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November 1998

Franz Kafka & the trip to Spindelmühle

by Eric Ormsby

On The Castle & its translations

There is a photograph still extant of Franz Kafka arriving in Spindelmühle, the winter resort where on the same evening of January 27, 1922, he began writing The Castle. Like the country doctor of his own incomparable story or like the formidable Klamm in The Castle itself, Kafka made the trip rather laboriously by horse-drawn sleigh; in the photo he stands, pinched and shy, by the rear runners, his ordinary street shoes heaped with snow. A faint smile appears to play upon his lips, but it is difficult to tell for the print is blurred. It is evening; snow is falling. Drifting snowflakes speckle the flanks of the two black horses that pull his sleigh. Kafka arrived in this north Bohemian town near the source of the Elbe just as K. himself, the truculent surveyor of The Castle, arrived. “It was late evening when K. arrived,” the novel begins in the new translation by Mark Harman, “the village lay under ...

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Eric Ormsby's latest book is The Baboons of Hada, a selection of his poems (Carcanet).


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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 17 November 1998, on page 32

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