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Kafka at Rudolf Steiner's


Kafka at Rudolf Steiner's
by Rosalind Palermo Stevenson

Short Fiction

Rosalind Palermo Stevenson’s “Kafka at Rudolf Steiner’s” is a work of short fiction that explores two factual incidents in Franz Kafka's life. The first is Kafka’s visit to the mystical philosopher, Rudolf Steiner, at the time that Steiner was in Prague delivering a series of lectures on the subject of An Occult Physiology. The second is Kafka’s platonic and highly idealized love affair with a young Italian girl during his ten-day stay at the von Hartungen Sanatorium in Riva. In reinventing these two incidents, Palermo Stevenson juxtaposes the real and the imagined, connecting them with Kafka’s bleakly self-reflective vision of his life and the foreshadowing in his work of a coming evil that could not be held back. The result is a poetic prose narrative that is deeply interior and at the same time darkly historical.


Review by Russell Reece from Fox Chase Review

From the opening paragraph you will know this book is something special.

Rosalind Palermo Stevenson has used two actual incidents in the life of the legendary existentialist writer, Franz Kafka, to frame this memorable work of fiction. In March of 1911, Kafka visited the mystical philosopher, Rudolf Steiner in Prague. There, in Stevenson’s story, we encounter a typical Kafka conundrum: “I was faced with a dilemma: it was where to place the hat I had removed from my head.” Kafka’s resolution gives us our first insight into the man and sets the tone of what’s to follow. This visit to Steiner and Steiner’s writings and philosophy are laced throughout the main story of Kafka’s 1913 stay at the von Hartungen sanatorium in Riva where he actually met and fell in love with a young Christian woman he calls, W.

Throughout this short volume (20 pages) the author intersperses the real and the imagined to create an early 20th century dreamscape. Stevenson’s spare and poetic prose – “I have put up the oars so we can drift, we are the only boaters on the lake, drifting; imperceptible movement…” – her masterful use of sentence fragments, and her wonderful descriptions – a folded shawl, oars that sit stiffly at the bottom of a boat – swept me up in this story and kept me there to the end.

There’s a lot to get into here. First and foremost is the heartwarming relationship between Kafka and W, a mutual love confined by both the social mores of the day – “The desire to let my cheek come to rest against hers” – and Kafka’s struggle between his outward life and his internal, self-reflective interests. The story is a wonderful tribute to Franz Kafka. You know and like this man in spite of his dark perspective and feelings of being an outsider. The story also foreshadows the evil that will soon overrun Europe and ultimately result in the Holocaust.

I encourage you to take an hour, find a quiet place and sit down and read this jewel of a book. Then read it again. You will be glad you did.






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cover drawing: “Inmate Art from Auschwitz and Birkenau.” Detail of the drawing
Königsgraben on the ceiling of the penal colony barrack at Birkenau.
credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology



Rosalind Palermo Stevenson is the author of the novella “Insect Dreams” published by Rain Mountain Press. “Insect Dreams” has also been published in the anthologies: Poe’s Children (Random House/Doubleday, edited by Peter Straub); and, Trampoline (Small Beer Press, edited by Kelly Link). Her story, “The Guest,” has been included in Wild Dreams: The Best of Italian Americana (Fordham University Press), and her short fiction and prose poems appear in numerous literary journals, including: Web Conjunctions, Skidrow Penthouse, First Intensity, Spinning Jenny, Quick Fiction: Works (of fiction) In Progress (WIPs); River City, and Washington Square. . Her work has received several Pushcart nominations. She lives in New York City.