Bodleian purchases Kafka correspondence


The Bodleian Library and the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach have joined together to purchase a collection of correspondence by celebrated author Franz Kafka to prevent them being auctioned to private collectors.

It is believed to be the first time that two such institutions in different countries have cooperated to acquire a literary archive. Richard Ovenden, Associate Director and Keeper of Special Collections of the Bodleian Libraries, sees it as “a cause for celebration for international scholarship. It recognises that the pursuit of academic collaboration crosses national boundaries”.

The extensive collection was due to be auctioned in Germany on the 19th of April, but the two institutions came to an agreement to co-purchase and share the archive with the purchase price remaining undisclosed. The unprecedented arrangement was brought about with the intention of safeguarding the archive’s accessibility for academic and research purposes.

According to Professor Dr. Ulrich Raulff, Director of the Deutsches Literaturarchiv, both institutions intend to use the “newly created connection to install a platform for future projects of research, publication and exhibition” of the renowned literary figure.

The collection includes correspondence between Kafka and Dora Diamant, his lover; Robert Klopstock, his friend and doctor; and his youngest sister Ottla, the family member to whom he was closest.

The papers had been in the possession of Esther Hoffe, the secretary of the man to whom Kafka bequeathed his manuscripts to be burned, until her death in 2007. Her family then set about selling the collection, instigating a court case in Tel Aviv to decide who should steward the important archive.

The study of Kafka’s work is an important part of the German course at Oxford. Professor Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Professor of German at St John’s College, said that the letters represented “an essential source for Kafka’s biography and for that of his sister”. The letters include details of the writer’s family relationships and his views on the world in which he lived, both highly important in interpreting Kafka’s literature.

Described by the Bodleian as “one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and one of the fathers of literary modernism”, Kafka was born in Prague to a German-speaking Jewish family in 1883. His works, prominent examples including The Trial and The Metamorphosis, went largely unnoticed during his lifetime but came to increasing prominence after his death in 1924.

Rachael McLellan


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