Max Brod Essay - Critical Essays

Brod, Max


Max Brod 1884-1968

Czechoslovakian-born Israeli novelist, biographer, critic, poet, autobiographer, and playwright.

Although perhaps best known as a friend, biographer, and editor of Franz Kafka, Brod was a prolific fiction and nonfiction writer in his own right. Strongly influenced by Jewish Zionism and a desire to reconcile himself to his German-Czech-Jewish background, Brod produced novels focusing on the history of the Jews in an often hostile world and philosophical works discussing the limitations of the human condition.

Biographical Information

Brod was born in Prague, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, in 1884. His family were German-speaking Jews who had roots in Prague for centuries. Brod's father, Adolf Brod, was a banker, and his mother, Fanny Rosenfeld Brod, devoted herself to her children's education and welfare. Brod studied law at the German University of Prague, earning his doctor of law degree in 1907. It was at the University that Brod befriended Franz Kafka, who was also a student; the friendship was to become an important factor in Brod's life and career. He worked at the postal service until 1924, marrying Eva Taussig in 1913. In 1910 Brod became active in the Zionist movement and cofounded the National Council of Jews of Czechoslovakia in 1918. From 1924 to 1929 Brod worked as a member of the press and information office of the Republic of Czechoslovakia. Kafka died in 1924, leaving Brod in charge of his manuscripts, which Kafka wanted to be burned. Brod defied his friend's wishes, editing Kafka's works and arranging for their publication in the 1930s. He also later wrote a highly respected biography of Kafka and edited his diaries for publication. In 1929 Brod joined the staff of the German-language newspaper Prager Tageblatt as a literary and art critic. Ten years later, in the early stages of World War II, Brod and his wife left Prague and immigrated to Palestine, where they settled in Tel Aviv. Brod became the drama advisor for the Israel National Theater. After his wife's death in 1942, the end of World War II, and the Israeli war of independence, Brod resumed his writing career, producing ten more novels and numerous stories as well as several works of nonfiction. After 1949 he returned regularly to Europe, but he did not go back to Prague until 1964. He died after returning to Tel Aviv from a lecture tour of West Germany in 1968.

Major Works

Brod's writings vary greatly in form and style, but almost all of his works are strongly informed by his experiences as a Jew in Prague prior to World War II. He was also influenced at different times in his career by German expressionism, Zionism, sentimentalism, art nouveau, and the historical genre. In his early works—particularly Tod den Toten! (1906) and Schloss Nornepygge (1919)—Brod adopted the fin de siècle mood, which he called “indifferentismus,” or indifferentism characterized by a sense of fatalism and amorality. In the next phase of his writing career, Brod employed the Jewish Zeitroman—a genre dealing with conflicts within Jewish society and between Jews and Gentiles in the early twentieth century. Brod's novels that best exemplify his use of this genre are Jüdinnen (1911) and Arnold Beer: Das Schicksal eines Juden (1912), both centering on characters trying to come to terms with their Jewish identities. Significantly, the protagonist of Arnold Beer was the first of Brod's characters to find inspiration rather than shame and confusion in his Jewish heritage. Shortly after this period of his work, Brod was influenced by the Zionist thought of Hugo Bergmann and Martin Buber, which he integrated into his novels, including Das grosse Wagnis (1919), Zauberreich der Liebe (1928; The Kingdom of Love), Die Frau, die nicht enttäuscht (1933), Der Hügel ruft: Ein kleiner Roman (1942), and Unambo: Roman aus dem jüdisch-arabischen Krieg (1949; Unambo: A Novel of the War in Israel). Brod was particularly prolific in the historical and sentimental novel genres. His historical religious trilogy set in the Renaissance is made up of the novels Tycho Brahes Weg zu Gott (1916; The Redemption of Tycho Brahe), Rëubeni, Fürst der Juden (1925; Reubeni, Prince of the Jews: A Tale of the Renaissance), and Galilei in Gefangenschaft (1948). Eroticism is prominent in Brod's sentimental novels, and with these works he achieved great popular success. Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt (1927; Three Loves) tells the story of a man driven to bankruptcy and exile because of his passion for a beautiful woman, but he never regrets the time he spent with her. In Mira (1958), on the other hand, an artistic couple is driven apart by societal constraints and expectations. Brod also made a strong impression with his works of nonfiction, particularly Heidentum, Christentum, Judentum (1921; Paganism, Christianity, Judaism), in which he explored both the innate misfortunes brought on by the human condition and the misfortunes that human beings bring on themselves. But it has been Brod's biographical and critical writings on Kafka that have earned him the most lasting admiration. Because of his close friendship with Kafka, Brod's Franz Kafka: Eine Biographie (1937; Franz Kafka: A Biography) remains a seminal source on the writer.

