[Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was a
German-speaking Bohemian novelist and short-story writer, who acclaimed great
fame in world literature after his death.]
Author's Name: FRANZ KAFKA
WRITER : FRANZ KAFKA
IT WAS a Sunday morning in the very height of spring. Georg
Bendemann, a young merchant, was sitting in his own room on the first floor of
one of a long row of small, ramshackle houses stretching beside the river which
were scarcely distinguishable from each other in height and coloring. He had
just finished a letter to an old friend of his who was now living abroad, had
put it into its envelope in a slow and dreamy fashion, and with his elbows
propped on the writing table was gazing out of the window at the river, the
bridge, and the hills on the farther bank with their tender green.
He was thinking about his friend, who had actually run away
to Russia some years before, being dissatisfied with his prospects at home. Now
he was carrying on a business in St. Petersburg, which had flourished to begin
with but had long been going downhill, as he always complained on his
increasingly rare visits. So he was wearing himself out to no purpose in a
foreign country, the unfamiliar full beard he wore did not quite conceal the
face Georg had known so well since childhood, and his skin was growing so
yellow as to indicate some latent disease. By his own account he had no regular
connection with the colony of his fellow countrymen out there and almost no
social intercourse with Russian families, so that he was resigning himself to
becoming a permanent bachelor.
What could one write to such a man, who had obviously run off
the rails, a man one could be sorry for but could not help. Should one advise
him to come home, to transplant himself and take up his old friendships
again-there was nothing to hinder him-and in general to rely on the help of his
friends? But that was as good as telling him, and the more kindly the more
offensively, that all his efforts hitherto had miscarried, that he should
finally give up, come back home, and be gaped at by everyone as a returned
prodigal, that only his friends knew what was what and that he himself was just
a big child who should do what his successful and home-keeping friends
prescribed. And was it certain, besides, that all the pain one would have to
inflict on him would achieve its object? Perhaps it would not even be possible
to get him to come home at all-he said himself that he was now out of touch
with commerce in his native country-and then he would still be left an alien in
a foreign land embittered by his friends' advice and more than ever estranged
from them. But if he did follow their advice and then didn't fit in at home-not
out of malice, of course, but through force of circumstances-couldn't get on
with his friends or without them, felt humiliated, couldn't be said to have
either friends or a country of his own any longer, wouldn't it have been better
for him to stay abroad just as he was? Taking all this into account, how could one
be sure that he would make a success of life at home?
For such reasons, supposing one wanted to keep up
correspondence with him, one could not send him any real news such as could
frankly be told to the most distant acquaintance. It was more than three years
since his last visit, and for this he offered the lame excuse that the
political situation in Russia was too uncertain, which apparently would not
permit even the briefest absence of a small businessman while it allowed
hundreds of thousands of Russians to travel peacefully abroad. But during these
three years Georg's own position in life had changed a lot. TWO years ago his
mother had died, since when he and his father had shared the household
together, and his friend had of course been informed of that and had expressed
his sympathy in a letter phrased so dryly that the grief caused by such an
event, one had to conclude, could not be realized in a distant country. Since
that time, however, Georg had applied himself with greater determination to the
business as well as to everything else.
Perhaps during his mother's lifetime his father's insistence
on having everything his own way in the business had hindered him from
developing any real activity of his own, perhaps since her death his father had
become less aggressive, although he was still active in the business, perhaps
it was mostly due to an accidental run of good fortune-which was very probable
indeed-but at any rate during those two years the business had developed in a
most unexpected way, the staff had had to be doubled, the turnover was five
times as great; no doubt about it, further progress lay just ahead.
But Georg's friend had no inkling of this improvement. In
earlier years, perhaps for the last time in that letter of condolence, he had
tried to persuade Georg to emigrate to Russia and had enlarged upon the
prospects of success for precisely Georg's branch of trade. The figures quoted
were microscopic by comparison with the range of Georg's present operations.
