Malcolm Pasley

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Malcolm Pasley
Malcolm Pasley.png
Born(1926-04-05)5 April 1926
Rajkot, India
Died4 March 2004(2004-03-04) (aged 77)
Oxford, United Kingdom
Known forLeading authority on German studies, particularly the literature of Franz Kafka
Scientific career
FieldsGerman studies

Sir John Malcolm Sabine Pasley, 5th Baronet, FBA (5 April 1926 – 4 March 2004), commonly known as Malcolm Pasley, was a British philologist affiliated with the University of Oxford. He was considered the foremost British authority of German studies. Pasley is particularly well known for his dedication to and publication of the works of Franz Kafka.[1]


Early life[edit]

Born in Rajkot, India, Pasley was educated at Sherborne.[2] He was a direct descendant of Admiral Sir Thomas Pasley, 1st Baronet, who distinguished himself in the French Revolutionary Wars and was made a baronet in 1794.

He served in the Royal Navy between 1944 and 1946.[3]

Academics and honors[edit]

Following is the outline of the academic career of Sir Malcolm Pasley:[3][4]

  • 1947: Attended Trinity College, Oxford
  • 1949: Graduated with a First in Modern Languages
  • 1949-50: Laming Travelling Fellow at The Queen's College, Oxford
  • 1950-58: Appointed Lecturer in German at Brasenose and Magdalen Colleges (University of Oxford)
  • 1958-86: Emeritus Fellow, Magdalen College
  • 1979-80: Vice-President, Magdalen College
  • 1980: Honorary doctorate from the University of Giessen
  • 1982: Succeeded to the family baronetcy
  • 1983: Elected to the German Academy of Language and Literature in Darmstadt
  • 1986: Retired
  • 1987: Austrian Cross of Honour for Learning and the Arts
  • 1991: Fellowship of the British Academy

Marriage and children[edit]

Sir Malcolm Pasley was married in 1965 to Virginia Wait. They had two sons:

  • Robert Killigrew Sabine Pasley, born 25 October 1965
  • Humphrey Sabine Pasley, born 1967

German language[edit]

Pasley wrote of many German authors, with his initial works on the German language, Nietzsche in particular, gaining him much fame. Pasley's work in this area was pioneering; his book Germany: A Companion to German Studies, first published in 1972, is still in heavy demand.[3]


Pasley is best known for his work on the Kafka writings. He began studying Kafka in the early part of his career and was introduced to Marianne Steiner born Pollak, Kafka's niece and daughter of his sister Valli, by her son Michael, who was a student at Oxford. Through this friendship Pasley became the key adviser to Kafka's heirs. Pasley regarded Kafka as "a younger brother".[4]

In 1956, Salman Schocken and Max Brod placed Kafka's works in a Swiss vault due to concerns surrounding unrest in the Middle East and the safety of the manuscripts, which were with Brod in Tel Aviv. After significant negotiation, Pasley took personal possession of Kafka's works that were in Brod's possession. In 1961, Pasley transported them by car from Switzerland to Oxford. Pasley reflected on the adventure as one that "made his own hair stand on end".[3]

The papers, except The Trial, were deposited in Oxford's Bodleian Library. The Trial remained in the possession of Brod heiress Ilse Ester Hoffe, and in November 1988 the German Literary Archives at Marbach, Germany purchased the manuscript for £1.1 million in an auction conducted by Sotheby's.[5][6]

At Oxford, Pasley headed a team of scholars (Gerhard Neumann, Jost Schillemeit, and Jürgen Born) that recompiled the text, removed Max Brod's edits and changes, and began publishing the works in 1982. This team restored the original German text to its full (and in some cases incomplete) state, with special attention paid to the unique Kafka punctuation, considered to be critical to his style.[7]

Criticism of Pasley's work on Kafka[edit]

Subsequent to the publication of the Kafka works, Pasley began receiving criticism about the completeness of their German publication. To that end, Stroemfeld Verlag has requested permission to scan the manuscripts to produce a facsimile edition and CD-ROM.

Aside from completeness, they cited a concern for the preservation of the works; some were written in pencil, and many were fading and crumbling.

Pasley refused their requests, joined by Marianne Steiner, who in 1998, told The Observer "I cannot forgive them for [the terrible things they had said about Pasley. I do not want them to have anything to do with the manuscripts."

In April 1998, Stroemfeld published a facsimile version of The Trial. This manuscript, being owned by the German government, was accessible to them. In this publication the manuscript and transcription are listed side by side.

Scholars in favor of the Stroemfeld editions include Jeremy Adler, professor of German at King's College London, American writers Louis Begley and Harold Bloom, professor of Humanities at Yale.[6]


Published works[edit]

  • 1965 Kafka-Symposion, co-author with Klaus Wagenbach
  • 1972 Germany: a companion to German studies (second edition, 1982) ISBN 0-416-33660-4
  • 1978 Nietzsche: Imagery and Thought, ISBN 0-520-03577-1
  • 1982 Das Schloß (The Castle) ISBN 3-596-12444-1
  • 1987/89 Max Brod, Franz Kafka: eine Freundschaft
  • 1990 Der Prozeß (The Trial) ISBN 3-596-12443-3
  • 1990 Reise- Tagebucher, Kafka's travel diaries
  • 1991 Die Handschrift redet (The Manuscript Talks)
  • 1991 The Great Wall of China and Other Stories
  • 1992 The Transformation and Other Stories ISBN 0-14-018478-3
  • 1993 Nachgelassene Schriften und Fragmente I
  • 1995 Die Schrift ist unveränderlich (The Script is Unchangeable)
  • 1996 Judgment & In the Penal Colony ISBN 0-14-600178-8


  1. ^ The Times.
  2. ^ "The Sherborne Register 1550–1950" (PDF). Old Shirbirnian Society. Retrieved 16 February 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d The Telegraph obituary
  4. ^ a b Jeremy Adler, Obituary The Independent (London), 26 March 2004
  5. ^ The Trial, Franz Kafka, Schocken Book, 1998, Publisher's Note page xiii
  6. ^ a b "Scholars squabble in Kafkaesque drama", Von David Harrison, The Observer, 17 May 1998, S. 23
  7. ^ Jeremy Adler, "Stepping into Kafka’s head", Times Literary Supplement, 13 October 1995


See also[edit]

Baronetage of Great Britain
Preceded by
Rodney Marshall Sabine Pasley
(of Craig)
Succeeded by
Robert Killigrew Sabine Pasley