Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Letters to Felice consists of a voluminous correspondence produced by Franz Kafka, one of the most prominent authors of the twentieth century. It consists of more than five hundred letters written by Kafka to a woman named Felice Bauer during the period from 1912 to 1917. He later destroyed her correspondence to him, but she saved his letters and sold them in 1955 to the New York publisher Zalman Schocken.

In order to understand the significance of these personal documents, some explanation is in order concerning the relationship between Kafka and Felice Bauer. Kafka met Felice for the first time on August 13, 1912, in Prague, at the home of his best friend, Max Brod. She was then twenty-four years old. She had been born in Silesia and reared in Berlin, the daughter of an insurance agent, Carl Bauer. His first letter to her was dated September 20, 1912. Thus began a strange and often-strained relationship that lasted until December, 1917, when Kafka terminated his marriage engagement to her for the second and last time.

Kafka’s initial impression of her at the Brod home was somewhat negative; he later wrote in his diary that she appeared to him rather average-looking and somewhat like a housemaid. This latter observation is revealing, since it was undoubtedly Felice’s air of bourgeois domesticity that prompted Kafka, despite his distinct misgivings about her, to initiate the correspondence. This apparent contradiction— and his ambivalence toward the idea of matrimony—is crucial to understanding the spirit of Kafka’s letters to Felice and to decoding his often-enigmatic stories.

At the time Kafka first met Felice, he was a twenty-nine-year-old bachelor from an upstanding family of Prague Jews. He lived at home with his parents. In this bourgeois environment, Kafka felt a definite pressure to wed and begin a...

(The entire section is 761 words.)