

Thornfield: A Mix of Cozy and Cold

Not only its name, but its every characteristic, points to Thornfield Hall as a place Jane would not find a refuge. The Hall embodies “Gothic” long before the description became a genre, with a vast collection of “strong, knotty thorn trees,” vast, empty fields, dark architecture, and “empty, eerie rooms devoid of a master.” In fact, Thornfield lacks not only a master, but a staff, and the normal activity Jane became accustomed to at Gateshead in childhood. On her first day, she meets only a “skeleton crew,” housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax and Grace Poole, a mysterious under-maid who only receives interaction when she’s scolded for her random, harsh, “eerie” laugh. If Jane were a “typical” governess candidate, she probably would’ve observed the situation and made a polite but quick excuse to turn down the position.

Jane, however, is an infinity girl, and like all our others, one for whom life hasn’t proceeded in an “expected” fashion. She’s in a great position to give Thornfield and its people a fair chance, and she gives them much more. She admits Thornfield’s isolation frightens her. The constant laughter from the attic’s vicinity reminds her of the legend of Bluebeard, serial murderer of his wives. Like Mary Lennox who did not believe Colin’s crying was the wind, Jane doesn’t believe for a minute that Grace Poole is responsible for that scary laugh.

Grace Poole
Grace Poole. From a live-action adaptation.

Still, Jane finds her “modern” little room more comfortable than any she’s had before, and enjoys her newfound solitude, at least in daylight. In those hours, she “[likes] the hush, the gloom, the quaintness,” of her environment. Jane finds solace in pacing up and down the halls when she needs to, a form of “stimming” that she needed but was denied at both Lowood and Gateshead, sometimes scolded or punished for using. Additionally, while Jane doesn’t “socialize” with Mrs. Fairfax as such, she spends somewhat companionable silent winter evenings with her. This is comparable to modern infinity girls who note their idea of “hanging out” can be as simple as occupying the same space with someone while both parties do what they enjoy.

Like any infinity girl who hasn’t been loved or appreciated though, Jane doesn’t find her new environment perfect. The same “gloom” of Thornfield she enjoys during the day frightens her at night. She loves walking the grounds, but “[does] not like re-entering…[because] to pass its threshold was to return to stagnation.” Jane admits her environment is often dark, her “little room” lonely, and her governess uniform similar to “fetters.” Day by day, she finds herself “incapable of appreciating [the] security and ease” of her position, a place which for her, should’ve been the pinnacle of success.

Jane Eyre
Jane Eyre, by nati.

Jane doesn’t explore exactly why she feels this way, but modern infinity girls can draw some solid conclusions. Jane likely has PTSD from her abusive childhood. Notably, the red room incident has instilled fear of isolation and trepidation around Thornfield’s decor, which trends toward dark, heavy furnishings in woods like oak. Beyond that though, Jane probably feels “claustrophobic” even if she’s not in a “small” space. She often speaks of walks outdoors with fondness, no matter where she lives. As for her feelings of “stagnation” and inability to appreciate newfound security, Jane might feel mentally under-stimulated, and fear losing the “security and ease” she cannot yet settle into. She has not yet found someone with whom to share her thoughts and emotions; Mrs. Fairfax is too “tranquil” and accepting of Thornfield’s isolation, and Adele, between ages eight and ten, is too young. It seems then, Jane will continue her character journey as alone as she’s always been.

Edward Rochester: Sparring Partner to Soulmate

Modern infinity girls often report longing for connection with others, but struggling to find it. Jane Eyre has certainly faced this obstacle, but unlike many modern counterparts, she doesn’t necessarily expect connection. Moreover, she finds it where, when, and with whom she least expects. On one of her frequent walks on the Thornfield grounds, Jane comes across a large dog she initially mistakes for a spirit she had told Adele a story about. In actuality, the “spirit” is a dog accompanying a horse and rider. When the horse slips on ice and the gentleman riding him is thrown, Jane helps him up and becomes offended at his gruff manner. It isn’t until she returns home and finds the same dog in Thornfield’s foyer that she learns the dog’s name is Pilot and he belongs to Mr. Edward Rochester, master of the house–the same man Jane told off for being short with her mere moments earlier. Considering Rochester now nurses both a sprained ankle and a bruised ego, Jane fears she will be fired and turned out within the hour.

Edward Rochester
Edward Rochester.

Rather than fire Jane, Rochester sends for both her and Adele, insisting they have “tea,” or the evening meal, with him. To Jane’s surprise and further confusion, Rochester seems pleased enough with Adele’s apparent academic progress, but focuses more on getting to know Jane while Adele plays with a new doll. His questions are deep and pointed, immediately knocking Jane off-center. For instance, he asks Jane if she thinks he’s handsome, a question for which for most people, there is no good answer. Jane concludes the only reason Rochester would ask such a thing is because he’s “slightly drunk.” Like our other infinity girls, the only good response she has is the truth–“No.”

