A Stoker Metamorphosed!
He used to relish the company of Depression since childhood, as if it were his only friend! He even armed himself up with a weapon to overcome the depression… it was not a sword or a gun, but a pen! He had been repeatedly and gravely injured by the pen, as well! He had tried to escape from his own self. However, the pen did not allow him to do so! While drowning in Ocean of Grief, he had Gregor Samsa or Josef K as friends! Franz Kafka (July 3, 1883 – June 3, 1924) used to flow like the current of the Danube, from one story to another… and, from one woman to the other!
The German-speaking Bohemian Czech novelist and short-story writer, widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th Century literature, used to make himself believe that he could not write novels! Just before his demise, Kafka handed over almost all of his manuscripts to his friend and biographer Max Brod. As he used to consider those as a pile of rubbish, he had asked Brod to destroy the manuscripts after his death. However, Brod did not follow his instruction…
Kafka may be considered to be a womanizer of sorts, as he could not live without the company of women… He had fallen in love many a time before leaving this world at the age of 40! He wanted to give all his love to a lady. However, he had to experience heartbreaks, as his special girls left him. He had, in this process, developed deep doubts not only about his writing, but also about his appearance, masculinity and even sexual ability! As Kafka was not a good-looking person (as per the conventional terms), an inferiority complex had existed there in his mind.
The Czech-origin Kafka was born in Prague, the Capital of undivided Czechoslovakia, in 1883. He is said to have visited the sex-workers on a regular basis, apart from reading pornographic materials. Perhaps, these could have helped him overcome depression, although momentarily… However, he also had developed a feeling of guilt in this process! He did not want to live as a slave to the female body, or rather his wanton desire, but at the same time, he failed to ignore the sexual urge that gushed inside him…
As many of his girls left him, Kafka concentrated on writings. His relation with his father Hermann Kafka was also not so simple (as perceived by him), as the latter used to interfere in every aspect of his son’s life. Kafka, due to lack of self-confidence, had few options other than acting according to his father’s advice, which were order to him.
One day, Kafka had a chance to meet a young lady at his friend Brod’s place and fell in love with her. Felice Bauer (November 18, 1887 – October 15, 1960) was Brod’s cousin. They were in a relationship for six years, although they met just three-four times during that period. They used to exchange letters on a regular basis. Kafka mentioned his mental condition and frustration in those letters. Felice wanted to meet him. However, Kafka, seemingly, had repeatedly refused to meet her. He thought that it would be important to stay alone in order to write quality pieces, and love might not allow him to enjoy loneliness and create something new.
Letters written to Felice, which were later published as a book – titled ‘Letters to Felice’, should not be considered as love letters, but as Kafka’s introspection! Those letters help readers realise the pain of a person, who was also a lover. In a letter written on March 25, 1914, Kafka had written: “When you pose that question now I can only say: I love you, F., to the limits of my strength, in this respect you can trust me entirely. But for the rest, F., I do not know myself completely. Surprises and disappointments about myself follow each other in endless succession.“
Kafka had been engaged to Felice, twice. However, he did not marry her. He had done so for the first time after coming under pressure from his father. Later, he refused to marry Felice because of tuberculosis, which ultimately claimed his life. During those six years of his courtship with Felice, Kafka authored some great novels, including Amerika (1911-14, unfinished work), The Judgment (1912), The Stoker (1913), The Trial (1914-15) and The Metamorphosis (1915).
It is evident in many of his letters that Kafka was lacking self-confidence as far as relationships were concerned. Once, he wrote Felice: “There are times when I am convinced I am unfit for any human relationship.” In another letter, he was seen mentioning: “You will never get unadulterated happiness from me; only as much unadulterated suffering as one could wish for.”
During his courtship with Felice that was conducted largely through letters, Kafka had reportedly fallen in love with Grete Bloch (March 21, 1892 – May 1944), a friend of Felice. Brod had claimed that his friend had a physical relationship with Grete, and that Kafka fathered her baby boy in 1914! Grete, in her letter to Brod, had revealed that! Later, Kafka’s biographers refused to accept this theory. They were of the opinion that he was not Kafka’s child.
Surprisingly, three of Kafka’s five fiancées had perished in Concentration Camps designed during the time of Hitler. The Gestapo had detained Grete in 1944 and sent her to Auschwitz, where she breathed her last! Kafka kept on writing even after his separation from Felice and Grete. In 1919, he arrived in the town of Silesia on the banks of the River Elbe for treatment. There, he met and fell in love with Julie Wohryzek (February 28, 1891 – August 26, 1944), a lady suffering from cancer. However, his father Hermann did not approve Julie as Kafka’s wife. Later in 1944, Julie was captured by the Nazis and was sent to Auschwitz. She, too, died in the concentration camp!
