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On July 12, 1914, Franz Kafka, responding to a summons by his fiance(?) Felice Bauer, entered the Askanischer Hof in Berlin, there to be judged by her, her sister and a friend. Felice promptly broke off the engagement (for the first time.) Her actions could hardly be more explicable. After all, the two engagements dragged on for 5 years; he dedicated his story "The Judgment" to her, in which a young man's father orders him to drown himself after he announces his plan to marry F.B.; and his letters seem designed to annoy:
Dearest F.,

In your last letter (how long have I sat motionless over that word, wishing you were here!) there is a sentence that is fairly clear to me from every angle; this hasn’t happened for a long time. It concerns the apprehensions you feel about sharing life with me. You don’t think—or perhaps you merely wonder whether, or perhaps you merely want to hear my views about it—that in me you will find the vital support you undoubtedly need. There is nothing straightforward I can say to that. I may also be too tired just now (I had to wait for your telegram until 5 P.M. Why? What’s more, contrary to your promise, I had to wait as long as 24 hours for your letter. Why?) and far beneath my tiredness too happy about your letter.

It is late evening. I won’t be able to write of the most important matters today. The exact information you want about me, dearest F., I cannot give you; I can give it you, if at all, only when running along behind you in the Tiergarten, you always on the point of vanishing altogether, and I on the point of prostrating myself; only when thus humiliated, more deeply than any dog, am I able to do it. When you pose that question now I can only say: I love you, F., to the limits of my strength, in this respect you can trust me entirely. But for the rest, F., I do not know myself completely. Surprises and disappointments about myself follow each other in endless succession.What I hope is that these surprises and disappointments will be mine alone; I shall use all my strength to see that none but the pleasant, the pleasantest of surprises of my nature will touch you; I can vouch for this, but what I cannot vouch for is that I shall always succeed. How could I vouch for that in view of the bewildering confusion in my letters which you have been receiving from me all this time? We haven’t been together much, it’s true, but even if we had been together a great deal, I would have asked you (for that would then have been impossible to do) to judge me by my letters and not by your personal experience. The potentialities latent in my letters are equally latent in me, the bad as well as the good; personal experience robs one of perspective, and in my particular case to my disadvantage.

During this period he began work on his classic unfinished novel, The Trial--all his novels were unfinished, just like his courtship of Felice. Therein, a bank employee named Josef K. is told that he is to be arrested and tried but not by whom, when, where or for what. His surreal quest for answers to these questions not only proves futile but casts further suspicion and induces in him a sense of guilt. Ultimately he is taken away to be executed:
His gaze fell upon the top story of the building adjoining the quarry. Like a light flicking on, the casements of a window flew open, a human figure, faint and insubstantial at that distance and height, leaned far out abruptly, and stretched both arms out further. Who was it? A friend? A good person? Someone who cared? Someone who wanted to help? Was it just one person? Was it everyone? Was there still help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? Of course there were. Logic is no doubt unshakable, but it can’t withstand a person who wants to live. Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he’d never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers.

But the hands of one man were right at K.’s throat, while the other thrust the knife into his heart and turned it there twice. With failing sight K. saw how the men drew near his face, leaning cheek-to-cheek to observe the verdict. “Like a dog!” he said; it seemed as though the shame was to outlive him.

Over the years folks have tried to freight Kafka's writings with all kinds of meaning, from predicting totalitarianism to representing the inscrutability of God, but this tale seems mostly autobiographical, no? Here--as in his failed attempt at marriage--we have the drawn out "process" (the original title of the novel), the judgment by an authority he can't comprehend, the execution, the shame and even the comparison to a dog. Doesn't seem that complex.

Unfortunately for the story, Josef K. is not a sympathetic character. And Kafka's characteristically distant prose style helps to keep us from engaging with the drama. Your only curiosity about the charge comes from the hope the book will end sooner if he finds out what it is. It is a text that has benefited greatly from what later readers chose to read into it, irrespective of what's actually on the page.