Where the truth has backfired on our other infinity girls, it earns Jane the friend and ally she has always needed. Rochester takes Jane’s honesty as a sign he can trust her, and they go on to discuss such deep topics as sin, forgiveness, and Rochester’s past with Adele and her mother, opera dancer Celine Varens. Jane remains unsure about this at first, but Rochester quickly clarifies he does not want Jane to feel or act like a servant around him. Over time, the two become close friends, as well as debate and sparring partners. Jane challenges Rochester to spend more time at Thornfield and with Adele, and reexamine the bleak worldview he’s embraced since losing Celine, the event she assumes made him the reclusive, antisocial person he is.

Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester.
Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester.

In turn, Rochester shows Jane that while her circle of loved ones may be small, people do exist who sincerely care for her, as she is. He encourages her artistic pursuits; at least one film shows Rochester teaching Jane new painting techniques, which she enjoys. Most importantly, Rochester accepts Jane’s infinity traits rather than chalking them up to odd or deviant behavior. Some readers have speculated this is because Rochester has some infinity traits himself. Yet whether or not this is true, Rochester’s acceptance of Jane becomes both what brings them together, and what almost rips them apart.

Bertha Mason: Jane’s Shadow and Possible Salvation

Jane comes to love Thornfield mostly because Edward Rochester is its master, and because she comes to love both him and Adele as a possible family. Yet as she finds out too late, Edward has kept an earth-shattering secret, a literal “mad wife in the attic.” Bertha Mason, not Celine Varens, was Rochester’s first wife, a biracial woman he met as a younger man while living in Jamaica. Rochester tells Jane he “believed himself” in love with Bertha and married almost before he understood what had happened. By the time her mental illness had made itself apparent, he felt himself too committed to abandon Bertha, and brought her to Thornfield to live in seclusion.

Bertha Mason

Jane runs from Thornfield and Rochester, as she has every right to do. If we read her as an infinity girl with neurodivergent traits, she is much more justified. Jane is terrified and disgusted when she first encounters Bertha on what should’ve been her wedding day. She describes Bertha “in animalistic terms,” and expresses horror when Rochester tells her Bertha’s brother Richard has severe intellectual disabilities. But Jane, who was also marked as “odd,” “bad,” “a burden [no one could love],” and behaviorally disturbed for most of her life, could well see a shadow of herself in Bertha. She never states it, but readers and viewers could infer she runs from Thornfield not just because Rochester lied by omission so grievously or because Bertha frightened and attacked her, down to shredding her bridal veil. Jane could have run out of fear that Rochester, already exposed to Bertha’s actual mental illness and more severe oddities, would eventually reject her and lock her away, too. Jane might wonder if Rochester has a “type,” or a savior complex that makes him woo and wed, then discard, divergent, disabled, or ill women. If Jane does not wonder this, modern readers and viewers might make the connection. A dream Jane has in which her dead mother urges her to flee Thornfield because Rochester is dangerous, backs up these theories.

Unexpectedly though, Bertha Mason gives Jane Eyre a positive opportunity none of our other infinity girls have experienced. Bertha is the “severely disabled other woman” who functions as Jane’s shadow, which has caused controversy among literary critics. Simultaneously, negative as Bertha’s presence is, it forces Jane to make self-determined choices that infinity girls of the past and present struggled, and still struggle, to make. Recall even today, most neurodivergent women fight for such basics as accurate diagnoses, appropriate educations, and gainful employment, let alone loving and fulfilling spousal relationships if they want them. They struggle to balance trauma with the positive aspects of their identities, negative experiences with self-acceptance, and society’s rules with the rules that make sense for them. Just as Sara Crewe gave younger infinity girls hope that they could craft unmasked identities, Jane and Bertha give older girls hope that balance can be found.

Bertha’s Shadows and Smoke

Bertha from the live-action adaptation
Bertha from the live-action adaptation.

When Jane first flees Thornfield, Rochester, and Bertha, she does so knowing Bertha is a dangerous woman within her time period, and Rochester has the potential to be a dangerous man. Jane has already risked her life to save Rochester and Thornfield once, when Bertha set fire to her ex-husband’s room. Had Rochester told Jane the truth then, there might have been hope for a truly happy, stable relationship between them. Instead, Rochester maintained his lie of omission. He chose Bertha over Jane even though, as he later admitted, Bertha was never going to be well enough to act as his wife again. When Rochester chooses Bertha a second time then, he goes beyond showing Jane she is second best, or even worthless, as the Reeds or Brocklehurst always did. He shows her, “I will place honor before reason, to the point of danger. My personal rules matter more than black and white, moral obligations, or any obligation I had to you when I promised to make you my wife and love you ’til death do us part.”

But as an infinity girl, Jane does not just abandon Rochester and her chance at one “happy ending” with him because, “My intended hid his mentally ill wife.” Like Mary Lennox and Anne Shirley before her, Jane flees and “rebels” against this ending because before confessing about Bertha, Rochester continually “broke rules” to which he and the neurotypical society he lived in unfairly held Jane. Specifically, Rochester continually sent Jane mixed relationship signals, telling her he viewed her as his equal, not his servant, and relating to her as such. But when Jane could or would not reassure Rochester of the emotional “salvation” he craved, he would turn on her in anger or play mind games, as when he disguised himself as a fortune teller at a party to relay certain feelings and information.

Bertha and Edward
Bertha and Edward. From the live-action adaptation.

