Married name Marasse, Franz Kafka’s longest and most complicated love, his first fiancée.
During 1912-1917, Kafka sent her almost 600 letters and postcards that mirror the ups and downs in their relationship. It was a ‘pen romance’, their personal encounters having been relatively few in number.
Felice Bauer hailed from Upper Silesia, her mother’s birthplace. Her father, a Viennese by birth, worked as an insurance agent. She had three sisters and a brother, of whom her sister Erna and brother Ferry are featured in Kafka’s letters. In 1899, the family moved to Berlin, but her parents divorced soon after and her father died in 1914. Felice worked for a short period in the offices of the Odeon, a company that manufactured gramophone records, before transferring in 1909 to the firm of Carl Lidström, a manufacturer of voice recording equipment, where she advanced rapidly and was promoted to executive officer. The company had a branch in Prague.
Felice was an extremely capable, practical and orderly woman. She was also rather earthbound with middle-class tastes and no great feeling for art or literature. Kafka admired her temperament, but in time it tended to complicate their relationship. She was no match for Kafka in the complex struggle to get married. Often she failed to understand the arduous battle Kafka was waging with himself. As the moment of decision approached his internal conflict between contradictory and mutually exclusive forces intensified. The yearning for company versus the need for solitude, his desire to be married versus his distaste for cohabitation and physical contact, the wish to start a family versus the requirement of a ‘monastic’ lifestyle, the need for employment versus the vital need to write – all of these constituted a vicious circle from which there was no escape. It was a destructive mechanism that operated in all crisis situations during his lifetime.
During World War I, Felice was attracted to Zionism. In her free time she helped out as a volunteer at the Jewish People’s Home, a centre in Berlin for the care and education of Jewish immigrants from the East, most of whom at the time were the children of refugees fleeing the advancing Russians. Felice worked with them as a teacher and Kafka lent her moral support.
After a tenacious struggle, their relationship twice culminated in an engagement (1914, 1917) – cancelled immediately on both occasions. Eighteen months after her final break-up with Kafka – brought on partly by the onset of his illness – Felice married a Berlin businessman by the name of Marasse. The couple had two children, and lived first in Berlin and then five years in Switzerland before moving to the United States in 1936. Five years before her death, Felice placed the letters sent by Kafka to her and her friend Grete Bloch at the disposal of Schocken Publishers in New York. Their publication in the 1960s was a literary event akin to the publication of Kafka’s letters to Milena Jesenská in the 1950s.