"'Es ist ein eigentümlicher Apparat,' sagte der Offizier zu dem Forschungsreisenden und überblickte mit einem gewissermassen bewundernden Blick den ihm doch wohlbekannten Apparat. Der Reisende schien nur aus Höflichkeit der Einladung des Kommandanten gefolgt zu sein, der ihn aufgefordert hatte, der Exekution eines Soldaten beizuwohnen, der wegen Ungehorsam und Beleidigung des Vorgesetzten verurteilt worden war. Das Interesse für diese Exekution war wohl auch in der Strafkolonie nicht sehr gross."
['It's a particular device,' said the officer to the passenger, surveying the well-known device with a kind of admiring gaze. The passenger appeared to have only accepted the commander's invitation out of politeness, to witness the execution of a soldier convicted of disobedience and insulting his superiors. The interest in this execution was probably not very great in the penal colony either.]
– Franz Kafka, In der Strafkolonie
FIRST EDITION IN ORIGINAL BINDING OF ONE OF THE ONLY WORKS KAFKA PUBLISHED IN HIS LIFETIME.
Franz Kafka was much more prolific in his day job than as a novelist, authoring countless statements, annual reports and accident assessments as an insurance officer in the twenty years before his death in 1924. Franz Kafka only published very few works of fiction in his lifetime, and in 1914 he wrote in his diary, “An Fertigem nur: In der Strafkolonie und ein Kapitel des Verschollenen” [Only finished works: In the Penal Colony and a chapter of The Missing] (cited in Dietz, p. 101). Why was Kafka so timid about his work? An intensely private person, he was very meticulous and self-critical as a writer, often doubting the worth of his own creative pieces and eventually requesting that all of his manuscripts be burnt upon his death. We know the name “Kafka” today in large part because of his friend and literary executor Max Brod who refused Kafka’s request and subsequently published what are now some of the most celebrated works of twentieth-century literature, including The Trial.
In der Strafkolonie is not, however, one of these works posthumously published against Kafka’s will. It is rather one of the few works of Kafka’s published in his lifetime. The story is set in an unnamed penal colony and describes the use of an elaborate and brutal execution machine as a means of punishment and the gradual questioning of the system by a visiting officer. An early development in Kafkaesque world-building, the story no doubt was inspired by Kafka’s dealings with the endless bureaucracy that occupied most of his waking hours.
Particularly rare are first edition copies of In der Strafkolonie as only 1,000 copies were initially printed, and this copy features the publisher's original binding as Kafka would have seen it. And though In der Strafkolonie is one of the few works of his that he chose to appear in print, Kafka’s perpetual anxiety over sharing his writings with the world is in part reflected by the fact that, though he notes as early as 1914 that he has completed In der Strafkolonie, it was only in 1919 that it was finally published.
KAFKA, FRANZ. In der Strafkolonie. Leipzig: Kurt Wolff Verlag, 1919. First edition, one of 1000 copies (green-brown paper boards variant). Octavo (6 x 9 in), 71 pp., publisher’s original three-quarter calf over green and brown paste paper boards with foliate pattern, gilt lettering to spine, t.e.g., untrimmed; house in a custom presentation box, half-bound green morocco over green and yellow marbled boards with gilt lettering and decoration to spine. Light rubbing to spine, otherwise fine. A very rare first edition of one of the few works willingly published by Kafka. Dietz 50.
Dietz, Ludwig, Franz Kafka: Die Veröffentlichungen zur seinen Lebzeiten [1908–1924] (Heidelberg: Lothar Stiehm Verlag, 1982).
Price: $4,000 .