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Franz Kafka


Franz Kafka (1883-1924) Czech-born German writer is best known for his short story Metamorphosis (1912) and the widespread familiarity of the literary term Kafkaesque, inspired by his nightmarishly complex and bizarre yet absurd and impersonal short stories.

Franz Kafka was born 3 July, 1883 in Prague, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic, into a Jewish middle-class, German speaking family; his mother Julie, (née Löwy), three younger sisters and his successful merchant father Hermann. Hermann owned a shop below where the family lived in Prague's House of the Three Kings. He was ill-tempered and disrespectful towards his son's escape into literature and pursuit of writing and proved to be an on-going source of conflict and despair in many of Kafka's works. Kafka became the eldest and only son when his two brothers died in infancy and he was excruciatingly aware of this role in the family for the rest of his life.

Kafka rebelled against his father's materialism and often wrote metaphorically of the struggle to overcome a dismayingly gargantuan, overpowering and practically suffocating force, much like his own timid and shy self in relation to his father. His Letter to Father (1919), never sent, is a plaintive attempt to explain his fear of and estrangement from his father and attempt to end the unceasing reproaches he received, as being the eldest son, he felt to be such a disappointment to his father.

Kafka's was visionary fiction, addressing three decades ahead of time the anxieties and change of the 20th century. While surrounded by some of the literati of the time such as Franz Werfel, he was isolated from the German community in Prague and he wrote of the ghetto before the urban renewal and rebuilding: "In us all it still lives -- the dark corners, the secret alleys, the shuttered windows, the squalid courtyards, the rowdy pubs, the sinister inns." Kafka was also alienated from his own heritage by his parent's perfunctory religious practice and minimal social formality in the Jewish community, though his style and influence is sometimes attributed to Jewish folk lore. Kafka eventually declared himself a socialist atheist, Spinoza, Darwin and Nietzsche some of his influences.

In 1902 Kafka met Max Brod who would become his translator, supporter and most intimate friend. Kafka entered the German University in Prague in 1901 to study German literature and law, receiving his doctorate in 1906. Kafka was to lead a relatively inauspicious life, an exemplary employee with the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute in Prague from 1907 to 1922. He would finally gain renown posthumously upon Max Brod's publication of his three major works, The Trial (1925) and The Castle in 1926 and Amerika (1927). Kafka's oeuvre is often filled with black humour in the style of parable, meditations, poetic fragments, and sketches. Though his works are often open to multiple interpretations, causing difficulty categorising his work in any single genre, existentialism and modernism are among them.

In 1911, Kafka was to spend his first of many curative periods in sanatoriums and spas for ill health. In 1912 he met and became engaged to Felice Bauer from Berlin. In 1912 he finished Metamorphosis his best-known short story, a masterpiece of stunning psychological, sociological and existential angst. From his third-floor room with a view of the Vltava river and the toll bridge crossing it, Kafka worked on Metamorphosis. "I would stand at the window for long periods," he wrote in his diary in 1912, "and was frequently tempted to amaze the toll collector on the bridge below by my plunge." He wrote Meditation in 1913, a collection of short prose pieces. In 1914 he finished Before the Law.

In 1916 Kafka wrote The Judgement, directly reflecting his struggle with his father; the prophetic In the Penal Colony and A Country Doctor (1919), another collection of short prose. In 1917 Kafka broke his second engagement to Felice Bauer, most likely precipitated by his continued failure to cut ties with his domineering father and set forth in his own life to get married and settle down. He was also diagnosed with tuberculosis after years of poor health. In 1923, finally escaping his paternal family he went to Berlin to write exclusively. He wrote A Hunger Artist in 1924, four stories illustrating the concise and lucid style of Kafka's writing in his later years.

Kafka's lack of confidence and personal misgivings about his work caused him to request that all his unpublished manuscripts be destroyed, however his friend, biographer and literary executor Max Brod didn't obey his wishes and in 1925 he published The Trial, indisputably Kafka's most successful novel in it's dark exploration of anxiety, paranoia and persecution. Joseph K, the protagonist, unsuccessfully confronts arbitrary rules and a hopeless court system without knowing the crime with which he is guilty of. Brod also published The Castle (1926) a wide-sweeping metaphor of authority and bureaucracy and the search for grace and forgiveness and Amerika (1927) with a light and amusing angle but also an examination of the symbolic horrors of modern life. The Great Wall of China was published in 1931.

3 June 1924, Franz Kafka died from complications of tuberculosis in Kierling, near Vienna, Austria. His remains are buried alongside his parent's under a two-meter obelisk in Prague's New Jewish Cemetery in Olsanske. There is no epitaph, but Milena Jesenska, his lover and Czech journalist and writer, a few days after his death wrote: "He wrote the most significant works of modern German literature, which reflect the irony and prophetic vision of a man condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death."

"Theoretically there is a perfect possibility of happiness: believing in the indestructible element in oneself and not striving towards it." Franz Kafka.

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc 2005. All Rights Reserved.

The above biography is copyrighted. Do not republish it without permission.

