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The Castle (novel)

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The Castle
First edition (1926)
AuthorFranz Kafka
Original titleDas Schloss
Translatorsee Publication history
GenrePolitical fiction, absurdist fiction, paranoid fiction
Set inA village in Central Europe
PublisherKurt Wolff
Publication date
LC ClassPT2621.A26 S33
Original text
Das Schloss at German Wikisource

The Castle (German: Das Schloss, also spelled Das Schloß [das ˈʃlɔs]) is the last novel by Franz Kafka. In it a protagonist known only as "K." arrives in a village and struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities who govern it from a castle supposedly owned by Graf Westwest.

Kafka died before he could finish the work and the novel was posthumously published against his wishes. Dark and at times surreal, The Castle is often understood to be about alienation, unresponsive bureaucracy, the frustration of trying to conduct business with non-transparent, seemingly arbitrary controlling systems, and the futile pursuit of an unobtainable goal.


Franz Kafka (far right) arriving in Spindlermühle in 1922

Kafka began writing the novel on the evening of 27 January 1922, the day he arrived at the mountain resort of Spindlermühle (now in the Czech Republic). A picture taken of him upon his arrival shows him by a horse-drawn sleigh in the snow in a setting reminiscent of The Castle.[1] Hence, the significance that the first few chapters of the manuscript were written in the first person and at some point later changed by Kafka to a third-person narrator, "K."[2]

Max Brod[edit]

Kafka died before he could finish the novel, and it is questionable whether he intended to finish it if he had survived his tuberculosis. At one point he told his friend Max Brod that the novel would conclude with K., the book's protagonist, continuing to reside in the village until his death; the castle would notify him on his deathbed that his "legal claim to live in the village was not valid, yet, taking certain auxiliary circumstances into account, he was permitted to live and work there."[2] However, on 11 September 1922 in a letter to Brod, he wrote he was giving up on the book and would never return to it.[3] As it is, the book ends mid-sentence.

Although Brod was instructed by Kafka to destroy all of his unpublished works on his death, Brod instead set about publishing many of them. Das Schloss was originally published in German in 1926 by the publisher Joella Goodman of Munich. This edition sold far less than the 1,500 copies that were printed.[4] It was republished in 1935 by Schocken Verlag in Berlin, and in 1946 by Schocken Books of New York.[5]

Brod heavily edited the work to ready it for publication. His goal was to gain acceptance of the work and the author, not to maintain the structure of Kafka's writing. This would play heavily in the future of the translations and continues to be the center of discussion on the text.[6] Brod donated the manuscript to Oxford University.[7]

Brod placed a strong religious significance on the symbolism of the castle.[1][8] This is one possible interpretation of the work based on numerous Judeo-Christian references as noted by many including Arnold Heidsieck.[9]

Malcolm Pasley[edit]

The publisher soon realized the translations were "bad" and in 1940 desired a "completely different approach".[6] In 1961 Malcolm Pasley got access to all of Kafka's works except The Trial, and deposited them in Oxford's Bodleian Library. Pasley and a team of scholars (Gerhard Neumann, Jost Schillemeit, and Jürgen Born) started publishing the works in 1982 through S. Fischer Verlag. Das Schloß was published that year as a two-volume set — the novel in the first volume, and the fragments, deletions, and editor's notes in a second volume. This team restored the original German text to its full and incomplete state, including Kafka's unique punctuation, considered critical to the style.[10]

Stroemfeld/Roter Stern[edit]

Interpretations of Kafka's intent for the manuscript are ongoing. At one time Stroemfeld/Roter Stern Verlag did work for the rights to publish a critical edition with manuscript and transcription side-by-side. But they met with resistance from the Kafka heirs and Pasley.[11]

Major editions[edit]

First English translation
  • 1930 translators: Willa Muir and Edwin Muir.[12] Based on the First German edition, by Max Brod. Published By Secker & Warburg in England and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States.
  • 1941 translators: Willa and Edwin Muir. The edition includes an Homage by Thomas Mann.
  • 1954 translators: Willa and Edwin Muir additional sections translated by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. Supposedly definitive edition. Based on the Schocken 1951 supposedly definitive edition.[13]
  • 1994 translators: Muir, et al. Preface by Irving Howe.
  • 1997 translator: J. A. Underwood, introduction: Idris Parry. Based on Pasley Critical German Text (1982, revised 1990).
  • 1998 translator: Mark Harman who also writes a preface. Based on Pasley Critical German Text (1982, revised 1990).
  • 2009 translator: Anthea Bell, introduction: Ritchie Robertson. Based on Pasley Critical German Text (1982, revised 1990).


