Kafka's postcards: A closer look at the Bodleian's Letters to Ottla archive

| 04 April 2011
The Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford and Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach (German Literary Archive) have jointly purchased a collection of letters by Franz Kafka (1883-1924), one of the most influential writers of the 20th century and one of the fathers of literary modernism.

Here we take a closer look at two of the postcards from a collection that offers insights into his relationships within the Kafka family - and his sense of humour.

a postcard showing a figure on a mountain top
© Boldleian Library / Deutsches Literaturarchiv
a postcard written in Czech
© Boldleian Library / Deutsches Literaturarchiv
Front and back Postcard: Mount Krivan, 1921 [an example of Kafka's sense of humour: allegedly skiing and photographing himself on a high mountain while fighting the TB diagnosed in 1917.]

It is also a rare example of Kafka writing in Czech rather than in German. In this postcard postmarked 4 March 1921, he teases his brother-in-law, Josef David:

“Dear Pepa, You warn me rightly, but too late, for I have already participated in the great ski race in Polianka  - surely you’ve read about it in the ‘Tribuna’ […] I have had myself photographed on Mount Krivan, as you can see on the back of this card.” MS. Kafka 50, fol. 4.

a colour postcard of a harbour lined with houses and a clocktower
© Boldleian Library / Deutsches Literaturarchiv
a postcard written in German
© Boldleian Library / Deutsches Literaturarchiv
Front and back Postcard: Riva on Lake Garda, 1913 [A colourful postcard in which Kafka muses on the nature of love].

On a rare holiday abroad, Kafka sent a postcard in 1913 to his sister Ottla. In Riva on Lake Garda, he experienced “that sweetness […] in a relationship with a woman one loves” (reported in Diaries, 24 January 1915).

Riva also provided a setting for his story Der Jäger Gracchus (The hunter Gracchus). In the postcard, Kafka mentions his visit to Melcesine, “where Goethe had the adventure you would know about if you had read the ‘Italian Journey’.” MS. Kafka 49, fol. 17.

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