The shape of Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’

Since 2008 Finds has been proud to offer readers A. L. Lloyd’s 1937 translation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, which we feel comfortable in describing as the first published translation of the work into English – at least between covers. But we’ve been glad to receive a letter from a learned reader alerting us to another aspect of the title’s publishing history, and this correspondent writes:

Eugene Jolas prepared and published a translation [of Metamorphosis] across several issues of the journal Transition between Autumn 1936 and Spring 1938. However, as Jolas’ version appeared in instalments and therefore straddles the release of Lloyd’s, it may still be accurate to suggest that Lloyd’s was the first “complete” published translation of the work…

Good to know. Meanwhile – don’t you find, reader, that to dwell on thoughts of Kafka for much more than a moment is to find oneself drifting off a little into his singular imaginative universe…? “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect…” Another stray thought: could there ever be another Kafka? That is, in our age of instantaneous publishing and 24-hour multi-channel promotion, would it be possible for an insurance man who wrote at night and asked finally that all his works be incinerated… could such a retiring type get a start in the publishing universe of 2011? Not exactly the sort one would call ‘a promotable author’… And yet he was arguably the most influential fiction writer of the twentieth century, and surely the only writer in history of whom it can be said (as George Steiner has done) that he annexed and made his very own a letter of the alphabet…
Steven Berkoff’s celebrated stage version of Metamorphosis was a wonderful thing back in the 1980s, and Tim Roth, Roman Polanski and Mikhail Baryshnikov all took a turn at contorting their bodies into the mutated shape of Gregor Samsa. This clip below from a US network news show noting the New York opening of the Baryshnikov production, and featuring a cameo from Nancy Reagan, is one that should be saved for the annals.


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