The title Das Schloss may be translated as "the castle" or "the palace", but the German word is a homonym that can also refer to a lock. It is also phonetically close to der Schluss ("conclusion" or "end").[1] The castle is locked and closed to K. and the townspeople; neither can gain access.

The castle does not look like a castle. Anthea Bell's translation states that it was "an extensive complex of buildings, a few of them with two storeys, but many of them lower and crowded close together. If you hadn't known it was a castle you might have taken it for a small town" (p. 11).


Fishelson's version of The Castle at Manhattan Ensemble Theatre, January 2002, left to right: Grant Varjas, Raynor Scheine, Jim Parsons, William Atherton

The protagonist, K., arrives in a village governed by a mysterious bureaucracy operating in a nearby castle. When seeking shelter at the town inn, he claims to be a land surveyor summoned by the castle authorities. He is quickly notified that his castle contact is an official named Klamm, who, in an introductory note, informs K. he will report to the Mayor.

The Mayor informs K. that through a mix-up in communication between the castle and the village, he was erroneously requested. But the Mayor offers him a position as a caretaker in service of the school teacher. Meanwhile, K., unfamiliar with the customs, bureaucracy and processes of the village, continues to attempt to reach Klamm, which is considered a strong taboo to the villagers.

The villagers hold the officials and the castle in high regard, even though they do not appear to know what the officials do. The actions of the officials are never explained. The villagers provide assumptions and justification for the officials' actions through lengthy monologues. Everyone appears to have an explanation for the officials' actions, but they often contradict themselves and there is no attempt to hide the ambiguity. Instead, villagers praise it as another action or feature of an official.

One of the more obvious contradictions between the "official word" and the village conception is the dissertation by the secretary Erlanger on Frieda's required return to service as a barmaid. K. is the only villager who knows that the request is being forced by the castle (even though Frieda may be the genesis),[14][15] with no consideration of the inhabitants of the village.

The castle is the ultimate bureaucracy with copious paperwork that the bureaucracy maintains is "flawless". But the flawlessness is a lie; it is a flaw in the paperwork that has brought K. to the village. There are other failures of the system: K. witnesses a servant destroying paperwork when he cannot determine who the recipient should be.

The castle's occupants appear to be all adult men, and there is little reference to the castle other than to its bureaucratic functions. The two notable exceptions are a fire brigade and that Otto Brunswick's wife declares herself to be from the castle. The latter declaration builds the importance of Hans, Otto's son, in K.'s eyes as a way to gain access to the castle officials.

The officials have one or more secretaries that do their work in their village. Although they sometimes come to the village, they do not interact with the villagers unless they need female companionship, implied to be sexual in nature.


Note: The Muir translations refer to the Herrenhof Inn where the Harman translations translate Gasthof „Herrenhof“ to the "Gentleman's Inn" (while the Bell translation calls it the "Castle Inn"). Below, all references to the inn where the officials stay in the village is the Herrenhof Inn since this was the first, and potentially more widely read, translation.

