NEW YORK, JUNE 18 -- Novelist Franz Kafka's letters to his fiance'e Felice Bauer were sold at Sotheby's today for $605,000, a world record for any literary manuscript sold at public auction.

The letters, dated 1912 to 1917, were sold to a telephone bidder, identified by the auction house only as a European private collector.

The previous world auction record for a manuscript was $412,500 paid in London in 1985 for a notebook of Irish poet William Butler Yeats.

The 327 handwritten Kafka letters, l5 typed letters, l45 handwritten post cards and 33 typed post cards were consigned to sale by Schocken Books, which published the letters in English translation in 1973.

Nobel laureate Elias Canetti, a Kafka expert, had described the Kafka-Bauer letters as "the most precise and exacting history of a human relationship that exists." Sotheby's book expert David Redden said the letters "have very few peers, by any standard of what is significant in 20th-century literature."

The letters document Kafka's state of mind so accurately during his formative years as a writer that he stopped writing in his journal during the years he was writing to Bauer. It was during this period that he wrote "The Judgment" and "The Metamorphosis," his first successful works.

"The potency of their {the letters'} influence, direct and indirect, on Kafka's own stories and novels and thus on the literary and philosophic production of an infinitude of subsequent writers and thinkers is beyond measure," said Prof. Arthur Wensinger of Wesleyan University.

Kafka and Bauer were twice affianced during the period in which the letters were written. He was living in Prague, she in Berlin. He never married. No letters from Bauer to Kafka are known to exist