(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C-)


Websites:

See also:

Franz Kafka (2 books reviewed)
Eastern European Literature
Franz Kafka Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Franz Kafka
    -The Kafka Society of America
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Franz Kafka (IMDB)
    -Franz Kafka Online
    -ENTRY: Franz Kafka (Modernist Archives)
    -ENTRY: Franz Kafka German-language writer (Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Trial
    -ENTRY: The Trial novel by Kafka (Peter Boxall, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -EXCERPT: from The Trial (Afterword: The Translator's Trial (Breon Mitchell, Spring 1998, CONJUNCTIONS)
    -EXCERPT: from The Trial: Kafka Executes Josef K. (translated by Breon Mitchell)
His gaze fell upon the top story of the building adjoining the quarry. Like a light flicking on, the casements of a window flew open, a human figure, faint and insubstantial at that distance and height, leaned far out abruptly, and stretched both arms out further. Who was it? A friend? A good person? Someone who cared? Someone who wanted to help? Was it just one person? Was it everyone? Was there still help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? Of course there were. Logic is no doubt unshakable, but it can’t withstand a person who wants to live. Where was the judge he’d never seen? Where was the high court he’d never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers.

But the hands of one man were right at K.’s throat, while the other thrust the knife into his heart and turned it there twice. With failing sight K. saw how the men drew near his face, leaning cheek-to-cheek to observe the verdict. “Like a dog!” he said; it seemed as though the shame was to outlive him.

    -EXCERPT: from The Trial: Kafka’s Great Fable: “Before the Law” (translated by Breon Mitchell)
    -LETTER: 25 March (1914): Franz Kafka to Felice Bauer (The American Reader)
    -READING GUIDE: The Trial (Penguin Random House)
    -EXCERPT: from The Trial: Before the Law (Franz Kafka, Translation by Ian Johnston, Kafka Online)
    -ETEXT: The Trial by Franz Kafka (Translated by David Wyllie, Franz Kafka Online)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Trial (SparkNotes)
    -READING GUIDE: The Trial (LitLovers)
    -ENTRY: the Trial (Encyclopedia.com)
    -SAMPLE ESSAY: on The Trial (Prime Essays)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Trial (Grade Saver)
    -GUIDE: The Czech Books You Must Read 8) Franz Kafka’s The Trial - ambiguous novel that asks deep metaphysical questions (Tom McEnchroe, Radio Prague International)
    -ETEXT: The Trial by Franz Kafka (Project Gutenberg)
    -AUDIO BOOK ARCHIVES:Franz Kafka (Librivox)
    -ARCHIVES: Franz Kafka (Internet Archives)
    -ESSAY: The Pleasures and Punishments of Reading Franz Kafka (Joshua Cohen, September 2, 2020, Paris Review)
    -LECTURE: What makes something "Kafkaesque"? (Noah Tavlin, Jun 20, 2016, Ted Talk)
    -VIDEO: Franz Kafka: Chronicler of Darkness (Biographics, Oct 10, 2019)
    -LECTURE: Franz Kafka | The Metamorphosis (Gregory B. Sadler, 10/02/2014, Existentialist Philosophy & Literature)
    -VIDEO: Franz Kafka's "The Trial" (Manufacturing Intellect, Nov 25, 2018, Ten Great Writers of the Modern World)
    -VIDEO: Will Self's Kafka Journey: A Prague Walking Tour (Will Self, Jun 19, 2015, London Review of Books)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Will Self on Franz Kafka (Will Self, May 20, 2020, How To Academy)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Who Was Franz Kafka? (Dr. Henry Abramson, Nov 29, 2016, Jewish History)
    -VIDEO CONCERT: Philip Glass - Metamorphosis (Philip Glass, Dec 1, 2016)
    -VIDEO INTERVIEW: Max Brod on Franz Kafka (English Subtitles) (John McIntire)
    -VIDEO: Understanding The Trial by Franz Kafka with Jason Reza Jorjani (New Thinking Allowed with Jeffrey Mishlove, Jun 27, 2018)
    -PODCAST: Kafka's The Trial (Melvyn Bragg, BBC: In Our Time)
   
