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Name: Hannah Spruce

Department: English and Centre for American Studies, University of Leicester

Thesis: Destabilising the Psychopath Narrative through US and Canadian Women's Writing

The project is a genre study and cultural history of psychopathy in the late twentieth and twenty-first century. The project locates psychopathy discourses historically and culturally by examining the portrayal of psychopathy in key science writing from critical figures including Max Nordau, Cesare Lombroso, Hervey Cleckley, Robert Hare, and Kent Kiehl. The introduction outlines the literary nature of these apparently objective works by illustrating the presence of animalistic metaphors, traces of nineteenth-century pseudosciences and Judeo-Christian morality, and the rhetoric of moral panic. 

The four thesis chapters, focusing on speculative fiction, gothic, transgressive, and witness fictions, articulate the project's literary dimension by focusing on women writers who employ the psychopath figure or metaphors of psychopathy. The thesis argues that, often but not always, women writers' use of psychopathy discourses contributes to the historic pathologising and dehumanising of women, the lower classes, and people diagnosed with autism.

The term 'psychopathy discourse' refers to visual and discursive practices which medicalise, and specifically from the 1990s, geneticise theological and ethical concepts of evil, antisocial, and deviant behaviour. I argue that psychopathy discourse, despite its medico-scientific framing, should most compellingly be understood as a cultural narrative rather than a medical or scientific one.  

Primary texts include: 

  • Maureen Medved's Black Star (2018)
  • Jennifer Quist's The Apocalypse of Morgan Turner (2018)
  • Myriam Gurba's Mean (2017)
  • Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (2002)
  • Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake (2003) and MaddAddam (2013)
  • Gillian's Flynn's Gone Girl (2012)
  • Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003)
  • Tricia Sullivan's Maul (2003)
  • Elizabeth Moon's Speed of Dark (2002)
  • Joyce Carol Oates' Zombie (1995)



  • 'The Revolutionary Chora in Seamus Heaney's Kite Poetry', Estudios Irlandeses, 11, 2016, 213-219.

Book Reviews:

  • 'Book Review: Posthuman Urbanism: Mapping Bodies in Contemporary Space by Debra Benita Shaw', LSE: Review of Books. May 15, 2018. 
  • 'Book Review: TransCanadian Feminist Fictions: New Cross-Border Ethics by Libe García Zarranz', LSE: Review of Books, August 17, 2018.  

Selected Conference Papers: 

  • 'Disrupting the Conflation of Autism and Psychopathy in Margaret Atwood's Speculative Fiction', Current Research in Speculative Fiction, Conference Paper, University of Liverpool, June 29, 2018.

Scholarly Activities:

Professional Memberships: 

  • Member of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS). 
  • Member of the Modern Language Association (MLA).
  • Member of the British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS)

Research Interests:

  • Contemporary Literature 
  • Canadian and American Literature
  • Women's Writing
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Medical Humanities (ageing, autism, psychopathy)
  • Speculative fiction
  • Affect Studies (gender and experiences of boredom and anxiety)

Twitter: @hspruce 
Researchgate: hspruce
LinkedIn: hspruce38684


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