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Anna Kavan, pseudonym of Helen Wood) Biography

(1901–68), pseudonym of Helen Wood), Let Me Alone, A Stranger Still, Change the Name, Asylum Piece

British novelist, born in Cannes, France, of English parentage. She spent her childhood in Europe, California, and England, and began writing novels under her married name, Helen Ferguson, while living with her first husband in Burma. These novels, later dismissed as merely competent examples of the predominant ‘home counties’ feminine novel, contain some sensitively reworked autobiographical material and, in Let Me Alone (1930) and A Stranger Still (1935), present an authorial alter ego, Anna Kavan, the name the author would use for her best works. These traditional early novels focus on lonely women in search of love and creativity and resemble the works of Jean Rhys and Kay Boyle; a notable example is the transitional Change the Name (1941). Kavan's new persona entailed a radical change of style, and her consequent discovery of Kafka revolutionized her vision. Asylum Piece (1940) contains hallucinatory, apocalyptic short fictions based on her own experiences of madness and lifelong drug addiction. Her short stories are collected in I Am Lazarus (1945), haunted by the psychological impact of the war, A Bright Green Field (1958), Julia and the Bazooka (1970), and My Soul in China (1975), the title novella of which resembles the novel Sleep Has His House (1947), in which fragments of the narrator's life are spliced cinematically with detailed re-enactments of disturbing dreams. Who Are You (1963) is an obvious precursor of Wide Sargasso Sea and is reminiscent, in tone and structure, of Robbe-Grillet and the Nouveau Romanciers; here the customary vulnerable, victimized Kavan woman fights the terrors of a strange land, Burma, and her sexually violent and sadistic husband. Ice (1967), Kavan's most famous novel, was designated by Brian Aldiss as science fiction because of its landscape, in which nuclear testing has brought about the freezing of the world, a setting which serves to heighten the sense of Kavan's female protagonist as she escapes, from country to country, the attentions of her two sadistic lovers. Novels recently discovered for publication include Mercury (1995) and The Parson (1995); there is a biography, The Case of Anna Kavan (1992), by David Callard.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Tama Janowitz Biography to P(atrick) J(oseph Gregory) Kavanagh Biography