-AUDIO SERIES: In the Shadow of Kafka (BBC3: The Essay, Series in which leading writers explore the breadth of Czech author Franz Kafka's thinking, his world and how his writing still resonates for them)
    -ESSAY: The Pleasures and Punishments of Reading Franz Kafka (Joshua Cohen, September 2, 2020, Paris Review)
    -ESSAY: The Essence of 'Kafkaesque' (Ivana Edwards, Dec. 29, 1991, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: What It Really Means to Be 'Kafkaesque': Author Ben Marcus says the beautiful but sorrowful strangeness of Kafka's "A Message from the Emperor" make it a perfect piece of writing. (JOE FASSLER, JANUARY 15, 2014, The Atlantic)
    -LECTURE: On Kafka: The following was delivered at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem on April 26, when President Havel was awarded an honorary degree (Václav Havel, translated by Paul Wilson, The New York Review of Books)
    -ARTICLE: Unseen Kafka works may soon be revealed after Kafkaesque trial (Associated Press, 17 Apr 2019)
    -ESSAY: Looking for Kafka: Richard Hooper tries in vain to locate the grave of the famous author in a Prague cemetery (Richard Hooper, 17 January 1964, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Kafka's sexual terrors were 'absolutely normal', says biographer: Reiner Stach, author of a three-volume life of The Trial’s author, says his ‘anti-sensual’ fears were shared with millions of middle-class peers who dreaded STDs (Sian Cain, 5 Dec 2016, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Franz Kafka's virtual romance: a love affair by letters as unreal as online dating: His love letters were sent by post rather than email, but Kafka’s affair with Felice Bauer recoiled from reality in a way that has become familiar in the internet age (Rafia Zakaria, 12 Aug 2016, The Guardian)
    -ESSAY: Reading Kafka Visually: Gothic Ornament and the Motion of Writing in Kafka's Der Process (Tomáš Jirsa, Central Europe)
    -ESSAY: KAFKA'S PARABLE BEFORE THE LAW (Herbert Deinert, May, 1964, THE GERMANIC REVIEW)
    -ESSAY: FRANZ KAFKA: A REVALUATION (Hannah Arendt)
    -ESSAY: Laughing with Kafka (David Foster Wallace, July 1998, Harper's)
    -ESSAY: The Impossibility of Translating Franz Kafka: How do you translate a writer who felt alienated from his own words? (Cynthia Ozick, 1/11/99, The New Yorker)
    -INTERVIEW: ON TRANSLATION: Retranslating Kafka: with Michelle Woods (Michelle Johnson, 2/26/13, )
    -ESSAY: Franz Kafka's Trial and the Anti-Semitic Trials of His Time (Michael Löwy, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Human Architecture)
    -ESSAY: The Delusion of Hope: Franz Kafka's the Trial (Jerry H. Bryant, 1969, Symposium: A Quarterly Journal in Modern Literatures)
    -ESSAY: Kafka Was a Terrible Boyfriend: Read Franz Kafka's "Love Letters" to Felice Bauer (Eleanor Bass, February 14, 2018, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: The Franz Kafka Marriage Manual for Young Ladies: What to do with the art of a man more monstrous than the monster he created? (Rebecca Schuman, 9/25/18, Guernica)
    -ESSAY: Franz Kafka’s Kafkaesque Love Letters (Josh Jones, May 27th, 2015, Open Culture)
    -ESSAY: Kafka's "Before the Law": A Reflection of Fear of Marriage; and Corroborating Language Patterns in the Diaries (Erwin R. Steinberg, March 1986, Journal of Modern Literature)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: The Human Stain: The question has been asked: Was Franz Kafka human? He seems to have had doubts himself. (John Banville, SEPTEMBER 30, 2004, The Nation)
    -ARCHIVES: Kafka (LA Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES: Franz Kafka (The Guardian)
    -ARCHIVES: kafka (NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial by Franz Kafka (Sabine Peschel, Deutsche-Welle 100 German Must Reads)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Ted Gioia, Postmodern Mystery)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Franz Kafka’s The Trial—It’s Funny Because It’s True: Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. (Benjamin Winterhalter July 2, 2019, JSTOR Daily)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: A Door for You Alone: Reading Kafka’s “The Trial” in Self-Isolation (Robert Zaretsky, APRIL 2, 2020, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Roman Altshuler, Harvard Crimson)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Adelaide H. Villmoare, Law Courts)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (David Frum)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: FRANZ KAFKA: MISUNDERSTOOD CRIME AUTHOR: How The Trial upended what we know about crime fiction (PETER STEINER, OCTOBER 3, 2019, CrimeReads)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Matthew Selwyn, BiblioFreak)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Nina Chavchanidze, Research Gate)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Jay Fox, Stay Thirsty)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Clive, Whispering Stories)
