ISBN 0 7206 1140 7
Fiction
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More about Anna Kavan

The Parson

Anna Kavan

The Parson was not published in Anna Kavan’s 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 Kavan’s 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 Rhys’s 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 Yorker

‘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 Ice.