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La femme fatale: the female psychopath in fiction and clinical practice

Caroline Logan (Consultant Forensic Clinical Psychologist in the Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester, UK and is also based at the University of Manchester, Manchester, UK)

Mental Health Review Journal

ISSN: 1361-9322

Article publication date: 16 September 2011




Literature and legend features many dangerous female characters. However, in fiction (and in film), it is the male psychopath who dominates. In the scientific literature, research into psychopathy in men also dominates. Studies of the nature and treatment of this severe personality disorder in women are sparse and little is known or agreed about its presentation in this group. Consequently, psychopathy is not routinely assessed in women and the harmful potential of some can be overlooked leading to failures in the management of risk, especially towards partners and children. The purpose of this paper is to explore how psychopathic women manifest the traits of their disorder compared to men.


This paper focuses on the representation of women in fiction who appear to demonstrate psychopathic traits. Several relevant works of fiction will be identified but three texts are described in detail and their female characters and storylines explored.


Gender differences and practice implications are highlighted. Specifically, the paper explores the nuanced ways in which women execute their harmful conduct on others and their most likely relationships with the victims of their aggression; comparisons with men are drawn throughout. Further, comparisons are drawn between the psychopathic female characters created by men and women writers.

Practical implications

The study of psychopathic women in fiction is an invaluable adjunct to empirical research as a way of understanding the phenomenology of psychopathy in this group.


This paper is the first to examine the representation of psychopathic women in fiction and to propose the value of fiction in the study of this particular group of clients.



Logan, C. (2011), "La femme fatale: the female psychopath in fiction and clinical practice", Mental Health Review Journal, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 118-127.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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