Kafka’s initial letter to Felice, dated September 20, 1912, was written three weeks after he first met her and five days after the engagement of his sister Valli. The pressure to wed was undoubtedly on his mind. The chance to be married offered him an escape from his parents, above all from the father who dominated him. The letter obliquely suggests the ambivalence that characterized their relationship. Kafka initiates a correspondence with the young woman, a romantic approach toward her, but tells her, at the same time, that he is a less than punctual letter writer, a symbolic retreat from the advance he had just made. His second letter to her, dated September 28, 1912, was written immediately upon receipt of her reply and deals with how he wrote his first letter to her. Again, his letter is telling in that the subject is not her reply but rather himself and the act of writing.
Indeed, the person of Felice became for Kafka a stimulus to writing in more ways than this initial correspondence. On the night of September 22, 1912, he wrote the story Das Urteil (1913, 1916; The Judgment, 1945), the work to which Kafka scholars most often refer and certainly one of his best narrative pieces. The story commences a period of intense creativity in the author’s life, and it is significant that it coincides with the beginning of his correspondence with Felice. Other well-known works from the time of the Felice correspondence include Die Verwandlung (1915; The Metamorphosis, 1936), In der Strafkolonie (1919; In the Penal Colony, 1941), and the unfinished novel Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937).
Just as Kafka transformed his personal problems into the source material of his fiction, his letters to Felice are very much a literary affair. His diction in the early letters (November 15, 1912, for example) is often eloquently romantic, as if he were wooing her. The letter of December 25, 1912, written a mere three months after he initiated the correspondence, is astonishing in its intensity and projects the literary pose of the impassioned lover. One suspects that at times Kafka was motivated more by the...
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Kafka’s letters to Felice are important in several ways. First, they are interesting to the reader as a documentation of one of the more complex and tormented romantic relationships of this century. The vicissitudes of the relationship between Kafka and Felice present a painful and compelling story.
The correspondence is more important, however, as an adjunct to Kafka’s fiction, in that it documents the kinds of psychological pressures he was experiencing while he composed some of his greatest works. In certain respects, the letters themselves could be considered great literature. A brief critical discussion of The Judgment will reveal the ways in which the letters to Felice relate to the larger context of Kafka’s literary works. The Judgment is dedicated to Felice Bauer and reveals in fictional guise the conscious and unconscious emotions that that relationship unleashed in the author. The story represents a kind of fictional commentary on the letters themselves.
The Judgment is the story of Georg Bendemann, a young man who has recently become engaged to a woman named Frieda Brandenfeld. His mother is deceased, and he has taken over the family business from his infirm father, who lives in one of the apartment’s back rooms. His life seems to be going in a positive direction, and at the beginning of the text he is writing a letter to an old friend who lives, alone and without friends, in Russia. His friend’s life there has been rather dismal, and Georg has been reluctant to tell him of his good fortune. His fiancee, Frieda, does not approve of his friend and has told Georg that he should not have become engaged if he wishes to have such friends. He finishes the letter and goes to see his father.
When Georg attempts to put the sickly old man to bed, the father...
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