Character Description
K., the Land-Surveyor The protagonist of the story, recognized as a land surveyor, employed as the school janitor, and a stranger to the townspeople. He spends most of the novel doggedly trying to overcome the bureaucracy of the village and to contact the castle official Klamm, but he is continually thwarted and frustrated. K. forms a sexual relationship with Frieda, the barmaid, but she eventually abandons K. for one of his assistants, Jeremiah.
Frieda A former barmaid at the Herrenhof, who is K.'s fiancée for most of the novel. She often finds herself torn between her duty to K. and her fears regarding his over-zealousness. She eventually abandons K. and ends up in the arms of his former assistant, Jeremiah (who has since become a waiter at the Herrenhof).
Hans, landlord
(Bridge Inn)
Nephew of the original owner of the inn; according to his wife, Gardena, he is lazy and overly nice to K. According to K. if Hans had another wife as a first love he would have been more independent, diligent and manly.
Gardena, landlady
(Bridge Inn)
The prime mover of the Bridge Inn, which she has been running singlehandedly for years; the work, however, has taken its toll on her health. She is a former short-term mistress to Klamm and very distrustful of K.'s motives and eventually evicts K. because of K's insistence on meeting Klamm; she remains infatuated with Klamm.
Barnabas, a messenger A messenger of the castle assigned to K. He is new to the service; K. is instructed to use him to communicate with the official Klamm. He is slender and agile though very immature and sensitive.
Arthur and Jeremiah, K.'s assistants
(Artur and Jeremias in Harman edition)
Shortly after his arrival in the village, K. is assigned two assistants to help him with his various needs. They are a continual source of frustration and annoyance for him, however, and he eventually drives them from his service through his brutal treatment. They have been assigned to K., to make him happy, by the official Galater who was deputizing for Klamm at the time.
(Village Council Chairman in Harman edition; German: Dorfvorsteher)
A friendly, fat, clean-shaven man assigned by Klamm to give K. his assignment and hence is his superior; however, according to Gardena, he is utterly insignificant and wouldn't last a day in his position if not for his wife Mizzi, though according to the Teacher he is a worthy, experienced, and venerable old man. The mayor suffers from gout and receives K. in bed; he explains to K. why he is not needed as a land surveyor. He offers K. the job of school janitor to the dismay of the Teacher.
Mizzi, the mayor's wife The wife and assistant of the Mayor, Gardena refers to her as the one who does the work.
Klamm An elusive castle official who is K.'s Castle Authority. Like the other Castle officials in the book, his actual area of expertise is never mentioned. K. spends a large portion of the novel trying to secure a meeting with Klamm. K., it seems, fixes many of his hopes for a successful resolution to his problems upon this meeting with Klamm. He has at least two secretaries—Erlanger (First Secretary) and Momus.

In German, "klamm" means "clammy" or "damp" and can designate a "gorge" or "ravine". As adjective, it also means "narrow" or "strapped for cash". In Czech (and Kafka was able to speak and read/write Czech) "klam" means "illusion".

According to Ritchie Robertson in his notes to Anthea Bell's translation, Klamm "suggests the Czech word klam, 'illusion'" (p. 277).

In Prague, the Clam-Gallas Palace is pronounced the same way and may have influenced Kafka to use this multiple meaning of the Clam-Klamm.

