Collected stories, p.1
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       Collected Stories, p.1

           Franz Kafka
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Collected Stories



  Copyright © 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1953, 1954, 1958, 1971 by Schocken Books Inc., New York

  English translation in the UK Copyright © 1933, 1949, 1954, 1973 by Martin Secker & Warburg Limited

  Excerpts from The Diaries of Franz Kafka Copyright © 1948, 1949 by Schocken Books Inc., New York

  The Stoker is the first chapter of America, Copyright © 1946, 1954 by Schocken Books Inc., New York (in the UK, from the Definitive Edition published by Martin Secker & Warburg Limited, 1949)

  This selection first published by Everyman’s Library, 1993

  Introduction, Bibliography and Chronology Copyright © 1993 by Everyman’s Library

  Typography by Peter B. Willberg

  Fourteenth printing (US)

  All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York. Published in the United Kingdom by Everyman’s Library, Northburgh House, 10 Northburgh Street, London EC1V 0AT, and distributed by Random House (UK) Ltd.

  US website: www.randomhouse/everymans

  ISBN: 978-0-679-42303-4 (US)

  978-1-85715-145-9 (UK)

  A CIP catalogue reference for this book is available from the British Library

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Kafka, Franz, 1883–1924.

  [Short stories. English]

  The collected stories / Franz Kafka.

  p. cm.—(Everyman’s library)

  ISBN 978-0-679-42303-4

  eBook ISBN: 978-0-375-71269-2

  I. Title.

  PT2621.A26A2 1993 93-1858





  Title Page



  A Note on the Text

  Select Bibliography


  Stories Published in Kafka’s Lifetime


  Children on a Country Road

  Unmasking a Confidence Trickster

  The Sudden Walk


  Excursion into the Mountains

  Bachelor’s Ill Luck

  The Tradesman

  Absent-minded Window-gazing

  The Way Home


  On the Tram



  Reflections for Gentlemen-jockeys

  The Street Window

  The Wish to be a Red Indian

  The Trees



  THE STOKER (1913)




  The New Advocate

  A Country Doctor

  Up in the Gallery

  An Old Manuscript

  Before the Law

  Jackals and Arabs

  A Visit to a Mine

  The Next Village

  An Imperial Message

  The Cares of a Family Man

  Eleven Sons

  A Fratricide

  A Dream

  A Report to an Academy

  The Bucket Rider (1921)


  First Sorrow

  A Little Woman

  A Hunger Artist

  Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk

  Stories Unpublished in Kafka’s Lifetime

  Description of a Struggle

  Wedding Preparations in the Country

  The Student

  The Angel

  The Village Schoolmaster [The Giant Mole]

  Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor

  The Hunter Gracchus

  The Proclamation

  The Bridge

  The Great Wall of China

  The Knock at the Manor Gate

  An Ancient Sword

  New Lamps

  My Neighbor

  A Crossbreed [A Sport]

  A Splendid Beast

  The Watchman

  A Common Confusion

  The Truth About Sancho Panza

  The Silence of the Sirens


  The City Coat of Arms



  At Night

  The Problem of Our Laws

  The Conscription of Troops

  The Test

  The Vulture

  The Helmsman

  The Top


  A Little Fable



  A Chinese Puzzle

  The Departure


  Investigations of a Dog

  The Married Couple

  Give It Up!

  On Parables

  The Burrow


  ‘I have eleven sons,’ begins the story called ‘Eleven Sons’, and the entire piece consists of a description of the sons:

  The first is outwardly very plain, but serious and clever; yet, although I love him as I love all my children, I do not rate him very highly. His mental processes seem to me to be too simple. He looks neither to right nor to left, nor into the far distance; he runs around all the time, or rather revolves, within his own little circle of thoughts.

  The second is handsome, slim, well made; one draws one’s breath with delight to watch him with a fencing foil. He is clever too, but has experience of the world as well; he has seen much, and therefore even our native country seems to yield more secrets to him than to the stay-at-home. Yet I am sure that this advantage is not only and not even essentially due to his travels, it is rather an attribute of his own inimitable nature, which is acknowledged for instance by everyone who has ever tried to copy him in, let us say, the fancy high dive he does into the water, somersaulting several times over, yet with almost violent self-control … [D]espite all this (I ought really to feel blessed with such a son) my attachment to him is not untroubled. His left eye is a little smaller than his right and blinks a good deal; only a small fault, certainly, and one which even lends more audacity to his face than it would otherwise have … Of course, it is not the physical blemish that worries me, but a small irregularity of the spirit that somehow corresponds to it, a kind of stray poison in the blood, a kind of inability to develop to the full the potentialities of his nature which I alone can see. On the other hand, this is just what makes him again my own true son, for this fault of his is a fault of our whole family and in him it is only too apparent.

