Franz Kafka is one of the iconic figures of modern world literature. His biography is still obscured by myth and misinformation, yet the plain facts of his life are very ordinary. He was born on 3 July 1883 in Prague, where his parents, Hermann and Julie Kafka, kept a small shop selling fancy goods, umbrellas, and the like. He was the eldest of six children, including two brothers who died in infancy and three sisters who all outlived him. He studied law at university, and after a year of practice started work, first for his local branch of an insurance firm based in Trieste, then after a year for the state-run Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, where his job was not only to handle claims for injury at work but to forestall such accidents by visiting factories and examining their equipment and their safety precautions. In his spare time he was writing prose sketches and stories, which were published in magazines and as small books, beginning with Meditation in 1912. In August 1912 Kafka met Felice Bauer, four years his junior, who was visiting from Berlin, where she worked in a firm making office equipment. Their relationship, including two engagements, was carried on largely by letter (they met only on seventeen occasions, far the longest being a ten-day stay in a hotel in July 1916), and finally ended when in August 1917 Kafka had a haemorrhage which proved tubercular; he had to convalesce in the country, uncertain how much longer he could expect to live. Thereafter brief returns to work alternated with stays in sanatoria until he took early retirement in 1922. In 1919 he was briefly engaged to Julie Wohryzek, a twenty-eightyear-old clerk, but that relationship dissolved after Kafka met the married Milena Polak (née Jesenská), a spirited journalist, unhappy with her neglectful husband. Milena translated some of Kafka’s work into Czech. As she lived in Vienna, their meetings were few, and the relationship ended early in 1921. Two years later Kafka at last left Prague and settled in Berlin with Dora Diamant, a young woman who had broken away from her ultra-orthodox Jewish family in Poland (and who later became a noted actress and communist activist). However, the winter of 1923 – 4, when hyperinflation was at its height, was a bad time to be in Berlin. Kafka’s health declined so sharply that, after moving through several clinics and sanatoria around Vienna, he died on 3 June 1924.The emotional hinterland of these events finds expression in Kafka’s letters and diaries, and also — though less directly than is sometimes thought — in his literary work. His difficult relationship with his domineering father has a bearing especially on his early fiction, as well as on the Letter to his Father, which should be seen as a literary document rather than a factual record. He suffered also from his mother’s emotional remoteness and from the excessive hopes which his parents invested in their only surviving son. His innumerable letters to the highly intelligent, well-read, and capable Felice Bauer bespeak emotional neediness, and a wish to prove himself by marrying, rather than any strong attraction to her as an individual, and he was acutely aware of the conflict between the demands of marriage and the solitude which he required for writing. He records also much self-doubt, feelings of guilt, morbid fantasies of punishment, and concern about his own health. But it is clear from his friends’ testimony that he was a charming and witty companion, a sportsman keen on hiking and rowing, and a thoroughly competent and valued colleague at work. He also had a keen social conscience and advanced social views: during the First World War he worked to help refugees and shell-shocked soldiers, and he advocated progressive educational methods which would save children from the stifling influence of their parents. Kafka’s family were Jews with little more than a conventional attachment to Jewish belief and practice. A turning-point in Kafka’s life was his encounter with Yiddish-speaking actors from Galicia, from whom he learned about the traditional Jewish culture of Eastern Europe. Gradually he drew closer to the Zionist movement: not to its politics, however, but to its vision of a new social and cultural life for Jews in Palestine. He learnt Hebrew and acquired practical skills such as gardening and carpentry which might be useful if, as they planned, he and Dora Diamant should emigrate to Palestine. A concern with religious questions runs through Kafka’s life and work, but his thought does not correspond closely to any established faith. He had an extensive knowledge of both Judaism and Christianity, and knew also the philosophies of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. Late in life, especially after the diagnosis of his illness, he read eclectically and often critically in religious classics: the Old and New Testaments, Kierkegaard, St Augustine, Pascal, the late diaries of the convert Tolstoy, works by Martin Buber, and also extracts from the Talmud. His religious thought, which finds expression in concise and profound aphorisms, is highly individual, and the religious allusions which haunt his fiction tend to make it more rather than less enigmatic. During his lifetime Kafka published seven small books, but he left three unfinished novels and a huge mass of notebooks and diaries, which we only possess because his friend Max Brod ignored Kafka’s instructions to burn them. They are all written in German, his native language; his Czech was fluent but not flawless. It used to be claimed that Kafka wrote in a version of German called ‘Prague German’, but in fact, although he uses some expressions characteristic of the South German language area, his style is modelled on that of such classic German writers as Goethe, Kleist, and Stifter. Though limpid, Kafka’s style is also puzzling. He was sharply conscious of the problems of perception, and of the new forms of attention made possible by media such as the photograph and cinema. When he engages in fantasy, his descriptions are often designed to perplex the reader: thus it is difficult to make out what the insect in The Metamorphosis actually looks like. He was also fascinated by ambiguity, and often includes in his fiction long arguments in which various interpretations of some puzzling phenomenon are canvassed, or in which the speaker, by faulty logic, contrives to stand an argument on its head. In such passages he favours elaborate sentences, often in indirect speech. Yet Kafka’s German, though often complex, is never clumsy. In his fiction, his letters, and his diaries he writes with unfailing grace and economy. In his lifetime Kafka was not yet a famous author, but neither was he obscure. His books received many complimentary reviews. Prominent writers, such as Robert Musil and Rainer Maria Rilke, admired his work and sought him out. He was also part of a group of