How to Exercise Like Franz Kafka

J.P. Müller, Franz Kafka’s fitness hero
J.P. Müller, Franz Kafka’s fitness hero
Müller, J. P, Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

In the 1910s, if you strolled through Prague in the evenings, you might have caught a glance of a half-naked (or fully nude) Franz Kafka shamelessly jumping, stretching, and spinning in front of his apartment window.

By his late twenties, Kafka was obsessed with bulking up. “My body is too long for its weakness,” he once wrote; “it hasn’t the least bit of fat to engender a blessed warmth, to preserve an inner fire, no fat on which the spirit could occasionally nourish itself beyond its daily need without damage to the whole.” The author's own doctors agreed with that sentiment. In 1907, a physician said Kafka's body was, “thin and delicate. He is relatively weak.” (To salt the wound further, the same doctor described Kafka’s clavicle as “drumstick-shaped.”)

That, however, started to change after Kafka discovered the work of Jørgen Peter Müller.

A Danish physical fitness guru known to go skiing in nothing but a loincloth, Müller was arguably then one of the most famous people in all of Europe. In 1904, he published a pamphlet called My System, which promised to transform any weakling’s body into that of a Greek god with just 15 minutes of daily exercise. His fitness books sold in the millions and were translated into at least 25 languages. Müller’s methods were so popular that his name became a verb—"to Müller” was the equivalent of “to exercise.”

As Sarah Wildman writes for Slate, My System is “something like a precursor to Pilates; it borrows from ballet, and it needs no equipment, other than commitment. It is strict but appealingly accessible.” The regimen consists of bodyweight exercises—toe touches, squats, leg raises, modified push-ups—that could be performed from the comfort of a bedroom. No dumbbells required.

The book appeared have been written just for Kafka, who was used to sedentary office drudgery—he had once worked 12 hours each day at an insurance office. “The town office type is often a sad phenomenon,” Müller intones, “prematurely bent, with shoulders and hips awry from his dislocating position on the office stool, pale, with pimply face.”

Seeing himself in Müller's writing, Kafka became something of an calisthenics zealot. Like a modern CrossFit fanatic, Kafka would sing the praises of the routine to everybody—even writing a letter to his fiancée insisting she try it. (It may not surprise you that they never married.) Twice a day, he’d shamelessly “Müller” in front of his window, sometimes completely nude.

To both Kafka's and Müller’s credit, the exercise book gets a lot of things right. It preaches the importance of core and back strength and offers solid exercises to accomplish those goals. Müller also gives health tips that weren't so common back in the day, advising people to drink alcohol in moderation, to hydrate properly, to clean their teeth, and to sleep for eight hours every night. As Wildman notes, “half of his exercises are now part of the standard back-pain recommendations for patients.”

Want to give Kafka’s workout routine a try? Check out Müller’s guide here at the Internet Archive. (Window shades optional, but strongly suggested.)

Oscar Wilde's Gold Friendship Ring Recovered Nearly 20 Years After It Was Stolen

Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images
Photos.com/iStock via Getty Images

After missing for 17 years, a piece of literary history has been found. As Smithsonian.com reports, a gold ring that writer Oscar Wilde gifted to his friend is back home at Oxford's Magdalen College, following its theft from the school in 2002.

The friendship ring's history at Oxford dates back to 1876, when Wilde was studying there with his friends Reginald Harding and William Ward. Ward was planning to drop out of school to travel, and Wilde and Harding wanted to give him something to remember them by. The gift—an 18-karat gold ring shaped like a belt buckle—is engraved with the initials of each member of the trio and a Greek inscription that translates to “Gift of love, to one who wishes love."

The ring wound up back at Oxford, where it was kept with a collection of Oscar Wilde artifacts at the university's Magdalen College until 2002. That year, a former college custodian named Eamonn Andrews broke into the building through a skylight and got away with the friendship ring and three unrelated medals. The thief was eventually apprehended thanks to DNA he left at the scene, but by then it was too late: He had already pawned the jewelry for less than $200. The gold band is estimated to be worth around $70,000 today.

Hopes for the keepsake's recovery deflated after that. Investigators assumed that it had been melted down by scrap dealers and declined to pursue the case any further. That seemed like the end of the story until 2015, when art detective Arthur Brand (known as the "Indiana Jones of the Art World") heard whispers of a black market ring that fit a similar description to the missing item. Brand theorizes that after originally being stolen from Oxford, the ring wound up in one of the safe-deposit boxes that got looted during the infamous Hatton Garden heist of 2015. After the heist, it hit the market again and landed on his radar.

With help from William Veres—a London antiques dealer—and George Crump—a man with connections to the British underground crime scene—Brand determined that the ring had recently switched hands. The new owner was shocked to hear that the unusual Victorian ring once belonged to Wilde and was fully cooperative in returning it to the college.

The ring will resume its official spot in Magdalen College's collection at a small ceremony on December 4.

[h/t Smithsonian]

Charlotte Brontë's Final "Little Book" Returning to Haworth After $665,000 Auction Bid

Brontë Parsonage Museum, Crowdfunder
Brontë Parsonage Museum, Crowdfunder

Soon after his father gave him 12 toy soldiers as a gift, Branwell Brontë and the three Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—established an imaginary, miniature land called the Glass Town Federation where the soldiers could reign. To supplement their game, 14-year-old Charlotte Brontë wrote a series of six books beginning in 1830 called “The Young Men’s Magazine,” which she made tiny enough for the soldiers to “read.”

Four of the books are kept at the family’s former home, now the Brontë Parsonage Museum, in Haworth, Yorkshire. A fifth volume has been lost since the 1930s. Now, after a lengthy fundraising endeavor, the Brontë Society has purchased the last remaining volume at a Paris auction. It’ll soon be displayed alongside the other issues in the museum.

It isn’t the first time the Brontë Society tried to bring the book back home. According to The New York Times, it surfaced at an auction in Sotheby’s in 2011, but the society was outbid by the Paris-based Museum of Letters and Manuscripts, which later folded after being accused of fraud.

The Guardian reports that upon hearing the item would soon be up for auction again, the Brontë Society launched a month-long public campaign to raise money for its purchase, with the public support of Dame Judi Dench, honorary president of the Brontë Society. They crowdfunded about $110,000, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund along with other organizations will cover the rest of the $777,000 cost (bid and fees included).

The 4000-word book measures about 1.5 inches by 2.5 inches and contains all the trappings of a quality literature magazine—ads, stories, and writerly wit. One ad, for example, was placed by “six young men” who “wish to let themselves all a hire for the purpose in cleaning out pockets they are in reduced CIRCUMSTANCES.” And one of the three original stories includes a scene similar to the one in Jane Eyre when Bertha sets Mr. Rochester’s bed on fire.

“Charlotte wrote this minuscule magazine for the toy soldiers she and her siblings played with, and as we walk through the same rooms they did, it seems immensely fitting that it is coming home,” Brontë Parsonage Museum principle curator Ann Dinsdale said in a statement.

[h/t The Guardian]

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