cover missing



About the Book

About the Author

Also by Franz Kafka

Title Page

I: The Arrest – Conversation with Frau Grubach then Fräulein Bürstner

II: First Interrogation

III: In the Empty Interrogation Chamber – The Student – The Offices

IV: Fräulein Bürstner’s Friend

V: The Whipper

VI: K.’s Uncle – Leni

VII: Advocate – Manufacturer – Painter

VIII: The Commercial Traveller – Dismissal of the Advocate

IX: In the Cathedral

X: The End


The History of Vintage


About the Book

The terrifying tale of Joseph K, a respectable functionary in a bank, who is suddenly arrested and must defend his innocence against a charge about which he can get no information. A nightmare vision of the excesses of modern bureaucracy wedded to the mad agendas of twentieth-century totalitarian regimes.




Complete Short Stories


The Castle


The Diaries of Franz Kafka

Letters to Felice

Letters to Milena

About the Author

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883, the son of a rich Jewish Czech merchant. After studying law he worked for a Prague insurance company. In later years he settled down in a Berlin suburb to concentrate on writing. In 1912 he met a young woman from Berlin, Felicie (Felice) Bauer, and was twice briefly engaged to her. His unhappy love affairs, his difficult relationship with his father, and his own inflexible intellectual honesty and intense sensitivity combined to weaken his health and in 1917 he discovered he was suffering from tuberculosis. In 1920 he met Milena Jesenska-Pollak, with whom he later corresponded. In 1923 he met Dora Dymant and lived with her for a time in Prague before he entered a sanitorium near Vienna. He died in 1924. Kafka published only seven works in his lifetime and left directions that his unpublished writings should be destroyed. These instructions were disregarded by his friend and executor Max Brod. The Trial appeared in 1925, followed by The Castle in 1926, America in 1927 and The Great Wall of China, a selection of his shorter fiction, in 1931.


The Trial




Max Brod



Willa and Edwin Muir




Nearly everything of Kafka’s that was published in his lifetime was rescued from him by dint of persuasion and guile on my part. That does not mean that he took no pleasure in his work; often enough and for long periods he showed great pleasure in his writings, although he always referred to them as ‘scribblings’. Anyone who had the privilege of hearing him read his own prose to a small circle, with a rhythmic sweep, a dramatic fire, a spontaneity such as no actor ever achieves, got an immediate impression of the delight in creation and the passion that informed his work. His unwillingness to publish it arose in the first place from certain unhappy experiences that drove him to a kind of self-sabotage, and therefore to an attitude of Nihilism regarding his own work; in the second place, however, it arose independently from the fact that he applied the highest religious standards to all work of his (although he never actually said so), and, of course, it always fell short of these standards, wrung as it was from his own perplexities. He would not admit the argument that his work might help other seekers for faith, naturalness, and spiritual wholeness, being himself too earnestly and implacably a seeker for the right way of living to feel that he could advise others when his first need was to advise himself.

That is how I interpret Kafka’s negative attitude towards his work. He spoke often of the ‘false hands that reach out to one while one is writing’; he also said that what he had already written, not to say published, led him astray in his further work. There were many resistances to overcome before a book of his could be published. None the less, the handsome volumes gave him real delight, and sometimes he relished even the effect they had; there were times when he regarded both himself and his work with a benevolent eye, never quite without irony, but with a friendly irony.

Among Franz Kafka’s papers no will was ever found. In his writing-table, beneath a pile of other papers, lay a folded note written in ink and addressed to me. This is what it said:

DEAREST MAX, my last request: Everything I leave behind me (that is, in the bookcases, chest of drawers, writing-table, both at home and in the office, or wherever anything may have got to, whatever you happen to find), in the way of note-books, manuscripts, letters, my own and other people’s, sketches and so on, is to be burned unread and to the last page, as well as all writings of mine or notes which either you may have or other people, from whom you are to beg them in my name. Letters which are not handed over to you should at least be faithfully burned by those who have them.



A closer search brought to light a yellowed and obviously more ancient piece of paper on which was written in pencil:

DEAR MAX, perhaps this time I shan’t recover, pneumonia is likely enough after the month of pulmonary fever I have had, and not even my setting it down in writing will keep it off, although there’s some power even in that.