Additionally, Rochester let Jane believe he thought her desirable, only to flirt with and intimate he will marry Blanche Ingram. Jane ended up in tears, in public, a “meltdown” that would likely humiliate anyone but likely leave an infinity girl feeling more helpless and out of control than usual. Therefore, once Rochester chooses Bertha on her wedding day, Jane sees it as the natural culmination of “rule-breaking.” The double standard has won yet again, and she is again “always accused, forever condemned,” except this time, she’s condemned to worse than a locked room. She is condemned to a “red room” of the heart, a life without love.

Jane could have overcome Rochester’s double standards, mixed signals, and inference that she was his second choice. Neurodivergent or not, she is a product of her time period, and women of her era overcame such obstacles often in the name of marriage, for security if not love. But Jane has one more solid reason to leave Thornfield, and that too, ties back to Bertha Mason. In choosing Bertha, Rochester doesn’t leave Jane without a husband, someone her society says she needs but whom she’s managed without for several years. He has done worse. He has left her without the only emotional ally she has ever known. For all his faults, Rochester understands Jane on a level few others bothered to. Unlike Helen Burns and Maria Temple, he also has the health, the financial power, and yes, the power of being male, to keep Jane emotionally and mentally secure. Yet Rochester chooses Bertha, the unstable woman of shadows and smoke, rather than Jane, the more “down to earth” woman who could love him back. He condemns Jane to “asphyxiate” in Bertha’s “cloud.”

Finding Liberty at Last

Diana and Mary Rivers. From the live-action adaptation.

Once away from Thornfield, Jane is presented with more and healthier life choices than she has ever had. After she collapses on the English moors in a torrential downpour, Diana and Mary Rivers take her in. They, along with their older brother St. John, care for her, and as Jane recuperates, the quartet discovers they are cousins on the Eyre side. Her deceased uncle from the Eyre side had meant to adopt Jane and bequeath her his sizable fortune, as Uncle Reed had known, but the spiteful Aunt Reed, now deceased, never revealed. A Cinderella story ensues as Jane finally finds succor with the loving family she should have had her entire life. Diana and Mary treat her as a beloved sister, and in the weeks following, Jane becomes emotionally and mentally close to St. John. Eventually, he beseeches her to marry him and join him in his upcoming mission work.

The idea tempts Jane, who is not a “Christian” character as we think of one today but has clung to her faith throughout young adulthood, particularly at Thornfield. Plenty of modern readers root for her to marry St. John too, seeing Rochester as a Byronically attractive, but temperamental, bigamous cheat at best, and a potential abuser at worst. Often though, those readers forget St. John’s flaws, namely his harsh legalism. He pressures Jane for marriage after she rejects his initial proposal, claiming that denying him is the same as denying Jesus. Later, he pressures her to go to the mission field with him, but not as his wife. In modern terms, he tells her she can be a “friend with benefits.”

St. John and Jane
St. John and Jane. From the live-action adaptation.

Jane refuses both propositions, but not without great emotional cost, and not without struggles rooted in neurodivergence. Jane’s social struggles have always meant she is unusually intelligent and honest, as well as easily persuaded if the persuader is someone she trusts. She actually feels “compelled” to go to India with St. John under a platonic arrangement, especially after hearing him pray for her out loud. As sometimes happens with real infinity girls, Jane needs to hear the other person’s true motives spelled out before she can move past their influence. When Diana reveals St. John is using her to move his cause along, Jane recognizes if she married him, she would become someone worse than the “slave to passion” she feared becoming with Rochester, the woman chosen because she was the less severely disabled, the more convenient and able to serve. With St. John, Jane would become even more of a victim than she has already been in her life, because she would be an object. She would be St. John’s prop, his example of Christian morality, something he needed but did not want.

Shortly after this realization, Jane “hears” Rochester calling for her from Thornfield, and determines to go back. This is not because she believes he’s a perfect spousal candidate, or believes life with him will be perfect. Rather, Jane chooses Thornfield and Rochester because her heroine’s journey has let her unite passion and principle, mind and heart, in ways the journeys of our younger infinity girls did not (because they were not yet old enough to do so). Jane has confronted the trauma heaped on her because of her “differences,” the “red room” of her unbridled, abuse-induced anger, and the “shadow” she might have become, had she been forced down Bertha’s path of too much passion. Simultaneously, she has narrowly escaped the loveless marriage, objectification, and life without empathy she would’ve endured had she chosen too much principle.

Jane Eyre artwork
Jane Eyre, by Starsong-Studio.

Unlike the undiagnosed infinity girls of her time, or many of the infinity girls of today, Jane gets to keep both passion and principle, and so she becomes the most well-rounded and actualized of our heroines. She, more than our other heroines, offers hope that real neurodivergent girls can nurture and “keep” all sides and parts of themselves in equal measure, or any measure they choose. Real infinity girls may struggle to find the social circles, the partners, and the physical spaces that will accept them, or that they accept as theirs, but these can be found, and on the girls’ terms rather than the terms of the neurotypical world. Therefore, Jane promises more than any of our infinity “book girls,” infinity girls can have homes, in and outside of books. When Jane tells Rochester she is “a free human being with an independent will” whom “no net ensnares,” she offers the same message to infinity girls who have yet to soar, but still have plenty of time and room to do so.

