Anna Kavan: Wikis


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Anna Kavan (10 April 1901—1968; born Helen Emily Woods) was a British novelist, short story writer and painter.



The only child of cold, wealthy parents, she grew up emotionally rootless, leading to lifelong depression and bouts of mental illness. 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. She is popularly supposed to have died of a heroin overdose. In fact she died of heart failure, though she had attempted suicide several times during her life.

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 institutionalized 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 traveler, 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 in 1968. 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.

Many of her papers, artwork and ephemera are in the University of Tulsa's McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections and University Archives.


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.


As Helen Ferguson

  • A Charmed Circle (1929)
  • Let Me Alone (1930)
  • The Dark Sisters (1930)
  • A Stranger Still (1935)
  • Goose Cross (1936)
  • Rich Get Rich (1937)

As Anna Kavan

  • Asylum Piece (1940)
  • Change The Name (1941)
  • I Am Lazarus (1945)
  • Sleep Has His House (a.k.a. The House of Sleep) (1948)
  • The Horse's Tale (with K. T. Bluth) (1949)
  • A Scarcity of Love (1956)
  • Eagle's Nest (1957)
  • A Bright Green Field and Other Stories (1958)
  • Who Are You? (1963)
  • Ice (1967)
  • Julia and the Bazooka (1970)
  • My Soul in China (1975)
  • My Madness: Selected Writings (1990)
  • Mercury (1994)
  • The Parson (1995)
  • Guilty (2007)

Anthologized work by Anna Kavan

  • "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, October 1, 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

External links

Simple English

Anna Kavan (born April 10, 1901 as Helen Emily Woods, died 1968) was an English writer.

Her early work, comprising six novels, gave little indication of the style and content of her post-1939 writing. The change of her name to the nom de plume Anna Kavan in 1940 signalled an experimental form, focussed on the 'nocturnal language' of dreams and addiction.

'I Am Lazarus' is a collection of short stories that address the disturbing unreality of mental illness, particularly as a result of [war-related] post traumatic stress disorder.

Kavan travelled extensively during the Second World War, spending 22 months in New Zealand. That country's proximity to Antarctica informed her writing of 'Ice' - the post-apocalyptic novel which won her the Brian Aldiss Science Fiction Book of the Year award in 1967.

Kavan's biographical details have until recently been vague and sketchy, but recent discoveries of letters and unpublished manuscripts have shed revealing light on her life and times. Dr Jennifer Sturm of Auckland University has made a recent study of Kavan's writing, and has unearthed significant validation of her biographical details. Kavan is currently enjoying something of a belated interest. London publishers Peter Owen Publishers have for many years flown the Kavan flag and continue to do so, with the recent re-release of 'Ice' and a forthcoming publication of 'Guilty', a new posthumous release of Kavan's work.

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