Critical Reception

Brod's fiction received mixed reviews. Jüdinnen and Arnold Beer were strongly criticized by Brod's reviewers and friends, including Kafka, who allegedly wrote his short story “Das Urteil” as a negative response to Arnold Beer. Brod's sentimental and historical novels also garnered some unflattering reviews. Nonetheless, his historical trilogy won acclaim and was awarded the Bialik Prize. He is also praised for the sensitivity and tolerance with which he wrote about religion. Brod's greatest literary contribution, however, remains his pursuit editing and studying of the work of Franz Kafka.

Principal Works

Tod den Toten! (short stories) 1906

Experimente: Vier Geschichten (nonfiction) 1907

Jüdinnen: Roman (novel) 1911

Arnold Beer: Das Schicksal eines Juden (novel) 1912

Anschauung und Begriff: Grundzüge eines Systems der Begriffsbildung [with Felix Weltsch] (philosophy) 1913

Tycho Brahes Weg zu Gott: Ein Roman [The Redemption of Tycho Brahe] (novel) 1916

Das grosse Wagnis (novel) 1919

Schloss Nornepygge (novel) 1919

Heidentum, Christentum, Judentum: Ein Bekenntnisbuch [Paganism, Christianity, Judaism] 2 vols. (nonfiction) 1921

Rëubeni, Fürst der Juden: Ein Renaissanceroman [Reubeni, Prince of the Jews: A Tale of the Renaissance] (novel) 1925

Die Frau, nach der man sich sehnt [Three Loves] (novel) 1927

Zauberreich der Liebe [The Kingdom of Love] (novel) 1928

Stefan Rott oder Das Jahr der Entscheidung (novel) 1931

Die Frau, die nicht enttäuscht: Roman (novel) 1933

Franz Kafka: Eine Biographie [Franz Kafka: A Biography] (biography) 1937

Abenteuer in Japan: Roman [with Otto Brod] (novel) 1938

Der Hügel ruft: Ein kleiner Roman (novel) 1942

Diesseits und Jenseits 2 vols. (nonfiction) 1946

Franz Kafka, Tagebucher 1920-1923 [editor] (diaries) 1948-49

Franz Kafkas Glauben und Lehre, Kafka und Tolstoi: Eine Studie (nonfiction) 1948

Galilei in Gefangenschaft (novel) 1948

Unambo: Roman aus dem jüdisch-arabischen Krieg [Unambo: A Novel of the War in Israel] (novel) 1949

Der Meister: Roman [The Master] (novel) 1952

Mira: Ein Roman um Hofmannsthal (novel) 1958

Streitbares Leben: Autobiographie (autobiography) 1960

Johnannes Reuchlin und sein Kampf: Eine historische Monographie (novel) 1965

Der Prager Kreis (reminiscences) 1966

Das Unzerstörbare (philosophy) 1968

Streitbares Leben, 1884-1968 (memoirs) 1969


Stefan Zweig (essay date 1928)

SOURCE: A foreword to The Redemption of Tycho Brahe by Max Brod, translated by Felix Warren Crosse, Alfred A. Knopf, 1928, pp. v-x.

[In the following foreword to Brod's novel The Redemption of Tycho Brahe, Zweig praises Brod as a poetic writer.]

It would be a tempting task to draw the portraits of all those poets whose power has gradually developed from frail beginnings; for the error still seems widely current that for every artist, youth is a period of violent activity, of high spirits that overflow into arrogance, of self-confidence in full flower insolently demanding attention, the Bakkalaureus in Faust. But in actual fact, among poets is not that...

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R. Wellek (review date 1938)

SOURCE: “Kafka's Life,” in Scrutiny, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1938, pp. 86-9.

[In the following review, Wellek praises Brod's biography of Franz Kafka as a worthy addition to Kafka scholarship.]