Just in case, then, this is my last will concerning all I have written:

Of all my writings the only books that count are these: The Judgement, The Stoker, Metamorphosis, Penal Colony, Country Doctor, and the short story: Hunger-Artists. (The few copies that exist of the Meditation can be left; I don’t want to give anyone the trouble of pulping them, but there’s to be no reprinting.) When I say that these five books and the short story count, I don’t mean that I want them to be printed again and handed down to posterity; on the contrary, should they disappear altogether that would be what I want. Only, since they do exist, I don’t mind anyone’s keeping them if he wants to.

But everything else of mine that I have written (printed in magazines or newspapers, written in manuscripts or letters) without exception, so far as it can be got hold of, or begged from the addressees (the most of these you know, the main ones are . . . and be sure not to forget the note-books . . . has) – all this, without exception and preferably unread (though I don’t mind you looking into it, but I would much prefer that you didn’t, and in any case no one else is to look at it) – all this, without exception, is to be burned, and that you should do it as soon as possible is what I beg of you.



If in spite of these categorical instructions I refuse to commit the incendiary act my friend demanded of me, I have good reasons for it.

Some of these are private, but there are others which can be made public and which in my opinion justify my decision.

The chief reason is this: when I took up a new profession in 1921 I told my friend that I had made a will begging him to destroy various papers of mine, to edit others, and so forth. Kafka said in reply, showing me the outside of the note written in ink which was later found in his writing-table: ‘My will is going to be quite simple – a request to you to burn everything.’ I can still remember the exact wording of my answer: ‘In case you ever seriously think of doing such a thing, let me tell you now that I would not fulfil any such request.’ The whole conversation was carried on in the jesting tone habitual to us, but there was always a background of seriousness assumed by each of us in what we said to each other. Franz knew that my refusal was in earnest, and at the end, if he had still intended these wishes to be carried out, he would have appointed another executor.

Other reasons are: the instructions in the pencilled note were not followed by Franz himself, since he gave specific permission later on for parts of the Meditation to be printed in a newspaper, and for three other stories of his to be published, which he himself made up into a volume together with Hunger-Artists and gave to a publishing firm. Besides, both these notes were written at a time when my friend’s self-critical tendencies had reached their peak. But during his last years his whole life took an unforeseen turn for the better, a new, happy, and positive turn which cancelled out his self-hatred and Nihilism. Also, my decision to publish now is made easier for me by the recollections of the struggles I waged to get out of Kafka, sometimes by sheer importunity, every single publication of his; and yet afterwards he was reconciled to these publications and relatively pleased with them. Finally, in a posthumous edition many personal arguments cease to apply, such as, for instance, Kafka’s objection that the publication of work he had done would lead him astray in his future work, or that it would call up the shadows of painful past experience. That Kafka’s dislike of publication was intimately bound up with his personal problems could be gathered from much that he said, and from the following letter to me: ‘. . . I am not going to include the novels. Why rake up these old attempts? Only because they happen not to have been burned yet? . . . Next time I come I hope they will be burned. What sense would there be in reviving such . . . bungled pieces of work? Only if one hoped to create a whole out of the fragments, some complete work to which one could make a final appeal, a breast on which I could beat in my hour of need. But I know that is impossible here, there is no help for me in these. So what am I to do with the things? Since they can’t help me am I to let them harm me, as must be the case, given my knowledge about them?’

The manuscript of this novel, The Trial, I took home with me in June 1920 and set in order soon after. The manuscript has no title. But in speaking of it Kafka always referred to it as The Trial. For the division into chapters as well as the chapter headings Kafka is responsible, but for the arrangement of the chapters I have had to depend on my own judgement. Since, however, my friend had read me a great part of the manuscript, my judgement has been supported by actual recollection.

Franz Kafka regarded the novel as unfinished. Before the final chapter, which is here included, various further stages of the mysterious trial should have been described. But since the trial, according to the author himself, was never to get as far as the highest Court, in a certain sense the novel was interminable; that is to say, it could be prolonged into infinity. And the finished chapters, taken in conjunction with the conclusive last chapter, in any case suffice to let the meaning and form of the work appear with the utmost clarity; anyone who was not informed that the author had proposed to do further work on it – he never did so, because his life entered an entirely new atmosphere – would scarcely notice its deficiencies.

My labours with the huge bundle of papers were confined to separating the finished from the unfinished chapters. The unfinished chapters I am keeping back for the final volume of the posthumous edition of Kafka’s works; they contain nothing that is essential to the action. One of these fragments, called ‘A Dream’, was included by the author himself in the volume entitled A Country Doctor. The finished chapters have been here combined and arranged. Of the unfinished chapters I have used only one, which is obviously very nearly finished; with a small rearrangement of four lines it appears in this book as Chapter VIII.