Prague writers, including Max Brod, an extremely prolific novelist and essayist, and Franz Werfel, who first attained fame as avant-garde poet and later became an international celebrity through his best-selling novels. During the Third Reich his work was known mainly in the Englishspeaking world through translations, and, as little was then known about his life or social context, he was seen as the author of universal parables. Kafka’s novels about individuals confronting a powerful but opaque organization — the court or the castle — seemed in the West to be fables of existential uncertainty. In the Eastern bloc, when they became accessible, they seemed to be prescient explorations of the fate of the individual within a bureaucratic tyranny. Neither approach can be set aside. Both were responding to elements in Kafka’s fiction. Kafka worries at universal moral problems of guilt, responsibility, and freedom; and he also examines the mechanisms of power by which authorities can subtly coerce and subjugate the individual, as well as the individual’s scope for resisting authority.
It was late evening when K. arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of Castle Mount, for mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void. Then he went in search of somewhere to stay the night. People were still awake at the inn. The landlord had no room available, but although greatly surprised and confused by the arrival of a guest so late at night, he was willing to let K. sleep on a straw mattress in the saloon bar. K. agreed to that. Several of the local rustics were still sitting over their beer, but he didn’t feel like talking to anyone. He fetched the straw mattress down from the attic himself, and lay down near the stove. It was warm, the locals were silent, his weary eyes gave them a cursory inspection, and then he fell asleep. But soon afterwards he was woken again. A young man in town clothes, with a face like an actor’s—narrowed eyes, strongly marked eyebrows—was standing beside him with the landlord. The rustics were still there too, and some of them had turned their chairs round so that they could see and hear better. The young man apologized very civilly for having woken K., introduced himself as the son of the castle warden, and added: ‘This village belongs to the castle, so anyone who stays or spends the night here is, so to speak, staying or spending the night at the castle. And no one’s allowed to do that without a permit from the count. However, you don’t have any such permit, or at least you haven’t shown one.’ K. had half sat up, had smoothed down his hair, and was now looking up at the two men. ‘What village have I come to, then?’ he asked. ‘Is there a castle in these parts?’ ‘There most certainly is,’ said the young man slowly, as some of those present shook their heads at K.’s ignorance. ‘Count Westwest’s* castle.’ ‘And I need this permit to spend the night here?’ asked K., as if to convince himself that he had not, by any chance, dreamed the earlier information. ‘Yes, you need a permit,’ was the reply, and there was downright derision at K.’s expense in the young man’s voice as, with arm outstretched, he asked the landlord and the guests: ‘Or am I wrong? Doesn’t he need a permit?’ ‘Well, I’ll have to go and get a permit, then,’ said K., yawning, and throwing off his blanket as if to rise to his feet. ‘Oh yes? Who from?’ asked the young man. ‘Why, from the count,’ said K. ‘I suppose there’s nothing else for it.’ ‘What, go and get a permit from the count himself at midnight?’ cried the young man, retreating a step. ‘Is that impossible?’ asked K., unruffled. ‘If so, why did you wake me up?’ At this the young man was positively beside himself. ‘The manners of a vagrant!’ he cried. ‘I demand respect for the count’s authority! I woke you up to tell you that you must leave the count’s land immediately.’ ‘That’s enough of this farce,’ said K. in a noticeably quiet voice. He lay down and pulled the blanket over him. ‘Young man, you’re going rather too far, and I’ll have something to say about your conduct tomorrow. The landlord and these gentlemen are my witnesses, if I need any. As for the rest of it, let me tell you that I’m the land surveyor,* and the count sent for me. My assistants will be coming tomorrow by carriage with our surveying instruments. I didn’t want to deprive myself of a good walk here through the snow, but unfortunately I did lose my way several times, and that’s why I arrived so late. I myself was well aware, even before you delivered your lecture, that it was too late to present myself at the castle. That’s why I contented myself with sleeping the night here, and you have been—to put it mildly—uncivil enough to disturb my slumbers. And that’s all the explanation I’m making. Goodnight, gentlemen.’ And K. turned to the stove. ‘Land surveyor?’ he heard someone ask hesitantly behind his back, and then everyone fell silent. But the young man soon pulled himself together and told the landlord, in a tone just muted enough to sound as if he were showing consideration for the sleeping K., but loud enough for him to hear what was said: ‘I’ll telephone and ask.’ Oh, so there was a telephone in this village inn, was there? They were very well equipped here. As a detail that surprised K., but on the whole he had expected this. It turned out that the telephone was installed almost right above his head, but drowsy as he was, he had failed to notice it. If the young man really had to make a telephone call, then with the best will in the world he could not fail to disturb K.’s sleep. The only point at issue was whether K. would let him use the telephone, and he decided that he would. In which case, however, there was no point in making out that he was asleep, so he turned over on his back again. He saw the locals clustering nervously together and conferring; well, the arrival of a land surveyor was no small matter. The kitchen door had opened and there, filling the whole doorway, stood the monumental figure of the landlady. The landlord approached on tiptoe to let her know what was going on. And now the telephone conversation began. The warden was asleep, but a deputy warden, or one of several such deputies, a certain Mr Fritz, was on the line. The young man, who identified himself as Schwarzer, told Mr Fritz how he had found K., a man of very ragged appearance in his thirties, sleeping peacefully on a straw mattress, with a tiny rucksack as a pillow and a gnarled walking-stick within reach. He had naturally felt suspicious, said the young man, and as the landlord had clearly neglected to do his duty it had been up to him to investigate the matter. K., he added, had acted very churlishly on being woken, questioned, and threatened in due form with expulsion from the county, although, as it finally turned out, perhaps with some reason, for he claimed to be a land surveyor and said his lordship the count had