Franz Kafka's work seems at first sight almost timeless and placeless. It hovers in a rarefied atmosphere of metaphysical horror. In his whole work there is not a single allusion to Bohemia except the scene in St. Vitus Cathedral in the Trial, nor anything which would show any interest in the problems which moved the many contemporary German writers who came from Prague. Rilke at least in his early poems and stories is preoccupied with the fascination of his home town and...

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Lienhard Bergel (essay date 1946)

SOURCE: “Max Brod and Herbert Tauber,” in Kafka Problem, edited by Angel Flores, New Directions, 1946, pp. 391-97.

[In the following essay, Bergel contrasts Brod's biography of Franz Kafka with the critical analysis of Kafka's works published later by Herbert Tauber.]

In 1937 Max Brod published a biography of his friend Kafka as a supplement to the six volumes of Kafka's Collected Works. [Franz Kafka] is rather an accumulation of material for a biography than a fully developed picture of Kafka's life. The richness of source material (unpublished letters, diaries and sketches, fragments of conversations) constitutes the main value of the book; it...

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Irving Howe (review date 12 July 1947)

SOURCE: “Brod on Kafka,” in The Nation, New York, July 12, 1947, pp. 47-8.

[In the following review, Howe describes Brod's Kafka biography as “painfully self-conscious and unsatisfactory.”]

Max Brod is in an impossible position. A lifelong friend of Kafka, he is himself a writer and is therefore expected to write a biography. But in the eyes of the world he has become a mere figure in the Kafka myth; he has lost independent existence. He is evidence. An ordinary citizen could perhaps tolerate such a relationship, but for a writer it is self-obliteration. No wonder then that, despite its value as a document, Brod's book [Franz Kafka] is so...

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Walter J. Ong (review date June 1948)

SOURCE: A review of Franz Kafka: A Biography, in Thought, Vol. 23, No. 89, June, 1948, pp. 316-17.

[In the following review, Ong praises the first English translation of Brod's Kafka biography.]

Max Brod's life of Kafka [Franz Kafka] is here presented in excellent English translation for the first time following its appearance in German in 1937. Kafka's life does not admit of offhand discussion, for in it many of the ferments acting on men's lives today work at a depth and with a vigor which produced in Kafka's narratives some of the most significant art of our time. Kafka died in Prague in 1924 at the age of forty-one. His world had been simultaneously...

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Lutz Weltmann (essay date 1950)

SOURCE: “Kafka's Friend, Max Brod: The Work of a Mediator,” in German Life and Letters, Vol. 4, 1950, pp. 46-50.

[In the following essay, Weltmann discusses Brod's ability to bridge differences in his writing and philosophy.]

Max Brod is chiefly known in this country as the editor of Kafka's works. ‘Dr.’ Max Brod, as he is called whenever his name is mentioned, is, however, a great writer in his own right and an independent philosopher, too. As his philosophy has not been shaped into a ‘system’ and a considerable part of his philosophical thought is enshrouded in his fiction, posterity will have to decide—and decide it will—which is the greater. Already...

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Herbert Howarth (review date May 1952)

SOURCE: “The Double Liberation,” in Commentary, Vol. 13, No. 5, May, 1952, pp. 508-10.

[In the following review, Howarth considers Unambo to be a powerful novel more worthy of Brod's intellect than his earlier works.]

The first fifty pages of Unambo almost defeat the good will which is inspired by the name of Max Brod. The effort-ridden writing gives the impression that this critic, scholar, musician, poet—famous once in Czechoslovakia, and now in Israel—has set himself an impossible task in applying a medieval devil-fantasy to the contemporary scene and its problems. Then at page 57 he uses the fable of the tyrant Phalaris and his steer of...

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Felix Weltsch (essay date Winter 1965)

SOURCE: “Max Brod: A Study in Unity and Duality,” in Judaism, Vol. 14, No. 1, Winter, 1965, pp. 48-59.

[In the following essay, Weltsch examines paradoxes and contrasts in Brod's fiction.]

Shortly after he completed the following appreciation of his closest friend Max Brod, on the occasion of the latter's 80th birthday, Felix Weltsch died in Jerusalem on November 8, 1964, only a few weeks after having himself reached the age of 80. Of the trio of Kafka, Brod and Weltsch, whose unique friendship is reflected in Kafka's published Diaries and Letters, only Brod is now left.

Because of his modest manner, and also perhaps because of...

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Times Literary Supplement (review date 26 January 1967)

SOURCE: “Writing from Prague,” in Times Literary Supplement, No. 3387, January 26, 1967, p. 71.

