Personal profile

Personal profile

Professor Hannah Thompson studied French and Spanish at Newnham College, Cambridge before completing an MPhil and a PhD in the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages, University of Cambridge. She spent three years as a postdoctoral research fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge before moving to Royal Holloway as a Lecturer in 2003. She became a Senior Lecturer in 2006 and a Reader in 2014 and was promoted to Professor of French and Critical Disability Studies in 2018. Also in 2018 she became the Director of the College's Humanities and Arts Research Institute.

Research interests

Professor Thompson has published widely on French literature and theory, the body, gender, sexuality and disability. She is the author of three books on French literature and culture: Naturalism Redressed: Identity and Clothing in the Novels of Emile Zola (Legenda 2004)Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century French Fiction (Legenda, 2013) and Reviewing Blindness in French Fiction (1789-2013) (Palgrave, 2017) This third book marks the start of Professor Thompson's influential work on the cross-overs between French Studies and Critical Disability Studies. This research is evident in her most recent articles, such as her 2017 review article for French Studies 'French and Francophone Disability Studies'. 

Professor Thompson has published two edited volumes: New Approaches to Emile Zola and Corporeal Practices: (Re)Figuring the Body in French Studies (with Julia Prest). In 2015 she co-organised the Blind Creations conference and micro-arts festival with Vanessa Warne, she is the author of the popular Blind Spot Blog and she has written for The Guardian (here and here) and The Conversation (here). 

Reviews of Naturalism Redressed:

  • ‘A cogently presented argument with carefully selected textual support... Hannah Thompson's thought-provoking monograph is an example of the richness of the new approaches to which the Zolian oeuvre lends itself.’ — Barbara M. Stone, New Zealand Journal of French Studies 27.1, 2006, 50-51
  • ‘Thompson's well-documented and convincing analyses make an important contribution to the ongoing demystification of Zola as a "Naturalist" novelist as well as to a critical re-examination of the implications of Naturalism in and for the novel... An entertaining and worthwhile read for anyone interested in Zola studies, Naturalism, or cultural history.’ — Laurey Martin-Berg, French Review 80.4, 2007, 918-19
  • ‘This book is valuable for its detailed analysis of the significance of clothing in Zola, and even more so for its challenging insights about naturalism as textual practice.’ — Larry Duffy, Modern Language Review 101.4, October 2006, 1132-33 (full text online)
  • ‘Thompson's study rightly highlights the transgressive nature of power and desire present in many of the novels and offers sustained and convincing readings, further enriching our continuing awareness of the multilayered character of the naturalist text, which Zola himself sought to portray in his theoretical writings as scientific and unproblematic.’ — Sarah Capitanio, French Studies 60.4, 2006, 529-30
  • ‘Naturalism Redressed provides a refreshing perspective for Zola studies, and will therefore interest any scholar seeking to deepen his or her understanding of a wide variety of topics in Zola’s novels ranging from feminist issues, the body, sexuality, and the role of material culture in this author’s oeuvre.’ — Kathryn A. Haklin, Nineteenth-Century French Studies 42.3-4, Summer 2014

Reviews of Taboo: Corporeal Secrets in Nineteenth-Century France:

  • ‘One of the principal merits of the book is that it is a study of how the ‘unspeakable’ manages to find a voice and how taboo excesses can be represented in language. It provides a reflective and stimulating commentary on the ways in which what is not usually talked about signifies and matters.’ — Françoise Grauby, Modern Language Review 109.3, July 2014, 809-10 (full text online)
  • ‘With such an array of taboo subjects, it struck me that it would have been hard to know where to begin, but one of the things I like best about this book is its craftsmanship... I think scholars and students will find much to discuss in Taboo.’ — Holly Christine Woodson, H-France 14.101, June 2014
  • ‘Throughout, Thompson identifies a variety of critical perspectives that throw those taboos into sharper focus, from seminal reference points such as Freud, Sontag and Butler to the emerging field of Disability Studies, resulting in a thought-provoking exploration.’ — unsigned notice, Forum for Modern Language Studies 50.4, October 2014, 510
  • ‘This monograph is an incisive study of representations of the unspeakable taboo body... Thompson’s lucid work argues that analysis of the form and function of the taboo encourages readers to re-examine their own values and preconceived notions towards the body. This study is especially useful to scholars of nineteenth-century French literature, gender studies, and disability studies.’ — Karen Humphreys, French Studies69.3, July 2015, 403-04
  • ‘This is a valuable contribution to the growing field of studies investigating the literary body.’ — Bernadette Lintz, French Review 89.1, 2015, 282
  • ‘This examination of some of the best-known prose in nineteenth-century French literature is especially masterful for the thoughtful – sometimes stunning – deployment of the readings and the overall structure of the study... In its sweeping consideration of the body in disarray, Thompson’s study places itself squarely within studies of the body while also relying upon the tenets of newer arenas of inquiry such as disability studies.’ — Tammy Berberi, Disability and Society 31.3, 2016, 431-33

Reviews of Reviewing Blindness in FRench Fiction:

  • Through thoughtful juxtapositions in modern French fiction, Thompson posits text as both a material and critical encounter in order to celebrate blindness and topple stereotypes. Masterful analyses demonstrate the eloquence of “blind” narrative in cultivating the pleasure of the unexpected and shaping representation in Western traditions.” (Tammy Berberi, Associate Professor of French, University of Minnesota, Morris, USA)


Professor Thompson teaches courses in French literature, Comparative Literature and Culture and Translation Studies. In 2017 she published a study guide to A-level French set text No et moi with Oxford University Press.

She offers masters and doctoral supervision in nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature and culture, Critical Disability Studies, Blindness Studies and Gender Studies.


Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy

Book Solicitation Editor, H-France

Member, Society of French Studies

Member, Society of Dix-Neuviemistes

Member, Society of Disability Studies

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

French, PhD, Clothing and Identity: The Naturalist Project in Emile Zola's Rougon-Macquart Novels, University of Cambridge

Award Date: 1 Feb 2001

External positions

Book Solicitation Editor, H-France

Senior Fellow, Higher Education Academy

Member, Society for Disability Studies

Member, Society for French Studies


  • French literature
  • Disability Studies
  • Blindness Studies

Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or