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The Trial

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The Trial
First edition dust jacket (1925)
AuthorFranz Kafka
Original titleDer Process[A]
PublisherVerlag Die Schmiede, Berlin
Publication date
26 April 1925

The Trial (German: Der Process)[A] is a novel written by Franz Kafka in 1914 and 1915 and published posthumously on 26 April 1925. One of his best-known works, it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. Heavily influenced by Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka even went so far as to call Dostoevsky a blood relative.[1] Like Kafka's two other novels, The Castle and Amerika, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which appears to bring the story to an intentionally abrupt ending.

After Kafka's death in 1924 his friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication by Verlag Die Schmiede. The original manuscript is held at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany. The first English-language translation, by Willa and Edwin Muir, was published in 1937.[2] In 1999, the book was listed in Le Monde's 100 Books of the Century and as No. 2 of the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century.


Kafka drafted the opening sentence of The Trial in August 1914, and continued work on the novel throughout 1915. This was an unusually productive period for Kafka, despite the outbreak of World War I, which significantly increased the pressures of his day job as an insurance agent.[3]

Having begun by writing the opening and concluding sections of the novel, Kafka worked on the intervening scenes in a haphazard manner, using several different notebooks simultaneously. His friend Max Brod, knowing Kafka's habit of destroying his own work, eventually took the manuscript into safekeeping. This manuscript consisted of 161 loose pages torn from notebooks, which Kafka had bundled together into chapters. The order of the chapters was not made clear to Brod, nor was he told which parts were complete and which unfinished. Following Kafka's death in 1924, Brod edited the work and assembled it into a novel to the best of his ability. Further editorial work has been done by later scholars, but Kafka's final vision for The Trial remains unknown.[3]

Plot summary[edit]

Cover, 1925

On the morning of his thirtieth birthday, Josef K., the chief clerk of a bank, is unexpectedly arrested by two agents from an unidentified agency for an unspecified crime. The agents discuss the situation with Josef in the unoccupied room of his fellow lodger Fräulein Bürstner, in the unexplained presence of three junior clerks from Josef's bank. Josef is not imprisoned, but left free to go about his business. His landlady, Frau Grubach, tries to console Josef about the trial. He visits Bürstner to explain the events, and then harasses her by kissing her without consent.

Josef finds that Fräulein Montag, a lodger from another room, has moved in with Fräulein Bürstner. He suspects that this is a coy manoeuvre meant to distance him from Bürstner, and resolves that she will eventually fall for his charms.

Josef is invited to appear at the court's address the coming Sunday, without being told the time or location. After a period of exploration he finds the court in the attic of a dilapidated working-class tenement block, at the back of a young washerwoman's home. Josef is rebuked for his lateness and mistaken for a house painter rather than a bank clerk. He arouses the assembly's hostility after a passionate plea about the absurdity of the trial and the falseness of the accusation, despite still not knowing the charges. The proceedings are interrupted by a man sexually assaulting the washerwoman in a corner. Josef notices that all the assembly members are wearing pins on their lapels which he interprets as signifying their membership of a secret organisation.

The following Sunday Josef goes to the courtroom again, but the court is not in session. The washerwoman gives him information about the process and attempts to seduce him before a law student, the man who assaulted her the previous week, takes her away, claiming her to be his mistress. The woman's husband, a court usher, then takes Josef on a tour of the court offices, which ends after Josef becomes extremely weak in the presence of other court officials and defendants.

One evening, in a storage room at his own bank, Josef discovers the two agents who arrested him being whipped for soliciting bribes from Josef, which he had complained about at court. Josef tries to argue with the flogger, saying that the men need not be whipped, but the flogger cannot be swayed. The next day he returns to the storage room and is shocked to find everything as he had found it the day before, including the whipper and the two agents.

Josef is visited by his uncle Karl, who lives in the country. Worried by the rumors about his nephew, Karl introduces Josef to Herr Huld, a sickly and bedridden lawyer tended to by Leni, a young woman who shows an immediate attraction to Josef. During a conversation between Karl and Huld about Josef's case, Leni calls Josef away for a sexual encounter. Afterwards, Josef meets his angry uncle outside, who claims that Josef's lack of respect for the advocate, by leaving the meeting and romantically engaging with the woman who is apparently Huld's mistress, has hurt his case.

Josef has become increasingly preoccupied by his case, to the detriment of his work. He has further meetings with Huld, and continues to engage in discreet trysts with Leni, but the advocate's work appears to be having no effect on the proceedings. At the bank, one of Josef's clients recommends he seek the advice of Titorelli, the court's official painter. Titorelli outlines the options he can help Josef pursue: indefinite postponement of the process, or a temporary acquittal that could at any point result in re-arrest. Unequivocal acquittal is not a viable option.

