Franz Werfel


© Museum of Czech Literature, Prague
Poet, prose writer, playwright and essayist, the head of a group of literary figures born around 1890, a few years younger than Kafka and Brod’s contemporaries. He entered Kafka’s life some time in 1908 as a youthful but enviously admired poet, whose star rose abruptly and outshone all around him. He grew up in a wealthy family from the milieu of the ‘City Park’ that lived in the area situated between Wenceslas Square, Na Příkopě and Na Poříčí Streets. After a particularly disastrous secondary school career, he suddenly achieved fame as a poet and the head of a circle that used to meet from 1911 for discussions, readings and entertainment at the Café Arco on the corner of Hybernská and Dlážděná Streets. Other members included the journalist Willy Haas, poets Hans and Franz Janowitz, translator and writer Otto Pick, ‘non-writing writer’ Ernst Pollak, who was widely regarded as an ‘expert’ and later became the first husband of Milena Jesenská and who took over the leadership of the circle when Werfel left for Germany, actor Ernst Deutsch, and translator Rudolf Fuchs. Max Brod and Franz Kafka attended sporadically. Czech members of the circle included writer František Langer and translator Alfred Fuchs. In the years 1912-1913, Kafka would attend Werfel’s recitations with a mixture of deference and envy (Werfel recited from memory) and dubbed him admiringly ‘the monster’. He himself actually gave a reading from the manuscript of his novel The Man Who Disappeared in Werfel’s apartment. He later defended Werfel against Jesenská’s criticisms. Werfel, who originally expressed the skeptical view that Kafka’s writing would not be understood by anyone outside Bohemia, later made efforts to have his works published by Kurt Wolff and spoke highly of them. He visited the Kierling sanatorium where Kafka lay dying and made him a gift of his novel about Verdi, then being published. It was the last book that Kafka ever held in his hands.