Kafka’s work has always presented something of an enigma to me, although I am clearly influenced by it as many other writers are. ‘The Castle’ is a book that Kafka himself was clearly not satisfied with and did not want published. He did not even finish it. Yet, we are glad that it was completed for, while imperfect and often verbose and tiresome with no great action, discernible plot or hero, it makes for oddly compulsive reading and has a haunting quality that assuages the reader’s frustration of never finding out the real reason for K arriving and staying in the village and what the purpose of the Castle was. Thought to be an allegory for Karka’s nightmare of the unconscious world, a struggle of the self in a shadowy world, K finds himself trapped, his perceived illegitimatised reason for arriving in the village (as a ‘Land Surveyor’) with the awkwardly inaccessible unconfirmed castle, leading to uncertainty, broken dreams and a state of limbo.
‘The Castle’ is narrated in the third person.
Like ‘The Trial’ meaningless bureaucracy is at the heart of ‘The Castle’. The ‘officials’ spend their time at the inn reading files, sleeping and consorting with young women who, paradoxically, gain ‘respectability’ as a result and welcome advances that in other circumstances and contexts would be considered crude, coarse and undesirable. In the village they seem to be a way of life. Why the villagers should consent to their daughters being treated in this way by “ill-mannered, tyrannical occasionally violent men who are neither handsome nor young” is a mystery. Amalia, sister of the informative, yellow-haired Olga, sister also of Barnabas, servant of and messenger for The Castle, is different. She rejects the advances of Soltini (a high official from the Castle) and as a result her family is ostracised and her father loses his position as village fireman.
Klamm meanwhile is a caricature, overweight, ponderous, wearing pince-nez and a pointed moustache and his role is essentially as a guardian, or ‘keeper’ of the castle who keeps the secrets of the castle under lock and key. In German ‘klamm’ translates as ‘damp’, similar to the English ‘clammy’ while in Czech it means ‘deceit’. ‘Klammer’ is also a fastener in German. Klamm’s spies keep him informed about K’s activities.
K seems unable to verify his reason for arriving in the village and is referred to the Mayor who explains that there has been a communication breakdown between the castle and the village offers him a caretaker’s job in the local school where he is not welcomed.
The high regard with which the villagers hold the ‘officials’ is a puzzle to K as the ‘officials’ do not seem to have a clearly defined role. The villagers are defensive of the officials and justify their actions at length, as if brainwashed or fearful of questioning or criticism. Explanations for the official’s actions are often contradictory. Ambiguity seems to be popular among the villagers! The officials are clearly hiding something, even if only their own inefficiency, as in the bureaucratic error of sending for K in the first place!
K becomes obsessed with finding a way into the castle. He is not well received by some of the village people and he doesn’t know the reason why except that he is a stranger. Gardana, the landlady at the Bridge Inn, who is infatuated with Klamm, even evicts him. K is assigned two assistants, Arthur and Jeremiah who annoy him with their persistent presence and watchfulness and in the fact that K has nothing to work on. To K they are “two snakes.” Momus and Eelanger are sent by Klamm to ‘interrogate’ K and they too get on his nerves. One exception is Hans, whose mother Frau Brunswick, claims to be “from the castle” and therefore of special interest to K. K’s doomed relationship with Frieda has always puzzled me as this is just about the only sign of integration between K and village society. Inevitably, she leaves him for one of his ‘assistants’ Jeremiah. Given the sense of alienation K feels and the exacerbation of this by his treatment in the village (is this an allusion to anti-Semitism?) another big question must be: why does K not just pack up and leave?
Just as the main protagonist, Joseph K in ‘The Trial’ doesn’t know what he is being accused of, K doesn’t know why he has been summoned to the village. The parallels between the judicial bureaucracy in ‘The Trial’ and “officials sitting round behind long desks, reading large books, dictating to clerks in barely audible whispers; why such a laborious bureaucracy to govern a village” are obvious, although some claim that to take such a narrow view is ‘reductive’.
Kafka began writing his story the day he arrived in a mountain resort called Špindlerův Mlýn, Spindlermühle in German in January, 1922. This is a picturesque and popular skiing destination now in the Czech Republic. A photograph exists of him standing by a horse-drawn sleigh on his arrival.
K never reaches The Castle although his alter-ego Kafka had planned his story so, consigned to live and work in The Village but never in The Castle. Alas, unlike Christian in ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, K never reaches his Celestial City. Some interpret ‘the Castle’ as a search for salvation, the official’s name Galater being a derivation of the German word for Galatians; another character is called Barnabas.
Tuberculosis took Kafka and it is not known for sure whether he intended to resolve his own (K’s) dilemma and he told his friend Max Brod that, had he finished ‘The Castle’, K would be notified on his deathbed that, while he had no legal claim to live in the village, he was, by grace and favour, permitted to continue to live and work there. However, in September, 1922 Kafka wrote to Brod that he was not finishing the book which explains why it finishes in mid-sentence. Brod ignored Kafka’s instructions to destroy all his unpublished works after his death and, as ‘Das Schloss’ a first edition was published in Munich in 1926, a second in Berlin in 1935.
The book was eventually published in the United States in 1946 and has remained in print ever since in one form or another. These editions are not Kafka’s original story however, as Brod edited the book to make it ‘publication-ready’. The original manuscript, alongside most of Kafka’s works, resides in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. In 1961 Malcolm Pasley and a group of distinguished scholars gained access to all of Kafka’s works excepting ‘The Trial’ and began publishing them in 1982. The text was restored in full to its original German text and style.