Ellie Gardner

HDR student
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My thesis explores the representation of the fictional antiheroine in contemporary Gothic and crime-fiction novels published primarily in the 21st century.

Beginning with a detailed historicization of the antiheroine figure, this research traces patterns in representation and characterisation across a range of classic and contemporary texts, before focusing on two specific genres and the relevant texts within. I am particularly interested in the antiheroine’s relationship to violence, motherhood, liminality, sexuality, and abjection, as well as her relationship with a significant female “other” in the narrative (often a sister or friend). Often, this relationship forces the antiheroine to confront her own internalised misogyny, her sexual identity, or her abject body. For antiheroines within contemporary crime-thriller novels, however, violence is the ultimate weapon, whether it be utilised against others or against oneself.

While I am interested in noteworthy antiheroines such as Lisbeth Salander from the Millennium series and Amy Dunne from Gone Girl, my main focus is on antiheroines that have not garnered as much critical attention, such as Ayoola from Oyinkan Braithwaite’s My Sister, the Serial Killer, the eponymous protagonist in Ottessa Moshfegh’s novel Eileen, and Abby Graven from Lauren Acampora’s The Paper Wasp. I am interested in how the antiheroine exposes cultural anxieties surrounding violent, sexual, and abject women, and how these fears have manifested and changed across feminist history. Ultimately, my research seeks to question how “successful” an antiheroine can truly be in a patriarchal world, where her very characterisation relies on the existence of such a dominant system. 

  • What first sparked your interest in your field and how has that interest lead you to topic of research?

    My interest in the antiheroine figure was originally sparked by watching Breaking Bad—I started to realise that the rules were very different for female characters who acted immorally or ambiguously, whereas the antihero seemed able to act unreservedly and wind up with a powerful redemption arc. My Honours thesis focused on reframing the perception of select female villains from classic and contemporary texts and I aimed to position them as antiheroic instead. This has led me to my current PhD project, where I am researching the function of the antiheroine in specific genres and her relationship to abjection, violence, femininity, sexuality, and notions of female friendship/sisterhood.

  • What has been the highlight of your candidature so far?

    One of the biggest highlights of my candidature has been forming friendships with other HDR students. I’ve attended two of Deakin’s Summer School weekends where I was able to reconnect with people from my undergraduate degree and to meet new people altogether. These friendships have been a lifesaver! On the more work-related side of things, a definite highlight would be getting my first publication in a journal.  

  • You are stuck on a desert island with four books. Three are related to your field/area and one isn’t. Which books do you bring with you?

    I’d bring Barbara Creed’s The Monstrous-Feminine (to terrify me), Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay (because it’s at the top of my to-read list), bell hooks’ Feminism is for everybody (to inspire me), and Wonder by R. J. Palacio (to comfort me). 

  • You are having a dinner party and can invite three guests from your field/area. Who do you invite?

    I’d invite Julia Kristeva, Barbara Creed, and Gillian Flynn (author). It’d be a dark, twisted, and fabulous conversation!

  • Imagine an ideal world with no constraints. What would you be doing with your HDR/where would your HDR take you?

    In an ideal world I’d love to continue researching, writing, and teaching overseas. I’d have a cottage in a small British village, an apartment in central London, and holiday houses around the world (!!). They’d all have a dedicated library and study, of course (I think in this ideal world, I’ve also won the lottery)!

  • What do you do to relax and unwind after a long day of research/writing?

    I have a few things I like to do after a long writing dayI suppose it depends on how tired I am! I love to play piano and sing, but I also enjoy being able to sink my teeth into a good video game. Or, I’ll sit with my cat and watch whatever has piqued my interest on Netflix which alternates between gritty crime shows, coming-of-age comedies, documentaries, and fantasy dramas.

  • Writing is big part in the HDR process. Do you have any rituals that help you get in the writing mood/vibe/mindset?

    I like to listen to binaural beats as I write, but there are also times when I prefer to work in silence. If I’m having trouble getting started, it helps me to read over parts of my draft to get back into the right headspace. I’ve also been using an app called Forest, which encourages short bursts of focused study/writing. Ultimately, though, if I have a good cup of tea and some study snacks, I’ve set myself up well! 

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