Forum Discussions on Franz Kafka

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Kafka's A Hunger Artist

Is this story a religious allegory or a story about the misunderstood artist? What is the significance of the panther who replaces the hunger artist in his cage? The 'art' of the hunger artist is something that he does alone, and apparently because he enjoys it? So why does he want an audience so desperately, as to die when he loses it? Thanks....

The Franz Kafka museum in Prague

During our holiday in Prague, I went to the Franz Kafka museum (husband wanted a walk instead :rolleyes:). Got the biographic thing with his father, but very intersting, going through the influences on his work. Very good conception of his works too, as well as good English translations. Did you know Kafka was a Taoist? Even went as far as saying he thought in his heart he was really Chinese. Shame that the original Jewish quarter that apparently makes up the dreamy world with Venice-like streets and alleyways and delapidated partly medieval buildings of his books was knocked down in the greatest re-design of Prague ever. But there are still places left you can look at or go, such as the...

How did Kafka influence German Culture?

How did Kafka influence German Culture?...

What is your favorite story by Franz Kafka?

I believe i have read all which has been released up to now, fiction, diaries, letters. I used to love Kafka's work (still like it, but i have moved away from his influence). My favorite story by him probably is At the penal colony. It is one of the most detailed and violent works by him. His most classical work possibly is the Metamorphosis, one of the few books you can sum up in a sentence and still make an impression on someone who has not read it. Other, less known tales i like include The Railway at Galda, The Torturer (it is only a few lines long) and Blumfeld: An elderly bachelor....

Did Kafka suffer from BDD?

BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder) is a mental illness that causes one to see either entirely imagined uglyness in his form, or exagerate real flaws, to the point where it becomes difficult for him to function socially. A few notes in Kafka's diary seem to point to the direction that he might have had some variant of this illness. Also in at least one of his letters to Felice he claims that he is ugly, but that this might be just imaginary, and that she might even think he is beautiful. BDD could explain some of his tragic life, since it is associated with depression and even suicidal ideation....

Biblical Allusions in The Metamorphosis

I read The Metamporphosis for the first time last night in one sitting, my first experience with Kafka. The story is compelling on many levels, and one that I noticed was Biblical. Samsa's downfall, like that of Adam and Eve, is brought about by an apple. Also, didn't God condemn Adam and Eve to crawling on their bellies, eating dust, for the rest of their lives, much like an insect? When Samsa finally dies, towards the end of March (Easter), he is forsaken and driven away by his people, his family, as Jesus was. Who or what do the three lodgers represent? I am struggling to connect this theory. Am I simply reading too much into this? Are these references isolated incidents of sy...

Incestuous undertones in The Metamorphosis?

Does Gregor's relationship with his sister have undertones? There's parts on page 36 that seem like they might indicate that....

The Metamorphosis- expressionist or modernist?

I'd argue expressionist but what are your thoughts?...

Finally ....a definitive English translation of Franz Kafka

When I saw that my library had a new translation of Kafka's 'The Trial' on cd, I checked it out. I love to listen to classics and others on cd, but 'The Trial' is not one to start with. However, I've read Kafka's novel twice before. So I started listening. The Introduction is given by the translater, Breon Mitchell. He explains that Kafka's friend, Max Brod, was left the task of destroying all Kafka's notes and unfinished novels, mainly 'Amerika', 'The Castle', and 'The Trial', at Kafka's death bed behest. But Max didn't do this. Instead he completed the novels and at the same time edited the finished chapters. From 1930, the translations of the Muirs were considered by most to be the defini...

Unseen Kafka Writings I'm looking forward to the publication of this story. Post here with updates regarding the publication of the manuscript. Does anyone have any knowledge of cases similar to this? How long did it take to publish those writings after they were discovered?...

FRANZ KAFKA: Diary’s Partial Truth

This prose-poem tries to place the diaries of Franz Kafka(1883 to 1924) in a personal perspective. Kafka was one of the most influential fiction writers of the early 20th century; a novelist and writer of short stories whose works came to be regarded as one of the major achievements of 20th century literature. The acknowledgement and fame he achieved came only after his death. His diaries were written between 1910 and 1923.-Ron Price with thanks to Wikipedia, 18 July 2010. My diaries, Franz, began in 1984 with their casual observations, their details of daily life, philosophical reflections, ideas, accounts of dreams, thoughts of stories and prose-poems…but they will not become...

Kafka experts - pls help me recognize this piece...

Hi all, I read, a while ago, a story, or most probably a fragment, by Kafka. I didn't finish reading it, and when I wanted to come back to it I realised I had no idea where I read it. Maybe you can help me recognize: It was about a man (i think he had a sounds-like-jewish name but im not at all sure, i'm pretty sure he had a name though), who arrives to the countryside. he gets lost and doesnt find his way. he meets a man and a woman there, who treat him strangely and being unkind (i remember a paragraph in which the walk together, a few steps ahead of him). its a strange story, even for kafka, with great atmosphere. its probably a fragment... but it had a title, i think. any bell...

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