Elizabeth Young

  • The Case of Anna Kavan by David Callard
    Peter Owen, 240 pp, £16.95, January 1993, ISBN 0 7206 0867 8

During the war Anna Kavan worked for nearly two years at the offices of Horizon. ‘Understandably, Connolly was never comfortable with Kavan,’ Michael Sheldon wrote in Friends of Promise, his book about Connolly. He was presumably referring to her heroin addiction. Friends and mentors over the years – Rhys Davies. Peter Owen, Brian Aldiss – have made considerable efforts to dispel such feelings of uncase by stressing how smart and cheerful she, was how little her drug addiction appeared to affect her. Such loyal friends did not wish her to be regarded as a pathological case – although since Kavan had constant access to clean legal drugs there was no reason at all why she should not appear cheerful, well-groomed and hard-working. The stories that deal directly with her addiction never seem to be reprinted: the Picador edition of her selected writings, My Madness, contains none of them. ‘Julia and the Bazooka’, which deals with her introduction to drugs, ‘High in the Mountains’, which describes the effects of heroin, and ‘The Old Address’, which details obsession and withdrawal, provide considerable insight into Kavan’s personality, and her work can’t really be understood without them. Attempts to distance Kavan from her drug habit, although well-meaning, are misleading. She was one of those rare writers who did not publish at all until she was an addict. Heroin was central to her existence, her lover, her religion, her salvation, and almost all her later work charts the processes of addiction, again and again using images and landscapes familiar to us from De Quincey and other addict-writers of the Romantic period.

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