sent for him. Of course it was at least their formal duty to check this claim, so he, Schwarzer, would like Fritz to enquire in Central Office, find out whether any such surveyor was really expected, and telephone back with the answer at once. Then all was quiet. Fritz went to make his enquiries, and here at the inn they waited for the answer, K. staying where he was, not even turning round, not appearing at all curious, but looking straight ahead of him. The way Schwarzer told his tale, with a mingling of malice and caution, gave him an idea of what might be called the diplomatic training of which even such insignificant figures in the castle as Schwarzer had a command. There was no lack of industry there either; Central Office was working even at night, and clearly it answered questions quickly, for Fritz soon rang back. His report, however, seemed to be a very short one, for Schwarzer immediately slammed the receiver down in anger. ‘I said as much!’ he cried. ‘There’s no record of any land surveyor; this is a common, lying vagabond and probably worse.’ For a moment K. thought all of them—Schwarzer, the local rustics, the landlord and landlady—were going to fall on him, and to avoid at least the first onslaught he crawled under the blanket entirely. Then—he slowly put his head out—the telephone rang again and, so it seemed to K., with particular force. Although it was unlikely that this call too could be about K., they all stopped short, and Schwarzer went back to the phone. He listened to an explanation of some length, and then said quietly, ‘A mistake, then? This is very awkward for me. You say the office manager himself telephoned? Strange, strange. But how am I to explain it to the land surveyor now?’* K. pricked up his ears. So the castle had described him as ‘the land surveyor’. In one way this was unfortunate, since it showed that they knew all they needed to know about him at the castle, they had weighed up the balance of power, and were cheerfully accepting his challenge. In another way, however, it was fortunate, for it confirmed his opinion that he was being underestimated, and would have more freedom than he had dared to hope from the outset. And if they thought they could keep him in a constant state of terror by recognizing his qualifications as a land surveyor in this intellectually supercilious way, as it certainly was, then they were wrong. He felt a slight frisson, yes, but that was all. K. waved away Schwarzer, who was timidly approaching; he declined to move into the landlord’s room, as he was now urged to do, merely accepting a nightcap from the landlord and the use of a washbasin, with soap and a towel, from the landlady, and he didn’t even have to ask for the saloon to be cleared, since all present were hurrying out with their faces averted, perhaps to keep him from identifying them in the morning. The light was put out, and he was left alone at last. He slept soundly through until morning, scarcely disturbed once or twice by rats scurrying past.
When he was out in the road, as far as the gloomy night would allow he could still see the assistant further along it, pacing up and down outside Barnabas’s house. Sometimes he stopped and tried shining his lantern into the living-room through the curtained window. K. called out to him, and without visibly taking alarm he stopped spying on the house and came towards K. ‘Who are you looking for?’ asked K., testing the flexibility of the willow switch against his thigh. ‘You,’ said the assistant, coming closer. ‘But who are you?’ asked K. suddenly, for it didn’t seem to be the assistant after all. He seemed older, wearier, his face fuller but more lined, and the way he walked was quite different from the jaunty bearing of the assistants, who looked as if their joints were galvanized. He walked slowly, limping slightly, with a pernickety and sickly air. ‘Don’t you know me?’ asked the man. ‘Why, I’m Jeremias, your former assistant.’ ‘You are?’ said K., showing a small length of the willow switch that he had been hiding behind his back. ‘But you look quite different.’ ‘That’s because I’m alone,’ said Jeremias. ‘When I’m on my own my cheerful youthfulness is all gone.’ ‘Where’s Artur, then?’ asked K. ‘Artur?’ said Jeremias. ‘Your little favourite? He’s left your service. You were rather too harsh with us, and he couldn’t put up with it, poor sensitive soul. He’s gone back to the castle to complain of you.’ ‘And what about you?’ asked K. ‘It was fine for me to stay,’ said Jeremias. ‘Artur is complaining on my behalf too.’ ‘What are the pair of you complaining about?’ asked K. ‘We’re complaining,’ said Jeremias, ‘that you can’t take a joke. And what have we done? Cracked a few jokes, laughed a bit, teased your fiancée a little. And all of it, by the way, done to order. When Galater sent us to you—’ ‘Galater?’ asked K. ‘Yes, Galater,’ said Jeremias. ‘He was deputizing for Klamm at the time. When he sent us to you he said—I took particular note of it, because that’s what we refer to in our complaint—you two are going to be the land surveyor’s assistants, he said. What, we said, us? We don’t know the first thing about that kind of work. To which he said: that’s not the point; if necessary he’ll teach you. But the main thing is that I want you to cheer him up a little. I hear he takes everything very hard. He’s come to the village, and to him this is a great event, whereas in fact it’s nothing at all, and you’re going to show him that.’ ‘Well,’ said K., ‘Galater was right there—and did you carry out your task?’ ‘I don’t know,’ said Jeremias. ‘It wasn’t possible in such a short time. All I know is that you were very rough with us, and that’s what we’re complaining of. I really don’t understand how you, only an employee here, and not even employed by the castle, can’t see that service of that kind is very hard work, and it’s extremely unfair to make a man’s work hard for him in such a wilful, almost childish way as you did. Your callous attitude in leaving us freezing outside by the fence, the way you almost struck Artur dead—and he’s a sensitive soul who feels pain for days after so much as a cross word—when you brought your fist down on the mattress where he lay like that, the way you hunted me all over the place in the snow in the afternoon—why, I needed an hour to recover! I’m not as young as I was!’ ‘My dear Jeremias,’ said K., ‘you’re perfectly right, only you should be saying all this to Galater. It was his own idea to send you to me, I never asked him to do it. And as I never asked for you, I was justified in sending you back again, and I would rather have done it peaceably than by force, but you obviously wouldn’t have that. Why didn’t you come to me at once and speak about it as openly as you do now?’ ‘Because I was on duty, of course,’ said Jeremias. ‘That goes without saying.’ ‘And you’re not on duty now?’ asked K. ‘Not any more,’ said Jeremias. ‘Artur has given in our notice at the castle, or at least the procedure that will finally take us off the job is in progress.’ ‘But you still come in search of me as if you were on duty,’ said K. ‘No,’ said Jeremias, ‘I came in search of you only to set Frieda’s mind at rest. When you left her for those girls, Barnabas’s sisters, she was very unhappy, not so much because of her loss as because of your betrayal, but then again she’d seen it coming long ago, and it had made her suffer severely. I went back to the school window to see if by any chance you’d come back to your senses. But you weren’t there, I saw only Frieda sitting on a school bench crying. So I went in to see her and we came to an agreement. I’m going to be room-service waiter at the Castle Inn, at least until my business at the castle is cleared up, and Frieda will be back behind the bar. That’s better for her. There was no sense in marrying you, not for Frieda. What’s more, you didn’t appreciate the sacrifice she was making for you. And now, good soul, she is still wondering sometimes whether she hasn’t done you wrong, whether perhaps you weren’t with Barnabas’s sisters after all. But of course there could be no doubt where you were, I went to find out once and for all, because after all that agitation Frieda deserves a good night’s rest, and so do I. So I went, and not only did I find you, I could see that those girls were doing just as you wanted like puppets on a string. Especially the brunette*—oh, she’s a real wild-cat, the way she spoke up for you. Well, each to his own taste. Anyway, you didn’t have to go taking the long way round through the garden next door, because I know it myself.’ So what could have been foreseen but not prevented had happened. Frieda had left him. That needn’t necessarily be final; it wasn’t as bad as all that, Frieda could be won back. She was easily influenced by strangers and definitely by those assistants, who thought that Frieda was in the same situation as they were, and that now they had given in their notice Frieda must do the same. But K. had only to appear in person, remind her of all the points in his favour, and she would be remorseful and go back to him, particularly if he could justify his visit to the girls by showing her that he had succeeded in something, and owed it to them. However, although he tried to reassure himself with these reflections when he thought of Frieda, he was not in fact reassured. Only a little while ago he had praised Frieda to Olga, saying that she was his only prop and stay, but she was not a very steady prop and stay; it did not take some powerful man to intervene and rob him of Frieda, only that not very appetizing assistant, a specimen of humanity who sometimes gave the impression of not being properly alive. Jeremias had already begun moving away, and K. called him back. ‘Jeremias,’ he said, ‘I will be perfectly open with you, so please answer one question honestly yourself. We aren’t master and servant any more, and you are not the only one to be glad of it, so am I, which means we have no reason to deceive each other. Here before your eyes I break the switch I had intended for you; I took the way through the garden not for fear of you but to take you by surprise and give you a taste of the switch. Well, don’t bear me a grudge, that’s all over now. If the authorities hadn’t forced you to be my servant, if you’d only been an acquaintance of mine, I am sure we would have got on very well, even if your appearance does bother me a little at times. And now we can make up for our omissions in that respect.’ ‘Do you think so?’ said the assistant, rubbing his tired eyes and yawning. ‘I could explain the whole thing to you in more detail, but I don’t have the time, I must go to Frieda, the child’s waiting for me. She hasn’t gone back to work yet—she wanted to immerse herself in work at once, probably to forget you, but I persuaded the landlord to give her a little time to recover, and we will at least spend that time together. As for your idea, I certainly have no reason to lie to you, but I have no reason to confide in you either. I’m not the same as you, you see. As long as I was your servant of course you were a very important person to me, not on account of your own qualities but because of my job as a servant, and I would have done anything you wanted, but now you are a matter of indifference to me. I’m not touched by your breaking that switch either; it only reminds me what a rough master I had, so it’s no use trying to win me over that way.’ ‘You speak to me like that,’ said K., ‘as if you were perfectly certain you’d never have anything to fear from me again. But that isn’t the case. You’re probably not free of me yet, things aren’t done at such speed here—’ ‘Sometimes they’re done even faster,’ protested Jeremias. ‘Sometimes,’ said K., ‘but there’s nothing to suggest that this is one of those times. At least, neither you nor I have written notice of the termination of your job in our hands. So the procedure is only just starting, and I haven’t yet intervened through my own connections, but I will. If the outcome is not in your favour, well, you didn’t do much beforehand to ingratiate yourself with your master, and I may even have been over-hasty in breaking that willow switch. And you may be puffed up with pride after stealing Frieda from me, but in spite of the respect I feel for your person, even if you feel none for mine any more, I know that if I say a few words to Frieda they will be enough to tear apart the web of lies you wove to catch her. For only lies could turn Frieda against me.’ ‘Those threats don’t alarm me,’ said Jeremias. ‘You don’t want me as an assistant, you’re afraid of me as an assistant, you’re afraid of assistants in general, it was only out of fear that you hit that good soul Artur.’ ‘Maybe,’ said K., ‘but did it hurt him any less because of that? Perhaps I’ll get many similar chances yet to show how afraid I am of you. I see that you don’t enjoy being an assistant, and for my part I really enjoy forcing you to be one, never mind any fear of you I may have. In fact I shall be quite pleased to have you as my assistant on your own this time, without Artur. Then I can devote more attention to you.’ ‘Do you think,’ said Jeremias, ‘that I’m in the least afraid of all that?’ ‘Well,’ said K., ‘you’re certainly a little afraid, and if you have any sense you’re very afraid. Why else haven’t you gone to Frieda already? Tell me, do you love her?’ ‘Love?’ said Jeremias. ‘She’s a good, clever girl, a former lover of Klamm’s, which makes her someone to be respected anyway. And if she keeps begging me to free her from you, why shouldn’t I do her the favour? Particularly as I’m not even doing you any harm, now that you’ve found consolation with Barnabas’s wretched sisters.’ ‘Now I see your fear,’ said K., ‘and a pitiful fear it is too. You’re trying to entangle me in your lies. Frieda asked me for just one thing, to set her free from my servile, lascivious assistants who had run so wild. