115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

“Der Coitus als Bestrafung”: The Weiningerian Prostitute as Archetype in the Works of Franz Kafka

Charles Hammond, Jr., University of Tennessee, Martin

Otto Weininger, author of Sex and Character (1903) divides woman into two types: the mother and the prostitute, the latter of which is supposedly attracted to the intellectual though she ostensibly possesses no intellect of her own. In this paper, I explore Kafka’s fictional portrayal of this archetype.


In this paper, I show that Kafka was profoundly influenced by his reading of Otto Weininger’s Geschlecht und Charakter, a philosophical tract with pseudoscientific underpinnings that depicted man (M) and woman (W) as essential character types, located at opposite ends of a spectrum, into the midst of which every individual falls, regardless of biological gender. Weininger originally submitted the manuscript to Sigmund Freud, who did not recommend it to a publisher. Later, Weininger succeeded in finding a publisher; however, the book did not initially receive the reception he had hoped it would. Shortly thereafter, the author committed suicide, which was widely reported in the press, and had the effect of sharply increasing his readership. Practically overnight, Weininger’s book received renewed attention, and he was hailed as a genius by no lesser lights than Ludwig Wittgenstein and August Strindberg, among others. In fact, a new edition of Geschlecht und Charakter appeared almost every year between 1903 and 1932. Kafka, as well, was not immune from the appeal of Weininger’s book. This fact should come as no surprise: after all, Kafka shared a great deal in common with Weininger. Both were privileged sons of Eastern Jews who had moved westward and amassed considerable wealth through their tireless commercial efforts. Both fathers, coincidentally, were suppliers of luxury goods (jewelry in the case of the elder Weininger). Both were raised with a Judaism that was more of an inheritance than a genuinely held belief, leading to their sons’ shared crisis of identity. Both sons were bachelors whose perception of the female gender was ambivalent in the extreme and for whom the sexual act carried implications that evoked responses ranging from rapt fascination to – not infrequently – abject disgust. And while Weininger would remain a virgin while Kafka did not, the latter would nonetheless repeatedly express his desire to lead a celibate life, an idea he went so far as to verbalize to Felice Bauer, the woman to whom he was twice engaged (!). Kafka’s ambivalence toward women was further complicated by his well-documented solicitation of prostitutes which, while absolutely typical for a young man of his generation and class, very soon became markedly less frequent. In his discussion of female types, Weininger had divided “W” into two types: the mother and the prostitute, the latter of which was attracted to the intellectual though she herself, according to Weininger, possessed no intellect of her own. As I will show, Kafka’s fictional works portray just such a type on several occasions in his fictional work, such as through the figure of Klara (from his early novel fragment Der Verschollene) and Frieda Brandenfeld (from the short story Das Urteil).