The Parson was not published in Anna Kavans
lifetime, but found after her death in manuscript form. Thought
to have been written between the mid 50s and early 60s, it
presages, through its undertones and imagery, some of Kavans
last and most enduring fiction (such as Ice). It was
published finally, to wide acclaim, by Peter Owen in 1995.
The Parson of the title is not a cleric, but an upright
young army officer so nick-named for his apparent prudishness.
On leave in his native homeland, he meets a rich and beguiling
beauty, the woman of his dreams. The days that the Parson
spends with Rejane, riding in and exploring the wild moorland
have their own enchantment. But Rejane grows restless in this
desolate land; doubtless in love with the Parson, she discourages
any intimacy. Until that is, she persuades him to take her
to a sinister castle situated on a treacherous headland .
The Parson is less a tale of unrequited love than exploration
of divided selves, momentarily locked in an unequal embrace.
Passion is revealed as a play of the senses as well as a destructive
force. There have been valid comparisons to Poe, Kafka and
Thomas Hardy, but the presence of her trademark themes, cleverly
juxtaposed and set in her risk-taking prose, mark The Parson
as 100% Kavan.
Written with an imaginative
intensity that takes it to the borders of hallucination.
A man and a woman, both in thrall to their idea of themselves,
play out their drama in a northern landscape like a bad dream.
The nearest in our literature to The Parson is Rhyss Wide Sargasso
Sea, which has something of the myth or ur-tale. This
is a fine example of that ancient tale, the predatiory femme
fatale and the puritan man. Doris Lessing, Times
Literary Supplement Books of the Year 2001
A writer of such chillingly matter-of-fact, unself-pitying
vigor that her vision transcends itself. New
Few contemporary novelists could match the intensity
of her vision. J.G. Ballard
ANNA KAVAN, née Helen Woods, was born in Cannes
probably in 1901; she was evasive about the facts of
her life and spent her childhood in Europe, the USA
and England. Twice married and divorced, she began writing
while living with her first husband in Burma and was published
under her married name of Helen Ferguson. In the wake of the
collapse of her second marriage, she suffered the first of
many nervous breakdowns and was confined to a clinic in Switzerland;
she emerged from her incarceration with a new name
Anna Kavan, the protagonist of her 1930 novel Let Me Alone
an outwardly different persona and a new literary
style. Her first novel in this guise was Asylum Piece,
and it achieved for her a certain recognition. She was a long-term
heroin addict and suffered periodic bouts of mental illness,
and these facets of her life feature prominently in her novels
and short stories. She died in 1968 of heart failure soon
after the publication of her most celebrated work, the novel