Translated from the German
by Anthea Bell
Chapter 1, Arrival
It was late evening when K. arrived. The village lay deep in snow. There was nothing to be seen of Castle Mount, for mist and darkness surrounded it, and not the faintest glimmer of light showed where the great castle lay. K. stood on the wooden bridge leading from the road to the village for a long time, looking up at what seemed to be a void.
Then he went in search of somewhere to stay the night. People were still awake at the inn. The landlord had no room available, but although greatly surprised and confused by the arrival of a guest so late at night, he was willing to let K. sleep on a straw mattress in the saloon bar. K. agreed to that. Several of the local rustics were still sitting over their beer, but he didn’t feel like talking to anyone. He fetched the straw mattress down from the attic himself, and lay down near the stove. It was warm, the locals were silent, his weary eyes gave them a cursory inspection, and then he fell asleep.
But soon afterwards he was woken again. A young man in town clothes, with a face like an actor’s — narrowed eyes, strongly marked eyebrows — was standing beside him with the landlord. The rustics were still there too, and some of them had turned their chairs round so that they could see and hear better. The young man apologized very civilly for having woken K., introduced himself as the son of the castle warden, and added: “This village belongs to the castle, so anyone who stays or spends the night here is, so to speak, staying or spending the night at the castle. And no one’s allowed to do that without a permit from the count. However, you don’t have such a permit…”
In the photo above, actor James Franco holds an edition of Kafka‘s THE CASTLE released by Schocken Publishing in 1998. (Find the book at Amazon.com.)
Franz Kafka died from tuberculosis at age 40 in 1924 before finishing THE CASTLE, considered one of his greatest works. Only a few of Kafka’s stories were published during his lifetime, and his literary executor ignored his request to burn the remaining manuscripts after his death.
A lawyer by profession, Kafka spent much of his life in the insurance business investigating claims — and worked on his writing before or after his day job. Today, Kafka is considered one of the most influential authors of the past hundred years. Poet W.H. Auden called him “The Dante of the 20th century.” Kafka’s other well-known works include THE TRIAL and METAMORPHOSIS, books that are available for free in a variety of formats (including Kindle) at Gutenberg.org.