Reading biographies

I decided to take a "busman's holiday" over the last few days and read or re-read some biographies of Austrian modernists. The first volume of Rainer Stach's biography of Franz Kafka came out this year, and I read around in it as soon as I received my copy. There I discovered, for example, that the German and Czech universities in Prague not only occupied the same building (while using separate entrances), but also shared the same library. Staircases were divided down the middle, one side for students at the German university, the other side for students at the Czech university!

My recent busman's holiday began by reading Stach's volume 1 straight through. Then I thought: why not re-read volumes 2 and 3, which I had read when they came out? It was fascinating to see the story unfolding from beginning to end. Of course Kafka's relation to Felice Bauer is given much scope, but his relationships with other women are also narrated in detail. Everyone should read Stach's very moving account of Kafka's death.

Well, having done that, I then decided to go back to Karl Corino's biography of Musil, which is something of a different beast. It's less easy to read, but thoroughly fascinating in the way it uses passages from Musil's fictional writing to illuminate his life. Scholarly accuracy requires much use of square brackets in passages drawn from diaries and letters, where Musil used initials or other kinds of abbreviations to refer to his contemporaries. Once you get used to that, however, you can pick up a little speed. Corino's entire book (excluding the notes) runs to 1460 pages. It's too heavy to carry to the MLA meeting in Vancouver, so I may have to put it aside for a while.