Does Anna suffer from a psychiatric disorder ?

mental instability

Unveiling Anna Kavan


Devotees of Anna Kavan may well be surprisedùand perhaps a little put offùthat Peter Owen Publishers has brought out another biography of the acclaimed and esoteric author (Asylum Piece, Sleep Has this House, Ice, and Mercury). However, Jeremy Reed's prying book, A Stranger on Earth, has unearthed original material that uncovers a whole lot about someone who went to great lengths to turn herself into an enigma for posterity.

Literary Heroines to Love: Anna Kavan

magazineArticle, 07/122008

This week is the fortieth anniversary of Anna Kavan’s death. Although these days she remains largely unmentioned by the mainstream media, without her the modern literary landscape that we know and love would be much more barren. Canonised female authors from Anais Nin to Virginia Woolf owe much of their experimental style and strength of voice to Anna Kavan.

A stranger on Earth: the life and work of Anna Kavan

book, 2006


Anna Kavan Symposium

webpage, 11/09/2014

A one-day symposium at the Institute of English Studies in association with Liverpool John Moores University Research Centre for Literature and Cultural History and Peter Owen Publishers.

Anna Kavan, 'Julia and the Bazooka': a critique

blogPost, 15/12/2013

Writers such as Brian Aldiss and J.G. Ballard have praised the writings of Anna Kavan, but I find her work uneven – I couldn’t get beyond the first few pages of self-indulgent, rambling dream visions in Sleep Has His House, first published in 1948. Julia and the Bazooka is also uneven, but serves as a good introduction to the qualities (and weaknesses) of Kavan’s fiction.

Anna Kavan


‘I was about to become the world’s best kept secret; one that would never be told. What a thrilling enigma for posterity I should be.’ Thus does one of Anna Kavan’s characters describe herself in an unpublished short story, and we know that, as in much of Kavan’s writing, she was describing herself. An enigma the author remains, but her talent was none the less remarkable, and her works have been compared to that of Doris Lessing, Virginia Woolf and Franz Kafka and acclaimed by writers from Anaïs Nin to J.B. Ballard.

Anna Kavan : brilliant like ice

blogPost, 29/09/2011

Her descriptions burned so brightly when I first began reading the work of Anna Kavan that I felt a kinship with her almost at once. I have sometimes wandered past her last home in Peel Street, London, in pilgrimage. The novels and memoirs stand on my shelves: I came across Ice first, then Asylum Piece and My Madness, then Let me Alone, Julia and the Bazooka with its 1960s hip bohemianism, and Sleep Has His House.

Winter Is Coming: Ice by Anna Kavan

blogPost, 20/03/2012

From the outset it is obvious that Ice is a novel about obsession but it rapidly becomes clear that it is overwhelmingly about illness.

Anna Kavan (1901-1968)

blogPost, 04/09/2007

Anna Kavan was born "Helen Woods" in Cannes, France on April 10, 1901 to wealthy expatriot British parents. Anna spent her childhood in several European countries, California and England. She completed her education in England. She married (Donald Ferguson) and for a time lived in Burma.

The Freud Museum ~ Events and Conferences ~ Anna Kavan and the Politics of Madness

webpage, 10/12/2013


Ice-maiden stung by a spider: 'Change the Name'

newspaperArticle, 05/06/1993

ANNA KAVAN wrote quite a few novels, some under her own real name. She is better known in Europe, but if her reputation here is still small it is secure and growing. The nets of mystification she wove about herself have frayed a little, but her intention that her life should not be known frustrates biographers.

Quand la folie se racontait: récit et antipsychiatrie

book, 1990

De Unica Zurn à Anna Kavan.

I Am Lazarus: Stories by Anna Kavan

blogPost, 07/01/2015

Unlike Julia and the Bazooka, this collection of Kavan’s short fiction was originally published during her lifetime, and the significance of this distinction is clear. This book is more balanced, with most if not all of the stories written during a period of Kavan’s life in wartime London following her return from living abroad. While there are a few that stray beyond the more obvious parallels to Kavan’s experience, such as the gothic tale ‘The Brother’ and the horror snapshot ‘The Gannets’, most stories here reflect that distinct time in her life.

The case of Anna Kavan: a biography

book, 1992


Book Review: Ice, Anna Kavan (1967)

blogPost, 01/02/2015

Anna Kavan’s masterful post-apocalyptical novel Ice (1967) parallels the death throws of a relationship with the disintegration of the world. As the unnamed narrator (N) and the girl (G) traverse an indistinct, interchangeable, world transformed by glacial encroachment, only the same movements are possible: flight, pursuit, flight, pursuit… Repetition reinforces the profoundly unnerving feel of both physical and mental imprisonment: as movements are predicted, trauma is repeated.

