The newly acquired letters of Franz Kafka to his sister Ottla are on public display for the first time at the Bodleian Libraries. The Liebe Ottla exhibition celebrates the letters’ acquisition in partnership with the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach, a pioneering collaboration between two cultural institutions, which jointly bought the letters in April 2011.
The exhibition includes eighteen letters and ten postcards and picture-postcards which reveal the close relationship Kafka had with his favourite sister, Ottla, the youngest of his three sisters and the family member to whom he was closest. In a letter dated 4 July 1918, on display in the exhibition, Kafka states how well he and his sister understand each other: ‘in fact we do live or I live with you better than with anybody else’. Most exhibits are in Kafka’s own handwriting and some also contain Kafka’s own drawings.
The correspondence gives an insight into Kafka’s life, his travel and everyday life as much as they sketch a portrait of Ottla, ‘a woman who struggles for emancipation against considerable odds’ (Prof Ritchie Robertson, TLS, October 2011)
The exhibition also features highlights from the main Kafka collection in the Bodleian: the autograph of Die Verwandlung, (The Metamorphosis) 1912; Kafka’s first novel Der Verschollene (The Man Who Disappeared), and Das Schloss (The Castle).
The Bodleian Libraries will also celebrate the acquisition with a series of events held in the Sheldonian Theatre on 24 October:
- 16.15 - Reading of Act I, Scene I from Alan Bennett’s play Kafka’s Dick
- 16.30 - Kafka’s Writings: Private Confessions or Public Property? Lecture by Ritchie Robertson, Taylor Professor of the German Language and Literature, University of Oxford
- 17.00 - Panel discussion chaired by Katrin Kohl, Professor of German Literature, University of Oxford
Richard Ovenden, Deputy Librarian, Bodleian Libraries said, ‘Following the joint acquisition of Kafka’s letters to Ottla in April, we are delighted to organize the first Oxford events in a series of joint programmes of exchanges of academic fellows and exhibitions as well as other research activities related to Kafka and beyond between the Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford and the Deutsches Literaturarchiv in Marbach.’
The Bodleian Library holds – thanks to the generosity of Franz Kafka’s family – the majority of the writer’s autograph manuscripts. Although Kafka’s explicit wishes were for his manuscripts to be destroyed, they were rescued by the authors’ life-long friend, Max Brod who published them. The manuscripts themselves narrowly escaped the entry of the German Army into Prague in 1939 and, later in Tel Aviv, the Suez Crisis in 1956. They were finally brought from Switzerland to Oxford by Sir Malcolm Pasley in a small private car in 1961.