In the text I have naturally altered nothing. I have only transcribed in full the innumerable contractions (for instance, instead of F. B., Fräulein Bürstner; instead of T., Titorelli) and corrected one or two slips that remained in the manuscript obviously only because the author had never subjected it to a definite revision.

Max Brod



SOMEONE MUST HAVE been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning. His landlady’s cook, who always brought him his breakfast at eight o’clock, failed to appear on this occasion. That had never happened before. K. waited for a little while longer, watching from his pillow the old lady opposite, who seemed to be peering at him with a curiosity unusual even for her, but then, feeling both put out and hungry, he rang the bell. At once there was a knock at the door and a man entered whom he had never seen before in the house. He was slim and yet well knit, he wore a closely fitting black suit, which was furnished with all sorts of pleats, pockets, buckles, and buttons, as well as a belt, like a tourist’s outfit, and in consequence looked eminently practical, though one could not quite tell what actual purpose it served. ‘Who are you?’ asked K., half raising himself in bed. But the man ignored the question, as though his appearance needed no explanation, and merely said: ‘Did you ring?’ ‘Anna is to bring me my breakfast,’ said K., and then with silent intensity studied the fellow, trying to make out who he could be. The man did not submit to this scrutiny for very long, but turned to the door and opened it slightly so as to report to someone who was evidently standing just behind it: ‘He says Anna is to bring him his breakfast.’ A short guffaw from the next room came in answer; one could not tell from the sound whether it was produced by several individuals or merely by one. Although the strange man could not have learned anything from it that he did not know already, he now said to K., as if passing on a statement: ‘It can’t be done.’ ‘This is news indeed,’ cried K., springing out of bed and quickly pulling on his trousers. ‘I must see what people these are next door, and how Frau Grubach can account to me for such behaviour.’ Yet it occurred to him at once that he should not have said this aloud and that by doing so he had in a way admitted the stranger’s right to an interest in his actions; still, that did not seem important to him at the moment. The stranger, however, took his words in some such sense, for he asked: ‘Hadn’t you better stay here?’ ‘I shall neither stay here nor let you address me until you have introduced yourself.’ ‘I meant well enough,’ said the stranger, and then of his own accord threw the door open. In the next room, which K. entered more slowly than he had intended, everything looked at first glance almost as it had done the evening before. It was Frau Grubach’s living-room; perhaps among all the furniture, rugs, china, and photographs with which it was crammed there was a little more free space than usual, yet one did not perceive that at first, especially as the main change consisted in the presence of a man who was sitting at the open window reading a book, from which he now glanced up. ‘You should have stayed in your room! Didn’t Franz tell you that?’ ‘Yes, yes, but what are you doing here?’ asked K., looking from his new acquaintance to the man called Franz, who was still standing by the door, and then back again. Through the open window he had another glimpse of the old woman, who with truly senile inquisitiveness had moved along to the window exactly opposite, in order to see all that could be seen. ‘I’d better get Frau Grubach –’ said K., as if wrenching himself away from the two men (though they were standing at quite a distance from him) and making as if to go out. ‘No,’ said the man at the window, flinging the book down on the table and getting up.