Two Halves: Unica Zürn. Affinities, Women Artists & Hybrid Forms.

magazineArticle, 12/02/2013

It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image+Text Work by Women Artists & Writers includes twenty-six works that do not fit neatly in any category and thus, because they are unwieldy, uncontainable, and inimitable are often relegated to the margins, or known by one world but not another. One of my ambitions in editing this book (read the complete editor’s afterword here) was to make space for those artists and writers who have been under-recognized or slotted into a category that doesn’t allow for a full reading of their work.

Anna Kavan and the Politics of Madness


Author Anna Kavan’s critical and popular reception since her death in 1968 has been defined by a cult of personality fuelled by revelations about her psychiatric breakdown, heroin use and adoption of her own fictional character’s name. Victoria Walker unravels some of the accumulated mythology around this writer, and examines her complex association with, and interest in, early twentieth-century psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Attentive Writers’: Healthcare, Authorship, and Authority. Conference Review by Jac Saorsa - Centre for Medical Humanities

webpage, 30/08/2013

After a brief and to the point conference opening address the first parallel panels began and I listened as Geraldine Perriam spoke about Gender, Medical Authority and Location in Fiction by Women. Her talk focused primarily on two texts, Asylum Piece by Anna Kavan, and The Pumpkin Eaters by Penelope Mortimer, wherein a woman with mental health problems, despite in each case being the central character in the narrative, was caught up in a ‘network of practices’ where her choices were made for her by doctors and male relatives.

An Unpleasant Reminder by Anna Kavan

blogPost, 15/04/2014

An Unpleasant Reminder is a short story written in the first person narrative which explores the workings of a disturbed mind. The story begins with complaints about the weather and moves on to the precise details of the day. The narrator does not give away that she is a woman till one reaches the middle of the story and she likens herself to another woman.

Books read in August

blogPost, 02/09/2012

Sleep Has His House – Anna Kavan Unique. In my experience. I can think of no other novel that I have read that comes anywhere near this. Based in part on her own life and withdrawal from the world, it is a truly surreal journey from day into night, from reality into dreams, from normality into a world of symbolism that is cut off from the mainstream. Yet it manages at the same to imply that, in fact, the night and the dreams and the symbols are a much more fundamental reality underlying the chaotic world in which we are expected to live.

Anna Kavan's New Zealand: a Pacific interlude in a turbulent life

book, 2009

New Zealanders live 'in temporary shacks, uneasily, as reluctant campers too far from home', wrote Anna Kavan in a London magazine in 1943. Her seemingly negative comments created a stir both in the UK and New Zealand and suggested Kavan felt nothing but antipathy for the country. However, in researching this prize-winning author of nineteen books, Dr Jennifer Sturm uncovered letters and unpublished short stories written during Kavan's sojourn in New Zealand that show a more complex, affectionate and significant response. Those stories are published here for the first time, along with a fascinating discussion of this experimental writer and talented artist, who struggled with bouts of depression and insecurity, as well as heroin addiction and a stream of unconventional love affairs. Kavan roamed the world trying to find a home, and although her stay in New Zealand was for less than two years, her stories reveal a country where she found temporary peace, a country she captures in a warm and astute gaze. This book provides an intriguing insight, not only into the life and writing of Anna Kavan but also New Zealand of the 1940s.

Review: Ice, Anna Kavan

blogPost, 28/06/2011

When I picked up this book, all I knew about it was that it was apocalyptic. I certainly didn’t realise that the apocalyptic scenario in fact plays out a sinister psychological dreamscape, where the boundaries between interior and exterior, real and imagined, hallucination and daydream, sadistic wish-fulfillment and physical injury, are utterly erased. That was a shock. But whilst Kavan’s Ice turned out to be far more disconcerting than I’d anticipated, it certainly wasn’t disappointing.

Anna Kavan: The Best Kept Secret Of English Modernism

blogPost, 01/02/2014

We have dedicated this section of the website to the passing on of the good word of short story collections that we feel have been either been missed or forgotten about, for one reason or another, but that deserve and need to be read. The first one I’ve selected is Julia and the Bazooka by Anna Kavan. Anna who? Exactly.


blogPost, 29/08/2014

This is the first time I’ve read an Anna Kavan novel, which, given the brief biography on the book’s rear, seems amazing: a heroin addict for most of her adult life; time spent in mental asylums; changed her name to that of one of her characters. How the hell did I miss her?

