The love letters of Franz Kafka and Felice Bauer.
Who better to write the world’s most memorable love letters than the world’s most famous writers? This week we turn to the intense, complicated and ultimately tragic figure of Franz Kafka and his twice-fiancée, Felice Bauer:
I am now going to ask you a favor which sounds quite crazy, and which I should regard as such, were I the one to receive the letter. It is also the very greatest test that even the kindest person could be put to. Well, this is it:
Write to me only once a week, so that your letter arrives on Sunday — for I cannot endure your daily letters, I am incapable of enduring them. For instance, I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you; there is really no other way of expressing it, and that is not strong enough. But for this very reason I don’t want to know what you are wearing; it confuses me so much that I cannot deal with life; and that’s why I don’t want to know that you are fond of me. If I did, how could I, fool that I am, go on sitting in my office, or here at home, instead of leaping onto a train with my eyes shut and opening them only when I am with you? Oh, there is a sad, sad reason for not doing so. To make it short: My health is only just good enough for myself alone, not good enough for marriage, let alone fatherhood. Yet when I read your letter, I feel I could overlook even what cannot possibly be overlooked.
If only I had your answer now! And how horribly I torment you, and how I compel you, in the stillness of your room, to read this letter, as nasty a letter as has ever lain on your desk! Honestly, it strikes me sometimes that I prey like a spectre on your felicitous name! If only I had mailed Saturday’s letter, in which I implored you never to write to me again, and in which I gave a similar promise. Oh God, what prevented me from sending that letter? All would be well. But is a peaceful solution possible now? Would it help if we wrote to each other only once a week? No, if my suffering could be cured by such means it would not be serious. And already I foresee that I shan’t be able to endure even the Sunday letters. And so, to compensate for Saturday’s lost opportunity, I ask you with what energy remains to me at the end of this letter: If we value our lives, let us abandon it all.
Kafka and Bauer first met in 1912, and commenced a relationship we only know of from one perspective, Kafka’s. When they broke up in 1917 after 5 years of intense correspondence and two engagements (and the writing of some of Kafka’s most famous works including The Metamorphosis and The Trial), Kafka burned all of Bauer’s letters to him. She kept his, eventually giving them to Schocken Books to publish as Letters To Felice.
Bauer would marry another man in 1919; Kafka would die of tuberculosis in 1924, at age 40.
Love Letters #1: Honoré de Balzac
Love Letters #2: John Keats & Fanny Brawne
Love Letters #3: F. Scott Fitzgerald & Zelda Sayre
Images: Los Ultimos de Wonderland and Time’s Flow Stemmed.