Anna Kavan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about the British novelist. For the American actress, see Helen Atkinson-Wood. For the jazz musician, see Helen Jones Woods.
Anna Kavan
Born Helen Emily Woods
(1901-04-10)10 April 1901
Cannes, France
Died 5 December 1968(1968-12-05) (aged 67)
London, England
Occupation Novelist, short story writer, painter
Nationality British
Notable works Ice, Asylum Piece and other stories, Who Are You?
Spouse Donald Ferguson (m.1919-1931), Stuart Edmonds (m.1931-1938)

Anna Kavan (born Helen Emily Woods; 10 April 1901 – 5 December 1968) was a British novelist, short story writer and painter. Originally publishing under her first married name, Helen Ferguson, she adopted the name Anna Kavan in 1939, not only as a nom de plume but as her legal identity.


Anna Kavan was born in France, the only child of wealthy British parents.[1] She grew up emotionally rootless, leading to lifelong depression and bouts of mental illness. She grew up in Europe and the United States, and lived in Burma for a time after her first marriage.[1] She married and divorced twice. Her one son, Bryan, died in World War II. Her daughter, Margaret, born during Kavan's marriage to Stuart Edmonds, died soon after childbirth. The couple adopted a daughter whom they named Susanna.

Her initial six works were published under the name of Helen Ferguson, her first married name. She eventually named herself after a character in her own novel Let Me Alone. Asylum Piece and all subsequent works were authored as Anna Kavan. Kavan was addicted to heroin for most of her adult life, a dependency which was generally undetected by her associates, and for which she made no apologies.

The first six of her novels gave little indication of the experimental and disturbing nature of her later work. Asylum Piece, a collection of short stories which explored the inner mindscape of the psychological explorer, heralded the new style and content of Kavan's writing. They were published after she was institutionalised for a heroin-related breakdown and suicide attempt. After her release, Kavan changed her name legally and set about a new career as an avant-garde writer in the mode of Franz Kafka. Her development of "nocturnal language" involved the lexicon of dreams and addiction, mental instability and alienation. She has been compared to Djuna Barnes, Virginia Woolf and Anaïs Nin, as well as Kafka. (Nin was an admirer and unsuccessfully pursued a correspondence with Kavan.) On one occasion Kavan collaborated with her analyst and close friend, Karl Theodor Bluth, in writing "The Horse's Tale" (1949).

An inveterate traveller, Kavan spent twenty-two months of World War II in New Zealand, and it was that country's proximity to the inhospitable frozen landscape of Antarctica that inspired the writing of Ice. This post-apocalyptic novel brought critical acclaim, earning Kavan the Brian Aldiss Science Fiction Book of the Year award in 1967, the year before Kavan's death.

Death and Legacy[edit]

Kavan's House in Peel Street London

Although popularly supposed to have died of heroin overdose, Kavan died of heart failure at her home in Kensington on 5 December 1968.[1] Many of her works were published posthumously, some edited by her friend, Rhys Davies. London-based Peter Owen Publishers have been long-serving advocates of Kavan's work and continue to keep her work in print.


Kavan's friend, the Welsh writer Rhys Davies, based his 1975 novel, The Honeysuckle Girl, on Anna Kavan.

David Tibet, the primary creative force behind the experimental music/neofolk music group Current 93, named the group's album Sleep Has His House after the Anna Kavan book of the same title.

San Francisco post-rock band Carta titled their song "Kavan" on their album "The Glass Bottom Boat" after Anna Kavan. The song was subsequently released as a remix by The Declining Winter on their album Haunt the Upper Hallways.[citation needed]

Major Archives[edit]

The largest collection of Kavan’s personal papers, photographs, manuscripts, correspondence and paintings are held by the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives.

The Peter Owen Archives at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas contain correspondence between Kavan and her publisher Peter Owen and related material. Other archives in the collection contain letters from Kavan to writers and publishers including the William A Bradley Literary Agency, Francis Henry King, Scorpion Press, John Lehmann, Kay Dick and Gerald Hamilton.

The Rhys Davis Archive in the National Library of Wales contains the papers of Kavan’s close friend and literary executor Rhys Davies including a small collection of letters from Kavan and papers relating to posthumous publication.

The Walter Ian Hamilton Papers in the Alexander Turnbull Library, National Library of New Zealand, Wellington contain letters from Kavan to Hamilton between 1940 and 1955.

Other archives containing examples of Kavan’s correspondence include the Jonathan Cape files in the Random House Archives at the University of Reading and the Koestler Archive in Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections. A small collection of Karl Theodor Bluth’s papers are housed in the Deutsches Literatur Archiv in Marbach, Germany.


As Helen Ferguson[edit]

Re-issues after 1939 are under the name Anna Kavan.

