Coercive Control: From Literature into Law



Partners and collaborators

University of York


Led by Dr Hannah Roche (University of York) and Dr Katy Mullin (University of Leeds), Coercive Control: From Literature into Law is the first interdisciplinary project to investigate the complex relationship between British literary fiction and the law of coercive control.

In 2015, domestic violence legislation in England and Wales was extended to include ‘threats, humiliation and intimidation’ and ‘a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent’. While the crime of coercive control may involve sustained exploitation, deprivation, regulation, isolation, and degradation, a troubling misconception persists: that domestic abuse is limited to physical, rather than psychological, violence. The Women's Aid Federation of England, which campaigned to make coercive control a criminal offence, ‘now wants to make sure that everyone understands what it is’.

Examining the intersection between literature and law, our interdisciplinary network will draw out the many ways in which coercive control has been imagined, enabled, and attacked by British writers from the 1840s to the present day. The project will bring together literary critics, legal historians, women's rights activists, and creative practitioners to provide the first in-depth analysis of fictional narratives of coercive control. With a focus on British writers ranging from the Brontës to Bernardine Evaristo, our network will investigate how narratives of surveillance, regulation, and sustained psychological abuse have anticipated and underscored legal change.

The network will ask important questions about British literature and its psychological, social, and educational impact. How have textual strategies of surveillance and regulation driven different fictions, from Victorian marriage plots and neo-Gothic mid-century melodramas to contemporary narratives of unequal unions? How might realist authorial omniscience and postmodern textual trickery be read as metafictional meditations on coercive control? Most importantly, how do narratives of coercive control empower readers and amplify the voices of survivors?

Project website