Conclusion: Opening a New Book for New Girls

Today’s adult female bookworms often call themselves “book girls.” Many of them go on to associate themselves with certain genres or series of childhood or adolescent books, and find their social circles and “social homes” based on those. “Horse girls” of yesteryear are probably today’s “nature women,” workout mavens, or fondly named “granola moms.” “Goth girls” of the ’80s-’00s might be women who grew up to enjoy astrology or find spiritual fulfillment in cooking or gardening. “Business girls” or “popular girls” who enjoyed The Baby-Sitters’ Club or the Sweet Valley incarnations might be today’s executives, small business owners, or work-at-home moms. And any “book girl” of today might be any combination, depending on which series or genres she enjoyed most.

Ying Ge Unplash
By Ying Ge at Unplash.

Yet, these “social homes” and “book girl homes” have traditionally left out a small, but vocal and growing group. These are the girls who probably enjoyed books like Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, or Jane Eyre, among many others. Social media outlets like Tumblr recognize that such enjoyment in childhood and adolescence does and did lead to a certain adult female profile, but have never truly pinned down what that was or is.

Analysis indicates the answer might be that these “book girls” are “infinity girls,” or girls who show neurodivergent traits, even if they are not formally diagnosed with autism, ADHD, or another neurodivergence. These girls, now women, are not necessarily disabled in any way, though they can be and can find their “homes” in this group. “Infinity” simply means these “book girls” align themselves with these heroines because their brains and emotions respond in neurodivergent ways to the “heroine’s journey.” Thus, these real-life “book girls” can find a unique brand of identification, and perhaps strength, hope, and healing, in these and other “infinity” heroines.

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101 Comments

  1. I had not thought about Mary Lennox, but I will definitely go back and reread Secret Garden. The last time I read it, girls-with-autism was not on my radar.

  2. I identified a lot with Sara Crewe in A Little Princess. I was oblivious to the class and colonial issues in the book, of course, being just a kid, but the abandonment, injustice, and determination to be a good person no matter how other people acted really resonated. And the hope that if I were just kind enough, I’d eventually find a place where I was loved.

    My mom used to make fun of me for reading books that had “poor me” characters, as she called them, which is funny now because she has been reading books about women being treated horribly, especially in China for some reason, for the last several years. It makes me wonder what she identifies with in those books.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Brenna: I hear you. I wonder where your mom gets the idea that Sara Crewe is a “poor me” character, because she doesn’t strike me as such. Maybe what she meant was, she didn’t like you reading about girls in those types of situations for whatever reason (I had a sort of Cinderella/Cinderella story fixation as a kid, and my parents kind of reacted the same way, like they thought I *wanted* to be abused or something, which wasn’t true). *Sigh.* Neurotypicals, gotta love ’em.

      Maybe your mom is finally wise to the fact, “poor me characters” are not who or what she thinks. Maybe she’s found some sympathy and catharsis in these women, and is learning how to express some emotions she thought she couldn’t. At least, I hope so.

    • Pickle
      1

      I always wonder what people like this think when they watch or read stuff like Cinderella. Are they rooting for the evil stepmother?

      • mort
        1

        Me too!! I read that so many times. And I just felt bad for her, I had zero awareness that I was relating to the character for a reason.

        It was like by feeling for the character I could feel for myself even while staying in deep denial about the real emotional situation I was in.

  3. Josh Fuller
    2

    I was thinking about it recently when I was rereading A Little Princess and lamenting that there’s not really a stage or screen adaptation that truly captures Sara Crewe. The 1995 film is beautiful, but the Sara in that film is spunky in a way that book Sara really isn’t. Book Sara is stoic. She endures. She is dignified and composed, but that doesn’t mean she’s unfeeling or weak. But she isn’t the kind of character we often see in modern media, and I think that’s sad.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Josh Fuller: It is sad, now that you mention it. The 1995 version is the one I loved most from childhood, but you’re right, it doesn’t capture all the nuances of the Sara from the book. I personally think the 1986 WonderWorks miniseries does a great job with this, but even Amelia Shankley, who plays Sara in that one, doesn’t come off quite as stoic and dignified as she could. It may be too much to expect of a child actor, but yes, more dignity is always nice.

      • Francesca
        1

        https://youtu.be/PX4dhw1fKo4

        This was my introduction to the story and the reason my standards were so high that I flat out despised the 1995 glurgefest of a movie when it came out.

        • trevie
          1

          I love this version! It’s so much truer to the book than any of the other ones. The one thing that’s missing is Sara’s storytelling, which isn’t nearly as present as it is in the book, but it’s still got the essence of her character more than anything else.

          • Novak
            1

            True, that is the one element Hollywood managed better, in that they included it at all. Now I wonder why it’s missing from the version that got everything else right, and then extrapolated more that’s so in keeping you wonder how you missed it in the book.