Yet he shrank from letting his friend know about his business success, and if
he were to do it now retrospectively that certainly would look peculiar.
So Georg confined himself to giving his friend unimportant
items of gossip such as rise at random in the memory when one is idly thinking
things over on a quiet Sunday. All he desired was to leave undisturbed the idea
of the home town which his friend must have built up to his own content during
the long interval. And so it happened to Georg that three times in three fairly
widely separated letters he had told his friend about the engagement of an
unimportant man to an equally unimportant girl, until indeed, quite contrary to
his intentions, his friend began to show some interest in this notable event.
Yet Georg preferred to write about things like these rather
than to confess that he himself had got engaged a month ago to a Fräulein
Frieda Brandenfeld, a girl from a well-to-do family. He often discussed this
friend of his with his fiancée and the peculiar relationship that had developed
between them in their correspondence. "So he won't be coming to our
wedding," said she, "and yet I have a right to get to know all your
friends." "I don't want to trouble him," answered Georg,
"don't misunderstand me, he would probably come, at least I think so, but
he would feel that his hand had been forced and he would be hurt, perhaps he
would envy me and certainly he'd be discontented and without being able to do
anything about his discontent he'd have to go away again alone. Alone-do you
know what that means?" "Yes, but may he not hear about our wedding in
some other fashion?" "I can't prevent that, of course, but it's
unlikely, considering the way he lives." "Since your friends are like
that, Georg, you shouldn't ever have got engaged at all." "Well, we're
both to blame for that; but I wouldn't have it any other way now." And
when, breathing quickly under his kisses, she still brought out: "All the
same, I do feel upset," he thought it could not really involve him in
trouble were he to send the news to his friend. "That's the kind of man I
am and he'll just have to take me as I am," he said to himself, "I
can't cut myself to another pattern that might make a more suitable friend for
And in fact he did inform his friend, in the long letter he
had been writing that Sunday morning, about his engagement, with these words:
"I have saved my best news to the end. I have got engaged to a Fräulein
Frieda Brandenfeld, a girl from a well-to-do family, who only came to live here
a long time after you went away, so that you're hardly likely to know her.
There will be time to tell you more about her later, for today let me just say
that I am very happy and as between you and me the only difference in our
relationship is that instead of a quite ordinary kind of friend you will now
have in me a happy friend. Besides that, you will acquire in my fiancée, who
sends her warm greetings and will soon write you herself, a genuine friend of
the opposite sex, which is not without importance to a bachelor. I know that
there are many reasons why you can't come to see us, but would not my wedding
be precisely the right occasion for giving all obstacles the go-by? Still,
however that may be, do just as seems good to you without regarding any
interests but your own."
With this letter in his hand Georg had been sitting a long
time at the writing table, his face turned toward the window. He had barely
acknowledged, with an absent smile, a greeting waved to him from the street by
a passing acquaintance.
At last he put the letter in his pocket and went out of his
room across a small lobby into his father's room, which he had not entered for
months. There was in fact no need for him to enter it, since he saw his father
daily at business and they took their mid-day meal together at an eating house;
in the evening, it was true, each did as he pleased, yet even then, unless
Georg-as mostly happened-went out with friends or, more recently, visited his
fiancée, they always sat for a while, each with his newspaper, in their common
It surprised Georg how dark his father's room was even on
this sunny morning. So it was overshadowed as much as that by the high wall on
the other side of the narrow courtyard. His father was sitting by the window in
a corner hung with various mementoes of Georg's dead mother, reading a
newspaper which he held to one side before his eyes in an attempt to overcome a
defect of vision. On the table stood the remains of his breakfast, not much of
which seemed to have been eaten.
"Ah, Georg," said his father, rising at once to
meet him. His heavy dressing gown swung open as he walked and the skirts of it
fluttered around him.-"My father is still a giant of a man," said
Georg to himself.
"It's unbearably dark here," he said aloud.
"Yes, it's dark enough," answered his father.
