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Franz Kafka: Der Schloss (The Castle)

Despite the fact that this novel was never finished, it still remains one of the most powerful novels of the century. The story concerns K. He has no other name (though, apparently, in the original, the book was written in the first person). The story is quite simple. K. arrives in the village which, he soon learns, belongs to the Castle. Nothing can be done in the village, without authorization from the Castle. K. is a land surveyor, apparently hired by the Castle. (Is K. the same as Joseph K. of The Trial? Possibly is the only answer, though we have several examples of confusing names in this book – two Friedas, two Hanses.) The entire book is spent with K. trying – unsuccessfully – to get into the Castle. He never finds the way there, never gets his authorization. How long is he there? Nominally a week but time does not seem to pass in the same way as in the real world (another 20th century favorite theme). His relations with the village are also unsatisfactory. Though he does establish a sexual liaison with one of the Friedas, this, too, does not work out and he is generally looked on with suspicion by the villagers. (The women in the book are generally seen as mistresses and whores and not as wives and mothers.)

But the plot is virtually irrelevant to this book. What counts is K’s bewilderment and befuddlement as he is unable to extricate himself from his system and do something simple like find his way into the Castle. The functionaries that work for the Castle, the Castle’s complicated geography (which K. is never able to work out), lack of security about his own role and place – all conspire to leave K. trapped without being able to see the traps. And isn’t that what we all face?

Publishing history

First published 1926 by Kurt Wolff Verlag
First English translation 1930 by Secker & Warburg
Translated by Willa Muir and Edwin Muir, later editions by Mark Harman, J.A. Underwood, Anthea Bell, John R. Williams