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to finish doing as she asked, and now I see the consequences of omitting to do so.’ ‘Mr Land Surveyor, sir! Mr Land Surveyor!’ someone shouted down the road. It was Barnabas. He arrived out of breath, but didn’t forget to bow to K. ‘I’ve succeeded,’ he said. ‘Succeeded in what?’ asked K. ‘You mean you’ve delivered my request to Klamm?’ ‘Not that, no,’ said Barnabas. ‘I tried hard, but it just couldn’t be done. I pushed my way to the front, I stood there all day uninvited, so close to the lectern that once a clerk actually pushed me aside because I was standing in his light, I tried to attract attention, which is strictly forbidden, by raising my hand when Klamm looked up, I stayed in the office longer than anyone. In the end I was alone there with the servants, and then I had the pleasure of seeing Klamm come back again, but it wasn’t because of me, he just wanted to look something up in a book, and then he left directly. At last, as I still didn’t move, a servant practically swept me out of the doorway with his broom. I’m telling you all this to make sure you aren’t dissatisfied with what I’ve done again.’ ‘What use is all your industry to me, Barnabas,’ said K., ‘if you weren’t successful?’ ‘Oh, but I was successful,’ said Barnabas. ‘When I left my office—well, I call it my office—I saw a gentleman coming slowly along, apparently from the corridors further inside the building. Otherwise the place was empty, it was already very late. I decided to wait for him; it was a fine opportunity to stay there, in fact I felt like staying there for ever rather than having to bring you bad news. But it was worth waiting for the gentleman anyway, because he was Erlanger.* Don’t you know him? He’s one of Klamm’s principal secretaries. A slight little gentleman with a bit of a limp. He recognized me at once, he’s famous for his memory and his knowledge of human nature; he simply frowns and that’s enough for him to recognize anyone, often including people he’s never met before, people he’s only heard or read about, and he can’t very well ever have seen me, for instance. But even though he recognizes everyone at once, he starts by asking questions as if he wasn’t sure. “Aren’t you Barnabas?” he said to me. Then he asked: “You know the land surveyor, don’t you?” And then he said: “This is handy. I’m just going to the Castle Inn. Tell the land surveyor to call and see me there. I’ll be in Room 15. But he’ll have to come at once. I have only a few hearings to conduct there, and I’ll be going back at five in the morning. Tell him I am very anxious to speak to him.” ’ Suddenly Jeremias set off at a run. Barnabas, who had hardly noticed him before in his excitement, asked: ‘What’s up with Jeremias?’ ‘He wants to get to Erlanger ahead of me,’ said K., running after Jeremias himself. He caught up with him, took his arm firmly, and said: ‘Is it desire for Frieda that’s come over you all of a sudden? I feel exactly the same, so we’ll go at the same pace.’ A small group of men stood outside the dark Castle Inn, two or three of them carrying lanterns, so that you could make out many of their faces. K. saw only one man he knew, Gerstäcker the carrier. Gerstäcker greeted him with the words: ‘So you’re still in the village, are you?’ ‘Yes,’ said K. ‘I’m here indefinitely.’ ‘Well, that’s nothing to do with me,’ said Gerstäcker, coughing hard and turning to the others. It turned out that they were all waiting for Erlanger. Erlanger had arrived, but he was still talking to Momus before receiving the other members of the public. The general conversation turned on the fact that they weren’t allowed to wait inside the inn, but had to stand out here in the snow. To be sure, it wasn’t very cold, but all the same it was thoughtless to leave them waiting outside the house in the night, perhaps for hours. Of course, that was not Erlanger’s fault, he was said to be very easygoing, he probably hardly knew about it, and would certainly have been very angry if he had been told. It was all the fault of the landlady of the Castle Inn, who in her neurotic striving for refinement didn’t want so many members of the public in the Castle Inn all at once. ‘If we must have them here, if they really must come,’ she was in the habit of saying, ‘then for heaven’s sake let them come one after another.’ And she had carried her point, so the members of the public, who at first just waited in a corridor, had to wait on the stairs later, then in the front hall, finally in the bar, and last of all they were thrown out into the street. Even that wasn’t enough for her. She found it intolerable to be ‘always under siege’, as she put it, in her own house. She couldn’t understand why members of the public had to come there at all. ‘To make the steps outside the house dirty,’ an official had once said in answer to her question. He probably spoke in anger, but she had found the idea very plausible, and liked to quote his remark. She was trying to get a building put up opposite the Castle Inn where members of the public could wait, which in fact would suit their own wishes very well. She would have liked it best of all if discussions with the members of the public and hearings had taken place entirely away from the Castle Inn, but the officials opposed any such idea, and if the officials seriously opposed it then of course the landlady couldn’t win, although she did exercise a kind of little tyranny in minor matters, thanks to her tireless yet softly feminine zeal. However, it looked as if the landlady would have to continue putting up with discussions and hearings at the Castle Inn, for the gentlemen from the castle declined to leave the inn to go about their official business when they were in the village. They were always in a hurry, and anyway they came to the village only very much against their will; they had not the faintest desire to prolong the time they spent here beyond what was strictly necessary, so they could not be expected to move temporarily over the street with all their papers, thus losing time, just for the sake of peace and quiet in the Castle Inn. They liked best to do official business in the bar or in their rooms, if possible during a meal, or from their beds either before going to sleep or in the morning, when they felt too tired to get up and wanted to lie in bed a little longer. However, the question of erecting a building where they could wait seemed to be approaching a happy solution, although of course it was a real trial for the landlady—people laughed about that a little—because the building of such a place in itself made many discussions necessary, and the corridors of the inn were hardly ever empty.