"And you've shut the window, too?"
"I prefer it like that."
"Well, it's quite warm outside," said Georg, as if
continuing his previous remark, and sat down.
His father cleared away the breakfast dishes and set them on
"I really only wanted to tell you," went on Georg,
who had been vacantly following the old man's movements, "that I am now
sending the news of my engagement to St. Petersburg." He drew the letter a
little way from his pocket and let it drop back again.
"To St. Petersburg?" asked his father.
"To my friend there," said Georg, trying to meet
his father's eye.-In business hours he's quite different, he was thinking, how
solidly he sits here with his arms crossed.
"Oh yes. To your friend," said his father, with
"Well, you know, Father, that I wanted not to tell him
about my engagement at first. Out of consideration for him, that was the only
reason. You know yourself he's a difficult man. I said to myself that someone
else might tell him about my engagement, although he's such a solitary creature
that that was hardly likely-I couldn't prevent that-but I wasn't ever going to
tell him myself."
"And now you've changed your mind?" asked his
father, laying his enormous newspaper on the window sill and on top of it his
spectacles, which he covered with one hand.
"Yes, I've been thinking it over. If he's a good friend
of mine, I said to myself, my being happily engaged should make him happy too.
And so I wouldn't put off telling him any longer. But before I posted the
letter I wanted to let you know."
"Georg," said his father, lengthening his toothless
mouth, "listen to me! You've come to me about this business, to talk it
over with me. No doubt that does you honor. But it's nothing, it's worse than
nothing, if you don't tell me the whole truth. I don't want to stir up matters
that shouldn't be mentioned here. Since the death of our dear mother certain
things have been done that aren't right. Maybe the time will come for
mentioning them, and maybe sooner than we think. There's many a thing in the
business I'm not aware of, maybe it's not done behind my back-I'm not going to
say that it's done behind my back-I'm not equal to things any longer, my
memory's failing, I haven't an eye for so many things any longer. That's the
course of nature in the first place, and in the second place the death of our
dear mother hit me harder than it did you.-But since we're talking about it,
about this letter, I beg you, Georg, don't deceive me. It's a trivial affair,
it's hardly worth mentioning, so don't deceive me. Do you really have this
friend in St. Petersburg?"
Georg rose in embarrassment. "Never mind my friends. A
thousand friends wouldn't make up to me for my father. Do you know what I
think? You're not taking enough care of yourself. But old age must be taken
care of. I can't do without you in the business, you know that very well, but
if the business is going to undermine your health, I'm ready to close it down
tomorrow forever. And that won't do. We'll have to make a change in your way of
living. But a radical change. You sit here in the dark, and in the sitting room
you would have plenty of light. You just take a bite of breakfast instead of
properly keeping up your strength. You sit by a closed window, and the air
would be so good for you. No, Father! I'll get the doctor to come, and we'll
follow his orders. We'll change your room, you can move into the front room and
I'll move in here. You won't notice the change, all your things will be moved
with you. But there's time for all that later, I'll put you to bed now for a
little, I'm sure you need to rest. Come, I'll help you to take off your things,
you'll see I can do it. Or if you would rather go into the front room at once,
you can lie down in my bed for the present. That would be the most sensible
Georg stood close beside his father, who had let his head
with its unkempt white hair sink on his chest.
"Georg," said his father in a low voice, without
Georg knelt down at once beside his father, in the old man's
weary face he saw the pupils, overlarge, fixedly looking at him from the
corners of the eyes.
"You have no friend in St. Petersburg. You've always
been a leg-puller and you haven't even shrunk from pulling my leg. How could
you have a friend out there! I can't believe it."
