is a novel by Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka was a culturally influential German-language author of short stories and novels. Contemporary critics and academics, including Vladimir Nabokov, regard Kafka as one of the best writers of the 20th century...
, first published in 1925. One of Kafka's best-known works, it tells the story of a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor the reader.
Like Kafka's other novels, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which brings the story to an end. Because of this there are certain inconsistencies which exist within the novel, such as disparities in timing in addition to other discontinuities in narration.
After Kafka's death in 1924, his friend and literary executor Max Brod
Max Brod was a German-speaking Czech Jewish, later Israeli, author, composer, and journalist. Although he was a prolific writer in his own right, he is most famous as the friend and biographer of Franz Kafka...
edited the text for publication.
On his thirtieth birthday, a senior bank clerk, Josef K., is unexpectedly arrested by two unidentified agents for an unspecified crime. The agents do not name the authority for which they are acting. He is not taken away, however, but left at home to await instructions from the Committee of Affairs.
K. later visits the court and stands in the witness box pleading his case. He then returns home.
K. later goes to visit the magistrate again, but instead is forced to have a meeting with an attendant's wife. Looking at the Magistrate's books, he discovers a cache of pornography.
K. returns home to find Fräulein Montag, a lodger from another room, moving in with Fräulein Bürstner. He suspects that this is to prevent him from pursuing his affair with the latter woman. Yet another lodger, Captain Lanz, appears to be in league with Montag.
Later, in a store room at his own bank, K. discovers the two agents, who arrested him, being whipped by a flogger for asking K. for bribes, as a result of complaints K. previously made about them to the Magistrate. K. 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 store room and is shocked to find everything as he had found it the day before, including the Whipper and the two agents.
K. is visited by his uncle, who is a friend of a lawyer. The lawyer was with the Clerk of the Court. The uncle seems distressed by K.'s predicament. At first sympathetic, he becomes concerned K. is underestimating the seriousness of the case. The uncle introduces K. to an advocate, who is attended by Leni, a nurse, who K.'s uncle suspects is the advocate's mistress. K. has a sexual encounter with Leni, whilst his uncle is talking with the Advocate and the Chief Clerk of the Court, much to his uncle's anger, and to the detriment of his case.
K. visits the advocate and finds him to be a capricious and unhelpful character. K. returns to his bank but finds that his colleagues are trying to undermine him.
K. is advised by one of his bank clients to visit Titorelli, a court painter, for advice. Titorelli has no official connections, yet seems to have a deep understanding of the process. K. learns that, to Titorelli's knowledge, not a single defendant has ever been acquitted. He sets out what K.'s options are, but the consequences of all of them are unpleasant: they consist of different delay tactics to stretch out his case as long as possible before the inevitable "Guilty" verdict. Titorelli instructs K. that there's not much he can do since he doesn't know of what crime he has been accused.
K. decides to take control of matters himself and visits his advocate with the intention of dismissing him. At the advocate's office he meets a downtrodden individual, Block, a client who offers K. some insight from a client's perspective. Block's case has continued for five years and he appears to have been virtually enslaved by his dependence on the advocate's meaningless and circular advice. The advocate mocks Block in front of K. for his dog-like subservience. This experience further poisons K.'s opinion of his advocate, and K. is bemused as to why his advocate would think that seeing such a client, in such a state, could change his mind. (This chapter was left unfinished by the author.)
K. is asked to tour an Italian client around local places of cultural interest, but the Italian client short of time asks K. to tour him around only the cathedral, setting a time to meet there. When the client doesn't show up, K. explores the cathedral which is empty except for an old woman and a church official. K. decides to leave, as a priest K. notices seems to be preparing to give a sermon from a small second pulpit, lest it begin and K. be compelled to stay for its entirety. Instead of giving a sermon, the priest calls out K.'s name, although K. has never known the priest. The priest works for the court, and tells K. a fable, (which has been published separately as Before the Law
"Before the Law" is a parable in the novel The Trial , by Franz Kafka. "Before the Law" was published in Kafka's lifetime, while The Trial was not published until after Kafka's death.-"Before the Law":...
) that is meant to explain his situation, but instead causes confusion, and implies that K.'s fate is hopeless. Before the Law begins as a parable, then continues with several pages of interpretation between the Priest and K. The gravity of the priest's words prepares the reader for an unpleasant ending.
On the last day of K.'s thirtieth year, two men arrive to execute him. He offers little resistance, suggesting that he has realised this as being inevitable for some time. They lead him to a quarry where he is expected to kill himself, but he cannot. The two men then execute him. His last words describe his own death: "Like a dog!"
Josef K. - The tale's protagonist.
Fräulein Bürstner – A boarder in the same house as Josef K. She lets him kiss her one night, but then rebuffs his advances. She makes a brief reappearance in the novel's final pages.
