Max Brod Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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.