The Fiction of Anna Kavan (1901-1968).
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This thesis is a study of the British writer Anna Kavan (1901-1968). It begins by tracing Kavan’s life and examining the mythologies around her radical selfreinvention (in adopting the name of her own fictional character), madness and drug addiction. It attempts to map a place for her previously neglected work in twentieth-century women’s writing and criticism. Close reading of Kavan’s fiction attends to her uses of narrative voice in representing a divided self. Given Kavan’s treatment by the Swiss existential psychiatrist Ludwig Binswanger, the thesis explores connections between her writing and the British anti-psychiatry movement, especially R D Laing. Focussing primarily on the Modernist and Postmodern aspects of Kavan’s work, it also notes Gothic and Romantic inflections in her writing, establishing thematic continuity with her early Helen Ferguson novels. The first chapter looks at Kavan’s first collection of stories, Asylum Piece (1940) and her experimental novel, Sleep Has His House (1947). It reads her portrait of institutionalization as a nascent critique of asylum treatment, and considers Anaïs Nin’s longstanding interest in her work. Chapter Two draws on research into Kavan’s experiences during the Second World War, particularly her time working with soldiers in a military psychiatric hospital. Reading her second collection of stories I Am Lazarus (1945) as Blitz writing, it connects her fiction with her Horizon article ‘The Case of Bill Williams’ (1944) and explores the pacifist and anarchistic views in her writing. The third chapter, a reading of the novel Who Are You? (1963), argues that Kavan engages with existential philosophy in this text and explores parallels with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. The final chapter looks at Kavan’s last and best known work, Ice (1967). Following Doris Lessing, this chapter reads the novel’s sadism as a political response to the Second World War. Contesting critical interpretations which have pathologized Kavan’s fiction as solipsistic representations of her own experiences, this thesis aims to resituate her as a politically-engaged writer of her time.
AuthorsWalker, Victoria Carborne
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