Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rhys Davies and Anna Kavan

The relationship between Welsh novelist Rhys Davies and cult author Anna Kavan is a fascinating one. I guess what drew them together must have been their outsider status - Davies the closeted homosexual and Kavan the secret heroin addict.

Davies first met her in the 1930s when she was living in Bledlow with her second husband and her bulldogs. After the collapse of this disastrous marriage they remained good friends. In later life he, along with theatrical type Raymond Marriott, would become her literary executor. Davies even features as the character 'R' in her book Asylum Piece (1940).

Kavan was attracted to homosexual men (though not sexually) and Davies it seems was something of an emotional prop. He was certainly often on hand to foil her suicide attempts. On one occasion she drew up a will leaving half of her estate to Davies and the other half to Raymond Marriott. She then took a heroin overdose. Davies and Marriott, guessing something was up, broke down the door of her flat and rushed her off to hospital.

As she got older she became increasingly cantankerous. At one meal she even threw a roast chicken at the Welsh writer. By then though he was familiar with her mood swings and took it on the chin, so to speak. In the 1960s she became quite interested in pop culture and often asked Davies to accompany her to happenings and other pop events in the West End of London.

In 1968 Kavan was found dead at her Kensington home. Famously police said they discovered there "enough heroin to kill the whole street". Curiously though she died not of an overdose but of natural causes. She was, however, draped across her bed with her head resting on the Chinese lacquered box in which she kept her smack.

Also in her flat Rhys Davies and Raymond Marriott found over 40 varieties of lipstick; and her drawings of executions and people being disembowelled. They had them destroyed which, in retrospect, seems a bit of a shame.

After her death Davies penned the introduction to Kavan's collection of stories Julia and the Bazooka (1970). It was here that Davies first publically revealed her heroin addiction. Incidentally 'bazooka' was Kavan's term for a heroin-filled hypodermic. Davies also edited another collection My Soul in China (1975).

Surprisingly Rhys Davies declined an offer to write her biography. Despite being her friend for over 30 years he claimed not to know enough about her to perform such a task. Instead he wrote a thinly disguised fictionalised biography called Honeysuckle Girl (1975). This often overlooked contribution to drugs literature (I'm surprised it hasn't been reprinted and given the full cult makeover treatment) recounts her second marriage; her bouts in a Swiss sanatorium; and life at her Kensington flat. As well, of course, as describing in detail her addiction to heroin.

*For those keen to seek out more info on the Rhys Davies/Anna Kavan connection I would highly recommend Welsh writer David Callard's excellent biography The Case of Anna Kavan (1992).