            I wonder if the writers had to fight to keep Captain Crewe dead – faking his death, to me, is the most unforgivable Bowdlerisation you get in every other adptation. It undermines so much of Sara’s story and journey if it turns out to have been for no good reason, and also I think the actual message – that this could happen, and it would be perfectly legal. Because this book is actually about the ephemeral nature of wealth, grief, the hideous disparity between the haves and the have-nots, and the way society would treat the exact same person in either situation. It’s not a cutesy, fluffy little children’s adventure with a big scary villain – it’s a social commentary full of very real, very human characters. Reducing it to “special little girl is turned into a servant by a wicked headmistress but keeps her head held high and in the end everything reverts to how it was before she lost everything” is downright insulting.

  4. Crying over the part where Mary realizes the garden is still alive … and the part where Colin feels the sunshine on his face for the first time … and the part where … *snifflessss*

    • Francis
      1

      I love Mary’s character arc over the course of the novel and the way she works to amend her manners when she’s finally met with some resistance to her outrageous requests. The scenes in the garden were obviously my favorite and I love that FHB wrote the book after loving her own garden on Long Island.

  5. I wish I could give this article 1,000 likes.

  6. It’s surprisingly easy to read the characters of both Mary and Colin as being on the autistic spectrum.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Nyasia: Yup, especially since my own journey. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

      • Both Mary and Colin are in many ways unlikable characters, especially earlier on, yet I still adore them.

        They behave appallingly, but they have also been starved of attention, love and discipline. Their journey over the course of the book, and the way they help each other evolve into better people is so wonderful to follow.

    • Jadon
      1

      I escaped in this book and although I knew the story and the outcome I loved every page as the writing is so descriptive and the characters so well drawn that this book comes alive. I have seen the film several times of the secret garden and yet reading the book the characters and places took on a completely different image which was great as Frances Hodgson Burnett really knew how to capture her readers.

      • h0m3
        1

        It’s a a real treasure, it always brightens up my life, it always reminds me of the power of positive thought and how easy it is to succumb to negativity in this world, no matter your age or gender or religion.

      • zara
        1

        I loved this book when I was little, and I still love it now! I do appreciate different things about it, but from all the times I read it when I was younger I still get that warm and fuzzy feeling you get from heart-warming books. I think all children should read it, honestly.

  7. As someone who relates to Anne’s trauma, I ask myself “What would Anne do?” and it truly helps me get through the days. The comfort of her open, loving, nature and the strength she carries alone a lot of the time. I wish to gain the courage of Anne.

  8. As a guy who read Anne of Green Gables growing up, she shaped a lot of my taste in women. Smart, witty, self assured, and most importantly Canadian (I’ve never lived in or near Canada, but a surprising number of my crushes have happened to be Canadian).

  9. Kit-Kat
    2

    Finding out more about LM Montgomery’s life broke my heart. In one of the books she writes with incredible insight about the main character narrowly avoiding a bad marriage. I cannot remember which of her books this was and it’s driving me crazy.

    Anyway, after reading about LM Montgomery’s life I realized she may have been writing from personal experience.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Kit-Kat: Oh, I didn’t know about that! It does sound a bit like Jane of Lantern Hill…maybe that one?

      • I can’t see Anne’s life ending like LM Montgomery’s did. I’ve read there’s some disagreement about the nature of her death, but I dunno…

        • Rayne
          1

          I believe her granddaughter that LMM’s death was suicide. 😔 I’ve read her journals and she wanted to end her life so badly for years, especially right before the end. She left a depressing diary entry beside her as a suicide note basically, similar to what my friend did who also committed suicide. The nature of her death was concealed because her son Stuart was a doctor, and the doctor who prescribed her the medicine she overdosed on would be in trouble. Plus she was a beloved author. They agreed to conceal her death as an accident and Stuart’s family kept it a secret for a long time.

  10. Nicholi
    3

    So I’m from a country where English is not the native language and my dad (a man in his late 50s) who’s never read English language fiction once at dinner was gushing about this film he watched that had some red headed orphan as a protagonist. He was so very delighted with her, he was practically squealing and after I got him to calm down and explain what he was talking about, I figured out it was Anne Shirley.

    So I told him that and my dad with the excitement of a kid was like ‘you know her???!’ And I had to explain that she was the main character from the book that he’d brought me (we’d gone together but he didn’t know the books he paid for lol) from when I was 12.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Nicholi: I just love the idea of your dad, or any grown man really, being so delighted with Anne! Actually, she’s a delight no matter who you are.

    • Josh
      1

      Aww what a cute story!

  11. I love this article. Since being diagnosed with ADHD I see a lot of the same traits in Anne Shirley and it makes me like her so much more.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Santos: Yes. I’ve been thinking about themes like this for a while. Someone commented on one of my other articles that Anne reads as an ADHD type of person, and now I “can’t unsee it.” Which is a good thing!

  12. i never heard about infitity girls but now I’m ready to argue in their defence. 🙂

  13. Braeden
    2

    Anne Shirley is practically a national religion in Canada, from what I understand. Every decade or so they make another TV adaptation.