"Just think back a bit, Father," said Georg,
lifting his father from the chair and slipping off his dressing gown as he
stood feebly enough, "it'll soon be three years since my friend came to
see us last. I remember that you used not to like him very much. At least twice
I kept you from seeing him, although he was actually sitting with me in my
room. I could quite well understand your dislike of him, my friend has his
peculiarities. But then, later, you got on with him very well. I was proud because
you listened to him and nodded and asked him questions. If you think back
you're bound to remember. He used to tell us the most incredible stories of the
Russian Revolution. For instance, when he was on a business trip to Kiev and
ran into a riot, and saw a priest on a balcony who cut a broad cross in blood
on the palm of his hand and held the hand up and appealed to the mob. You've
told that story yourself once or twice since."
Meanwhile Georg had succeeded in lowering his father down
again and carefully taking off the woolen drawers he wore over his linen
underpants and his socks. The not particularly clean appearance of his
underwear made him reproach himself for having been neglectful. It should have
certainly been his duty to see that his father had clean changes of underwear.
He had not yet explicitly discussed with his bride-to-be what arrangements
should be made for his father in the future, for they had both of them silently
taken it for granted that the old man would go on living alone in the old
house. But now he made a quick, firm decision to take him into his own future
establishment. It almost looked, on closer inspection, as if the care he meant
to lavish there on his father might come too late.
He carried his father to bed in his arms. It gave him a
dreadful feeling to notice that while he took the few steps toward the bed the
old man on his breast was playing with his watch chain. He could not lay him
down on the bed for a moment, so firmly did he hang on to the watch chain.
But as soon as he was laid in bed, all seemed well. He
covered himself up and even drew the blankets farther than usual over his
shoulders. He looked up at Georg with a not unfriendly eye.
"You begin to remember my friend, don't you?" asked
Georg, giving him an encouraging nod.
"Am I well covered up now?" asked his father, as if
he were not able to see whether his feet were properly tucked in or not.
"So you find it snug in bed already," said Georg,
and tucked the blankets more closely around him.
"Am I well covered up?" asked the father once more,
seeming to be strangely intent upon the answer.
"Don't worry, you're well covered up."
"No!" cried his father, cutting short the answer,
threw the blankets off with a strength that sent them all flying in a moment
and sprang erect in bed. Only one hand lightly touched the ceiling to steady
"You wanted to cover me up, I know, my young sprig, but
I'm far from being covered up yet. And even if this is the last strength I
have, it's enough for you, too much for you. Of course I know your friend. He
would have been a son after my own heart. That's why you've been playing him
false all these years. Why else? Do you think I haven't been sorry for him? And
that's why you had to lock yourself up in your office-the Chief is busy, mustn't
be disturbed-just so that you could write your lying little letters to Russia.
But thank goodness a father doesn't need to be taught how to see through his
son. And now that you thought you'd got him down, so far down that you could
set your bottom on him and sit on him and he wouldn't move, then my fine son
makes up his mind to get married!"
Georg stared at the bogey conjured up by his father. His
friend in St. Petersburg, whom his father suddenly knew too well, touched his
imagination as never before. Lost in the vastness of Russia he saw him. At the
door of an empty, plundered warehouse he saw him. Among the wreckage of his
showcases, the slashed remnants of his wares, the falling gas brackets, he was
just standing up. Why did he have to go so far away!
"But attend to me!" cried his father, and Georg,
almost distracted, ran toward the bed to take everything in, yet came to a stop
"Because she lifted up her skirts," his father
began to flute, "because she lifted her skirts like this, the nasty
creature," and mimicking her he lifted his shirt so high that one could
see the scar on his thigh from his war wound, "because she lifted her
skirts like this and this you made up to her, and in order to make free with
her undisturbed you have disgraced your mother's memory, betrayed your friend,
and stuck your father into bed so that he can't move. But he can move, or can't
And he stood up quite unsupported and kicked his legs out.
His insight made him radiant.
Georg shrank into a corner, as far away from his father as
possible. A long time ago he had firmly made up his mind to watch closely every
least movement so that he should not be surprised by any indirect attack, a
pounce from behind or above. At this moment he recalled this long-forgotten resolve
and forgot it again, like a man drawing a short thread through the eye of a
"But your friend hasn't been betrayed after all!"
cried his father, emphasizing the point with stabs of his forefinger.