Momus, Klamm's secretary A young gentleman, extremely good-looking, pale and reddish; handles all written work for and receives all petitions to Klamm. He is also secretary for Vallabene, who is not mentioned again in the novel. He insists on interrogating K., who refuses to submit.
Erlanger, Klamm's secretary The First secretary of Klamm who is sent to "interrogate" K., but only gives him a short message.
Olga, Barnabas' sister The older sister of Amalia and Barnabas. She helps K. on his quest, partly by telling him the story of why her family is considered outcasts and by teaching him some of the village customs.
Amalia, Barnabas' sister Younger sister of Barnabas and Olga. She was disgraced in the village after rudely turning down a summons from the castle official Sortini for sexual favors.
Barnabas' Father The father of Olga, Amalia and Barnabas. Past village cobbler and notable fireman. After Amalia's disgraceful interactions with Sortini's messenger, his business is ruined and he is stripped of his fire credentials. He is rendered an invalid after unsuccessfully trying to obtain a pardon for his family.
Barnabas' Mother The mother of Olga, Amalia and Barnabas.
Otto Brunswick, son-in-law of Lasemann
(brother-in-law of Lasemann in Harman edition)
Hans Brunswick's father. Opportunistically takes over Barnabas' father's customers as the Barnabas family falls into disrepute from Amalia's rude treatment of Sortini's Messenger. According to the Mayor, Brunswick was the only person in the village that desired that a land surveyor be hired. No reason for this is given.
Frau Brunswick Hans Brunswick's Mother. She refers to herself as "from the castle" and is the only reference to a female at the castle. K. believes that she may assist him in gaining access to the castle.
Hans, a sympathetic student A student at the school where K. is a janitor. Offers to help K. and K. uses him to attempt to find ways to get to the castle through his mother.
Herrenhof Landlord Landlord of the Herrenhof Inn.
Herrenhof Landlady Well dressed landlady at the Herrenhof Inn. Seems to be the matriarch of the Inn (as is Gardena at the Bridge Inn). Is distrustful of K.
Galater He is the castle official that assigned the assistants to K. He was also "rescued" by Barnabas' father in a minor fire at the Herrenhof Inn.
(Bürgel in Harman edition)
A Secretary of a castle official, Friedrich. Friedrich is not mentioned again in the book, but in deleted text is referred to as an official who is falling out of favor.[16] Brügel is a long-winded secretary who muses about Castle interrogations with K., when the latter errantly enters his room at the Herrenhof Inn. He indirectly offers to help K.; however K. is so tired that he does not accept the offer.
Sordini An Italian castle secretary of formidable abilities, though he is kept in the lowest position of all, he exhaustively manages any transactions at the castle for his department and is suspicious of any potential error.
Sortini Castle official associated with the village fire brigade who solicits Amalia with a sexually explicit and rude request to come to his room at the Herrenhof.
Teacher A young, narrow-shouldered, domineering little man. When K. becomes the janitor at the school, the teacher becomes K.'s de facto superior. He does not approve of K. working at the school, but does not appear to have the authority to terminate K.'s appointment.
Miss Gisa (Fräulein Gisa), the school mistress Tall, blond and beautiful if rather stiff assistant school teacher who is courted by Schwarzer and also dislikes K.
Schwarzer An under-castellan's son who appears to have given up living in the castle to court Miss Gisa and become her student teacher; is prone to outbursts of official arrogance.
Pepi Small, rosey and healthy; a chambermaid who is promoted to Frieda's barmaid position when the latter leaves her position at the Herrenhoff to live with K. She was a chambermaid with Emilie and Hennriette.
Lasemann, a tanner, father-in-law of Otto Brunswick
(brother-in-law of Otto Brunswick in Harman edition)
Slow and dignified, the village tanner whose house K. rests in for a few hours during his first full day in the village.
Gerstacker, a coachman Initially suspicious of K. but gives him a free sleigh ride back to the Bridge Inn after refusing to provide a ride to the castle. At the end of the book attempts to befriend K. since he believes K. has clout with Erlanger.
Seemann, the Fire Company chief The fire chief who strips Barnabas' father of his fireman diploma after Barnabas' family falls into shame from Amalia's rude treatment of Sortini's Messenger.
Count Westwest The local Graf and supposed owner of the castle. He is only mentioned and never appears.

Major themes[edit]


It is well-documented[where?] that Brod's original construction was based on religious themes and this was furthered by the Muirs in their translations. But it has not ended with the Critical Editions. Numerous interpretations have been made with a variety of theological angles.

One interpretation of K.'s struggle to contact the castle is that it represents a man's search for salvation.[17] According to Mark Harman, translator of a recent edition of The Castle, this was the interpretation favored by the original translators Willa Muir (helped by Edwin) who produced the first English volume in 1930.[12] Harman feels he has removed the bias in the translations toward this view, but many [who?] still feel this is the point of the book.