    I’m a fan of the 1985 series starring Megan Follows, although she was a little old for the part.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Braeden: The 1985 series was my first, so it’s my favorite. But having seen Anne with an E, I like it a lot, too. I honestly think Amybeth McNulty makes the better Anne, because as you alluded, she’s a kid and she plays Anne like a real kid. Even as a teen, Amybeth plays Anne youthful, while Megan in Anne’s teens and twenties read a bit more like a 30-something.

    • LEOOOO
      2

      I understand when the Megan Follows series aired that the country would practically shutdown while everyone watched it.

      • Jamie
        2

        Ain’t no ‘practically’ about it! 😄 You should see the crowds that make the pilgrimage to Green Gables in Prince Edward Island!

        I teach elementary over on the west coast, and whenever I show a picture of that house with little context, at least 1 kid will pipe up “Green Gables!”

        • Manuel
          1

          I’m American but Anne was pretty much a religion in my house when I was growing up. I didn’t read any of the books until I was an adult but I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen the Megan Follows movies.

    • Rosie
      2

      I still remember when it first aired on public tv (shoutout to KVIE channel 6 in Sacramento!). Such a wonderful series. One of the few adaptations ever that I think is better than the book.

  14. Kaliyah
    2

    I have yet to reread any of the Anne books as an adult, but my personal favorite LM Montgomery novel is The Blue Castle, which I discovered last year.

    • Avery
      1

      I haven’t reread the Anne books in awhile but I did love all of them! As much as I love Anne the “Rilla of Ingleside” has always been a favorite of mine.

      The Blue Castle is one of my favorite books of all time. I still have my original paperback. I’ve read it so many times. It’s such a wonderful story of personal triumph over past trauma.

  15. One thing we can learn from Anne is that you need to properly label the things in your kitchen cupboard.

    • Braun
      3

      And tinkers are not to be trusted when it comes to purchasing hair products.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Dorito: Yes, you do! I just had another thought, too. Anne had never tasted currant wine, which, she’s a kid so okay. BUT, she had also never tasted raspberry cordial, which was (is)? a child-friendly drink. And I’m guessing parents back then had different views on what constituted “junk food,” but Anne of Green Gables reads as if cordials were commonplace. So if that’s true, Anne was just that much more deprived as an orphan and foster kid. As in, she probably rarely, if ever, had *anything* that would give her pleasure. She probably saw the smallest things as luxuries and treats. And now I’m sad, but in a good way.

  16. I like to think that Anne helped shape me into the woman I am today. It’s amazing to think of how much I learned from her as a child, that would then follow me throughout my entire life. So much of the good in me can be credited to those books. I may not have been a red haired orphan from Canada, but I saw so much of myself in her. The way she embraced every part of herself, made me feel like I could do the same. Even while all of the people closest to me tried to make me feel like I was too much and that I should stifle my muchness to better fit into the world. She made me feel like it was ok to…well… to just BE. She also showed me what true friendship was. And I’m proud to say I’ve come across quite a few KINDRED SPIRITS in my lifetime. I don’t know if I would’ve recognized them for what they were, had she not shown me the true meaning of the phrase. Thank you, Anne!

  17. I remember seeing The Secret Garden reenacted as a musical play by some middle-school students several years ago and was impressed by their performance.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Joker: You know, it really is amazing what young kids can do with theater. My niece was in Finding Nemo, Jr. in the fall (she’s six), and the cast members with lead roles were middle-schoolers. I honestly thought some of them were older. The dedication and skill level were legit inspiring.

  18. Valencia
    1

    Sara Crewe! I loved A Little Princess, it was one of my favorite books. And Anne Shirley as well of course. I think I had an affinity for little girls without parents (or with inadequate parents). My favorite books were:

    – Matilda
    – A Little Princess
    – The Secret Garden
    – Anne of Green Gables
    – The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

    • Stephanie M.

      @Valencia! We are kindred spirits! I adored all those books!

      • Yuliana
        2

        My affinity has been for quiet girls (or boys) with strong imaginations, who don’t see the world the way other people do. I also admire characters who try to make the best of what they’ve got.

        When I was in sixth grade and in public school, I was very badly (psychologically) bullied by the other girls for the entire year. I quickly found out that my imagination was a place where I could enter in and shut them out. I think I actually did something to myself that year (is that possible?) because, since then, it has always been larger and more accessible than any other time of my life. For a few years afterwards, clear into the beginning of college, actually, I would slip into it whether I meant to or not, to the exclusion of external stimulus.

        As in, even people I liked, friends and family, could speak to me while standing in front of me and not get a response.

        My daughter and I both have what the medical community calls “ADHD-PI and mild dyslexia” along with medium-high intelligence and high creativity. We (and my youngest son) are easily overstimulated by the outside world and have some sort of unknown sensory issue, but are functional. (In my case, ‘functional after a fashion’. I have, despite trying my hardest, burned out of almost every career I’ve tried, due entirely to sensory issues.)

        It means something to me to be a gainful member of society and I struggle with self esteem issues in that area. I got the exact phrase so many times on report cards and employee evaluations that I joke wryly that it will be engraved on my tombstone: “Did not work to expectations”.