"I've been representing him here on the spot."
"You comedian!" Georg could not resist the retort,
realized at once the harm done and, his eyes starting in his head, bit his
tongue back, only too late, till the pain made his knees give.
"Yes, of course I've been playing a comedy! A comedy!
That's a good expression! What other comfort was left to a poor old widower?
Tell me-and while you're answering me be you still my living son-what else was
left to me, in my back room, plagued by a disloyal staff, old to the marrow of
my bones? And my son strutting through the world, finishing off deals that I
had prepared for him, bursting with triumphant glee, and stalking away from his
father with the closed face of a respectable businessman! Do you think I didn't
love you, I, from whom you are sprung?"
Now he'll lean forward, thought Georg, what if he topples and
smashes himself! These words went hissing through his mind.
His father leaned forward but did not topple. Since Georg did
not come any nearer, as he had expected, he straightened himself again.
"Stay where you are, I don't need you! You think you
have strength enough to come over here and that you're only hanging back of
your own accord. Don't be too sure! I am still much the stronger of us two. All
by myself I might have had to give way, but your mother has given me so much of
her strength that I've established a fine connection with your friend and I
have your customers here in my pocket!"
"He has pockets even in his shirt!" said Georg to
himself, and believed that with this remark he could make him an impossible
figure for all the world. Only for a moment did he think so, since he kept on
"Just take your bride on your arm and try getting in my
way! I'll sweep her from your very side, you don't know how!"
Georg made a grimace of disbelief. His father only nodded,
confirming the truth of his words, toward Georg's corner.
"How you amused me today, coming to ask me if you should
tell your friend about your engagement. He knows it already, you stupid boy, he
knows it all! I've been writing to him, for you forgot to take my writing
things away from me. That's why he hasn't been here for years, he knows
everything a hundred times better than you do yourself, in his left hand he
crumples your letters unopened while in his right hand he holds up my letters
to read through!"
In his enthusiasm he waved his arm over his head. "He
knows everything a thousand times better!" he cried.
"Ten thousand times!" said Georg, to make fun of
his father, but in his very mouth the words turned into deadly earnest.
"For years I've been waiting for you to come with some
such question! Do you think I concern myself with anything else? Do you think I
read my newspapers? Look!" and he threw Georg a newspaper sheet which he
had somehow taken to bed with him. An old newspaper, with a name entirely
unknown to Georg.
"How long a time you've taken to grow up! Your mother
had to die, she couldn't see the happy day, your friend is going to pieces in
Russia, even three years ago he was yellow enough to be thrown away, and as for
me, you see what condition I'm in. You have eyes in your head for that!"
"So you've been lying in wait for me!" cried Georg.
His father said pityingly, in an offhand manner: "I
suppose you wanted to say that sooner. But now it doesn't matter." And in
a louder voice: "So now you know what else there was in the world besides
yourself, till now you've known only about yourself! An innocent child, yes,
that you were, truly, but still more truly have you been a devilish human
being! -- And therefore take note: I sentence you now to death by
Georg felt himself urged from the room, the crash with which
his father fell on the bed behind him was still in his ears as he fled. On the
staircase, which he rushed down as if its steps were an inclined plane, he ran
into his charwoman on her way up to do the morning cleaning of the room.
"Jesus!" she cried, and covered her face with her apron, but he was
already gone. Out of the front door he rushed, across the roadway, driven
toward the water. Already he was grasping at the railings as a starving man
clutches food. He swung himself over, like the distinguished gymnast he had
once been in his youth, to his parents' pride. With weakening grip he was still
holding on when he spied between the railings a motor-bus coming which would
easily cover the noise of his fall, called in a low voice: "Dear parents,
I have always loved you, all the same," and let himself drop.
At this moment an unending stream of traffic was just going
over the bridge.