Kafka manuscripts sell for record $605,000

NEW YORK -- German-Czech novelist Franz Kafka's letters to his fiancee, Felice Bauer, were sold at Sotheby's gallery Thursday for $605,000, a world record for any literary manuscript ever sold at public auction.

The letters, dated 1912 to 1917, were sold to a telephone bidder, identified by the gallery only as a European private collector.


The previous world auction record for a manuscript was $412,500 paid for a notebook of Irish poet William Butler Yeats when it was sold in London in 1985.

The 327 autograph Kafka letters, l5 typed letters, l45 autograph postcards and 33 typed postcards were consigned to sale by Schocken Books, which published the letters in English translation in 1973.

Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, a Kafka expert, had described the Kafka-Bauer letters as 'the most precise and exacting history of a human relationship that exists.' Sotheby's book expert, David Redden, said the letters 'have very few peers, by any standard of what is singificant in 20th century literature.

The letters document the writer's state of mind so accurately during his formative years as a writer that he stopped writing in his journal during the years he was writing to Bauer. It was during this period that he wrote 'The Judgment' and 'The Metamorphosis,' his first successful writing.


'The potency of their (the letters) influence, direct and indirect, on Kafka's own stories and novels and thus on the literary and philosphic production of an infinitude of subsequent writers and thinkers is beyond measure,' said Prof. Arthur Wensinger of Wesleyan University.

Kafka and Bauer were twice affianced during the period in which the letters were written. He was living in Prague, she in Berlin. He never married. No letters from Bauer to Kafka are known to exist.

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