I can only apologize for being so distracted by bath plugs the last time I mentioned Anna Kavan.It can't have been helpful so now I plan to dedicate myself to the cause of Anna and ensure you all know about her without any deviation,hesitation or repetition whatsoever.
A new writer, one I've never heard of has me scurrying to the online Oxford DNB first port of call, library ticket number in hand and there you will find a full and fascinating entry on Anna Kavan by Virginia Ironside. This I assume to be the one and the same Virginia Ironside who has for years been an Agony Aunt and now writes a weekly column for The Independent. If it's a different one then apologies. Virginia Ironside along with Doris Lessing and others are real champions of the writing of Anna Kavan.
Anna could certainly have done with a Virginia in her life because it was not without its agonies and there is much in her early life that seems to underwrite the tribulations of her adulthood.
Born Helen Woods in 1901, put out to a wet nurse and soon into boarding schools where she was often left alone during the holidays, you can only begin to imagine the loneliness of her childhood. Her father drowned when she was ten years old. As Helen Ferguson she weathered a violent marriage and wrote six novels before heading for divorce and heroin addiction in quick succession.Things seemed to settle if you could call it that, but in the process there were six suicide attempts,several attempts at detox and at one time in 1949, Helen, now renamed Anna, was one of only 200 registered heroin addicts in the UK. Thereafter entitled to the drug on prescription, as Virginia Ironside elaborates, sufficient was found stashed in her house after her death to flatten the whole of the street.
From this crucible of trauma must have emerged much of the writing of Anna Kavan and Guilty, a recently discovered manuscript published by Peter Owen, has been my first foray into her work. Once you know her history it's but a small step to recognizing that pain reflected in the lives of her characters and perhaps a touch of the drug-fuelled narrative here and there.But the book works just as powerfully without this information, I'm just nosey.
I've hardly read any Camus, just The Outsider, or Kafka, just looked at the cover of Metamorphosis, so it's a bit risky to try and make existential comparisons when I don't really have a clue what I'm talking about, though I now see, having looked to Jennifer Sturm's introduction for some assistance, that Kafka gets an airing. Guilty follows the life of the son of a pacifist at the end of WW II who assumes much of the guilt for his father's actions through the excruciatingly lonely early years of his life. Mark remains isolated and excluded from life around him and there is a bleak chill to this book that goes far beyond melancholy. As Duncan Fallowell has astutely observed,
" Kavan's is a dangerous frightening world - you don't go there for laughs".
Too right, not a single moment of humour but a profound sense of the inner workings of the self-persecuting mind finally reduced to its barest essentials as the truth finally dawns for Mark,
"In a sense, guilt has evolved me;without it neither I nor my other self could exist...I can accept my guilt now that I recognize it as my own creation"
Despite the grief and sadness there is an intensity to Anna Kavan's writing that is all a bit must -read -more -ish and I can't wait to start Ice and Who Are You which are sitting at ready.Yes, I'm with Virginia and Doris on this one, I'm delighted to have discovered Anna and she deserves a much wider audience than the three of us, oh and not forgetting Jennifer and Duncan of course.