Das Schloss; The Castle

Das Schloss; The Castle (written 1922, published 1926)

Kafka’s final (and arguably his best) novel is a timeless classic, ‘timeless’ because it blurs historical time: in it, pre-modern elements (peasants, tanners) and modern elements (telephones, photographs, fire engines) coexist. K.’s own past seems relatively unimportant and we learn little about it. According to Edwin Muir, one of the first translators of Kafka, the novel takes place in a changeless present, and K.’s progress is never-ending and ‘infinitely incomplete’ [quoted in Ritchie Robertson, ‘Edwin Muir as critic of Kafka’, Modern Language Review 79:3 (1984), 638-52 (p. 650)]. There is indeed something circular, almost tautological about the narrative of The Castle. On the very first page, Schwarzer tells K. that, since the village belongs to the castle, being in the village means (to a certain extent, ‘gewissermaßen’) being in the castle. Soon afterwards, the schoolteacher tells K. that there is no difference between the peasants and the castle. If this is so, and if castle and village form one organic system, then K. is (to a certain extent) already in the castle from the very beginning, although not in the sense that he wishes.

The trouble is that K. does not seem to know what he wants. He says in Chapter One that he always wants to be free. But he also wants to be accepted into the castle, which is not a free place. It seems that K. wants to be accepted by society but he wants to be accepted on his own terms as an individual and not on society’s terms. There is a contradiction here – he wants to integrate and yet remain autonomous at the same time. K. is so focused on the castle that he rarely bothers with self-reflection, and the free indirect speech is selective, it hides as much as it reveals. In fact, the use of free indirect speech distances us from K. and everyone else.

K.’s relationship with Frieda is portrayed brilliantly. He falls in love with her, perhaps for the most superficial of reasons – her connection with Klamm – and, after a few brief moments of happiness, spends most of his time avoiding her. Frieda is a brave woman who loses her job and risks being ostracised when she boldly announces to Klamm that ‘Ich bin beim Landvermesser!’; ‘I’m with the land surveyor!’, and who even suggests to K. that they emigrate to the south of France, or to Spain. But Frieda is also an informer: Olga tells K. that Frieda was the one who told the villagers that Amalia tore up Sortini’s letter and threw it into the messengers’ face. And Frieda continues to denounce Amalia and Olga, which shows her jealousy and spite.

K. claims to be a land surveyor (Landvermesser). This may well be a lie, but it is nevertheless appropriate. K. never actually engages in land surveying but he faces the problem of negotiating the topography and customs of a group of people who are utterly foreign to him. The only ‘terrain’ he ever manages to survey at close quarters is Frieda’s body; when K. sleeps with her he feels that he has gone ‘soweit in der Fremde, wie vor ihm noch kein Mensch’; ‘further into foreign territory than anyone has ever been before’. This is surely an epiphany but it is all too soon forgotten by K. who is ‘undankbar’; ‘ungrateful’.

The novel remains incomplete, which is appropriate because it provides an astonishing analysis of human incompletess.

For an excellent synthesis of existing criticism on this novel, see Stephen D. Dowden, Kafka’s Castle and the Critical Imagination (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1995).

Further Reading in English

Stefan Andriopoulos, Possessed: Hypnotic Crimes, Corporate Fiction, and the Invention of Cinema (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), Chapter 5 on The Castle and The Trial

Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Narrative Voice (the “he”, the neutral)’ and ‘The Wooden Bridge (repetition, the neutral)’, in Blanchot, The Infinite Conversation, trans. by Susan Hanson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,1993), pp. 379-96

Harold Bloom (ed.), Kafka’s The Castle (New York: Chelsea House, 1988)

Mark F. Blum, ‘Will Tempered by Empathy Establishes Community: The Significance of Momus in Kafka’s Das Schloß’, Colloquia Germanica 26:2 (1993), 109-34

