Franz Kafka

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Franz Kafka
Franz Kafka
Born July 3, 1883
Prague, Austria-Hungary
Died June 3, 1924
Vienna, Austria

Franz Kafka (July 3, 1883June 3, 1924) was one of the major German-language novelists and short story writers of the 20th century, most of whose works were published posthumously. Born in Prague of Jewish descent, his unique body of writing continues to draw interest from critics and readers alike.



Kafka was born July 3, 1883, into a middle-class, German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, Bohemia—at that time a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His father, Hermann Kafka (18521931), was a retailer, and his mother was Julie Kafka, born Löwy (1856–1934). He had two brothers, Georg and Heinrich, neither of whom lived two full years and died before Kafka was six; three sisters, Elli, Valli and Ottla.

Although his native language was German, Kafka also learned Czech, since his father came to Prague from a southern Bohemian, Czech-speaking Jewish community ("kafka" means "jackdaw" in Czech) and wanted his son to be fluent in both languages. Kafka also had some knowledge of French language and culture; one of his favorite authors was Flaubert, and he had a sentimental fondness for Napoleon.

From 1889 to 1893, Kafka attended elementary school (Deutsche Knabenschule) at Masná St. (Fleischmarkt) in Prague and then the high school at Staroměstské náměstí (located in Kinsky Palace), where he finished his Matura exam in 1901. He went on to study law at the Charles University of Prague, and obtained his law plus his law doctor's degree in 1906, then Dr.iur. Franz Kafka worked one year unpaid as law clerk and later for a worker's accident insurance agency when he began writing on the side. He depicted his job as insurance officer often as "Brotberuf" - a job done just to earn some money.

In 1917 he began to suffer from tuberculosis, which would require frequent convalescence during which he was supported by his family, most notably his sister Ottla, with whom he had much in common.

Bronze statue of Franz Kafka in Prague
Bronze statue of Franz Kafka in Prague

While at school he took an active role in organizing literary and social events, doing much to promote and organize performances for the Yiddish theatre, despite the misgivings of even his closest friends such as Max Brod, who usually supported him in everything else. Quite contrary to his fear of being perceived as both physically and mentally repulsive, he impressed others with his boyish, neat, and austere good looks, his quiet and cool demeanor, and intelligence besides his odd sense of humor.

It is Kafka's relationship with his domineering father though that is an important theme in his writing. In the early 1920s he had an influential love affair with Czech journalist and writer Milena Jesenská and in 1923 he briefly moved to Berlin in the hope of distancing himself from his family's influence to concentrate on his writing. There in Berlin he met Dora Dymant, a 19-year old descended from an orthodox Jewish family, who was independent enough to have escaped her past in the ghetto. Dora became his lover, and influenced Kafka's interest in the Talmud.

While it is generally agreed that Kafka suffered from clinical depression and social anxiety throughout his entire life, he suffered from migraines, insomnia, constipation, boils, and other ailments, all usually brought on by excessive stresses and strains. He attempted to counteract all of this by a regimen of naturopathic treatments, such as a vegetarian diet and the consumption of large quantities of unpasteurized milk (the latter possibly the causalactor of his tuberculosis).

However, Kafka's tuberculosis worsened; he returned to Prague, then went to a sanatorium near Vienna for treatment, where he died on June 3, 1924, apparently from starvation. (Kafka's condition made his throat too painful to eat, and since intravenous therapy had not been developed, there was no way to feed him, notice the parallels to Gregor in the Metamorphosis.) His body was ultimately brought back to Prague where he was interred on June 11, 1924, in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague-Žižkov.

 Franz Kafka's grave in Prag-Straschnitz
Franz Kafka's grave in Prag-Straschnitz

Kafka published only a few short stories during his lifetime, a small part of his work, and consequently his writing attracted little attention until after his death. Prior to his death, he instructed his friend and literary executor Max Brod to destroy all of his manuscripts. His lover, Dora Diamant, partially executed his wishes. The majority of his last writings in Dora's possession, including up to 20 notebooks and 35 letters, she secretly kept, until they were confiscated by the Gestapo in 1933. An ongoing international search is being conducted for these missing Kafka papers. Brod overrode Kafka's instructions and instead oversaw the publication of most of his work in his possession, which soon began to attract attention and high critical regard.

All his published works, except several Czech letters to Milena Jesenská, were written in German.

Critical interpretation

There have been many critics who have tried to make sense of Kafka's works by interpreting them through certain schools of literary criticism—as modernist, magical realist, and so on. The apparent hopelessness and the absurdity that seem to permeate his works are considered emblematic of existentialism. Others have tried to locate Marxist influence in his satirization of bureaucracy in pieces such as In the Penal Colony, The Trial, and The Castle, whereas others point to anarchism as an inspiration for Kafka's anti-bureaucratic individualism. Still others have interpreted his works through the lens of Judaism (because he was Jewish and had an interest in Jewish culture, though he only cultivated it late in life)—Borges made a few perceptive remarks in this regard; through Freudianism (because of his familial struggles); or as allegories of a metaphysical quest for God (Thomas Mann was a proponent of this theory). Themes of alienation and persecution are repeatedly emphasized, and this emphasis—notably in the work of Marthe Robert—partly inspired the counter-criticism of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who argued that there was much more to Kafka than the stereotype of a lonely figure writing out of anguish, and that his work was more deliberate, subversive and yet "joyful" than it appears to be. Biographers have said that it was common for Kafka to read chapters of the books he was working on to his closest friends, and those readings usually concentrated themselves, in the constant, but many times ignored, humorous side of his prose. Milan Kundera refers the essentially surrealist humour of Kafka as a main predecessor of later artists such as Federico Fellini, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes and Salman Rushdie. For Márquez it was as he said the reading of Kafka's The Metamorphosis that showed him "that it was possible to write in a different way".

Kafka in cinema

For a full list of films The IMDb filmography

Online texts


Short Stories

Many collections of the stories have been published, and they include:

  • Kafka, Franz (ed. Nahum N. Glatzer). The Complete Stories. New York: Schocken Books, 1971.



Diaries and notebooks

  • Diaries of Franz Kafka
  • The Blue Octavo Notebooks


  • Letters to Felice
  • Letters to Ottla
  • Letters to Milena
  • Franz Kafka: Letters to Family, Friends, and Editors

On Kafka

  • Brod, Max. Franz Kafka: A Biography. New York: Da Capo Press, 1995.
  • Brod, Max. The biography of Franz Kafka, tr. from the German by G. Humphreys Roberts. London: Secker & Warburg, 1947.
  • Citati, Pietro, Kafka, 1987.
  • Deleuze, Gilles & Felix Guattari. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Theory and History of Literature, Vol 30). Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, 1986.
  • Greenberg, Martin, The terror of art; Kafka and modern literature. New York, Basic Books,1968.
  • Hayman, Ronald. K, a Biography of Kafka., London: Phoenix Press, 2001.
  • Murray, Nicholas. Kafka. New Haven: Yale, 2004.
  • Pawel, Ernst. The Nightmare of Reason: A Life of Franz Kafka. New York : Vintage Books, 1985.
  • Thiher, Allen (ed.). Franz Kafka: A Study of the Short Fiction (Twayne's Studies in Short Fiction, No 12).

See also

External links

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