Classic Author Focus: Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka is identified as a German-speaking Bohemian writer because he was born and lived in Prague, now part of the Czech Republic but then the capital of Bohemia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He is considered one of the major figures of 20th century literature, writing works that combined realism and fantasy, surrealism and absurdism.

Few of Kafka’s works were published during his lifetime, so they received very little attention. At his death, he instructed a friend, Max Brod, to destroy his work, which his friend thankfully did not do.

Kafka was born into a Jewish household that was marked by tragedy. His two younger brothers died in infancy leaving him the only son, with three sisters who later all died either in Nazi concentration camps or ghettos. However, they outlived their brother Franz. Franz’s father was a garment salesman and a tyrant who had little understanding of Franz’s creative side. Franz was plagued with self-doubt throughout his life.

Kafka wanted to study chemistry but changed to law to please his father. He ended up working for an insurance company. He had many relationships with women but never married, although he fell in love and lived with Dora Dymant when he died from tuberculosis at the age of 41. He was fascinated by the Jews of Eastern Europe but was not himself religious, and although he considered moving to Palestine, those who think his work is strongly influenced by Zionism may be overestimating its influence. He was also a strong believer in socialism.

Most of the works that were published during his life were short stories. One of his most important stories, “The Metamorphosis,” was published in Leipzig in 1915. His novels were published after his death. At his death, he was only known to a few readers. However, because his friend had his work published after his death, that work has since influenced writers such as Borges, Camus, Ionesco, Coetzee, and Sartre.

Dates: 1883-1924

Most popular works: “The Metamorphosis,” The Castle, Amerika, The Trial

Other works: “A Hunger Artist,” “Josephine, the Singer,” “The Verdict”