  My third son …

  In a letter to Max Brod Kafka wrote: ‘The eleven sons are quite simply eleven stories I am working on this very moment.’ Inevitably, of course, critics have tried to relate each son to a specific story known to us. But this is misguided. Not because Kafka was having Brod on – it would be unlike him to do a thing like that – but because it implies that once we have matched the sons to the stories we have dealt with this story. Yet even if we knew – if Kafka had left us a list, say – which stories he was referring to with each description, that would only be the start rather than the end of our enquiry.

  It is of course quite common for writers to talk about their books as their children, even to single one out as a favourite child, and we all know more or less what they mean. What is disconcerting about Kafka, here and everywhere else, is his literalism and his detail. It is already difficult enough to determine how to respond to these descriptions if we take them at face value – difficult because this ostensibly calm and scrupulous father-
narrator seems to see so much more and more deeply than any of us is likely to be able to do even where those closest to us are concerned; and because the physical, mental and moral qualities of the sons seem to be so bafflingly intertwined. (‘He looks neither to right nor to left, nor into the far distance; he runs around all the time, or rather revolves, within his own little circle of thoughts.’) But our bafflement increases a hundredfold if we try to think of these sons as stories. Can stories really be imagined in this way? What can it mean to say that a story executes a fancy high dive so perfectly that it cannot be imitated, yet has a weakness in its left eye which seems to correspond to a deeper, a moral blemish, ‘a kind of inability to develop the full potentialities of [its] nature’? What led Kafka to think of his fiction in this way, and what does it tell us about the fiction itself?

  Throughout his life Kafka commented, in his diary and in letters to friends, on his own work and on that of writers he happened to be reading. These remarks suggest that though Kafka, unlike Proust, Eliot and Virginia Woolf, wrote no critical essays, he was anything but a naive untutored genius. Like them he had obviously thought long and hard about his craft, and his comments on literature, like theirs, carry an authority denied most critics because it clearly matters so profoundly.

  We have also got so used to thinking of him as a morbid and even masochistic individual that it is worth stressing that many of his observations are as punchy and self-confident as Eliot’s. Thus on 8 October 1917 he noted in his diary that ‘The Stoker’ (which he had written in the great creative outburst of September–October 1912 and which later became the first chapter of his unfinished novel, Amerika) was ‘a sheer imitation of Dickens’. He goes on, however, forsaking syntax in his eagerness to get his thoughts down on paper:

  Dickens’s opulence and great, careless prodigality, but in consequence passages of awful insipidity in which he wearily works over effects he has already achieved. Gives one a barbaric impression because the whole does not make sense, a barbarism that I, it is true, thanks to my weakness and wiser for my epigonism, have been able to avoid. There is a heartlessness behind his sentimentally overflowing style. These rude characterisations which are artificially stamped on everyone and without which Dickens would not be able to get on with his story even for a moment.

  And he adds that Robert Walser (and this may surprise those who have tried to compare Kafka and Walser) ‘resembles [Dickens] in his use of vague, abstract metaphors’.

  This kind of balanced, even self-confident judgment, should make us wary of taking Kafka’s frequent self-criticism as nothing but self-torment, based on his perennially poor view of himself. May it not be that Kafka knows better? Of course, like every writer, he has a tendency to think of his own work as worse than it in fact is – but what does ‘than it in fact is’ mean in this sentence? We may rate his work very highly, but perhaps our standards are simply not high enough.

  ‘Great antipathy to “Metamorphosis”,’ he writes in his diary on 19 January 1914. ‘Unreadable ending. Imperfect almost to its very marrow.’ ‘Just now read the beginning [of ‘Blumfeld, an Elderly Bachelor’],’ he notes on 9 February 1915. ‘It is ugly and gives me a headache. In spite of all its truth it is wicked, pedantic, mechanical, a fish barely breathing on a sandbank.’ A few days before (18 January) he had started his diary in typical vein: ‘Headache, slept badly. Incapable of sustained, concentrated work.’ But then: ‘In spite of that began a new story; I was afraid I should spoil the old ones. Four or five stories now stand on their hindlegs in front of me like the horses in front of Schumann, the circus ringmaster, at the beginning of the performance.’

  How are we to take this? These horses can perform amazing, quite unhorsy feats, such as standing on their hind legs in front of their master, Kafka, ready to obey him. On the other hand they clearly have less natural life in them than their brethren who run on the open plain. Perhaps, though, it is the best that can be expected of story-horses: at least they are alive, not mechanical monsters or fish expiring on the bank.

  But what leads Kafka to describe stories in this way?

