There are rumours (none of them started by me) that Kafka had direct dealings with Einstein, Joyce, and even Hitler. The first two are more than possible. Einstein taught at Charles University when Kafka was a student there. Joyce (as this article shows) was in Prague when Kafka lived there. It is quite probable they travelled in the same literary circles.
The Hitler connection is far more tenuous, but based on fact. Hitler was treated, in Munich, by a doctor who dealt with Kafka's family. And Kafka did visit Munich in the right time frame. Kafka did, after all, predict Hitler's world as much as he did the Communist.
Although I have "filled in" Kafka's missing diaries, I never gave him such speculative encounters - tempting though it was. And I have written a short story where Kafka is encouraged to meet "the Austrian with the tiny mustache" so as to kill him. But that didn't happen in my fiction, either.
From Finnegan’s Wake to Calisthenics: Czech-Irish relations in the first half of the 20th century
A book entitled “Czech-Irish Cultural Relations 1900-1950” may sound a little obscure, but this slim volume published last year by the Centre for Irish Studies of Prague’s Charles University is anything but a dull, dry thesis. The book covers a hugely interesting and complex period, during which Ireland emerged from centuries of rule from London and Czechoslovakia arose from the ashes of the Habsburg Empire. David Vaughan picks up the story, in this week’s Czech Books.
The book’s author is Daniel Řehák [publishing under the pseudonym Daniel Samek] from the Institute for Czech Literature, and his study of Czech-Irish cultural relations in the first half of the 20th century begins with a glance at the period before the First World War. Cultural links between the Czechs and the Irish went back centuries: Irish Franciscans had fled to Prague to escape persecution by Queen Elizabeth way back at the end of the 16th century; from the mid 17th century one of the most influential Bohemian noble families, which included the 19th century Austrian Prime Minister Eduard Taaffe, also hailed from Ireland – they even had a folly built on their estate in West Bohemia, made to look like their ancestral castle in Ireland. And even James Joyce has a Czech link. His sister Eileen married František Schaurek, a Czech working at the branch of the Živnostenská Bank in Trieste. Here is what Daniel Řehák’s book tells us on the subject:
A reported story of the 1914 wedding has Joyce stay faithful to his reputation of a punster, as he predicted a fruitful union based on the conjunction of “jajce” (eggs in Croatian, and the pronunciation frequently given to Joyce’s name by speakers of South Slavonic languages) and “šourek” (scrotum in Czech). It was due to Schaurek, originally Joyce’s student in a language course, that several Czech expressions and toponyms found their way into the author’s magnum opus, Finnegan’s Wake.
Because of the letters he sent to his sister Eileen and František Schaurek, who were living in Prague during World War I, the Irish writer was put on the list of Czech arch-traitors by the Austrian secret police at the beginning of the war. This however happened only due to a curious blunder resulting from the fact that the secret policemen were unable to determine Joyce’s origin, and most likely his actual occupation either… Like the Schaureks, Joyce [later] returned to Trieste, where he frequently met members of the Jewish community and found there inspiration for Leopold Bloom, protagonist of Ulysses: Mr Bloom was modelled on two gentlemen, a Hungarian Jew by the name of Luis Blum and a Czech Jew called Leopold Popper.
James Joyce Between the First and Second World Wars Czech-Irish links developed rapidly. At a diplomatic level, the reason was pragmatic. Daniel Řehák explains:
“At the end of the 1920s Britain began trying to protect its markets from a flood of goods made in Czechoslovakia, so Ireland seemed a good alternative. Czechoslovak exporters put pressure on the government in Prague to open a diplomatic mission in Dublin. The main focus was to be trade – to find markets for sugar, machinery and shoes.”