A Writers's Writer : Anna Kavan (1901-1968)



Kavan’s place in NZ literary history (by Lawrence Jones)

blogPost, 31/05/2009

NNA KAVAN is probably known in New Zealand, if at all, primarily for her rather unflattering portrait of the country in “New Zealand: Answer to an Inquiry,” published in 1943 in Horizon. This book, the fruit of eight years of research by Jennifer Sturm, has attempted to change that situation, to bring about the recognition of “Kavan’s role in the literary history of New Zealand.”

Anna Kavan


It has been said that Anna Kavan wrote in a mirror. The body of work left by the now obscure British modernist represented a constant inquiry into her own identity, and the invention of a personal mythology—or demonology, as it would become later in her career.

Uncovering a real gem

newspaperArticle, 11/07/2009

Anna Kavan's New Zealand is a modest looking book which holds within it a kind of time-bomb. The explosiveness relates to Kavan's strangely powerful, even hypnotic talent. Kavan was a bottle blonde who washed up in New Zealand at that most dangerous of hours - 1942.

Guilty by Anna Kavan

webpage, 20/04/2007

Rhys Davies, one of Anna Kavan’s few close friends, wrote an introduction for Julia and the Bazooka (1970), a posthumous collection of her stories linked by their common allusion to her heroin habit.

Anna Kavan’s Nocturnal Language

blogPost, 19/10/08

work & life

Julia and the Bazooka

blogPost, 17/09/2009

Anna Kavan is the author of Ice, a surreal sci-fi masterpiece about a woman and two barely distinguishable sadistic men, one who has enslaved her, and one who wishes to. The world is slowly turning to ice. She has the incredibly smooth and detached voice of mid-century English fiction, flawlessly written and absolutely clear, like Somerset Maugham or Graham Greene. The subject is always herself. This is what links her early realist work to her later surreal stuff. Anna Kavan (it is a nom de plume, taken from the protagonist of an early novel) was a lifelong heroin addict. She was suicidal. She called her syringe her bazooka. Hence the title of her last collection of short stories, Julia and the Bazooka.

What's the Story: Reading Anna Kavan's Ice


Anna Kavan's Ice is a novel of relentless, evanescent beauty that depicts a world in which two explicitly linked forms of violence dominate and inexorably and insanely destroy it. First published in 1967, on the eve of the second wave of feminism, Ice has never been regarded as a significant work of proto-feminist literature, although scholars occasionally include it on lists of sf by women written before the major works of feminist sf burst onto the scene in the 1970s.

Nocturnal Transgressions in The House of Sleep : Anna Kavan's Maternal Registers

journalArticle, summer 1994

Despite the critical attention feminist theorists have paid both to redefining the boundaries of modernism and to recuperating "lost" twentieth-century women writers, there remains a conspicuous neglect of British experimentalists, among them, Anna Kavan (19021968).2 Although Kavan published ten of her eighteen novels and short-story collections between 1929 and 1947, the critical evaluation so far evades serious consideration of her placement in the history of modernist fiction by women; instead, it has focused on Kavan herself as a literary curiosity, driven by a raving solipsism.3

On Anna Kavan

blogPost, 09/12/2011

Anna Kavan, born Helen Ferguson in 1901 was a very English - and at the same time utterly alien - novelist whose own life took on the quality of an existential mystery. Praised by JG Ballard and Doris Lessing, drawing on Kafka and anticipating slipstream long before it became a genre in British writing, her novels described eerie states of dislocation; a lifelong heroin user, her prose has a needle-sharp precision but her subject matter was never drugs.

The Parson - Anna Kavan

blogPost, 05/11/2007

I picked up another of Anna Kavan's remarkable novels, The Parson, one of the last of her books to be published and this one post humously after the discovery of the manuscript in amongst Anna Kavan's papers at the McFarlin Library at the University of Tulsa.

The Mysterious Anna Kavan

blogPost, 08/01/2006

’ve been reading Anna Kavan’s Asylum Piece. It’s a stunning collection, each story stranger and more intense than the last.

AK (bis) / Obsessionnel.

blogPost, 04/07/2012

Les six pages signées Anna Kavan sortent de nulle part. Aucune trace dans les recueils traduits ou les rares articles consacrés à l'écrivaine anglaise, à peine connue de quelques lecteurs français, les moindres n'étant pas Viviane Forrester, Claire Malroux ou Christine Jordis, talentueuses passeuses.

Found Guilty: Anna Kavan's latest novel

newspaperArticle, 28/06/2007

A lost manuscript of a novel by the British writer Anna Kavan - which turned up at the University of Tulsa of all places - will be published next week. I, for one, am deliriously happy about the publication of Guilty, since Anna Kavan, who died in 1968, is one our greatest and most original novelists.