Fräulein Montag – Friend of Fräulein Bürstner, she talks to K. about ending his relationship with Fräulein Bürstner after his arrest. She claims she can bring him insight, because she is an objective third party.
Willem and Franz – Officers who arrest K. one morning but refuse to disclose the crime he is said to have committed.
Inspector – Man who conducts a proceeding at Joseph K.'s boardinghouse to inform K. officially that he is under arrest.
Rabinsteiner, Kullich and Kaminer – Junior bank employees who attending the proceeding at the boardinghouse.
Frau Grubach – The proprietress of the lodging house in which K. lives. She holds K. in high esteem, despite his arrest.
Woman in the Court – In her house happens the first judgment of K. she claims help from K. because she doesn't want to be abused by the magistrates.
Student – Deformed man who act under orders of the instruction judge. Will be a powerful man in the future.
Instruction Judge – First Judge of K. in his trial, he confuses K. with a Wall Painter.
Uncle Karl – K.'s impetuous uncle from the country, formerly his guardian. Upon learning about the trial, Karl insists that K. hire Herr Huld, the lawyer.
Herr Huld, the Lawyer – K.'s pompous and pretentious advocate who provides precious little in the way of action and far too much in the way of anecdote.
Leni – Herr Huld's nurse, she has feelings for Josef K. and soon becomes his lover. She shows him her webbed hand, yet another reference to the motif of the hand throughout the book. Apparently, she finds accused men extremely attractive—the fact of their indictment makes them irresistible to her.
Albert – Office director at the court and a friend of Huld.
Flogger – Man who punish Franz and Willen in the Bank after K's. complaints against the two agents in his first Judgement.
Vice-President – K.'s unctuous rival at the Bank, only too willing to catch K. in a compromising situation. He repeatedly takes advantage of K.'s preoccupation with the trial to advance his own ambitions.
President – Manager of the Bank. A sickly figure, whose position the Vice-President is trying to assume. Gets on well with K., inviting him to various engagements.
Rudi Block, the Merchant – Block is another accused man and client of Huld. His case is five years old, and he is but a shadow of the prosperous grain dealer he once was. All his time, energy, and resources are now devoted to his case, to the point of detriment to his own life. Although he has hired five additional lawyers on the side, he is completely and pathetically subservient to Huld.
Manufacturer – Person who hears about K.'s case and advise him to see a painter who knows how the court system works.
Titorelli, the Painter – Titorelli inherited the position of Court Painter from his father. He knows a great deal about the comings and goings of the Court's lowest level. He offers to help K., and manages to unload a few identical landscape paintings on the accused man.
Priest – Prison chaplain whom K. encounters in a church. The priest advises K. that his case is going badly and tells him to accept his fate.
Doorkeeper and Farmer – The characters of the Chaplain's Tale.
In a recent study based on Kafka’s office writings, Reza Banakar
Reza Banakar is Professor of Socio-Legal Studies at the Department of Advanced Legal Studies at the University of Westminster, London. He studied law, sociology and philosophy at Lund University, where he also obtained his doctorate in the sociology of law and taught various socio-legal subjects...
points out that many of Kafka’s descriptions of law and legality are often treated as metaphors for things other than law, but also are worthy of examination as a particular concept of law and legality which operates paradoxically as an integral part of the human condition under modernity. Josef K. and his inexplicable experience of the law in The Trial were, for example, born out of an actual legal case in which Kafka was involved.
- In the 1962 Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...
film adaptation of The Trial
The Trial is a 1962 film directed by Orson Welles, who also wrote the screenplay based on the novel of the same name by Franz Kafka...
, Josef K. is played by Anthony Perkins
Anthony Perkins was an American actor, best known for his Oscar-nominated role in Friendly Persuasion and as Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho , and its three sequels.-Early life:...
- Martin Scorsese
Martin Charles Scorsese is an American film director, screenwriter, producer, actor, and film historian. In 1990 he founded The Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to film preservation, and in 2007 he founded the World Cinema Foundation...
's 1985 film After Hours
After Hours is a 1985 American black comedy film, written by Joseph Minion and directed by Martin Scorsese. Paul Hackett , a New Yorker, experiences a series of adventures and perils in trying to make his way home from SoHo.-Plot:...
is a re-imagining of The Trial.
- The 1993 film of The Trial
The Trial is a 1993 film made by the British Broadcasting Corporation based on Harold Pinter's screenplay adaptation of Franz Kafka's 1925 novel The Trial....
was based on Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter, CH, CBE was a Nobel Prize–winning English playwright and screenwriter. One of the most influential modern British dramatists, his writing career spanned more than 50 years. His best-known plays include The Birthday Party , The Homecoming , and Betrayal , each of which he adapted to...