    -REVIEW: of The Trial (Walker Fults)
    -REVIEW: of The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Richard T Kelly, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Letters to Felice by Franz Kafka. Edited by Erich Heller and Jurgen Born. Translated by James Stern and Elisabeth Duckworth (Morris Dickstein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Letters to Felice (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Letters to Felice (Keith Cushman, Chicago Review)
    -REVIEW: of Investigations of a Dog: And Other Creatures by franz Kafka (Nathan Scott McNamara, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Burrow by Franz Kafka (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of The Castle by Franz Kafka, translated by Mark Harman (J.M. Coetzee, NY Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of The Castle (Dinitia Smith, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Last Trial by Benjamin Balint (Tim Adams, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Last Trial (John Banville, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Last Trial (Elif Batuman, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Last Trial (Devorah Baum, History Today)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Last Trial (Guy Chazan, Financial Times)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Last Trial (Publisher's Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka: The Early Years By Reiner Stach (Mark Harman, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka: The Decisive Years by Reiner Stach (PD Smith, the Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka: The Years of Insight by Reiner Stach (PD Smith, the Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt By Saul Friedländer (Morten Høi Jensen, LA Review of Books)
    -REVIEW: of Excavating Kafka by James Hawes (Tim Black, spiked)
    -REVIEW: of Kafka’s Other Trial by Elias Canetti (The Examined Life)
Two decisive events in Kafka’s life—events which he and all the people would have wanted to keep especially private—had taken place in a way that was embarrassingly public: the official engagement in the Bauer family home on June 1 and, six weeks later, on July 12, 1914, the ‘tribunal’ at the Askanische Hof, which led to the breaking of the engagement. It can be shown that the emotional substance of both events entered directly into The Trial, which Kafka began to write in August. The engagement becomes the arrest in the first chapter; the ‘tribunal’ appears as the execution in the last.


FILM:


    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Trial (1962) (IMDB)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Trial (1962 film)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Trial (Roger Ebert)
    -PLAY REVIEW: The Trial (Michael Billington, The Guardian)

Book-related and General Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: Breon Mitchell
    -FACULTY PAGE: BREON MITCHELL (Professor Emeritus of Germanic Studies and Comparative Literature, Indiana University)
    -EXCERPT: from The Trial (Afterword: The Translator's Trial (Breon Mitchell, Spring 1998, CONJUNCTIONS)
    -EXCERPT: from The Trial: Kafka Executes Josef K. (translated by Breon Mitchell)
    -EXCERPT: from The Trial: Kafka’s Great Fable: “Before the Law” (translated by Breon Mitchell)
    -INTERVIEW: The Voice of the Translator: An Interview with Breon Mitchell (Rainer Schulte, 10 Sep 2012, Translation Review)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Retranslating 'The Tin Drum': Keith Ekiss and Olivia Sears interview Breon Mitchell about his translation of Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum, the first retranslation of the novel into English since its publication 50 years ago. (Arcade)
    -POEM: Günter Grass: 'What Must Be Said' (translated by Breon Mitchell, 4/05/12, The Guardian)