11/6/13 - franz kafka finds love

In today's selection -- from A Century of Wisdom by Caroline Stoessinger. Just before his premature death at the age of forty-one, Franz Kafka, author of such haunting, iconic 20th century works as The Trial and The Metamorphosis, found love. Here he is described through the memories of Alice Herz, the oldest living Holocaust survivor, from the time when she was nine years old:

"He could be depended on to be late, to forget something, and even to lose his way -- and then he would arrive apologizing for all of the above. He was so apologetic that it felt to Alice as if he were apologizing for the food he ate or even for simply being alive. But once he got past this, he was a lot of fun. ...

"From the age of nine Alice would sit beside her mother [Sofie] and listen to Kafka talk endlessly about the book he was writing or the one he wanted to write. ... Sofie was particularly intrigued by Kafka's opening sentences, which were modern, even revolutionary in the early years of the twentieth century. He began his novel The Trial with 'Someone must have slandered Josef K; for one morning, without having done anything wrong, he was arrested:' The Metamorphosis begins with 'When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin:' And The Castle draws the reader in with 'It was late evening when K. arrived.' ...

"Kafka frequently fell in love. Although he made it clear that he dreamed of marriage, he complained that no one understood him. 'To have one person with this understanding, a woman for example, ... would mean to have God;' he wrote in his diary. He was not looking for a wife who insisted on crystal chandeliers and -- as Alice says -- 'that heavy German furniture.' But Alice and her mother were certain that he would never decide to marry. He introduced Felice Bauer to them as his fianceé, then broke off the engagement only to get engaged to her a second time -- for just a few weeks, until he changed his mind again. Hoping to comfort him, Alice's mother suggested to Kafka that he, like Beethoven and Brahms, was an artist and that he belonged to the world rather than to one woman.

"But that was before Dora. Both Alice and her mother felt that twenty-five-year-old Dora Diamant was a different and affirmative presence in his life. ...

Franz Kafka in 1906

Dora Diamant

"Like Kafka's mother, Dora had been raised Orthodox, but like Kafka, she had escaped from her family's plans for her life. Even though Kafka had suffered through his Bar Mitzvah in 1896, he had since declared himself an atheist and a socialist. Dora's family had insisted that she marry early and aspired for her to be a wife and mother. Dora literally ran away from home to Berlin to get an education, and became a kindergarten teacher. She had leaned toward Zionism and shared Kafka's interest in Yiddish literature, later influencing his fascination with the Talmud. When she and Kafka began living together in Berlin, it was, they said, their first step toward a permanent home together in Palestine.

"It was clear that Dora loved Kafka completely. When they first met and fell instantly in love, Kafka was forty years old, fifteen years older than Dora and already suffering with tuberculosis. As his disease soon required hospitalization, he was admitted to a sanatorium in Kierling, near Vienna. Alice remembers her mother's concern when Dora moved into Kafka's room to help care for him day and night. Miraculously, she never contracted tuberculosis. For a time he seemed to improve and even wrote cheerful letters to Alice's family. Even so, their time together was short-lived. Barely a year after their love affair started, on June 3, 1924, Kafka died, just as he was about to become famous."


Caroline Stoessinger


A Century of Wisdom


Spiegel & Grau a division of Random House


Copyright 2012 by Caroline Stoessinger


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