        My favorite books growing up included A Little Princess, the Anne of Green Gables series, Emily of New Moon series, Lord of the Rings (my favorite male and favorite female in the series actually got married at the end!), the Alvin Maker series, Ender’s Game, Heidi (who is so much more my mother than me), and… uh… lots more, which I only added to over time…

        Yes, I have dyslexia. Yes, I am a voracious reader. I taught myself how to read when I was too young to remember, apparently (by examining my modern reading process) by learning to recognize words as pictures instead of collections of phonetic rules used to recognize the word by its sound. It has benefits (fast, accurate reading speed, word-perfect recall) and detriments (inability to unscramble words to make other words, change one letter of each word in a series to transform one word to another, etc.).

        • Stephanie M.

          @Yuliana: Thank you so much for sharing your story. It means a lot to know there are kindred spirits in this world, even online.

        • smith
          1

          I’m sorry to hear how you’ve struggled (because of course I have as well). I’ve changed careers a few times, going from trail work to office work and maybe I will move into farming or entrepreneurship. It’s hard because it seems like everything makes me anxious. Is that what you mean by sensory issues? ADHD medication was helpful for me and that sucks that it doesn’t work for you. The only other thing I’ve found helpful is Somatic Experiencing Therapy. CBT was useless to me and self-help books were interesting but never changed anything in my life.

  19. I love Jane Eyre. I identify with her so hard.

  20. Stephanie M.

    @Paxton: Me, too. I first tried to read the book when I was 10. I didn’t get through it then, and I wasn’t fully aware of how much I identified with Jane because, well, her “infinity” personality wasn’t something I knew I had, much less knew to look for with fictional characters. But yes, I now recognize her as a soul sister.

  21. Griffith
    2

    Thank you Stephanie for the breakdown. I have ADHD and I never thought of Anne having it before but you’re right, it makes a lot of sense.

  22. Isabella
    3

    I’m a teen and I think Anne of Green Gables and the Little House books were the few places I could escape from the hell-hole of a family life I lived with. I connect with Anne because we’re both orphans and I envied Anne for having unconditional loving guardians despite her mistakes. I read the whole series within Christmas break in 2017. One of my favorite book series.

    • Ayden
      1

      I hope you take from the Anne books that even if someone has an abusive childhood doesn’t mean that their adulthood has to be the same way.

  23. Chili
    2

    I loved the first two Anne books but after that…. I feel like from book 3 on we lose more and more of Anne and she becomes more and more what she initially didn’t want to be… and the hate against cats is way too much in the books.

    • Leticia
      1

      Give up your ambitions to raise children.

      One thing that I liked about the Little Women books is that in the last book, Jo was a famous writer. Finally a female author who writes her character being a female author.

      I do agree with you that, as the books went on, Anne lost a lot of her Anne-ness.

      • jaden
        1

        The first two books have been amazing and I wish that the author would have kept going into that direction but… ah welll… I simply love those and tend to just ignore the rest 😅

    • pierece
      1

      Have you read LMM’s Emily books? I always preferred them to the Anne books; they’re a touch darker and Emily actually pursues her writerly ambitions.

      Although I once had someone say to me that you were either an Emily or an Anne, and the two types of LMM readers don’t get along. Given that fact my friendship with an self-identified Anne fell apart, it might be true.

      • Stephanie M.

        @pierce: Not the whole Emily trilogy, but most of it. And yes, I love Emily, too. I’m not even gonna say I like one or the other “better”; I see them as, not carbon copies, but very much “sisters.” If I can get permission to do another article like this (as a follow-up), I want to talk about Emily.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Chili: Yes. *sigh* She does become less “quirky” as she grows up, which I guess is more a reflection of her era than anything else. Still, it’s disconcerting. And as a cat-lover, bias and hate against cats isn’t something I tolerate well. 🙂

  24. Gams
    2

    The Secret Garden is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s the book that started my childhood obsession with England and its moors and manor houses, and it’s no less magical reading it as an adult.

  25. Zoie
    1

    I will always love the Anne books because they are a connection to my dad who passed away when I was 15.

    My parents are immigrants from Korea and struggled to make cultural book connections with us growing up in the U.S.. However, one day when I was in fourth grade, my dad surprised me by asking me if I’d read “Red Haired Anne”. He said it was his favorite book as a kid in Korea. I asked the school librarian and she knew it as Anne of Green Gables. I devoured it and the other books in the series. Now, everytime I read the book, I think of my dad. A little boy in Korea inspired to dream by a red haired girl on Prince Edward Island.

  26. Garza
    2

    My favourite Anne quote is the one that it’s not the bad things you’ve done that keep you up at night but rather the embarrassing ones! Something like that anyway. So so true

  27. Jalen
    2

    I re-read the Anne Shirley books every few years and love them! As a child who had a very active imagination I definitely identified with her as a kid

  28. Annabelle
    2

    Anne is one of my heroines and probably always will be 🤍

    • Julia
      1

      I relate to her in some ways but not sure I quite have the strength she has or continuous optimism.

      • Inchworm
        1

        I know right.. she’s so boldly optimistic in spite of.. and just a kind soul accepting anything as it comes. We can only aspire.

  29. Nina
    2

    I love the Anne series and read it yearly (at least). I also adore her two Pat books (Pat of Silver Bush and Mistress Pat). The Blue Castle is wonderful too. I’ve pretty much enjoyed all of LM Montgomery’s books… they are timeless.