Fueling the biblical interpretations of the novel are the various names and situations. For example, the official Galater (the German word for Galatians), one of the initial regions to develop a strong Christian following from the work of Apostle Paul and his assistant Barnabas. The name of the messenger, Barnabas, for the same reason. Even the Critical Editions naming of the beginning chapter, "Arrival", among other things liken K. to an Old Testament messiah.[9]


The obvious thread throughout The Castle is bureaucracy. The extreme degree is nearly comical and the village residents' justifications of it are amazing. Hence it is no surprise that many feel that the work is a direct result of the political situation of the era in which it was written, which was shot through with anti-Semitism, remnants of the Habsburg monarchy, etc.[18][19]

But even in these analyses, the veiled references to more sensitive issues are pointed out. For instance, the treatment of the Barnabas family, with their requirement to first prove guilt before they could request a pardon from it and the way their fellow villagers desert them have been pointed out as a direct reference to the anti-Semitic climate at the time.[20]

In a review of the novel found in The Guardian, William Burrows disputes the claim that The Castle deals with bureaucracy, claiming that this view trivialises Kafka's literary and artistic vision, while being "reductive". He claims, on the other hand, that the book is about solitude, pain, and the desire for companionship.[21]

Allusions to other works[edit]

Critics often talk of The Castle and The Trial in concert, highlighting the struggle of the protagonist against a bureaucratic system and standing before the law's door unable to enter as in the parable of the priest in The Trial.[18]

In spite of motifs common with other works of Kafka, The Castle is quite different from The Trial. While K., the main hero of The Castle, faces similar uncertainty and difficulty in grasping the reality that suddenly surrounds him, Josef K., the protagonist of The Trial, seems to be more experienced and emotionally stronger. On the other hand, while Josef K.'s surroundings stay familiar even when strange events befall him, K. finds himself in a new world whose laws and rules are unfamiliar to him.

Publication history[edit]

Title page of the first edition

In 1926 Brod persuaded Kurt Wolff to publish the first German edition of The Castle in his publishing house. Due to its unfinished nature and his desire to get Kafka's work published, Max Brod took some editorial freedom.

In 2022 The Castle entered the public domain.[22]

Muir translation[edit]

In 1930 Willa and Edwin Muir translated the First German edition of The Castle as it was compiled by Max Brod. It was published by Secker & Warburg in England and Alfred A. Knopf in the United States. The 1941 edition, with a homage by Thomas Mann, was the one that fed the post-war Kafka craze.[citation needed]

In 1954 the "definitive" edition was published and included additional sections Brod had added to the Schocken Definitive German edition. The new sections were translated by Eithne Wilkins and Ernst Kaiser. Some edits were made in the Muir text namely the changes were "Town Council" to "Village Council", "Superintendent" to "Mayor", "Clients" to "Applicants".[13]

The 1992 edition of the Muirs' translation, in Alfred A. Knopf's Everyman's Library, contains a preface by Irving Howe.

The Muir translations use words that some consider "spiritual" in nature. In one example, the Muirs translate the description of a church tower in K.'s homeland, which K. compares with the castle, as "soaring unfalteringly",[23] where Harman, p. 8, uses "tapering decisively", Underwood, p. 9, writes, "tapering straight upward", and Bell, p. 11, writes "tapering into a spire". Furthermore, the Muirs use "illusory" from the opening paragraph forward.[24] Some critics note this as further evidence of the bias in the translation leaning toward a mystical interpretation.[1]

Harman translation[edit]

In 1961 Malcolm Pasley was able to gain control of the manuscript, along with most of the other Kafka writings (save The Trial) and had it placed in the Oxford's Bodleian library. There, Pasley headed a team of scholars and recompiled Kafka's works into the Critical Edition. The Castle Critical Edition, in German, consists of two volumes—the novel in one volume and the fragments, deletions and editor's notes in a second volume. They were published by S. Fischer Verlag in 1982, hence occasionally referred to as the "Fischer Editions".

Mark Harman used the first volume of this set to create the 1998 edition of The Castle, often referred to as based on the "Restored Text" or the "English Critical Edition". Unlike the Muir translation, the fragments, deletions, and editor's notes are not included. According to the publisher's note:

We decided to omit the variants and passages deleted by Kafka that are included in Pasley's second volume, even though variants can indeed shed light on the genesis of literary texts. The chief objective of this new edition, which is intended for the general public, is to present the text in a form that is as close as possible to the state in which the author left the manuscript.[25]

Harman's translation has been generally accepted as being technically accurate and true to the original German. He has, however, received criticism for at times not creating the prosaic form of Kafka.[1][clarification needed]