  First of all we have to realize that words themselves are alive for Kafka to an uncanny degree. In only the second sentence of the diary he jots down a phrase he has overheard and comments on it: ‘ “If he should forever ahsk me.” The ah, released from the sentence, flew off like a ball on the meadow.’ Words for him are always flying free of the sentences that contain them, or lying in wait to trip up the speaker, as when he describes himself dictating a report and,

  towards the end, where a climax was intended, I got stuck and could do nothing but look at K., the typist, who, in her usual way, became especially lively, moved her chair about, coughed, tapped on the table … Finally I have the word ‘stigmatize’ and the appropriate sentence, but still hold it all in my mouth with disgust and a sense of shame as though it were raw meat, cut out of me …

  (3 October 1911)

  Words not only lie in wait to trip you up, they can warp even so natural a thing as filial love. On 24 October 1911 he notes that perhaps he has not always loved his mother as she deserved ‘only because the German language prevented it’. The word Mutter, he goes on,

  is peculiarly German for the Jew, it unconsciously contains, together with the Christian splendour Christian coldness also, the Jewish woman who is called ‘Mutter’ therefore becomes not only comic but strange. Mama would be a better name if only one didn’t imagine ‘Mutter’ behind it.

  At the same time the mere names of people he was attached to were capable of unleashing extraordinary torrents of feeling and prose, as in this passage from a letter to Milena:

  Milena (what a rich heavy name, almost too full to be lifted, and in the beginning I didn’t like it much, it seemed to me a Greek or Roman gone astray in Bohemia, violated by Czech, cheated of its accent, and yet in colour and form it is marvellously a woman, a woman whom one carries in one’s arms out of the world, out of the fire, I don’t know which, and she presses herself willingly and trustingly into your arms, only the strong accent on the ‘i’ is bad, doesn’t the name keep leaping away from you? Or is it perhaps only the lucky leap which you yourself make with your burden?)

  What must be noted about all these remarks is that they have nothing of the virtuoso quality Nabokov displays in his evocation of Lolita’s name at the start of Lolita. What is disturbing about them is that we are never quite sure – as with the eleven sons – how much is being read into a word or name and how much is being drawn out of it. As always with Kafka, surface and depth, the literal and the metaphorical, mingle alarmingly.

  Words threaten to make the sentences in which they appear fly apart; they conceal and reveal, acting as conduits to the depths of character and of life itself or as obstacles on the way to such depths. What is at issue is never the beauty of the word but something far more mysterious and difficult to articulate. What he is after in his writing, he notes in January 1911, is ‘a description in which every word would be linked to my life, which I would draw to my heart and which would transport me out of itself’. But that, unfortunately, is an ideal which is for most of the time beyond his reach. ‘Wrote badly,’ he confides to his diary on 20 October 1911, ‘without really arriving at that freedom of true description which releases one’s foot from the experienced.’ On 5 November he records his bitterness and sense of isolation as Max Brod read out to a group of friends ‘my little motor-car story’:

  The disordered sentences of this story with holes into which one could stick both hands; one sentence sounds high, one sentence sounds low, as the case may be, one sentence rubs against another like the tongue against a hollow or false tooth; one sentence comes marching up with so rough a start that the entire story falls into sulky amazement.

  He dreams then of being able one day to write something ‘large and whole, well shaped from beginning to end’, feeling that the story would then be able to detach itself from him ‘and it would be possible for me calmly and with ope
n eyes, as a blood relation of a healthy story, to hear it read’. As things stand though, he ends sadly, ‘every little piece of the story runs around homeless and drives me away from it in the opposite direction’.

  Unfortunately we don’t know what the ‘little motor-car story’ was, but there are quite a few examples in the diaries of fragments of narrative followed by Kafka’s caustic comments on them. ‘Only the billowing overcoat remains,’ he writes on 12 March 1912, ‘everything else is made up.’ But what does ‘made up’ mean here? Is not the whole fragment ‘made up’ by Kafka?

  Two days earlier he had tried out a slightly longer story:

  He seduced a girl in a small place in the Iser mountains where he spent a summer to restore his delicate lungs. After a brief effort to persuade her, incomprehensibly, the way lung cases sometimes act, he threw the girl – his landlord’s daughter, who liked to walk with him in the evening after work – down in the grass on the river bank and took her as she lay there unconscious with fright. Later he had to carry water from the river in his cupped hands and pour it over the girl’s face to restore her. ‘Julie, but Julie’, he said countless times, bending over her. He was ready to accept complete responsibility for his offence and was only making an effort to make himself realize how serious his situation was. Without thinking about it he could not have realized it. The simple girl who lay before him, now breathing regularly again, her eyes still closed because of fear and embarrassment, could make no difficulty for him; with the tip of his toe, he, the great, strong person, could push the girl aside. She was weak and plain, could what had happened to her have any significance that would last even until tomorrow? Would not anyone who compared the two of them have come to this conclusion? The river stretched calmly between the meadows and fields to the distant hills. There was still sunshine only on the slope of the opposite shore. The last clouds were drifting out of that clear evening sky.

  Here too his comment follows immediately:

  Nothing, nothing. This is the way I raise up ghosts before me. I was involved, even if only superficially, only in the passage, ‘Later he had …’, mostly in the ‘pour’. For a moment I thought I saw something real in the description of the landscape.


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