Saturday, November 20, 2010

Dear Franz

It’s the anniversary of the day Franz Kakfa, then 29, wrote to his girlfriend, Felice Bauer, and swore he would stop writing to her. According to the always wonderful Writer’s Almanac, Kakfa spent five years wooing Bauer, mostly through letters. He wrote more often than she did and this alone caused him to despair. The despair would then manifest itself as it did in this letter he wrote 98 years ago today:
Dearest, what have I done that makes you torment me so? No letter again today, neither by the first mail nor the second.

You do make me suffer! While one written word from you could make me happy! You've had enough of me; there is no other explanation, it's not surprising after all; what is incomprehensible, though, is that you don't write and tell me so.

If I am to go on living at all, I cannot go on vainly waiting for news of you, as I have done these last few interminable days. But I no longer have any hope of hearing from you.

I shall have to repeat specifically the farewell you bid me in silence.
I should like to throw myself bodily on this letter, so that it cannot be mailed, but it must be mailed.

I shall expect no further letters.

As Writer’s Almanac points out, Kafka’s “silence did not last long.” There would, in fact, be many letters after that one.

While Kafka and Bauer were engaged twice, they were never married. However it’s widely thought that the most significant love of Kafka’s life was Milena Jesenka and it would be Jesenka who wrote an obituary of Kafka when he died from tuberculosis in June of 1924:
He wrote books that belong to the most outstanding works of German literature. They express the struggles of today's generation, but without any tendentious words. They are truthful, naked, and painful, so that even where they speak symbolically, they are almost naturalistic. They are full of dry mockery and the sensitive gaze of a person who has seen the world so clearly that he could not bear it and had to die; he did not want to retreat and save himself, as others do, even by the noblest intellectual subconscious errors.


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