In the Castle

Ulrich, at the command of his father, travels to the Imperial residence to engage in the great campaign to celebrate the monarchy on its seventieth year. Kafka’s castle is revealed to be somewhat stiff and vacant.

The first thing that happened when Ulrich arrived in his cab at the Imperial Hofburg was that the cabbie stopped in the outer courtyard and asked to be paid, claiming that although he was allowed to drive through the inner courtyard, he was not permitted to stop there. Ulrich was annoyed at the cabbie, whom he took for a cheat or a coward, but his protests were powerless against the man’s timid refusal, which suddenly made him sense the aura of a power mightier than he. When he walked into the inner courtyard he was much impressed with the numerous red, blue, white, and yellow coats, trousers, and helmet plumes that stood there stiffly in the sun like birds on a sandbank. Up to that moment he had considered “His Majesty” one of those meaningless terms which had stayed in use, as one may be an atheist and still say “Thank God.” But now his gaze wandered up high walls and he saw an island—gray, self-contained, and armed–lying there while the city’s speed rushed blindly past it. (I,83-84)

The powerful Imperial chamberlain, Count Stallburg, receiving his visitor at the heart of the castle, resembles the Wizard of Oz.

But when he entered Count Stallburg’s presence, Ulrich was received by His Excellency inside a great hollow prism of the best proportions, in the center of which this unpretentious, bald-headed, somewhat stooped man, his knees bent like an orangutan’s, stood facing Ulrich in a manner that could not possibly be the way an eminent Imperial Court functionary of noble birth would naturally look–it had to be an imitation of something. His Excellency’s shoulders were bowed, his underlip drooped, he resembled an aged-beagle or a worthy accountant. Suddenly there could be no doubt as to whom he reminded one of: Count Stallburg became transparent, and Ulrich realized that a man who has been for seventy years the All Highest Center of supreme power must find a certain satisfaction in retreating behind himself and looking like the most subservient of his subjects. (I,84-85)

Ulrich takes advantage of this audience with the powerful man to blurt out awkwardly a defence of Moosbrugger.

Ulrich’s slip had momentarily made him lose his presence of mind, but oddly enough his mistake seemed not to have made a bad impression on Count Stallburg. His Excellency had been nearly speechless at first, as though someone had taken off his jacket in his presence, but then such spontaneity from a man so well recommended came to seem to him refreshingly resolute and high-spirited. He was pleased to have found these two words, intent as he was on forming a favorable impression. He wrote them immediately (“We hope that we have found a resolute and high-spirited helper”) in his letter of introduction to the chairman of the great patriotic campaign. When Ulrich received  this document a few moments later, he felt like a child who is dismissed with a piece of chocolate pressed into its little hand….He scrutinized the insidious simplicity of the decor with curiosity, and felt quite certain in deciding that even now he was still unimpressed by it. This was simply a world that had not yet been cleared away. But still, what was that strong, peculiar quality it had made him feel? Damn it all, there was hardly any other way to put it: it was simply real.  (I,86-87)


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