Details about Franz Kafka’s personal life, namely his relationships with women, have eluded and mystified readers for nearly a century. The existentialist author endeavored to keep his work and private life hidden from the criticism of others. However, dissecting his work seems to be the most revealing way to reconnoiter his relationships with women. In many of his novels, Kafka’s narration serves as a muddy rendition of both his and the main character’s thought process. The Trial, one of Kafka’s most famous and studied novels, offers unique insight that helps reveal information concerning his personal life that most biographies fail to grasp. The protagonists’ unbridled interactions with female characters reveal the authors array of views toward women, whether merely as sexual toys that deviate from functional society, or as gentle and mysterious necessities of a sane life.
One of the first encounters that K., the protagonist, has with women occurs at the courthouse. A housewife, who cleans the law offices simply as a way of paying the rent, courts K. despite her marital status. From the start, K.’s brief relationship with the woman becomes scandalous and rogue when “she stretched out her legs, pulled her dress up to her knees, and viewed her legs herself as well (Kafka, 61).” He shows no restraint in having an affair with a married woman. Moreover, the narration does not even recognize this inappropriate act as ludicrous, as if both K.’s and the unfaithful woman’s actions was warranted.
One might say that K. is not at fault, seeing that the young woman approached him, and that it is only natural to flirt with an attractive member of the opposite sex. However, K. takes the courtship a few steps further. After becoming aware of her promiscuity with other people involved with the court, namely a student and high-ranking court official, he continues to desire the woman. But this desire is spiteful. Kafka claims “there was perhaps no better way to revenge himself upon the examining magistrate and his retinue than taking this woman away from them for himself (Kafka, 61).” His quest for revenge on the court is both premature and ignorant, but it is even more degrading to the woman if revenge is his sole purpose in the affair. He goes on to refer to the woman as only a “warm body”, something that “belonged” to him. These sentiments are belittling. The lack of chivalric respect shows K.’s acknowledgement of her promiscuity, yet he still wants her. He wants her to the point that he becomes infuriated in jealousy when the student carries her away. It can be concluded that the attraction to the housewife is based on a swaying foundation of lust and spite. This type of lewd attraction would be deemed benighted and lecherous by society, and had he followed through with the affair, K. would have faced a great deal of misfortune in his relations with the court.
Leni the nurse represents another example of how women seem to yearn for K.’s attention. Out of all the female characters in the novella. Leni seems to be the most attracted, obsessed, and persistent in her pursuit of his affection. The sexual relationship shared between the two is odd to say the least; just moments after meeting each other, they have sex. The relationship becomes even more scandalous as the chosen place of refuge is in K.’s lawyers residence, while the lawyer, a court official, and a family member are impatiently waiting in a nearby room. This impulsive act of nature shows both K.’s and Leni’s willingness to defy all laws of courtesy in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. K. practically snubs a very elusive, powerful court official for the charms of a complete stranger. His behavior paints the reader a very clear picture of where his priorities are. The initial voluptuous adventure marks the second time that K. jeopardizes his reputation and relationship with the court, a very risky and impulsive action for someone deeply concerned with the outcome of his trial.
After their initial engagement, K. seems to lose romantic interest in her. While they do have sexual relations, K. refuses to let her become a distraction as he focuses on the process of his trial. Eventually, before he endeavors to fire his lawyer, K. treats her as more of a nuance than a sex toy. K. responds to the statement that she “does not need any other thanks than that you’re fond of me,” with a rhetorical “Fond of you (Kafka, 181)?” He then reconsiders his words in an earnest effort not to openly demean her. But the comment, or slip rather, truly shows how little he values Leni. Later in the chapter, the lawyer asks whether Leni had been too bold in her speech. K. replies “Too forward?”, as if he was oblivious to the meaning of the phrase, or had not noticed this flaw in Leni. There are a few reasons explaining K.’s dumbfounded nature upon hearing of her forwardness. It could be that he had been so consumed in his case that he had not devoted an ounce of thought to her or her boldness. He may also believe women like Leni have the right, or obligation rather, to sexually market themselves, and that women behave like this around him so frequently that it seems normal. Whatever the reason, K. obviously pays no attention to the lack of chastity in the women he meets.