‘You can’t go out, you are arrested,’ ‘So it seems,’ said K. ‘But what for?’ he added. ‘We are not authorized to tell you that. Go to your room and wait there. Proceedings have been instituted against you, and you will be informed of everything in due course. I am exceeding my instructions in speaking freely to you like this. But I hope nobody hears me except Franz, and he himself has been too free with you, against his express instructions. If you continue to have as good luck as you have had in the choice of your warders, then you can be confident of the final result.’ K. felt he must sit down, but now he saw that there was no seat in the whole room except the chair beside the window. ‘You’ll soon discover that we’re telling you the truth,’ said Franz, advancing towards him simultaneously with the other man. The latter overtopped K. enormously and kept clapping him on the shoulder. They both examined his nightshirt and said that he would have to wear a less fancy shirt now, but that they would take charge of this one and the rest of his underwear and, if his case turned out well, restore them to him later. ‘Much better give these things to us than hand them over to the depot,’ they said, ‘for in the depot there’s lots of thieving, and besides they sell everything there after a certain length of time, no matter whether your case is settled or not. And you never know how long these cases will last, especially these days. Of course you would get the money out of the depot in the long run, but in the first place the prices they pay you are always wretched, for they sell your things to the best briber, not the best bidder, and anyhow it’s well known that money dwindles a lot if it passes from hand to hand from one year to another.’ K. paid hardly any attention to this advice, any right to dispose of his own things which he might possess he did not prize very highly; far more important to him was the necessity to understand his situation clearly; but with these people beside him he could not even think, the belly of the second warder – for they could only be warders – kept butting against him in an almost friendly way, yet if he looked up he caught sight of a face which did not in the least suit that fat body, a dry, bony face with a great nose, twisted to one side, which seemed to be consulting over his head with the other warder. Who could these men be? What were they talking about? What authority could they represent? K. lived in a country with a legal constitution, there was universal peace, all the laws were in force; who dared seize him in his own dwelling? He had always been inclined to take things easily, to believe in the worst only when the worst happened, to take no care for the morrow even when the outlook was threatening. But that struck him as not being the right policy here, one could certainly regard the whole thing as a joke, a rude joke which his colleagues in the Bank had concocted for some unknown reason, perhaps because this was his thirtieth birthday, that was of course possible, perhaps he had only to laugh knowingly in these men’s faces and they would laugh with him, perhaps they were merely porters from the street corner – they looked very like it – nevertheless his very first glance at the man Franz had decided him for the time being not to give away any advantage that he might possess over these people. There was a slight risk that later on his friends might possibly say he could not take a joke, but he had in mind – though it was not usual with him to learn from experience – several occasions, of no importance in themselves, when against all his friends’ advice he had behaved with deliberate recklessness and without the slightest regard for possible consequences, and had had in the end to pay dearly for it. That must not happen again, at least not this time; if this was a comedy he would insist on playing it to the end.

But he was still free. ‘Allow me,’ he said, passing quickly between the warders to his room. ‘He seems to have some sense,’ he heard one of them saying behind him. When he reached his room he at once pulled out the drawer of his desk, everything lay there in perfect order, but in his agitation he could not find at first the identification papers for which he was looking. At last he found his bicycle licence and was about to start off with it to the warders, but then it seemed too trivial a thing, and he searched again until he found his birth certificate. As he was re-entering the next room the opposite door opened and Frau Grubach showed herself. He saw her only for an instant, for no sooner did she recognize him than she was obviously overcome by embarrassment, apologized for intruding, vanished, and shut the door again with the utmost care. ‘Come in, do,’ he would just have had time to say. But he merely stood holding his papers in the middle of the room, looking at the door, which did not open again, and was only recalled to attention by a shout from the warders, who were sitting at a table by the open window and, as he now saw, devouring his breakfast. ‘Why didn’t she come in?’ he asked. ‘She isn’t allowed to,’ said the tall warder, ‘since you’re under arrest.’ ‘But how can I be under arrest? And particularly in such a ridiculous fashion?’ ‘So now you’re beginning it all over again?’ said the warder, dipping a slice of bread and butter into the honey-pot. ‘We don’t answer such questions.’ ‘You’ll have to answer them,’ said K. ‘Here are my papers, now show me yours, and first of all your warrant for arresting me.’ ‘Oh, good Lord,’ said the warder. ‘If you would only realize your position, and if you wouldn’t insist on uselessly annoying us two, who probably mean better by you and stand closer to you than any other people in the world.’ ‘That’s so, you can believe that,’ said Franz, not raising to his lips the coffee-cup he held in his hand, but instead giving K. a long, apparently significant, yet incomprehensible look. Without wishing it K. found himself decoyed into an exchange of speaking looks with Franz, none the less he tapped his papers and repeated: ‘Here are my identification papers.’ ‘What are your papers to us?’ cried the tall warder. ‘You’re behaving worse than a child. What are you after? Do you think you’ll bring this fine case of yours to a speedier end by wrangling with us, your warders, over papers and warrants? We are humble subordinates who can scarcely find our way through a legal document and have nothing to do with your case except to stand guard over you for ten hours a day and draw our pay for it. That’s all we are, but we’re quite capable of grasping the fact that the high authorities we serve, before they would order such an arrest as this must be quite well informed about the reasons for the arrest and the person of the prisoner. There can be no mistake about that. Our officials, so far as I know them, and I know only the lowest grades among them, never go hunting for crime in the populace, but, as the Law decrees, are drawn towards the guilty and must then send out us warders. That is the Law. How could there be a mistake in that?’ ‘I don’t know this Law,’ said K. ‘All the worse for you,’ replied the warder. ‘And it probably exists nowhere but in your own head,’ said K.; he wanted in some way to enter into the thoughts of the warders and twist them to his own advantage or else try to acclimatize himself to them. But the warder merely said in a discouraging voice: ‘You’ll come up against it yet.’ Franz interrupted: ‘See, Willem, he admits that he doesn’t know the Law and yet he claims he’s innocent.’ ‘You’re quite right, but you’ll never make a man like that see reason,’ replied the other. K. gave no further answer; ‘Must I,’ he thought, ‘let myself be confused still worse by the gabble of those wretched hirelings? – they admit themselves that’s all they are. They’re talking of things, in any case, which they don’t understand. Plain stupidity is the only thing that can give them such assurance. A few words with a man on my own level of intelligence would make everything far clearer than hours of talk with these two.’ He walked up and down a few times in the free part of the room; at the other side of the street he could still see the old woman, who had now dragged to the window an even older man, whom she was holding round the waist. K. felt he must put an end to this farce. ‘Take me to your superior officer,’ he said. ‘When he orders me, not before,’ retorted the warder called Willem. ‘And now I advise you,’ he went on, ‘to go to your room, stay quietly there, and wait for what may be decided about you. Our advice to you is not to let yourself be distracted by vain thoughts, but to collect yourself, for great demands will be made upon you. You haven’t treated us as our kind advances to you deserved, you have forgotten that we, no matter who we may be, are at least free men compared to you; that is no small advantage. All the same, we are prepared, if you have any money, to bring you a little breakfast from the coffee-house across the street.’

