Franz Kafka was born in Prague, Bohemia, July 3, 1883 and died June 3, 1924 of tuberculosis at the age of 40. He came from a middle-class Jewish family. His father was a shopkeeper and tried to climb up the social ladder by working hard at his shop and sending Franz to a prestigious German high school. He went on to get a law degree and worked for two insurance companies (not at the same time) When his .tuberculosis got bad in 1917 he was put on temporary retirement with a pension.
German was the language the upper class spoke and by sending Franz to German schools his father tried to disassociate from the lower class Jewish who lived in the ghetto. They were always moving from apartment to apartment advancing as the business grew.
Franz had a very strained relationship with his father that traumatically affected his whole life. This is apparent in a letter to his father he wrote, “What was always incomprehensible to me was your total lack of feeling for the suffering and shame you could inflict on me with your words and judgments.
It was as though you had no notion of your power” (Letter) .
Max Brod and Franz met in college and became life long friends. It was Max who persuaded Franz to publish some of his work and it was Max who was responsible for most of the Kafka writings that are available today. Franz had entrusted his manuscripts to Max and in his last will and testament specified that all his work was to be destroyed. Instead Max had them published after Franz’ death.
Although he never married, he was engaged several times but always broke the engagement as the wedding day would approach. Most of the biographies about him tell of his problem with women and repulsion from sex and say that it was evident in his writings. In an entry in his diary he wrote “Coitus as the punishment for the happiness of being together” (Constructing). His romances and engagements are well documented and it is interesting to note his selection of books that he gave to Felice Bauer: “Tolstoy’s diaries, the New and Old Testament, and Gerhart Hauptmann’s ‘Fool in Christ Emanuel Quint'” (Times ).
Franz met Felice Bauer at Max’ house and they had a five year courtship mainly through letters.
He wrote to her daily when at the sanatorium in Italy even while he was carrying on with an 18 year old Swiss girl who was there also. Felice inspired him and he wrote several pieces during this time; “The Judgment,” which he dedicated to her, then “The Metamorphosis” and he started Amerika (Kafka.)
According to Daniel Hornek “None of Kafka’s novels was printed during his lifetime, and it was only with reluctance that he published a fraction of his shorter fiction. This fiction included Meditation (1913), a collection of short prose pieces; The Judgment (1913), a long short story, written in 1912, which Kafka himself considered his decisive breakthrough (it tells of a rebellious son condemned to suicide by his father); and The Metamorphosis (1915), dealing again with the outsider, a son who suffers the literal and symbolic transformation into a huge, repulsive, fatally wounded insect. In the Penal Colony (1919) is a parable of a torture machine and its operators and victims—equally applicable to a person’s inner sense of law, guilt, and retribution and to the age of World War I. The Country Doctor (1919) was another collection of short prose. At the time of his death Kafka was also preparing A Hunger Artist (1924), four stories centering on the artist’s inability either to negate or come to terms with life in the human community.”
Franz Kafka’s writings can be best described as nightmarish or dreamlike. He has impacted twentieth century literature greatly as evidenced by a word in the dictionary coined after him: “Kafkaesque (adj): Characteristic of the novels of Franz Kafka; especially, bizarre or absurd, and often marked by the ineffectuality of the individual” (Funk ).
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