K. encounters a contingency of teenage girls on his visit to the painter, and Kafka seizes another opportunity to imply judgments on women. The behavior of the girls is described in an inappropriate manner as neither the lead-girls’ “youth nor her deformity had prevented her early corruption (Kafka, 141).” This description provides the reader with an aftertaste of pedophilia. A thirteen-year-old girl is not yet developed mentally and sexually, yet Kafka describes her speech and actions in a way that would make her seem “corrupted.” It can be assumed that the entire situation is inappropriate by K. “Ignoring her behavior.” Furthermore, the reference to “early corruption” also hints at the immature sexual prowess of the girl. The corruptness correlates with rushed ploys of courtship; the thirteen year old girl’s “inviting” behavior towards a man two decades her elder is appalling. Moreover, the young girl continues her lewd behavior as “she lifted her little skirt, which was extremely short to begin with, with both hands and ran as fast as she could…(Kafka, 144)”. The comment on the short skirt is a direct judgment on the girl’s sexual provocation at such a young age. Kafka could have simply stated that she ascended up the steps to the top of the building, but instead he makes comments concerning her scanty attire.
His choice to recognize the inappropriate behavior has significant meaning. The building where the girls live is located in an impoverished part of the city. It can be assumed that the girls dress accordingly, based on Kafka’s use of the word “depravity” to describe them. K.’s age and looks may have been factors in the girls’ behavior, but it is obvious Kafka intended to make wealth a major catalyst as well. As seen with the maid at the courtroom and Leni the nurse, women of the lower class seem staggered by K.’ presence and frequently offer themselves to him. Similar actions occur with the girl’s at this building. In their meager status, the teenagers run towards K. as if he were the last man on earth. The desires appear to be the less developed version of the lusts experienced by other blue-collar, lower class women in the novel, but are noteworthy nonetheless.
The fact that Kafka describes her boldness in such a manner is intriguing in itself, but it must be remembered how K. responds to the young girls’ behavior. He simply dodges her volley of flirtation, insisting to meet with the painter. K.’s attitudes towards women throughout the novel are both misogynistic and opportunistic. He exchanges courtship for sex, and his strategy is fairly successful. In the case of the teenagers, he pays attention to them, and they lead him to the painter. The girls perceive his attention as mild flirtation, and everyone is satisfied. K. more or less takes advantage of his looks, status, and wealth to lure women, use them, and continue onto his next conquest.
K.’s brief relationship with Fraulein Burstner sparks interest in several ways. To begin, her role in the novel is both unclear and unresolved. She appears in the first few chapters, and then returns in the final scene for only a moment, as if scenes with her in it had not been included in the publication of The Trial. Regardless, her limited part is significant. She serves as the only woman who entirely rejects K.’s advances. Like the others, Leni, the court maid, and the little girls, Fraulein Burstner has a modest social status- she is a typist. This similarity coincides with K.’s other women. He is attracted to a woman in a lower monetary tier of society, Fraulein Burstner, and attempts to have relations with her. The banker’s spontaneous kisses are not warmly welcomed, and she promptly moves away, making her the exception to the lower-class women’s attraction to K. Her appearance in the end may serve as a symbol of his solidarity; he never meets another woman that he truly wishes to commit himself to. K. dies as a bachelor. It is difficult to analyze the peculiarity of her actions because of the undeveloped nature of the book, but it exemplifies an exception to Kafka’s previous undertakings.
K.’s relationships with the women of The Trial serve as a microcosm of both Kafka’s lifestyle and the lifestyle’s of the young, upper-class men in this time period. Women of the lower classes desired men with power. Men with money. Men who were attractive and sophisticated. They wanted commitment from these men, and tried to lure it through advanced courtship- intense affection and sex. Leni’s promiscuity, the maid’s undressing, and the young girls’ flirtation were purely instinctive, promoted by a society that condones these types of premarital, crass associations if it meant .Kafka was known for his various, lusty affairs with women. He often met with them merely for sex, regularly hiring prostitutes. He never maintained contact with these women for more than a few months, moving onto to the next woman he could seduce quickly. Women found him attractive for his calm, serious demeanor, not to mention his law degree and boyish good-looks were inviting (Brod, 11). His description sounds eerily similar to K., a young, sophisticated, attractive white-collar man. In essence, the two people are one in the same; Kafka’s views towards women parallel K.’s. Each man found it easy to find and seduce women, but maintaining a relationship proved difficult. They used impoverished or lower class women as pawns of sexual satisfaction, living and dying alone.
Brod, Max. Franz Kafka: A Biography. 1995. Web.
Kafka, Franz. The Trial. New York: Schocken Books Inc, 1952. Print.