26 February 2008

Franz Kafka. The Trial, 1925-1937.

“Someone must have slandered Joseph K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

Franz Kafka. THE TRIAL. Victor Gollancz, London, 1937.

Franz Kafka. THE TRIAL. Knopf, New York, 1937.

Franz Kafka. DER PROZESS. Verlag Die Schmiede, Berlin 1925.

Current Selling Prices
$500-$13000 /£250-£6500

Major world classic. When people use the word 'Kafkaesque' they are referring to a kind of powerlessnes in the face of a faceless bureaucracy, with vague suggestions of impending doom- marked by a 'senseless, disorienting, often menacing complexity' (Wikiman)-as in a 'Kafkaesque nightmare' or as indeed in Kafka's posthumously published masterpiece 'The Trial' ('Der Prozess.') Everybody can identify with his chilling tale- with its surreal ending and dark humour. 'He sounds like my kind of guy!" said Bill Gates on being told his corporate trials (Microsoft's monopoly) were like the ordeals of Joseph K. Terry Gilliam's 1985 movie 'Brazil' is all Kafka--starting with a Joseph K type arrest. The trial of Stephen Ward, the hounding of the BBC journalist Andrew Gilligan for accusing Blair of 'sexing up' the evidence on weapons of mass destruction, the whole phenomenom of 'extraordinary rendition' and 'Gitmo' itself are all 'Kafkaesque.'

Nabokov, sometimes grudging in his praise of other writers, described Kafka as "the greatest German writer of our time. Such poets as Rilke or such novelists as Thomas Mann are dwarfs or plaster saints in comparison to him." W.G. Sebald, in an interesting essay on Kafka's Jewishness (and also his moviegoing habits) states that there are more books about Kafka than any other writer. He is reviewing Hans Zischler's 'Kafka Goes to the Movies'--an interesting piece of forensic Kafka scholarship by the great Wim Wenders ('Kings of the Road') Godard, Chabrol and Spielberg actor. Sebalds's claim is possibly a Germanocentric exaggeration--Kafka must surely be in the top ten, but as a bookseller I have seen more books on Shakespeare, probably more on Joyce. Others in the top ten would be Proust, Byron, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Rilke, Pound, Eliot and maybe the beloved Samuel Beckett.

VALUE? 14 copies of the Schmiede 1925 German first have appeared in terrestrial auctions in the last 2 years making between $400 and $13200. Obviously the book is not scarce but it is hard to find in 'fresh' condition--a pretty decent copy made $1800 in Germany 2006 and at Christie's New York last year $13200 was paid for a copy described thus:
'8vo. Original cloth and printed paper label; original pictorial dust jacket (very minor chipping to ends of spine panel, minor splitting to edges of panel).FIRST EDITION, A FINE COPY of Kafka's unfinished masterpiece, edited by Max Brod and published posthumously. In the original dust jacket designed by Georg Salter.'

The British 1937 edition, first translated from the German by Willa & Edwin Muir, has a five page epilogue by Max Brod. It is scarce in the jacket and less so without. Copies can be found for about £200 and 10 times that or more for examples in the yellow Gollancz jacket. The U.S. Knopf edition seems to go for $500 to $1000 in jacket depending on condition and is also translated by the Muirs--it is easier to find and is less desired than the London edition. First editions are sometimes bound up in leather and sold as fine bindings, possibly to insensitive lawyers. The book is sometimes criticised by lawyers for being poorly researched in the legal department; however Kafka is not John Grisham. Outlook? Kafka is steadily on the rise, his work is just as timely now as 90 years ago + the books are becoming hard to find, especially 'The Castle', "The Trial' and to a lesser extent 'Metamorphosis.'

A while back on a house call in Norwich I came across yet another critical work on Kafka. The seller told me it was by her ex-husband and that, in the course of writing it, he had tracked down a clutch of Kafka letters. I asked where they were (that old dealer instinct!). The writer had worked out that the daughter of an old love of Kafka's (presumably Dora Diamant) was living in Yorkshire(?) and he had visited her and she had given the letters to him. He had, after his researches, donated them to his college library--generous acts all round as a one page letter to an actor (oddly enough mentioning Dora) sits on ABE now at £17K. It says:-
"Hardt, vielen Dank für das Telegramm; 'im Geistersaal' lesen Sie, heisst es dort, nicht ganz ohne Verstand. Nun so fern ich von Berlin auch bin, so fern doch nicht, dass ich von den Vorträgen nicht auch ohne Telegramm gewusst hätte, nur leider, nur leider, ich kann nicht kommen. Nicht nur, weil ich heute nachmittag übersiedelt bin mit dem ganzen Krimskrams der mächtigen Wirtschaft, die ich führe (die Übersiedlung war noch einfach genug dank der Hilfe der freundlichen Überbringerin dieses Briefes Frl. Recha Fertig) sondern vor allem deshalb weil ich krank bin, fiebrig und die ganzen Berliner 4 Monate abends nicht aus dem Hause war. Aber könnte ich Sie hier in Zehlendorf einmal sehn nach so langer Zeit? Zum morgigen Abend kommt ein Frl. Dora Diamant, um diese Möglichkeit mit Ihnen zu besprechen. Leben Sie wohl und Segen über Ihren Abend. K."
Wikipedia states that all Dora Diamant's letters were seized by the Gestapo in 1933, however, unless this tale is apocryphal, it appears some got away and also never got into the hands of dealers either.

MANUSCRIPTS The manuscript of 'The Trial' sold for $2 million in 1988, which adjusted for inflation is higher than the recent 7 page Potter MS and well in advance of the $2.4 million paid for the Kerouac 'On the Road' scroll sold by Christies in 2005. "I would place Kerouac in the same league as Kafka, Joyce and Proust, and we have sold manuscripts of all of those authors for substantial sums," said Chris Coover, senior specialist in manuscripts at Christie's. Auctions are a world where price confers status --so Kafka, Proust and Joyce are lumped in with a vastly lesser writer like Kerouac. Kerouac is now rated as a world shattering genius because a guy possessed of a football stadium forked over a couple of million dollars. Likewise a laughably bad painter like Bouguereau is rated higher than, say, Max Beckman, Chritian Schaad, Simeon Solomon or Nicholas de Stael because a thick movie star (Stallone) paid two million dollars for one of his kitsch pix of a flock of flying nudes. I prefer the flower fairies of Cicely Mary Barker. I append a Bouguereau image below. In New York there is a movement afoot to get him known as the greatest painter who has ever lived (and Ron Paul will be the next president!)


Anonymous said...

Fascinating! A question about the clutch of Kafka's letters given to the college. DO you know what college? The name of the ex-husband who had written the critical work? And the letter to Hardt which is sitting on ABE at £17K--where can I find that listing?
Thanks so much,
Kathi D

Bookride said...

Thanks --I bought a lot of books off this chap's ex wife in about 2000 in Norwich where she was a headmistress. The college that he donate to may have been in the Netherlands... I have just trawled through the 50 or so books published in UK in the last 35 years on Kafka --it might be Gray or Robertson but nothing rang a clear bell--have been in about 500 houses of books since. Will wrack brain further. As for the Kafka letter just pop the name Kafka in the author field at Abebooks.com and hit the highest price button and there it still is with INLIBRIS in Vienna. Nigel

peacay said...

Thanks very much. Fascinating is right. It's always rewarding having a stopover at Bookride and I only wish that my brain and time allowed for more frequent visitations.

Orson Cart said...

I quite like Bouguereau but at the fifty quid level--at $2million I say bugger Bougureau. By the way Stallone is not thick just dim.