[In the following review, the critic finds Der Prager Kreis to be a notable accompaniment to Brod's autobiography.]

Der Prager Kreis, a volume of reminiscences and observations, is a welcome complement to Herr Max Brod's autobiography, Streitbares Leben, published in 1960. At the age of eighty-two Max Brod has lost none of his zest, none of the generous devotion to the work of other writers which has made his name inseparable from that of Kafka. His retrospective account of the Prague Circle—he rightly asserts that there was no such thing as a...

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Angela Habermann (essay date Winter 1984)

SOURCE: “‘Indifferentism’ in the Early Fiction of Max Brod: The Representation of Decadence in the Prague Circle,” in The International Fiction Review, Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter, 1984, pp. 47-50.

[In the following essay, Habermann discusses Brod's representations of decadence in his early fiction.]

Despite a growing interest in the cultural phenomenon of decadence, the notion as a specific aesthetic quality has largely remained mystified by clichés and labels since its emergence in mid-nineteenth-century France. Decadence has yet to be accepted as a representation of social discourse, each variant changing according to its sociohistorical presuppositions. The...

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Margarita Pazi (essay date 1987)

SOURCE: “Max Brod,” in Modern Austrian Literature, Vol. 20, Nos. 3 & 4, 1987, pp. 81-93.

[In the following essay, Pazi examines the characteristics of the Prague Circle and suggests reasons for Brod's lack of wide critical acceptance in the United States.]

The literary oeuvre of Max Brod comprises ninety-five titles—novels, plays, anthologies of poems, and short stories, and semi-philosophical works—not to mention the many important essays and articles and the innumerable reviews written by him as a literary and theater critic in Prague and Tel-Aviv. Of all these writings only seven books have been translated and published in the United States. They were...

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Margarita Pazi (essay date 1993)

SOURCE: “Max Brod: Unambo,” in Turn-of-the-Century Vienna and Its Legacy: Essays in Honor of Donald G. Daviau, Jeffrey B. Berlin, Jorun B. Johns, Richard H. Lawson, eds., Edition Atelier, 1993, pp. 425-41.

[In the following essay, Pazi suggests that the novel Unambo represents a shift in Brod's approach to philosophical problems.]

Again and again, in talking about the writers of the famous Prague circle, scholars have made pointed reference to the polemic substrata of the literary works of its members, explaining these as the product of that city's unique atmosphere of spiritual and intellectual restlessness. As Max Brod and others of the writers of...

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Ehrhard Bahr (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “Max Brod as a Novelist: From the Jewish Zeitroman to the Zionist Novel,” in Von Franzos zu Canetti: Judische Autoren aus Osterreich Neue Studien, Mark H. Gelber, Hans Otto Horch, Sigurd Paul Scheichl, eds., Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1996, pp. 25-36.

[In the following essay, Bahr examines Brod's contributions to several novelistic genres.]

Brod's reputation as a prose writer was overshadowed by his fame as Kafka's friend, biographer, interpreter, and editor of Kafka's posthumous writings.1 By 1948, Brod's Kafka biography was widely read, but hardly any of his own works of fiction. This was not always the case. Around 1915, when Kafka had...

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Ritchie Robertson (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: “Mothers and Lovers in Some Novels by Kafka and Brod,” in German Life and Letters, Vol. 50, No. 4, October, 1997, pp. 475-90.

[In the following essay, Robertson examines Brod's and Kafka's approach to women in their novels.]

The growth of women's studies has helped to open up the wider terrain of gender studies, including the study of masculinity. Instead of being considered a known quantity, the standard against which women's difference could be measured and explored, masculinity is itself a problematic concept, and the extent to which it is a socially constructed set of meanings, rather than a biological given, has by now received ample attention....

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Further Reading


Liptzin, Solomon. “Pan-Humanists.” In Germany's Stepchildren, pp. 270-86. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1944.

Includes Brod in a discussion of Jewish writers who promoted the idea of the necessity of the existence of the Jews as a separate, unique group dedicated to the service of humanity.

Neumeyer, Peter F. “Thomas Mann, Max Brod, and the New York Public Library.” MLN 90, No. 3 (April 1975): 418-23.

Explains Thomas Mann's successful commitment to bringing Max Brod and his works and collections to the New York Public Library.

Additional coverage of...

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