The Unlikely Love Letters Of Franz Kafka
In letters to two of the women with whom he had his longest relationships, Franz Kafka showed an unexpected way of loving.
Love and language are inseparable. It is possible that, in the same way that language makes us human, it also perhaps provides the structure on which love is built. Perhaps for that reason it is no coincidence that love poems came about, or the fact that two people with inclinations toward writing and literature should become great lovers.
The most unlikely case in this imaginary club of writers who turned to the art of love is Franz Kafka. In general, the idea that we have of the Czech writer is that of a tormented, sickly, weak, and docile man, all attributes that go against those of the archetypical lover. He is even seen as a kind of nemesis of, for example, the legendary Giacomo Casanova, as he does not appear to even express an interest in sex and all that surrounds it.
But despite all that there are at least two testimonies that prove his incursions into that sphere, both of them collected as letters and sealed with the names of the women to whom Kafka wrote correspondence: Letters to Milena and Letters to Felice.
Milena Jesenská was a writer and journalist with whom Kafka began a correspondence in 1919 due to the fact that she wanted to translate the story “The Stoker” into Czech. For almost a year, Kafka opened up to Milena with passion, but also with pain, as his declarations of love were almost always accompanied by a kind of a cry for help in the face of all the torment he suffered.
The day is so short. It goes by and ends with you and apart from you there are only trifles. There is just a short time left for me to write to the real Milena, because the more real Milena has been here all day, in the room, on the balcony, in the clouds.
Milena was married, however, and despite Kafka’s peculiar longing, she never consented to leave her husband and embark on an adventure with the writer. In fact, during that year of correspondence they only met in person on a couple of occasions, once in Vienna, where they spent four days together, and once in Gmünd, where they spent just one day in each other’s company.
You are right to reproach me, in the name of fear, for my conduct in Vienna; but fear is really peculiar, I do not know its inner laws, all I know is its hand on my throat and that is really the most terrible thing that I have ever experienced and will ever experience.
So this is the storm that continually threatened in the woods. And, nevertheless, we were fine. Let us continue living under its threat, as there can be no other way.
Despite all that, the letters to Milena are considered a little less intense compared to those he wrote to Felice Bauer, the only woman whom he was on the point of marrying on two occasions. Chronologically, the relationship with Felice took place beforehand and lasted longer, beginning in 1922 and ending in 1927.
During that time, Kafka wrote more than 500 letters to Felice, and in which he also offered his strange way of loving, a winding and steep road carved from illness, literature and which was excessively rigorous for him. Studying those letters, Elias Canetti called that stormy relationship between Franz and Felice “Kafka’s other trial,” alluding to the author’s novel but above all to the way in which he saw his engagement to Felice: oppressive, fatal, like a trial that weighed on his mind regarding what would inevitably happen.
If I want the impossible, I want it in its entirety. Entirely alone, dearest, I wanted us to be entirely alone on this earth, entirely alone under the sky, and to lead my life, my life that is yours, without distraction and with complete concentration, in you.
If the characters in my novel found out about your jealousy they would flee from me […]. My novel is me, I am my stories; where would there be, I ask you, any room for jealousy? […] Writing is what keeps me alive, what keeps me clinging to this boat on which you are standing. What is sad is that I am unable to hoist myself aboard. But understand, dear Felice, if I lost writing I would have to lose everything, including you.
Does this count as a love letter? Perhaps it is not the best example of the genre, but it is difficult to say that there is an appropriate way of loving, or of writing while in love. And this is a lesson, an amorous one in essence, that Kafka has left us in an unexpected and certainly involuntary way.
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