Once, Kafka received a letter at his Prague residence. The sender stated: “I want to translate your ‘The Stoker’. If you allow me, I will be obliged.” The sender was Milena Jesenská (August 10, 1896 – May 17, 1944), a Vienna-based Czech journalist and writer. Kafka not only gave her the requisite permission, but also his heart. He used to send letter to her every day. Later, those were published as ‘Letters to Milena’. The tale of depression was, as usual, wrapped in the tinge of love! At that period of time, Milena’s relation with her husband touched an all-time low! She met Kafka twice. He wanted Milena to stay with him. However, she was not ready to divorce her husband. Finally, Kafka came out of this relationship, but not before completing his novel, The Castle. In a letter to Milena, Kafka had stated: “Written kisses don’t reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts.” Here, intense and strange insecurity were hidden behind an apparent joke! It may be noted that Milena had recognised Kafka’s writing genius before others did.
Later, Milena was arrested when the German troops invaded Czechoslovakia. The following year, she was sent to the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Like Grete and Julie, Milena, too, died at the camp! Kafka’s health condition had deteriorated after his breakup with Milena, as the affliction with tuberculosis took its toll on his body. Still, he fell in love for one last time. This time, Dora Diamant (March 4, 1898 – August 15, 1952) appeared in his life.
Kafka had met Dora at a resort on the shores of the Baltic Sea in 1923. The lonely, exhausted and gravely ill Kafka, then, wanted Dora to be with him. He had already quit his job at an insurance company due to his illness. Kafka had no idea about how long he would be able to fight the tuberculosis. However, he found an active comrade in the psychological battle! His friend and biographer Brod wrote that had Kafka met Dora earlier, she might have made his desire to live even stronger!
As Kafka wanted to end the long bitterness with his father, he decided to leave Prague. In fact, Dora had advised him to live in Berlin. She used to run the Family, as Kafka was not in a situation to earn. He dedicated his time to writing. In a rare first, Kafka was seen enjoying a happy life with Dora. In her publication on Dora – titled ‘Kafka’s Last Love’, Dora’s relative Kathi Diamant wrote: “Max Brod visited Franz and Dora when they were living in Berlin and he described their life together as an idol.” She added: “Kafka was happy. He was writing and he was filled with optimism. He would do shadow figures on the wall to entertain Dora, he would read to Dora from his books over and over until she knew them by heart. He was a wonderful performer and had a great dramatic ability. She loved to listen and watch him. She also had a dramatic ability, as she became an actress.” The author further mentioned: “So, they entertained each other and it seemed to be that they had no conflict. Perhaps they did – we don’t have the letters and the notebooks. But from Dora’s memories it was as perfect a relationship as one could have with someone who is dying. And from Max’s point of view, Dora gave Kafka a whole new last chapter of his life.”
Kafka had desired to start a new life with Dora. They even planned to open a restaurant in Palestine! As per their plan, Dora would be the cook at that restaurant, and Kafka would serve as waiter. As Kafka’s health condition deteriorated in early 1924, his family members brought him back to Prague. Once again, he started sending letters, twice daily, to Dora. She was seen accompanying Kafka when the latter was admitted to a hospital in Vienna in April 1924. From the hospital bed, he wrote to Dora’s father, informing him that he would like to marry Dora. Although Dora’s Jewish father did not approve the proposal, Dora tied the nuptial knot with Kafka!
By that time, Kafka realised that he would have to leave this world! He, then, went on to strike a secret deal with Dr Robert Klopstock, according to which, he had thought of three ways to accept death. Firstly, he was to be killed by administering a lethal injection. Secondly, he, along with Dora, would die. Thirdly, Dora would be sent somewhere else before the arrival of his final moment. The doctor accepted the third option. As per the plan, Dora was sent out to deliver a letter in the mailbox on June 3, 1924. However, Kafka became restless without finding her by his side. At his request, someone called Dora, who returned with flowers in her hand! With tears in her eyes, she sat in front of Kafka.
There was not much time, as the author was all set to leave this world. While inhaling the scent of those flowers, he closed his eyes. Kafka passed away peacefully, leaving Dora and his manuscripts, forever…
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