Franz Kafka and the Mice

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To Felix Weltsch,  [Zürau, mid-November 1917]

“Dear Felix, The first fatal flaw of Zürau: a night of mice, a fearful experience. I myself came through unscathed and my hair is no whiter than yesterday, but it was still gruesome. Here and there previously (I may have to stop writing any minute, you will learn the reason), here and there in the night I had heard a delicate nibbling, once in fact I started out of bed all atremble and had a look around and the noise stopped at once- but this time it was an uproar. What a frightful mute and noisy race this is! Around two A.M. I was wakened by a rustling around my bed, and from then on the rustling did not stop until morning. Up the coal box, down the coal box, across the room they ran, describing circles, nibbling at wood, peeping softly while resting, and all along there was that sense of silence, of the secret oppressed proletarian race to whom the night belongs. To preserve my sanity, I decided that the noise concentrated around the stove, which stands at the other end of the room. But it was everywhere, and reached its peak when a whole swarm of them leaped down together somewhere. I was completely helpless, could find nothing in my whole being to cling to. I did not dare get up, light the lamp. All I could manage was a few shouts, with which I tried to intimidate them. So the night passed, and in the morning my disgust and misery were such that I could not get up but remained in bed until one o’clock, straining my ears to hear what one tireless mouse was doing in the wardrobe, either finishing the work of the night before or getting a start on the next night’s assignment. Now I have taken the cat (which I have secretly hated all along) into my room, and must often shoo her away when she tries to jump into my lap (writing interrupted); if she dirties I must go fetch the maid from the ground floor; when she (the cat) is good, she lies by the stove while at the window one early riser of a mouse scratches unequivocally…”

Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors, Franz Kafka, Translated by Richard and Clara Winston, Schocken Books, 1977.

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