Without replying to this offer K. remained standing where he was for a moment. If he were to open the door of the next room or even the door leading to the hall, perhaps the two of them would not dare to hinder him, perhaps that would be the simplest solution of the whole business, to bring it to a head. But perhaps they might seize him after all, and if he were once down, all the superiority would be lost which in a certain sense he still retained. Accordingly, instead of a quick solution he chose that certainty which the natural course of things would be bound to bring, and went back to his room without another word having been said by him or by the warders.

He flung himself on his bed and took from the wash-stand a fine apple which he had laid out the night before for his breakfast. Now it was all the breakfast he would have, but in any case, as the first few bites assured him, much better than the breakfast from the filthy night café would have been, which the grace of his warders might have secured him. He felt fit and confident, he would miss his work in the Bank that morning, it was true, but that would be easily overlooked, considering the comparatively high post he held there. Should he give the real reason for his absence? He considered doing so. If they did not believe him, which in the circumstances would be understandable, he could produce Frau Grubach as a witness, or even the two odd creatures over the way, who were now probably meandering back again to the window opposite his room. K. was surprised, at least he was surprised considering the warder’s point of view, that they had sent him to his room and left him alone there, where he had abundant opportunities to take his life. Though at the same time he also asked himself, looking at it from his own point of view, what possible ground he could have to do so. Because two warders were sitting next door and had intercepted his breakfast? To take his life would be such a senseless act that, even if he wished, he could not bring himself to do it because of its very senselessness. If the intellectual poverty of the warders were not so manifest, he might almost assume that they too saw no danger in leaving him alone, for the very same reason. They were quite at liberty to watch him now while he went to a wall-cupboard where he kept a bottle of good brandy, while he filled a glass and drank it down to make up for his breakfast, and then drank a second to give him courage, the last one only as a precaution, for the improbable contingency that it might be needed.

Then a shout came from the next room which made him start so violently that his teeth rattled against the glass. ‘The Inspector wants you,’ was its tenor. It was merely the tone of it that startled him, a curt, military bark with which he would never have credited the warder Franz. The command itself was actually welcome to him. ‘At last,’ he shouted back, closing the cupboard and hurrying at once into the next room. There the two warders were standing, and, as if that were a matter of course, immediately drove him back into his room again. ‘What are you thinking of?’ they cried. ‘Do you imagine you can appear before the Inspector in your shirt? He’ll have you well thrashed, and us too.’ ‘Let me alone, damn you,’ cried K., who by now had been forced back to his wardrobe. ‘If you grab me out of bed, you can’t expect to find me all dressed up in my best suit.’ ‘This doesn’t help you any,’ said the warders, who as soon as K. raised his voice always grew quite calm, indeed almost rueful, and thus contrived either to confuse him or to some extent bring him to his senses. ‘Silly formalities!’ he growled, but immediately lifted a coat from a chair and held it up for a little while in both hands, as if displaying it to the warders for their approval. They shook their heads. ‘It must be a black coat,’ they said. Thereupon K. flung the coat on the floor and said – he did not himself know in what sense he meant the words – ‘But this isn’t the capital charge yet.’ The warders smiled, but stuck to their: ‘It must be a black coat.’ ‘If it’s to dispatch my case any quicker, I don’t mind,’ replied K., opening the wardrobe, where he searched for a long time among his many suits, chose his best black one, a lounge suit which had caused almost a sensation among his acquaintances because of its elegance, then selected another shirt and began to dress with great care. In his secret heart he thought he had managed after all to speed up the proceedings, for the warders had forgotten to make him take a bath. He kept an eye on them to see if they would remember the ducking, but of course it never occurred to them, yet on the other hand Willem did not forget to send Franz to the Inspector with the information that K. was dressing.

