Whose sister? ‘Convenient pigeonholes’, Peter Owen and the publishing of Anna Kavan

Wilson, L. 2021. Forthcoming. Whose sister? ‘Convenient pigeonholes’, Peter Owen and the publishing of Anna Kavan. in: British Experimental Women's Fiction, 1945-75: 'Slipping Through the Labels' Palgrave.

Chapter titleWhose sister? ‘Convenient pigeonholes’, Peter Owen and the publishing of Anna Kavan
AuthorsWilson, L.
Abstract

In a letter to a friend in 1948, Anna Kavan complained that the failure of her most recent novel, Sleep Has His House, was due to the publisher’s failure to market it properly. Inappropriate marketing, she said, failed to counteract the tendency of booksellers and critics to rely on ‘convenient pigeonholes’ when responding to experimental writing. It has been the ‘convenient pigeonholes’ used by critics to damn experimental writing by women which have been the focus of much of the recent feminist literary critical return to the post-war decades (see, for example, Clarke, 2019). However, Kavan’s complaint is an indication that our analysis of the critical labelling which misreads, appropriates or ignores this writing needs to be taken further back – to the role of the publisher. This chapter investigates the constraints on the existence and assessment of experimental writing by women by considering the act of not publishing. Kavan’s complaint assumes that the inaction of her publisher led to disaster for Sleep Has His House, but an examination of the correspondence between Kavan and Peter Owen, her publisher between the late 1950s and her death in 1968, and of Peter Owen’s posthumous publication of Kavan until the present, suggests that it is the acts of publishers too which rely on those ‘convenient pigeonholes’ and so spell different kinds of disaster for experimental writing by women.

KeywordsAnna Kavan
experimental writing
publishing
1960s writing
Book titleBritish Experimental Women's Fiction, 1945-75: 'Slipping Through the Labels'
Year2021
PublisherPalgrave

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