Elizabeth Boa, ‘The Castle’, in The Cambridge Companion to Kafka, ed. by Julian Preece (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 61-79

Dorrit Cohn, ‘K. enters The Castle – On the Change of Person in Kafka’s Manuscript’, Euphorion 62 (1968), 28-45

Bill Dodd, Kafka: Das Schloss (London: Grant & Cutler, 2003)

Stephen D. Dowden, Kafka’s Castle and the Critical Imagination (Columbia, SC: Camden House, 1995)

David R. Ellison, ‘Proust and Kafka: On the Opening of Narrative Space’, Modern Language Notes 101, no. 5, (1986), 1135-67

Marjanne E. Goozé, ‘Texts, Textuality and Silence in Franz Kafka’s Das Schloß’, Modern Language Notes 98:3 (1983), 337-50

John Hibberd, ‘Das Schloß and the Problems of the Self-defining Subject’, Neophilologus 79:4 (1995), 629-43

Anne G. Hoffmann, ‘Plotting the Landscape: Stories and Storytellers in The Castle’, Twentieth Century Literature 27:3 (1981), 289-307

Kenneth Hughes (ed. and trans.), Franz Kafka: an Anthology of Marxist Criticism (Hanover and London: University Press of New England, 1981)

Markus Kohl, ‘Struggle and Victory in Kafka’s Das Schloß’, Modern Language Review 101 (2006), 1035-43

Matěj Král, ‘Schloß - an Essay on Unity, Exclusion, and Concealment’, Oxford German Studies 47:4 (2018), 457-85

Jakob Lothe, ‘Space, Time and Narrative: From Thomas Hardy to Franz Kafka and J.M. Coetzee’, in Literary Landscapes: From Modernism to Postcolonialism, ed. by Attie De Lange, Gail Fincham, Jeremy Hawthorn and Jakob Lothe (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), pp. 1-18

J. Hillis Miller, 'The Sense of an Un-ending: The Resistance to Narrative Closure in Kafka's Das Schloß', in Franz Kafka: Narration, Rhetoric, and Reading, ed. by Jakob Lothe, Beatrice Sandberg and Ronald Speirs (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 2011), pp. 108-22

Eric Miller, ‘Without a Key: The Narrative Structure of Das Schloß’, The Germanic Review 66:3 (1991), 132-40

Peter F. Neumeyer (ed.), Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Castle (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1969)

Marjorie E. Rhine, ‘Manufacturing Discontent: Mapping Traces of Industrial Space in Kafka’s Haptic Narrative Landscapes’, Journal of the Kafka Society of America 29 (2005), 65-70

Ritchie Robertson, ‘Edwin Muir as critic of Kafka’, Modern Language Review 79:3 (1984), 638-52

Avital Ronell, ‘Doing Kafka in The Castle: A Poetics of Desire’, in Avital Ronell, Finitude’s Score: Essays for the End of the Millenium (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1994), pp. 183-206

Richard Sheppard, On Kafka’s Castle: A Study (London: Croom Helm, 1973)

Ron Smetana, ‘The Peasantry and the Castle: Kafka’s Social Psychology’, Twentieth Century Literature 37:1 (1991), 54-58

Jonathan Ullyot, ‘Kafka’s Grail Castle’, German Quarterly 83 (2010), 431-48

Larry Vaughan, ‘Self-Identity, Shared Identity, and the Divine Presence in Kafka’s Das Schloß’, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 54 (2004), 319-30

Deirdre Vincent, ‘“I’m the King of the Castle…”: Franz Kafka and the Well-Tempered Reader’, Modern Language Studies 17:4 (1987), 60-75

Further Reading in French

Marthe Robert, L’Ancien et le nouveau. De Don Quichotte à Franz Kafka (Paris: Grasset, 1963)

Further Reading in German

Matthias Schuster, Franz Kafkas Handschrift zum ‘Schloss’ (Heidelberg: Winter, 2012)