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Hannah Spruce

Languages and Literature, University of Leicester

Thesis title:

Destabilising the Psychopath Narrative through Contemporary North American Women�s Writing

In my doctoral dissertation, I explore twelve contemporary novels by women from the US and Canada with the objective of analysing, exposing, and unsettling the varied and often harmful discourses of psychopathy. Through an examination of contemporary fiction, I demonstrate that archaic and dehumanising stereotypes are embedded in these discourses. The twelve novels I examine range from bestsellers to independent press releases that employ styles associated with psychological terror to speculative fiction, true crime, and the police procedural. I provide a broad picture of how contemporary Canadian and US women’s fiction deploys the popular and prevalent discourses of psychopathy in vastly differing ways. In doing so, I illustrate how women’s fiction employs psychopath imagery, motifs, and language to reinforce as well as to destabilise dominant formations of class, race, and gender and stereotypes about ‘bad’ mothers, ‘crazy’ women, monstrous serial killers and sex offenders, and people diagnosed as autistic. See chapter overview below: 

  • Chapter 1: Serial Killer Fiction – interrogates the depiction of the serial murderer and murderous culture in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley Under Water (1991), Joyce Carol Oates’s Zombie (1995), and Lisa Moore’s Alligator (2006). 
  • Chapter 2: Speculative Fiction – unsettles the aligning of autism and psychopathy in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003), Tricia Sullivan’s Maul (2003), and Elizabeth Moon’s Speed of Dark (2002). 
  • Chapter 3: Terror Narratives – I interrogate sexist stereotypes in portrayals of the ‘psychopathic woman’ in Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin (2003), Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (2012), and Maureen Medved’s Black Star (2018). 
  • Chapter 4: Witness Narratives – turns to witness writing on sexual violence examining Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones (2002), Myriam Gurba’s Mean (2017), and Katherena Vermette’s The Break (2016).

Research Area

  • Languages and Literature


Spruce, H. 'The Revolutionary Chora in Seamus Heaney's Kite Poetry', Estudios Irlandeses, 11 (Spring 2016): 213-19. 

Other Publications (e.g., book chapters, reviews, blog posts, encyclopedia entries)

  • 'The Fearful Mother: Maternal Terror and the Patriarchal Expectation of Violence in Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin'. In Explorations of Fearful Children edited by Elena Xeni and Gabrielle Everall. Interdisciplinary Press, forthcoming. 
  • 'Being Bookish: Creating a Community of Readers', Blog Post, Contemporary Women's Writing Association Blog, September 2021. 
  • 'Joyce Carol Oates: Zombie', The Literary Encyclopedia, June 17, 2021.
  • 'Book Review: Shapes of Native Nonfiction: Collected Essays by Contemporary Writers, edited by Elissa Washuta and Theresa Warburton', C21: Journal of 21st Century Writings, 8(1) (2020): doi: https://doi.org/10.16995/c21.1997
  • 'Book Review: TransCanadian Feminist Fictions: New Cross-Border Ethics, by Libe García Zarranz', LSE: Review of Books, August 17, 2018. 
  • 'Book Review: Posthuman Urbanism: Mapping Bodies in Contemporary Space by Debra Benita Shaw', LSE: Review of Books. May 15, 2018.


  • 'The Reading Group as Autotheoretical Practice', Hannah Spruce (University of Leicester) and Angie Lee (Manchester International Festival), Autotheory: Thinking through Self, Body, and Practice, University of Glasgow, October 27-28, 2022. 
  • 'Bearing Creative Witness to Anti-Indigenous Racism in Katherena Vermette's The Break', Contemporary Women Writing Race: Textual Interventions and Intersections Symposium, Contemporary Women's Writing Association, Virtual Conference, September 10, 2021. 
  • 'Myriam Gurba's Mean and the Feminist Rewriting of True Crime', Postgraduate Network of Contemporary Women's Writing, University of Hull, September 9. 2019.
  • 'Creative/Critical Response to Existentialism and Evil in Lionel Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin', Evil Children: Children and Evil, Verona, Italy, July 14-16, 2019.
  • 'Disrupting the Conflation of Autism and Psychopathy in Margaret Atwood's Speculative Fiction', Current Research in Speculative Fiction, University of Liverpool, June 29, 2018.
  • 'Portraying Psychopathy in the Clinical Tale', Modern and Contemporary Forum, University of Birmingham, March 21, 2018. 


  • Lead Conference Coordinator / Session Chair: Interventions: New Perspectives on Politics, Freedom and Democracy held at Stamford Court, Leicester, March 10, 2019. 
  • Session Chair / Conference co-cordinator: Human Rights in the 21st Century: Developing Rights in a Developing World, University of Birmingham, July 20, 2018.

Public Engagement & Impact

Public Reading Group (Jan. 2019– ) I run a monthly book club that meets to discuss nonfiction works and poetry collections in Leeds, UK. See our social media for an idea of what we read: www.instagram.com/bookishleeds

Managing Editor of Journal of Languages, Texts, and Society (2018–19), a postgraduate journal based at the University of Nottingham. Responsible for producing Issue 3 (Spring 2019) of the journal and organising the annual journal conference.

Other Research Interests

  • Contemporary women's writing (twenty-first century)
  • American/Canadian studies
  • Book clubs, reading and identity, literary communities


  • Contemporary Women's Writing Association (CWWA)
  • British Association for Contemporary Literary Studies (BACLS)

Teaching in HE

Part Time Lecturer, Leeds Beckett University (Jan, 2021– ) I have taught across a range of undergraduate modules, including: The Gothic: Literature, Culture, Theory (Level 6); Postcolonial Writing (Level 5); Twentieth Century Literature: Alienation and Dystopia (Level 5); Poetry (Level 4); Texts and Theories (Level 4); also gave two, ninety-minute lectures on this module.

Associate Lecturer, Sheffield Hallam University (March 16 – April 20, 2020) Online Writing Development – provided asynchronous feedback on assignment drafts for students on the English Literature undergraduate course to develop academic writing style, expression, and structure for assessment purposes.

Workshops and Training

  • Preparing to Teach in Higher Education, University of Leicester, (6.5 hours), September 16-18, 2019
  • Writing Retreat, Royal Literary Fund, College Court, Leicester, May 11-18, 2019
  • Adobe InDesign Training, Nottingham Web Studies, May 1-2, 2018
  • 1968 Workshop, University of Leicester, May 4, 2018
  • Designing Posters for Research, University of Nottingham, April 18, 2018
  • Doctoral Induction Day: 20th and 21st Century Collections, British Library, February 16, 2018

Widening Participation

  • Arts and Social Sciences Educational Engagement Officer, University of Leeds (March 2022– )
  • Secondary Education Tutor, The Tutor Trust (May – July, 2021)
  • Scholars Programme, The Brilliant Club (Nov. 2020 – Jan. 2021)