Franz Kafka

(1883-1924), Czechoslovak

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in what is today the Czech Republic and was then the Kingdom of Bohemia, Austria-Hungry. He is best remembered as the author of novellas and short stories such as The Metamorphosis and “The Trial”.


Life Facts

  • Franz Kafka was a leader writer of the Existentialist genre.
  • His written works deal with major themes of death, guilt, and alienation.
  • He was born into a  Jewish family.
  • Some believe that he displayed schizophrenic traits.
  • Kafka was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1917 and died in June of 1924.

Interesting Facts

  • Kafka trained as a lawyer and was employed by an insurance company.
  • He was engaged to several women over his lifetime but never married any of them.
  • He instructed the executor of his will to destroy his unfinished works (this direction was not followed).
  • Kafka was an accomplished swimmer, rider, and rower.
  • The Metamorphosis, or Die Verwandlang, was written in three weeks.


Famous Books and Stories by Franz Kafka

The Metamorphosis is without a doubt Kafka’s best-known book. The novella is quite short, only around fifty pages. It tells the tragic story of Gregor Samsa, a traveling salesman who wakes one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a large bug. His life only goes further downhill from there as his family shuns his, injures him, locks him away, and eventually celebrates after his death.

The Trial is a short novel written by Kafka between the years of 1914 and 1915. It was not published until after his death in 1925. It is a very well-known and memorable story that describes a man who is arrested for a crime he’s unaware of. He’s brought through a mysterious legal system that obfuscates it process and leaves both the main character, Josef K., and the reader, in the dark.

“The Judgement”, which has also been translated as “The Verdict,” is about the relationship between a father and his son. It is often considered to be autobiographical in nature with many parallels existing between the story and Kafka’s personal journals. This simple story describes the main character, Georg Bendemann, his upcoming marriage, and his relationship with his father.

“In the Penal Colony” is set in an unnamed penal colony in which a horrible torture and execution device is used to kill a prisoner. The story describes in horrible detail the features of this device and how it carves the prisoner’s sentence in his skin before letting him die over many hours.

“A Hunger Artist” is a short story that was published in 1922. The main character is a hunger artist, someone who starves themselves for long periods of time for the amusement of an audience. In this story, the artist describes the past decades of his life as well as the fact that he is starting to lose interest in his job. The story explores familiar themes of alienation, sorrow, and failure.


Early Life

Kafka was born in Prague, Kingdom of Bohemia, Austria-Hungary in July of 1883. His family was middle-class and he was one of six children. His older brothers died in infancy and his three sisters eventually died during the Holocaust. His parents worked hard, long hours in order to support their children, and Kafka was notably influenced by his father’s demanding demeanor during this period.

In the late 1880s and early 1890s, Kafka attended a German elementary school then later a state gymnasium. Kafka wrote and spoke both German and Czech. When he went to Unversity, he originally studied chemistry and then later switched to law. He met his lifelong friend Max Brod during his period and then graduated with the degree of Doctor of Law in July of 1906.

After graduation, he was hired by an insurance company where he worked for almost a year. It was also during this period that writing was becoming increasingly important to him. He disliked the hours at the insurance company and found different employment working at the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institue.


Literary Career

Although Kafka became engaged several times he never married. One of the most important women in his life was Felice Bauer to whom he was engaged twice. It was around this period that he also wrote “The Judgement’ in a burst of literary inspiration on the night of September 1912. The Man Who Disappeared and The Metamorphosis were also written during his period. Throughout his writing career the vast majority of his works, aside from some letters, were written in German. Due to his crippling insecurity about everything in life, from his body to his stories, very little was published during his lifetime.

It is known that Kafka brunt somewhere around 90% of everything that he wrote. But, his earliest published works appeared in 1908. He published eight stores in Hyperion. The Judgement,” which is also known as “The Verdict” is often thought of as his breakthrough work. It was published in 1912 and dedicated to Felice Bauer. This was the same year that he wrote The Metamorphosis but it was not published until 1915 and only at the urging of his friend Max Brod.

‘The Trail,’ which is now considered to be one of his best works, was started in 1914. It remained incomplete, and published against his wishes after his death, but does contain an abrupt ending that might or might not have been Kafka’s intention. The story collection A Country Doctor was published in 1919 and a final collection, A Hunger Artist, was published after his death in 1924.


Death

Kafka died in June of 1924 after struggling with tuberculosis for seven years. He had spent time in Vienna, being treated unsuccessfully in a sanatorium. He is buried next to his parents in the New Jewish Cemetery in Olsanske.


Influence from other Writers

Franz Kafka was notably influenced by writers such as Fyodor Dostoevsky, Søren Kierkegaard, Charles Dickens, and Friedrich Nietzsche.


Literature by Franz Kafka

Explore literature by Franz Kafka below, created by the team at Book Analysis.