Anna Kavan Short Fiction Analysis
Anna Kavan’s dominant theme, the isolation of the individual in contemporary society, is usually expressed through intensely personal tales of loneliness, mental anguish, and despair set against ominous foreign or institutional backdrops. Her characters, often nameless or merely initialed young women, are psychologically unstable, existing in a vague world where the bounds of dream and reality continually shift. The themes of madness, drug addiction, repressive authority, lost love, and loneliness weave a common thread through each volume of her stories. Although often criticized for speaking to her personal despair rather than to a more universal humanity, Kavan’s fiction cannot help striking a deeply responsive and sympathetic chord in the reader.
The stories in Asylum Piece, and Other Stories explore various states of madness, paranoia, and estrangement from the inside out. In the first story, “The Birthmark,” a nameless narrator, away from home for the first time, develops a strong affinity for a girl, known only as H, whom she meets at boarding school. A typical Kavan character, H has “a face unique, neither gay nor melancholy, but endued with a peculiar quality of apartness” which is further accentuated by her peculiarly shaped birthmark, “a circle armed with sharp points and enclosing a tiny shape very soft and tender—perhaps a rose.” Despite the attraction they feel for each other,...
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