When he was fully dressed he had to walk, with Willem treading on his heels, through the next room, which was now empty, into the adjoining one, whose double doors were flung open. This room, as K. knew quite well, had recently been taken by a Fräulein Bürstner, a typist, who went very early to work, came home late, and with whom he had exchanged little more than a few words in passing. Now the night-table beside her bed had been pushed into the middle of the floor to serve as a desk, and the Inspector was sitting behind it. He had crossed his legs, and one arm was resting on the back of the chair.

In a corner of the room three young men were standing looking at Fräulein Bürstner’s photographs, which were stuck into a mat hanging on the wall. A white blouse dangled from the latch of the open window. In the window over the way the two old creatures were again stationed, but they had enlarged their party, for behind them, towering head and shoulders above them, stood a man with a shirt open at the neck and a reddish, pointed beard, which he kept pinching and twisting with his fingers. ‘Joseph K.?’ asked the Inspector, perhaps merely to draw K.’s distracted glance upon himself. K. nodded. ‘You are presumably very surprised at the events of this morning?’ asked the Inspector, with both hands rearranging the few things that lay on the night-table, a candle and a matchbox, a book and a pin-cushion, as if they were objects which he required for his interrogation. ‘Certainly,’ said K., and he was filled with pleasure at having encountered a sensible man at last, with whom he could discuss the matter. ‘Certainly, I am surprised, but I am by no means very surprised.’ ‘Not very surprised?’ asked the Inspector, setting the candle in the middle of the table and then grouping the other things round it. ‘Perhaps you misunderstand me,’ K. hastened to add. ‘I mean’ – here K. stopped and looked round him for a chair. ‘I suppose I may sit down?’ he asked. ‘It’s not usual,’ answered the Inspector. ‘I mean,’ said K. without further parley, ‘that I am very surprised, of course, but when one has lived for thirty years in this world and had to fight one’s way through it, as I have had to do, one becomes hardened to surprises and doesn’t take them too seriously. Particularly the one this morning.’ ‘Why particularly the one this morning?’ ‘I won’t say that I regard the whole thing as a joke, for the preparations that have been made seem too elaborate for that. The whole staff of the boarding-house would have to be involved, as well as all you people, and that would be past a joke. So I don’t say that it’s a joke.’ ‘Quite right,’ said the Inspector, looking to see how many matches there were in the matchbox. ‘But on the other hand,’ K. went on, turning to everybody there, he wanted to bring in the three young men standing beside the photographs as well, ‘on the other hand, it can’t be an affair of any great importance either. I argue this from the fact that though I am accused of something, I cannot recall the slightest offence that might be charged against me. But that even is of minor importance, the real question is, who accuses me? What authority is conducting these proceedings? Are you officers of the Law? None of you has a uniform, unless your suit’ – here he turned to Franz – ‘is to be considered a uniform, but it’s more like a tourist’s outfit. I demand a clear answer to these questions, and I feel sure that after an explanation we shall be able to part from each other on the best of terms.’ The Inspector flung the matchbox down on the table. ‘You are labouring under a great delusion,’ he said. ‘These gentlemen here and myself have no standing whatever in this affair of yours, indeed we know hardly anything about it. We might wear the most official uniforms and your case would not be a penny the worse. I can’t even confirm that you are charged with an offence, or rather I don’t know whether you are. You are under arrest, certainly, more than that I do not know. Perhaps the warders have given you a different impression, but they are only irresponsible gossips. However, if I can’t answer your questions, I can at least give you a piece of advice; think less about us and of what is going to happen to you, think more about yourself instead. And don’t make such an outcry about your feeling innocent, it spoils the not unfavourable impression you make in other respects. Also you should be far more reticent, nearly everything you have just said could have been implied in your behaviour with the help of a word here and there, and in any case does not redound particularly to your credit.’

K. stared at the Inspector. Was he to be taught lessons in manners by a man probably younger than himself? To be punished for his frankness by a rebuke? And about the cause of his arrest and about its instigator was he to learn nothing?

