Kafka: Gender, Class, and Race in the Letters and Fictions

By Elizabeth Boa | Go to book overview
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4
An Intercourse of Ghosts Kafka's Letters to Milena Jesenská

Kafka's correspondence with Milena Jesenská began in April 1920 when he was spending four months in Merano while on leave from work on grounds of ill health. The two had met casually the previous year, and Milena had written to ask Kafka's permission to translate some of his work into Czech. The correspondence continued till January 1921, with a coda of a few later letters, the last sent on Christmas Day in 1923 from Steglitz in Berlin where just before the onset of his final illness Kafka, having finally made the dreamed of move from Prague and family to Berlin, was living with Dora Dymant, a young Jewish woman from Galicia; the couple dreamed of going to Palestine, but it was back to Prague and then to a clinic in Austria that they moved when Kafka's condition worsened. Dora Dymant devotedly tended Kafka to the end. During the correspondence Kafka and Milena met twice, first in June 1920 in Vienna where Milena lived with her first husband, Ernst Pollak, then in August in Gmünd, a town on the border between Austria and Czechoslovakia. The first meeting of four days was happy, the second of just a day was disastrous. Roughly a quarter of the correspondence dates from before the meeting in Vienna and a quarter from after Gmünd. Although the correspondence stopped apart from a few odd letters, Milena did come several times to Prague in 1921, in the spring of 1922, and they met for the last time in June 1923. That Kafka showed Milena the letter he wrote but never sent to his father and in October 1921 gave her the diaries he had kept over the last decade was a sign of his great trust in her. In 1939 just before her arrest by the Germans, Milena handed over the diaries to Max Brod and gave her letters from Kafka to Willy Haas.

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