's screenplay adaptation and starred Kyle MacLachlan
Kyle Merritt MacLachlan is an American actor. MacLachlan is best known for his roles in cult films Blue Velvet as Jeffrey Beaumont, Showgirls as Zack Carey, as Paul Atreides in Dune, and Ray Manzarek in the Oliver Stone film The Doors...
and Anthony Hopkins
Sir Philip Anthony Hopkins, KBE , best known as Anthony Hopkins, is a Welsh actor of film, stage and television...
Theatrical and operatic adaptations
- The writer and director Steven Berkoff
Steven Berkoff is an English actor, writer and director. Best known for his performance as General Orlov in the James Bond film Octopussy, he is typically cast in villanous roles, such as Lt...
adapted several of Kafka's novels into plays and directed them for stage. His version of The Trial was first performed in 1970 in London and published in 1981.
- Chicago based writer, Greg Allen, wrote and directed K., based on The Trial. It was produced by The Hypocrites
The Hypocrites is an award-winning Chicago storefront theate company founded in 1997 by Sean Graney, Brandon Kruse and Christopher Cintron. Graney has been artistic director of the company since its founding. Megan Wildebour serves as their current Managing Director...
and ran for several months in 2010 at The Chopin Theater in Chicago.
- Joseph K, written by Tom Basden
Tom Basden is a British actor and comedy writer, and a member of the British four man sketch group Cowards. He has written and performed extensively for comedy shows on the BBC and Channel 4 and often collaborates in two-man shows with fellow Cowards member Tim Key.-Education:Basden was educated...
and based on The Trial, takes place in modern-day London, with the protagonist cast as a City banker. It ran at the Gate Theatre
The Gate Theatre is a London fringe theatre above the Prince Albert pub in Notting Hill Gate, from which it takes its name. It opened in 1979.-External links:*...
, Notting Hill, London, in late 2010.
- Gottfried von Einem
Gottfried von Einem was an Austrian composer. He is known chiefly for his operas influenced by the music of Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as by jazz. He also composed pieces for piano, violin and organ.-Biography:...
wrote an opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...
, Der Prozeß, based on the novel. Its American debut was directed by Otto Preminger
Otto Ludwig Preminger was an Austro–Hungarian-American theatre and film director.After moving from the theatre to Hollywood, he directed over 35 feature films in a five-decade career. He rose to prominence for stylish film noir mysteries such as Laura and Fallen Angel...
Selected publication history
- Oxford World's Classics
Oxford World's Classics is an imprint of Oxford University Press. First established in 1901 by Grant Richards and purchased by the Oxford University Press in 1906, this imprint publishes primarily dramatic and classic literature for students and the general public...
, 4 October 2009, Translation: Mike Mitchell, ISBN 978-0-19-923829-3
- Dover Thrift Edition
Dover Thrift Editions are a series of paperback books published by Dover Publications starting in the 1990s. Thrift editions are printed economically and sold to consumers at a low price such as $1.00 to $2.50 in the United States, and £1.99 to £3.50 in the United Kingdom. Longer works are...
s, 22 July 2009, Translation: David Wyllie, ISBN 978-0-486-47061-0
- Penguin Modern Classics
Penguin Books is a publisher founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane and V.K. Krishna Menon. Penguin revolutionised publishing in the 1930s through its high quality, inexpensive paperbacks, sold through Woolworths and other high street stores for sixpence. Penguin's success demonstrated that large...
, 29 June 2000, Translation: Idris Parry, ISBN 978-0-14-118290-2
- Schocken Books
Schocken Books is a publishing company that was established in Berlin with a publishing office in Prague in 1931 by the Schocken Department Store owner Salman Schocken. It published the writings of Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Franz Kafka and S. Y...
, 25 May 1999, Translation: Breon Mitchell, ISBN 978-0-8052-0999-0
- Everyman's Library
Everyman's Library is a series of reprinted classic literature currently published in hardback by Random House. It was originally an imprint of J. M. Dent , who continue to publish Everyman Classics in paperback.J. M. Dent and Company began to publish the series in 1906...
, 30 June 1992, Translation: Willa and Edwin Muir, ISBN 978-0-679-40994-6
- Museum of Modern Literature
The Museum of Modern Literature or LiMo is part of the German Literature Archive in Marbach am Neckar, Germany...
, where the original manuscript is held.
- Le Mondes 100 Books of the Century
The 100 Books of the Century is a grading of the books considered as the hundred best of the 20th century, drawn up in the spring of 1999 through a poll conducted by the French retailer Fnac and the Paris newspaper Le Monde....
- Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century
The Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century is a list of books compiled in 1999 by Literaturhaus München and Bertelsmann, in which 99 prominent German authors, literary critics, and scholars of German ranked the most significant German-language novels of the twentieth century.The group brought...