Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Anna Kavan wrote novels early in her career under the name Helen Ferguson, including A Charmed Circle (1929), The Dark Sisters (1930), and Let Me Alone (1930), which was reprinted under the name Anna Kavan in 1979. As Anna Kavan she wrote several other novels, among them A Scarcity of Love (1956), Eagles’ Nest (1957), and Ice (1967), which is highly regarded as a work of science fiction.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Largely unrecognized in her lifetime, Anna Kavan has become something of a cult figure since her death. She has been compared to such figures as Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, D. H. Lawrence, John Fowles, and Anaïs Nin (who was one of her greatest admirers), and her writing has been classified variously as science fiction, feminist fiction, and surrealist fiction. Her greatest achievement lies in the portrayal of the subjective emotional states of mental illness, drug dependency, and the paranoia that accompany them, as well as the loneliness and the general sense of isolation that many individuals in contemporary society suffer at one time or another. Employing vivid imagery to portray the vague line separating dreams and reality, she is, as Gunther Stuhlmann writes, “one of the most hauntingly remarkable artists of modern English literature.”

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

In addition to her novels, Anna Kavan (KAH-vahn) produced five collections of shorter fiction, two of which appeared posthumously. She also wrote occasional reviews for the journal Horizon, edited by Cyril Connolly.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Anna Kavan’s early fiction was rather inconsequential and excited little critical notice. Once she shifted emphasis and themes during the early 1940’s, reviewers began to notice her work, though not always favorably. In 1947, for example, Diana Trilling castigated The House of Sleep unmercifully, insisting that “nothing makes it worth reading.” Alice S. Morris, however, writing at the same time as Trilling, described Kavan as “acutely perceptive and a brilliantly disturbing writer.” Since that time, Kavan’s reputation has grown steadily. The depictions of power, unreality, madness, and isolated, abused women in her works, as well as her experiments innarrative structure, place her in the first rank among the lesser novelists of the twentieth century. Feminists have been particularly interested in Kavan, although critical study of her work is still minimal.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Aldiss, Brian. Introduction to Ice. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1970. Aldiss, who met and corresponded with Kavan, discusses Ice as a work of science fiction and Kavan’s reaction to being regarded as a science-fiction writer: “She was surprised. At first, she rejected the idea. Slowly, she came to like it. I fancy she always liked anything that was a novelty.” He also offers biographical details and interesting insights into her character.

Byrne, Janet. “Moving Toward Entropy: Anna Kavan’s Science Fiction Mentality.” Extrapolation 23 (Spring, 1982): 5-11. One of the few critical articles available on Kavan, it centers on Ice rather than her short fiction, but it nevertheless provides valuable insights into Kavan’s fictional style and concerns. Byrne discusses the novel in the context of Kavan’s earlier work, in which she “consistently saw the world as peopled by characters who treated each other cruelly or foolishly, or were so lost in their own private hells that they had no relation to each other.”

Callard, D. A. The Case of Anna Kavan: A Biography. London: Peter Owen, 1992. An excellent study of the life of Kavan.

Crosland, Margaret. Beyond the Lighthouse: English Women Novelists in the Twentieth Century. London: Constable, 1981. Provides some biographic details on Kavan, followed by a commentary of her works. An appreciative study in which Crosland tries to rally support for Kavan’s experimental fiction and its importance in contemporary British writing.

Davies, Rhys. Introduction to Julia and the Bazooka and Other Stories. New York: Alfred A....

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