    • Dwaynie
      1

      You’ve just named two of my favourite books (Mistress Pat and The Blue Castle) and they just don’t get enough love, so it makes me so happy!

  30. Kadence
    2

    I love Anne, the series, the movies, everything. I’ve got Anne cookbooks, among some other collectibles. After 31 years, I always seem to go back there.

    Something (I think) cool. My dad did a fence for a lady who happened to know LMM grandson. Dad was chatting with the lady and told her I loved her etc. few weeks later dad tells me I’m not going to school and get ready. He takes me to this lady’s house, and says we’re going to the university to archives. I said ok sure. Still no idea what’s happening. She ended up taking me in to the archives, of personal diaries of LMM, early edits of her books, scar books of growing up, her thought process journals for the book, lock of her hair etc. it was one of my favourite memories I’ve ever got to experience

    • Stephanie M.

      @Kadence: Wow, that’s amazing! 🙂

      • Jaylon
        1

        I have an Anne cookbook too. It has the recipe for monkeyface cookies that I was so curious about as a kid!

  31. Choi
    1

    I have a bit of a problem with the fact that oh so many of the adults portrayed in The Secret Garden (and even inherently positive individuals like Martha and Susan Sowerby) keep bringing up the fact that Mary’s mother was supposedly very physically attractive, and that in many ways, Mary is often judged negatively because she is plain, while her mother was considered very beautiful.

    • Stephanie M.

      @Choi: Now that you bring that up, yes. It brings to mind a lot of questions and discussion fodder about Edwardian beauty standards, how much of that was projected onto children, and so on. Also, as I hope you gleaned from the article, I found it frustrating, even as a kid, that everyone expected Mary to behave in one certain way. I don’t mean her imperiousness; as a kid, I did think she was a spoiled brat, and it took becoming an adult to see it differently. But like, giving her a hard time because she doesn’t “emote” the way other kids do? Even at her age I was like, “What’s up with that?”

  32. Skinny
    2

    Reading Anne of Green Gables, it was like something just clicked. It’s sort of a shame that some of her quirkiness doesn’t follow into the latter books so much.

  33. Howw
    0

    Anne of Green Gables was my first novel I read and I loved it so much and it showed me the world of reading was before me and oh what a wonderful world it is!

    • Jeremiah
      0

      I just finished Anne of the Island (the third one), this is my first time reading the series. I am enjoying them so much but I kind of wish time would go more slowly in the books, I would have loved more adventures of Anne as a child.

  34. Siothrún

    Finally catching up on leaving comments on the articles I’ve revised. I absolutely love how this topic was analyzed and presented, and it was a pleasure to edit this! Thank you!

  35. Annika
    0

    Sara Crewe was my role model growing up and got me through a lot.

  36. Knapp
    1

    A Little Princess has had the biggest influence on my life. I received the book as a Christmas present when I was a young child, and I wanted to model myself after Sara Crewe because I felt she was everything a “princess” should be, and I wanted to be one too. The quote that I absolutely live by is:

    “If nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that—warm things, kind things, sweet things—help and comfort and laughter—and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

  37. Ewing
    1

    Jane Eyre was def autistic, she had meltdowns/ absence of facial expression/ didn’t make eye contact etc and was deemed to be ‘very practical’ but felt things so deeply.

  38. Tori
    0

    Really? Jane Eyre?

    • Ezra
      1

      Jane is ‘cold,’ blunt,’ and ‘passionate.’ She uses simple logic to deal with human interaction. She doesn’t like lies, not because she is honest but because they don’t make sense to her. And she throws wild tantrums when she can’t cope.

      • Red Velvet
        0

        I hadn’t thought of this before but I can see what you mean. Throughout the book she is often described as being “odd” and clearly feels uneasy in social situations. Also her art is also seen by Rochester as unusual.

    • Foster
      1

      I’ve always thought of Jane Eyre as being on the autism spectrum.

  39. meki
    1

    It blows my mind that Charlotte Bronte was able to faithfully represent our neurotype a half-century before anyone used the word “autism”. I wonder if she was autistic herself?

    • Aliza
      1

      I think it’s possible, and it’s intriguing to think about. 🙂

  40. Stephanie M.

    @meki: Personally, I think she might well have been, but of course, there’s no way to know that. And yes, her representation is *on point* for the 1840s.

  41. If the stories of some of these “infinity girls” were told from another perspective, they might be seen as Manic Pixie Dream Girls – which just adds to the central tension of real-world girls who relate to them not knowing what to do with themselves as adults.

  42. Stephanie M.

    @noahspud: An angle I did not consider, but true. In fact, another thing that’s probably happening to these real-life girls is that, they’ve been treated as MPDGs their entire lives. Or they’ve been praised for being gifted or “special” or whatever–until they get to adulthood. And then their burnout or struggles get misconstrued as, “You’re no fun,” “You’re weird,” “You’re too mature/immature,” whatever. I speak from experience. So as in childhood, they remain without a place they “fit.”

  43. Wow, this is so thorough and exactly how I feel. I love how you outlined this topic through many different examples!

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