  • A Charmed Circle (London : Jonathan Cape, 1929)
  • Let Me Alone (London : Jonathan Cape, 1930)
  • The Dark Sisters (London : Jonathan Cape, 1930)
  • A Stranger Still (London : Jonathan Cape, 1935)
  • Goose Cross (London : John Lane, 1936)
  • Rich Get Rich (London : John Lane, 1937)

As Anna Kavan[edit]

  • Asylum Piece (London : Jonathan Cape, 1940)
  • Change The Name(London : Jonathan Cape, 1941)
  • I Am Lazarus (London : Jonathan Cape, 1945)
  • Sleep Has His House (a.k.a. The House of Sleep (New York : Double Day, US ed, 1947) - Sleep Has His House (London: Cassel, UK ed, 1948)
  • The Horse's Tale (with K. T. Bluth) (London : Gaberbocchus Press, 1949)
  • A Scarcity of Love (Southport, Lancashire: Angus Downie, 1956)
  • Eagle's Nest (London : Peter Owen, 1957)
  • A Bright Green Field and Other Stories (London : Peter Owen, 1958)
  • Who Are You? (Lowestoft, Suffolk: Scorpion Press, 1963)
  • Ice (London : Peter Owen, 1967)

Published posthumously[edit]

  • Julia and the Bazooka (London : Peter Owen, 1970)
  • My Soul in China (London : Peter Owen, 1975)
  • My Madness: Selected Writings (London : Macmillan, 1990)
  • Mercury (London : Peter Owen, 1994)
  • The Parson (London : Peter Owen, 1995)
  • Guilty (London : Peter Owen, 2007)

Anthologized work by Anna Kavan[edit]

  • "Department of Slight Confusion." In Book: A Miscellany. No. 3, edited by Leo Bensemann & Denis Glover. Christchurch: Caxton Press, 1941.
  • "Ice Storm." In New Zealand New Writing, edited by Ian Gordon. Wellington: Progressive Publishing Society, 1942.
  • "I Am Lazarus." Horizon VII, no. 41, 1943, 353–61.
  • "New Zealand: An Answer to an Inquiry." Horizon VIII, no. 45, 1943, 153–61.
  • "The Big Bang." In Modern Short Stories, edited by Denys Val Baker. London: Staples & Staples, 1943.
  • "Face of My People." Horizon IX, no. 53, 1944, 323–35.
  • "Face of My People." In Little Reviews Anthology 1945, edited by Denys Val Baker. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1945.
  • "I Am Lazarus." In Stories of the Forties Vol. 1, edited by Reginald Moore & Woodrow Wyatt. London: Nicholson & Watson, 1945.
  • "Two New Zealand Pieces." In Choice, edited by William Sansom. London: Progressive Publishing, 1946.
  • "Brave New Worlds." In Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly. London, 1946.
  • "The Professor." In Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly. London, 1946.
  • "Face of My People." In Modern British Writing, edited by Denys Val Baker. New York: Vanguard Press, 1947.
  • "I Am Lazarus." In The World Within: Fiction Illuminating Neuroses of Our Time, edited by Mary Louise W. Aswell. New York: McGraw-Hill Books, 1947.
  • "The Red Dogs." In Penguin New Writing, Vol. 37, edited by John Lehmann. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1949.
  • "The Red Dogs." In Pleasures of New Writing: An Anthology of Poems, Stories, and Other Prose Pieces from the Pages of New Writing, edited by John Lehmann. London: John Lehmann, 1952.
  • "Happy Name." In London Magazine, edited by Alan Ross. London, 1954.
  • "Palace of Sleep." In Stories for the Dead of Night, edited by Don Congdon. New York: Dell Books, 1957
  • "A Bright Green Field." In Springtime Two: An Anthology of Current Trends, edited by Peter Owen & Wendy Owen. London: Peter Owen Ltd., 1958.
  • "High in the Mountains." In London Magazine, edited by Alan Ross. London, 1958.
  • "Five More Days to Countdown." In Encounter XXXI, no. 1, 1968, 45–49.
  • "Julia and the Bazooka." In Encounter XXXII, no. 2, 1969, 16–19.
  • "World of Heroes." In Encounter XXXIII, no. 4, 1969, 9–13.
  • "The Mercedes." In London Magazine 1970, 17–21.
  • "Edge of Panic." In Vogue, 1 October 1971, 75–83.
  • "Sleep Has His House" excerpts. In The Tiger Garden: A Book of Writers’ Dreams. Foreword by Anthony Stevens. London: Serpent’s Tail, 1996
  • "The Zebra Struck" In The Vintage Book of Amnesia, edited by Jonathan Lethem. New York: Vintage Books, 2000


  1. ^ a b c Aldiss, "In Memoriam", p. 249.


  • "In Memoriam: Anna Kavan", by Brian W. Aldiss, in Anderson, Poul (ed.) (1971). Nebula Award Stories 4. London: Panther Books.

External links[edit]