Harman includes an eleven-page discussion on his philosophy behind the translation. This section provides significant information about the method he used and his thought process. There are numerous examples of passages from Pasley's, Muir's, and his translation to provide the reader with a better feel for the work. Some feel that his (and the publisher's) praise for his work and his "patronizing" of the Muirs goes a little too far.[1] J. M. Coetzee writes that Harman says that his translation is "stranger and denser" than the Muirs'. But, Coetzee adds, "in its very striving toward strangeness and denseness [Harman's] own work—welcome though it is today—may, as history moves on and tastes change, be pointing toward obsolescence too".[26]



The book was adapted to screen several times.



See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ormsby.
  2. ^ a b The Castle 1968, p. vi, Publisher's note.
  3. ^ The Castle 1968, p. xv, Translator's preface.
  4. ^ The Castle 1998, p. vii, Publisher's note.
  5. ^ The Castle 1968, p. iv, Publisher's note.
  6. ^ a b The Castle 1998, p. xi, Publisher's note.
  7. ^ "Israeli museum wants Kafka manuscript from Germany". cbc.ca. 25 October 2009. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
  8. ^ The Castle 1998, p. xiv–xvii, Publisher's note.
  9. ^ a b Heidsieck, pp. 1–15.
  10. ^ Stepping into Kafka's head, Jeremy Adler, The Times Literary Supplement, 13 October 1995, via textkritik.de[dead link]
  11. ^ Scholars squabble in Kafkaesque drama, David Harrison, The Observer, 17 May 1998, p. 23, via textkritik.de(subscription required)
  12. ^ a b "Willa Muir © Orlando Project". orlando.cambridge.org. Archived from the original on 27 July 2017. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  13. ^ a b The Castle 1968, p. vii, Publisher's note.
  14. ^ The Castle 1968, p. 428, Fragments.
  15. ^ The Castle 1968, p. 395.
  16. ^ The Castle 1968, p. 422, Passages Deleted by the Author.
  17. ^ The Castle 1998, p. xviii, Translator's preface.
  18. ^ a b Doctoral paper, Hartmut M. Rastalsky, 1997
  19. ^ Heidsieck, pp. 1, 10, 13.
  20. ^ Heidsieck, pp. 11ff.
  21. ^ "Winter read: The Castle by Franz Kafka". The Guardian. 22 December 2011. Archived from the original on 26 May 2023.
  22. ^ Grossman, Daniel (28 December 2021). "Winnie the Pooh, Franz Kafka, and more are coming to the public domain in 2022". Polygon.
  23. ^ The Castle 1998, pp. xvii, Translator's preface.
  24. ^ In the opening paragraph, where the Muirs use "the illusory emptiness", Harman and Underwood use "the seeming emptiness", and Bell writes, "what seemed to be a void".
  25. ^ The Castle 1998, p. xii, Publisher's note.
  26. ^ Coetzee, J. M., "Kafka: Translators on Trial", The New York Review of Books, May 14, 1998
  27. ^ "Drama, Franz Kafka – The Castle, episode 1". BBC Radio 4.
  28. ^ Launch: The Castle by Jaromír 99 and David Zane Mairowitz Self Made Hero
  29. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (18 January 2002). "A Kafkaesque Bureaucracy (Literally), Theater Review". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  30. ^ Jacobs, Leonard (17 April 2002). "Outer Critics Circle Nominations Announced". Backstage. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  31. ^ Jones, Kenneth (28 April 2003). "Drama League Nominees Include Enchanted, Albertine, Amour, Salome, Avenue Q". Playbill. Archived from the original on 23 June 2012. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  32. ^ "David Fishelson playwright page". The Playwrights Database. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
  33. ^ Herbort, Heinz Josef (11 September 1992). "Franz Kafkas Roman "Das Schloß" als Musiktheater: Aribert Reimanns sechste Oper in Berlin uraufgeführt: Rundtanz um den Tabernakel der Bürokratie". Die Zeit (in German). p. 23. Retrieved 4 August 2017.


External links[edit]