Suspicious of the advocate's motives and the apparent lack of progress, Josef finally decides to dismiss Huld and take control of matters himself. Upon arriving at Huld's office, he meets a downtrodden merchant, Rudi Block, who offers Josef some insight from a fellow defendant's perspective. Block's case has continued for five years and he has gone from being a successful businessman to being almost bankrupt and is virtually enslaved by his dependence on the lawyer and Leni, with whom he appears to be sexually involved. The lawyer mocks Block in front of Josef for his dog-like subservience. This experience further poisons Josef's opinion of his lawyer.

Josef is put in charge of accompanying an important Italian client to the city's cathedral, but the client never meets him there. While inside the cathedral, a priest calls Josef by name and tells him a fable (which was published earlier as "Before the Law") that is meant to explain his situation. The priest tells Josef that the parable is an ancient text of the court, and many generations of court officials have interpreted it differently.

On the eve of Josef's thirty-first birthday, two men arrive at his apartment. The three walk through the city, and Josef catches a brief glimpse of Fräulein Bürstner. They arrive at a small quarry outside the city, and the men kill Josef, stabbing him in the heart with a butcher's knife while strangling him. Josef summarizes his situation with his last words: "Like a dog!"

English translations[edit]

  • Everyman's Library, 30 June 1992, Translation: Willa and Edwin Muir, ISBN 978-0-679-40994-6
  • Penguin Books, 1994, Translation: Idris Parry
  • Schocken Books, 1998, Translation: Breon Mitchell, ISBN 0-8052-4165-5. Translator's preface is available online.[4]
  • Hesperus Press Limited, 2005, Translation: Richard Stokes, ISBN 1-84391-401-8
  • Dover Thrift Editions, 22 July 2009, Translation: David Wyllie (2003), ISBN 978-0-486-47061-0
  • Oxford World's Classics, 4 October 2009, Translation: Mike Mitchell, ISBN 978-0-19-923829-3
  • Vitalis-Verlag [de], 15 September 2012, Translation: Susanne Lück and Maureen Fitzgibbons, ISBN 978-80-7253-298-8





Graphic novel[edit]


  1. ^ a b Also Der Proceß, Der Prozeß and Der Prozess. Kafka used the spelling Process; Max Brod, and later other publishers, changed it. See Faksimile Edition.


  1. ^ Bridgwater, Patrick (2003). Kafka, Gothic and Fairytale. Amsterdam: Rodopi. pp. 9–12. ISBN 978-90-420-1194-6.
  2. ^ Coetzee, J. M. (14 May 1998). "Kafka: Translators on Trial". The New York Review of Books. Retrieved 22 May 2015.
  3. ^ a b Stach, Reiner (2005). Kafka: The Decisive Years. Translated by Shelley Frisch. Harcourt, Inc. pp. 465–71. ISBN 978-0151-00752-3.
  4. ^ "Afterword: Breon Mitchell". Conjunctions.com. Archived from the original on 25 December 2014. Retrieved 27 November 2014.
  5. ^ Berkoff, Steven. "The Trial, Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony. Three theatre adaptions from Franz Kafka." Oxford: Amber Lane Press, 1981.
  6. ^ "'K.' by The Hypocrites: Greg Allen's 'K.' can be unfeeling, but it showed the way" by Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune (26 October 2010)
  7. ^ "Joseph K – review" by Lynn Gardner, The Guardian (17 November 2010)
  8. ^ Billington, Michael (28 June 2015). "The Trial review – a punishing Kafkaesque experience". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 April 2016.
  9. ^ "The DefinitiveThe Columbia Workshop Radio Log with Georgia Backus. William N. Robson and Norman Corwin". www.digitaldeliftp.com.
  10. ^ "BBC Radio 4 Extra – Franz Kafka – The Trial". BBC.
  11. ^ "BBC Radio 3 – Drama on 3, The Process". BBC.
  12. ^ Welles, Orson (Director) (1962). The Trial (Movie Production). France, Italy, West Germany: Astor Pictures Corporation.
  13. ^ Review of adaptations of The Trial, Journal of the Kafka Society of America 24 (2003), 59.
  14. ^ Montellier, Chantal (2008). Franz Kafka's The trial : a graphic novel. David Zane Mairowitz, Franz Graphic novelization of: Kafka. New York: Sterling. ISBN 978-1-4114-1591-1. OCLC 180690015.

Further reading[edit]

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