‘No, but isn’t it enough that I’m here in the bar?’ She obviously had a raging thirst for praise, and she seemed to want to slake it on K. ‘To be sure,’ said K., ‘here in the bar you’re doing the landlord’s work for him.’ ‘So I am,’ she said, ‘and I began as a dairymaid at the Bridge Inn.’ ‘With those soft hands,’ said K., half questioning, and not sure himself whether he was merely flattering her or she had really made a conquest of him. ‘No one ever noticed them at the time,’ she said, ‘and even now—’ K. looked enquiringly at her, but she shook her head and would say no more. ‘Of course you have your secrets,’ said K., ‘and you won’t discuss them with someone you’ve known for only half an hour, and who has had no chance to tell you anything about himself yet.’ But that, it turned out, was the wrong thing to say; it was as if he had woken Frieda from a slumber in which she liked him, for she took a small piece of wood out of the leather bag that hung from her belt, stopped up the peephole with it, and said to K., visibly forcing herself not to let him see how her mood had changed: ‘As for you, I know everything about you. You are the land surveyor.’ And she added: ‘But now I must get on with my work,’ and went back behind the counter, while now and then one of the men here rose to have his empty glass refilled. K. wanted another quiet word with her, so he took an empty glass from a stand and went over to her. ‘One more thing, Miss Frieda,’ he said, ‘it’s extraordinary, and takes great strength of mind, to work your way up from dairymaid to barmaid, but is that the height of ambition for a person like you? No, what a silly question. Your eyes—don’t laugh at me, Miss Frieda—speak not so much of past struggles as of struggles yet to come. But there are great obstacles in the world, they become greater the greater your goals, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of in making sure you have the help of a man who may be small and uninfluential, but is none the less ready to fight. Perhaps we could talk quietly some time, without so many eyes watching us.’ ‘I don’t know what you’re after,’ she said, and this time, against her will, her tone of voice spoke not of the triumphs of her life but of its endless disappointments. ‘Are you by any chance trying to take me away from Klamm? Good heavens!’ And she struck her hands together. ‘You see right through me,’ said K., as if worn out by such distrust. ‘Yes, I secretly intended to do that very thing. I wanted you to leave Klamm and become my lover instead. Well, now I can go. Olga!’ cried K. ‘We’re going home.’ Olga obediently slid down from the cask, but she couldn’t get away at once from her friends, as they surrounded her. Now Frieda said quietly, with a dark glance at K.: ‘When can I speak to you?’ ‘Can I stay the night here?’ asked K. ‘Yes,’ said Frieda. ‘Can I stay here now?’ ‘You’d better go out with Olga so that I can get the men here to leave. Then you can come back in a little while.’ ‘Good,’ said K., and waited impatiently for Olga. But the men here weren’t letting her go; they had invented a dance with Olga at its centre. They danced in a circle, and whenever they all uttered a shout in unison one of them went up to her, put one hand firmly around her waist, and whirled her about several times. The round dance became faster and faster, the raucous, avid shouting gradually merged into what was almost a single cry. Olga, who had tried to break through the circle earlier, smiling, was now staggering from one man to another, with her hair coming down. ‘The kind of people they send me here!’ said Frieda, biting her thin lips in annoyance. ‘Who are they?’ asked K. ‘Klamm’s servants,’ said Frieda. ‘He always brings them with him, and their presence upsets me. I hardly know what I was discussing with you just now, Mr Land Surveyor, and if there was anything wrong in it you must forgive me. I blame it on the company here, they are the most contemptible and repulsive people I know, and here am I, obliged to fill up their beer glasses. How often I’ve asked Klamm to leave them behind! I have to put up with other gentlemen’s servants too—he might think of me for once, but whatever I say it’s no use, an hour before he arrives they come barging in like cattle into the cowshed. And now they really must go to the stables where they belong. If you weren’t here I’d open that door and Klamm himself would have to drive them out.’ ‘Doesn’t he hear them, then?’ asked K. ‘No,’ said Frieda. ‘He’s asleep.’ ‘What!’ cried K. ‘Asleep? When I looked into the room he was awake and sitting at the desk.’ ‘He’s still sitting there like that,’ said Frieda. ‘He was already asleep when you saw him—would I have let you look in otherwise? That’s the position he sleeps in, the gentlemen sleep a great deal, it’s hard to understand. Then again, if he didn’t sleep so much, how could he stand those men? Well, I’ll have to chase them out myself.’ And picking up a whip* from the corner, she took a single awkward leap high into the air, rather like a lamb gambolling, and made for the dancers. At first they turned to her as if she were a new dancer joining them, and indeed, for a moment it looked as if Frieda would drop the whip, but then she raised it again. ‘In the name of Klamm,’ she cried, ‘out into the stables, all of you, out into the stables.’ Now they saw that she was serious, and in a kind of terror that K. couldn’t understand, they began crowding away to the back of the room. A door was pushed open by the first to get there, night air blew in, and they all disappeared with Frieda, who was obviously driving them across the yard to the stables. However, in the sudden silence K. heard footsteps in the corridor. For the sake of his own safety he went round behind the bar counter. The only possible place to hide was underneath it. He had not, to be sure, been forbidden to stay in the bar, but as he was planning to spend the night here he didn’t want to be seen now. So when the door really was opened, he got under the counter. Of course there was a danger of being discovered there too, but he could always say he had hidden from the boisterous servants, which was a not improbable excuse. It was the landlord who came in. ‘Frieda!’ he called, pacing up and down the room several times. Luckily Frieda soon came back and did not mention K., but just complained of the common people here, and went round behind the bar in her attempt to find K., who managed to touch her foot. Now he felt sure of himself. Since Frieda did not mention K., in the end the landlord had to. ‘So where’s the land surveyor?’ he asked. In fact he was a courteous man, whose manners had benefited by constant and relatively free intercourse with those of much higher rank than himself, but he spoke to Frieda with particular respect, which was all the more noticeable because during their conversation he was still very much an employer talking to a member of his staff, and a very impertinent one at that. ‘I’d quite forgotten the land surveyor,’ said Frieda, planting her small foot on K.’s chest. ‘He must have left long ago.’ ‘But I never saw him,’ said the landlord, ‘and I was out in the front hall almost all the time.’ ‘Well, he isn’t here,’ said Frieda coolly, pressing her foot down harder on K. There was something cheerful and easygoing in her demeanour which K. hadn’t noticed at all before, and now, improbably, it gained the upper hand as she suddenly bent down to K., smiling and saying: ‘Maybe he’s hidden down here.’ She quickly kissed him and then popped up again, saying regretfully: ‘No, he isn’t here.’ The landlord too sprang a surprise by saying: ‘I don’t like it at all, I wish I knew for certain whether he’s gone. It’s not just because of Mr Klamm, it’s because of the rules. And the rules apply to you, Miss Frieda, just as they do to me. You stay here in the bar, I’ll search the rest of the house. Goodnight, and sleep well!’ He had hardly left the room when Frieda turned off the electric light and joined K. under the bar. ‘My darling! My sweet darling!’ she whispered, but she did not touch K. She lay on her back as if swooning with desire, and spread her arms wide. Time must have seemed endless to her in her amorous bliss, and she sighed rather than sang a little song of some kind.* Then she took alarm, for K. remained quiet, lost in thought, and she began tugging at him like a child. ‘Come on, I’m stifling down here.’ They embraced one another, her little body burned in K.’s hands, they rolled, in a semi-conscious state from which K. tried constantly but unsuccessfully to surface, a little way on, bumped into Klamm’s door with a hollow thud, then lay there in the puddles of beer and the rubbish* covering the floor. Hours passed as they lay there, hours while they breathed together and their hearts beat in unison, hours in which K. kept feeling that he had lost himself, or was further away in a strange land than anyone had ever been before, a distant country where even the air was unlike the air at home, where you were likely to stifle in the strangeness of it, yet such were its senseless lures that you could only go on, losing your way even more. So it was not a shock to him, at least at first, but a cheering sign of dawn when a voice from Klamm’s room called for Frieda in a deep, commanding, but indifferent tone. ‘Frieda,’ said K. in Frieda’s ear, alerting her to the summons. In what seemed like instinctive obedience, Frieda was about to jump up, but then she remembered where she was, stretched, laughed quietly, and said: ‘I won’t go, I’m never going back to him.’ K. was about to argue and urge her to go to Klamm, and he began to look for what remained of her blouse, but he couldn’t get the words out, he was too happy to have Frieda in his hands, happy but fearful too, for it seemed to him that if Frieda left him he would lose all he possessed. And as if K.’s consent had given her strength, Frieda clenched her fist, knocked on the door with it, and called: ‘I’m with the land surveyor! I’m with the land surveyor!’ At this Klamm fell silent. But K. got up, knelt down beside Frieda, and looked around him in the dim light that comes before dawn. What had happened? Where were his hopes? What could he expect of Frieda now that all was revealed? Instead of making very cautious progress, with his rival’s stature and the greatness of his own goal in mind, he had spent a whole night here rolling about in puddles of beer. The smell of the beer dazed him. ‘What have you done?’ he asked quietly. ‘We’re both lost.’ ‘No,’ said Frieda, ‘I’m the one who’s lost, but I’ve gained you. Calm down, see how those two are laughing.’ ‘Who?’ asked K., and turned. On the bar counter sat his two assistants, looking as if they hadn’t slept well but were still cheerful. It was the cheerfulness that comes from doing your duty punctiliously. ‘What do you want here?’ cried K., as if they were to blame for everything, and he looked round for the whip that Frieda had used yesterday evening. ‘We had to go looking for you,’ said the assistants, ‘and since you didn’t come back to us at the inn we tried Barnabas’s house and finally found you here. We’ve been sitting here all night. Being your assistants isn’t an easy job.’ ‘I need you by day, not by night,’ said K. ‘Go away!’ ‘It’s day now,’ they said, and stayed put. In fact it really was day, the doors into the yard were opened and the servants came pouring in with Olga, whom K. had quite forgotten. Olga was as lively as she had been yesterday evening, untidy as her hair and clothes were, and even in the doorway her eyes sought K. ‘Why didn’t you take me home?’ she asked, almost in tears. ‘For the sake of a woman like that!’ she answered herself, repeating it several times. Frieda, who had disappeared for a moment, came back with a small bundle of clothes, and Olga stepped sadly aside. ‘We can go now,’ said Frieda, and it was obvious that she meant they should go to the Bridge Inn. They formed a little procession, K. leading the way with Frieda and the assistants following. The gentleman’s servants showed evidence of great dislike for Frieda, understandably, since she had been so stern and domineering with them earlier. One even took his stick and acted as if he wasn’t going to let her pass unless she jumped over it, but a glance from her was enough to deter him. Out in the snow, K. breathed a sigh of relief. The pleasure of being out of doors was so great that it made the difficulty of the path tolerable this time, and if K. had been alone it would have been even better. On reaching the inn he went straight to his room and lay down on the bed, Frieda made herself a bed on the floor beside it, and the assistants, who had come in with them, were turned out, but then they came back through the window. K. was too tired to send them away again. The landlady came up specially to welcome Frieda, who called her ‘dear little mother’, and their meeting was a bafflingly warm affair, with much kissing and hugging. There was certainly little peace and quiet in the small room, and the maids often came trudging in, wearing men’s boots, to fetch or remove something. If they needed some item of theirs from the bed, which was stuffed full of all sorts of things, they unceremoniously pulled it out from under K. They spoke to Frieda as one of themselves. In spite of all this bustle, K. stayed in bed all day and all night. Frieda did him various small services. When he finally got up the next morning, feeling very much refreshed, it was already the fourth day* since he had arrived in the village. He would have liked to speak to Frieda in private about the assistants. She laughed and joked with them now and then, but their mere intrusive presence troubled him. Not that they were demanding; they had settled down on the floor in a corner of the room, lying on two old skirts; their aim, as they often assured Frieda, was to avoid disturbing their boss the land surveyor, and to take up as