He was thrown into a certain agitation, and began to walk up and down – nobody hindered him – pushed back his cuffs, fingered his shirt-front, ruffled his hair, and as he passed the three young men said: ‘This is sheer nonsense!’ Whereupon they turned towards him and regarded him sympathetically but gravely; at last he came to a stand before the Inspector’s table. ‘The advocate Hasterer is a personal friend of mine,’ he said. ‘May I telephone to him?’ ‘Certainly,’ replied the Inspector, ‘but I don’t see what sense there would be in that, unless you have some private business of your own to consult him about.’ ‘What sense would there be in that?’ cried K., more in amazement than exasperation. ‘What kind of man are you, then? You ask me to be sensible and you carry on in the most senseless way imaginable yourself! It’s enough to drive me mad. People first fall upon me in my own house and then lounge about the room and leave me to rack my brains in vain for the reason. What sense would there be in telephoning to an advocate when I’m supposed to be under arrest? All right, I won’t telephone.’ ‘But do telephone if you want to,’ replied the Inspector, waving an arm towards the entrance hall, where the telephone was, ‘please do telephone.’ ‘No, I don’t want to now,’ said K., going over to the window. Across the street the party of three were still on the watch, and their enjoyment of the spectacle received its first slight check when K. appeared at the window. The two old people moved as if to get up, but the man at the back blandly reassured them. ‘Here’s a fine crowd of spectators!’ cried K. in a loud voice to the Inspector, pointing at them with his finger. ‘Go away,’ he shouted across. The three of them immediately retreated a few steps, the two ancients actually took cover behind the younger man, who shielded them with his massive body and to judge from the movements of his lips was saying something which, owing to the distance, could not be distinguished. Yet they did not remove themselves altogether, but seemed to be waiting for the chance to return to the window again unobserved. ‘Officious, inconsiderate wretches!’ said K. as he turned back to the room again. The Inspector was possibly of the same mind, K. fancied, as far as he could tell from a hasty side-glance. But it was equally possible that the Inspector had not even been listening, for he had pressed one hand firmly on the table and seemed to be comparing the length of his fingers. The two warders sat on a chest draped with an embroidered cloth, rubbing their knees. The three young men were looking aimlessly round them with their hands on their hips. It was as quiet as in some deserted office. ‘Come, gentlemen,’ cried K., it seemed to him for the moment as if he were responsible for all of them, ‘from the look of you this affair of mine seems to be settled. In my opinion the best thing now would be to bother no more about the justice or injustice of your behaviour and settle the matter amicably by shaking hands on it. If you are of the same opinion, why, then –’ and he stepped over to the Inspector’s table and held out his hand. The Inspector raised his eyes, bit his lips, and looked at K.’s hand stretched out to him; K. still believed he was going to close with the offer. But instead he got up, seized a hard round hat lying on Fräulein Bürstner’s bed, and with both hands put it carefully on his head, as if he were trying it on for the first time. ‘How simple it all seems to you!’ he said to K. as he did so. ‘You think we should settle the matter amicably, do you? No, no, that really can’t be done. On the other hand I don’t mean to suggest that you should give up hope. Why should you? You are only under arrest, nothing more. I was requested to inform you of this. I have done so, and I have also observed your reactions. That’s enough for to-day, and we can say good-bye, though only for the time being, naturally. You’ll be going to the Bank now, I suppose?’ ‘To the Bank?’ asked K. ‘I thought I was under arrest?’ K. asked the question with a certain defiance, for though his offer to shake hands had been ignored, he felt more and more independent of all these people, especially now that the Inspector had risen to his feet. He was playing with them. He considered the idea of running after them to the front door as they left and challenging them to take him prisoner. So he said again: ‘How can I go to the Bank, if I am under arrest?’ ‘Ah, I see,’ said the Inspector, who had already reached the door. ‘You have misunderstood me. You are under arrest, certainly, but that need not hinder you from going about your business. You won’t be hampered in carrying on in the ordinary course of your life.’ ‘Then being arrested isn’t so very bad,’ said K., going up to the Inspector. ‘I never suggested that it was,’ said the Inspector. ‘But in that case it would seem there was no particular necessity to tell me about it,’ said K., moving still closer. The others had drawn near too. They were all gathered now in a little space beside the door. ‘It was my duty,’ said the Inspector. ‘A stupid duty,’ said K. inflexibly. ‘That may be,’ replied the Inspector, ‘but we needn’t waste our time with such arguments. I was assuming that you would want to go to the Bank. As you are such a quibbler over words, let me add that I am not forcing you to go to the Bank, I was merely assuming that you would want to go. And to facilitate that, and render your arrival at the Bank as unobtrusive as possible, I have detained these three gentlemen here, who are colleagues of yours, to be at your disposal.’ ‘What?’ cried K., gaping at the three of them. These insignificant anaemic young men, whom he had observed only as a group standing beside the photographs, were actually clerks in the Bank, not colleagues of his, that was putting it too strongly and indicated a gap in the omniscience of the Inspector, but they were subordinate employees of the Bank all the same. How could he have failed to notice that? He must have been very taken up with the Inspector and the warders not to recognize these three young men. The stiff Rabensteiner swinging his arms, the fair Kullich with the deep-set eyes, and Kaminer with his insupportable smile, caused by a chronic muscular twitch. ‘Good morning!’ said K. after a pause, holding out his hand to the three politely bowing figures. ‘I didn’t recognize you. Well, shall we go to our work now, eh?’ The young men nodded, smiling and eagerly, as if they had been waiting all the time merely for this, but when K. turned to get his hat, which he had left in his room, they all fled one after the other to fetch it, which seemed to indicate a certain embarrassment. K. stood still and watched them through the two open doors; the languid Rabensteiner, naturally, brought up the rear, for he merely minced along at an elegant trot, Kaminer handed over the hat and K. had to tell himself expressly, as indeed he had often to do in the Bank, that Kaminer’s smile was not intentional, that the man could not smile intentionally if he tried. Then Frau Grubach, who did not appear to be particularly conscious of any guilt, opened the front door to let the whole company out, and K. glanced down, as so often before, at her apron-string, which made such an unreasonably deep cut in her massive body. Down below he decided, his watch in his hand, to take a taxi so as to save any further delay in reaching the Bank, for he was already half an hour late. Kaminer ran to the corner to get a taxi, the other two were obviously doing their best to distract K., when suddenly Kullich pointed to the opposite house door, where the tall man with the reddish, pointed beard was emerging into sight, and immediately, a little embarrassed at showing himself in his full height, retreated against the wall and leaned there. The old couple must be still coming down the stairs. K. was annoyed at Kullich for drawing his attention to the man, whom he had already identified, indeed whom he had actually expected to see. ‘Don’t look across,’ he said hurriedly, without noticing how strange it must seem to speak in that fashion to grown-up men. But no explanation proved necessary, for at that moment the taxi arrived, they took their seats, and drove off. Then K. remembered that he had not noticed the Inspector and the warders leaving, the Inspector had usurped his attention so that he did not recognize the three clerks, and the clerks in turn had made him oblivious of the Inspector. That did not show much presence of mind, and K. resolved to be more careful in this respect. Yet in spite of himself he turned round and craned from the back of the car to see if he could perhaps catch sight of the Inspector and the warders. But he immediately turned away again and leaned back comfortably in the corner without even having attempted to distinguish one of them. Unlikely as it might seem, this was just the moment when he would have welcomed a few words from his companions, but the others seemed to be suddenly tired. Rabensteiner gazed out to the right, Kullich to the left, and only Kaminer faced him with his nervous grin, which, unfortunately, on grounds of humanity could not be made a subject of conversation.

That spring K. had been accustomed to pass his evenings in this way: after work whenever possible – he was usually in his office until nine – he would take a short walk, alone or with some of his colleagues, and then go to a beer hall, where until eleven he sat at a table patronized mostly by elderly men. But there were exceptions to this routine, when, for instance, the Manager of the Bank, who highly valued his diligence and reliability, invited him for a drive or for dinner at his villa. And once a week K. visited a girl called Elsa, who was on duty all night till early morning as a waitress in a cabaret and during the day received her visitors in bed.

But on this evening – the day had passed quickly, filled with pressing work and many flattering and friendly birthday wishes – K. resolved to go straight home. During every brief pause in the day’s work he had kept this resolve in mind; without his quite knowing why, it seemed to him that the whole household of Frau Grubach had been thrown into great disorder by the events of the morning and that it was his task alone to put it right again. Once order was restored, every trace of these events would be obliterated and things would resume their old course. From the three clerks themselves nothing was to be feared, they had been absorbed once more in the great hierarchy of the Bank, no change was to be remarked in them. K. had several times called them singly and collectively to his room, with no other purpose than to observe them: each time he had dismissed them again with a quiet mind.