The Castle

I broke my rule of not reading posthumously published books with Kafka’s The Castle (translated by Willa and Edwin Muir). First published in 1926 (English translation in 1930), it was heavily edited by pal Max Brod, and the edition I read included fragments and passages deleted by Kafka in the appendix. The first German edition ends in the middle of the 18th chapter, with Frieda closing the bedroom door behind her and Jeremiah, leaving K. alone in the passage of the inn. The edition I read continued on for a few more chapters, which includes a fantastic depiction of K. exhaustedly searching for Erlanger’s room and mistakenly entering a secretary’s room, one who might be able to help him but K. falls asleep after downing a decanter of rum. Bürgel, the secretary, begs K. to remain to keep him company while they wait for the five o’clock hour when everyone awakes. Bürgel drones on about how the most unexpected night visitors might be the best way to move cases forward, but K. is too sleepy, can’t appreciate his luck. Later, Erlanger bangs on the wall and demands to see K., only to tell him that Freida must return to the taproom to serve Klamm. K. sleepily takes this command and watches Erlanger depart, then witnesses the frenzy of file deliveries at five in the morning to the other Castle gentlemen at the inn.

A dreamy, mystical so-called companion piece to The Trial, this book recounts the tale of a “land surveyor” summoned by the Castle, but who never makes it to the Castle, it being off limits, red-tape bureaucracy protecting it from the village below where K. finds refuge. Was K. even a land surveyor? He arrives and mentions having assistants who will come the next day, and then the assistants are sent by the Castle as spies. The whole village is on tenterhooks about his situation- what to do with him, where to house him. He obtains a post as the school janitor and decamps there with his soon-to-be wife Freida and two assistants. The wood shed is locked, they smash it to get wood for the fire, oversleep in the warm room and awaken to find kids staring at them. Freida is his key to happiness, or is it Barnabas the messenger?

Made me think of Mann’s Magic Mountain, which I’m now pining to read again. Mann wrote an Homage to Kafka in the edition of The Castle that I read… makes me realize the connections and influences writers have/had on each other.