little room as possible. They made various attempts to achieve that end, although with much chuckling and whispering, by folding their arms and legs and huddling together, so that in the twilight all you could see in their corner was a large and indeterminate tangled mass. None the less, K.’s daylight experiences showed him that they were observing him very attentively and constantly staring at him, whether they made telescopes of their hands in an apparently childish game and played similar nonsensical tricks, or just looked his way while they devoted most of their attention to the care of their beards, of which they thought a great deal, each comparing his with the other’s time and again for length and profusion, and getting Frieda to judge between them. K. often watched the three of them with complete indifference from his bed. When he felt strong enough to leave it, they all came hurrying to serve him. Much as he might defend himself against their attentions, he had not yet recovered entirely. He noticed that when he realized that he was to some extent dependent on them, so he had to let them do as they pleased. And it was not so very unpleasant to drink the good coffee that Frieda had brought to his table, or to warm himself by the stove that Frieda had lit, to make the eager, if clumsy, assistants run up and down stairs ten times to fetch water for washing, soap, a comb and a mirror, and finally, because K. had expressed a quiet wish that might possibly indicate that he wanted it, a small glass of rum. In the middle of all this ordering them about and being served, K. said, more in an easygoing mood than with any real hope of success: ‘Go away, you two, I don’t need anything more just now, and I’d like to talk to Miss Frieda alone.’ And on seeing no actual opposition to this idea in their faces, he added, to make it up to them: ‘And then the three of us will go and see the village mayor. Wait for me in the saloon downstairs.’ Curiously enough, they obeyed, except that before leaving the room they said: ‘We could always wait here.’ To which K. replied: ‘I know, but I don’t want you to.’ It was annoying, and yet in a way K. was also glad of it, that when Frieda came to sit on his lap as soon as the assistants had gone, she said: ‘What do you have against the assistants, darling? We needn’t keep any secrets from them. They’re good, faithful souls.’ ‘Oh, faithful!’ said K. ‘Watching me all the time. It’s pointless, it’s horrible.’ ‘I think I understand you,’ she said, putting her arms around his neck, and she was about to say something else but could not go on. The chair on which they were sitting was close to the bed, and they staggered over to the bed and fell on it. There they lay, although not as absorbed in each other as on their first night together. She was in search of something and so was he, they tried to get at it almost angrily, grimacing, butting each other’s breasts with their heads, and their embraces and writhing bodies did not bring oblivion but reminded them of their duty to go on searching. Like dogs desperately scraping at the ground, they worked away at one another’s bodies, helplessly disappointed as they tried to retrieve the last of their bliss, sometimes licking each other’s faces with their tongues. Only weariness brought them to lie still, feeling gratitude to each other. Then the maids came upstairs. ‘Oh, just look at them lying here,’ said one of the maids, and in her kindness threw a length of cloth over them. When K. freed himself from the cloth later and looked around, the assistants were back in their corner, which did not surprise him, and were warning each other to preserve a serious demeanour, pointing to K. and saluting—but in addition the landlady was sitting beside the bed knitting a stocking. The fiddly little job didn’t seem to suit her huge figure, which almost blotted out the light. ‘I’ve been waiting a long time,’ she said, and raised her broad face, which had many of the lines of old age on it, but in its vast size was still smooth and might once have been beautiful. Her words sounded like an accusation, which was unfair, for K. hadn’t asked her to come. So he merely nodded his head in acknowledgement, and sat up. Frieda got up too, left K., and went to lean against the landlady’s armchair. ‘Madam,’ said K. fretfully, ‘couldn’t you put off whatever it is you want to say until I come back from seeing the village mayor? I have an important meeting with him.’ ‘Mr Land Surveyor, this is more important, take my word for it,’ said the landlady. ‘Your meeting is probably just about some job or other to be done, but I’m concerned with a human being, my dear maid Frieda here.’ ‘Oh,’ said K., ‘well then, yes, though I don’t know why you can’t leave our own affairs to the two of us.’ ‘Out of love, out of concern, that’s why,’ said the landlady, drawing Frieda’s head to her. As the girl stood there, she came only up to the seated landlady’s shoulder. ‘Since Frieda has such faith in you,’ said K., ‘there’s nothing I can do about that. And as Frieda only recently called my assistants faithful, then we’re all friends together. So I can tell you, madam, that I think the best thing would be for Frieda and me to get married, and very soon too. Sad to say, very sad to say, I won’t be able to compensate Frieda for what she has lost through me: her position at the Castle Inn and the friendship of Klamm.’ Frieda looked up. Her eyes were full of tears, and there was no expression of triumph in them. ‘Why me? Why was I chosen?’ ‘Why?’ asked K. and the landlady at the same time. ‘She’s confused, poor child,’ said the landlady. ‘Bewildered by too much happiness and unhappiness coming all at once.’ And as if to confirm what the landlady had said, Frieda now ran to K., kissed him wildly as if there were no one else in the room, and then fell on her knees in front of him weeping, and still embracing him. As K. stroked Frieda’s hair with both his hands, he said to the landlady: ‘You seem to agree with me?’ ‘You’re an honourable man,’ said the landlady, and her own voice sounded tearful. She looked a little weary, and was breathing heavily, but she found the strength to say: ‘Now, there are certain assurances that you must give Frieda, for much as I respect you, you’re a stranger here, you can’t call on anyone to vouch for you, we don’t know your domestic circumstances, so assurances are necessary, as I am sure you will realize, my dear sir. You yourself have pointed out how much Frieda stands to lose by throwing in her lot with yours.’ ‘Of course, assurances, naturally,’ said K. ‘They’d better be made in front of a notary, I expect, but perhaps some of the count’s authorities will want to be involved as well. What’s more, there is something else I absolutely must do before the marriage. I must speak to Klamm.’ ‘That’s impossible,’ said Frieda, straightening up slightly and pressing close to K. ‘What an idea!’