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Franz Kafka (1883-1924)

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Czech-born German-speaking writer whose posthumously published novels express the alienation of 20th century man. Kafka's nightmares of dehumanization, bureaucratic labyrinths, and totalitarian society have much in common with the works of George Orwell (Nineteen Eighty-Four, 1949; Animal Farm, 1955). Jorge Luis Borges has noted, that Zeno's paradox against motion and the arrow and Achilles are the first Kafkaesque characters in literature. Kafka's ill health was also an important biographical factor behind the fear of physical and mental collapse dramatized in such short stories as "Ein Hungerkünstler" (1924) and "Die Verwandlung" (1915, The Metamorphosis).

"As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect..." (from "The Metamorphosis")

Franz Kafka was born in Prague, now in the Czech Republic but then part of Austria. His father was Hermann Kafka, an owner of a large dry goods establishment, and mother Julie (Löwy) Kafka, who belonged to one of the leading families in the German-speaking, German-cultured Jewish circles of Prague. Hermann Kafka was a domestic tyrant, who directed his anger against his son. Kafka also had three sisters, all of whom perished in Nazi camps. Often Kafka's stories dealt with the struggle between father and son, or a scorned individual's pleading innocence in front of remote figures of authority. In Letter to His Father (1919) Kafka admitted: "My writing was all about you; all I did there, after all, was to bemoan what I could not bemoan upon your breast. It was an intentionally long-drawn-out leave-taking from you."

Kafka grew up in an atmosphere of familial tensions and social rejection that he experienced as a member of Prague's Jewish minority. His attitude to his Jewish heritage was ambivalent. In a diary he wrote: ''What have I in common with Jews? I have hardly anything in common with myself and should stand very quietly in a corner, content that I can breathe.'' Kafka was educated at the German National and Civic Elementary School and the German National Humanistic Gymnasium. In 1901 he entered Ferdinand-Karls University, where he studied law and received a doctorate in 1906. During these years Kafka became a member of a circle of intellectuals, which included Franz Werfel, Oskar Baum and Max Brod, whom Kafka met in 1902. About 1904 Kafka began writing, making reports on industrial accidents and health hazard in the office by day, and writing stories by night. His profession marked the formal, legalistic language of his stories which avoided all sentimentality and moral interpretations – all conclusions are left to the reader.

Until his retirement Kafka worked at the insurance business (1907-23), first at an administrative position in a Prague branch of an Italian insurance company and then at the Workmen's Accident Insurance Institute of Prague. His work was highly valued at the company and during World War I his supervisors arranged for his draft deferment.

During his life Kafka had many girlfriends, many affairs, and a number of broken engagements. In 1912 he met Felice Bauer, a twenty-four-year-old businesswoman from Berlin. He warned her that life with him would mean ''a monastic life side by side with a man who is fretful, melancholy, untalkative, dissatisfied and sickly.'' Their relationship lasted for five years. Felice later moved to the United States, where she died in 1960. Kafka's first creative period started with such short stories as "Das Urteil" (The Judgment) and "Die Verwandlung", in which Gregor Samsa, a literary descendant of Gogol's Akakii Akakievich, wakes to find out that he has turned overnight into a giant insect. He remains trapped in his room by his petit bourgeois family. His father throws an apple core at Gregor, it rots, and Gregor dies.

World War I stopped Kafka's productivity as a novelist and short story writer, but he continued to write letters and diaries. In notebooks, which he started to keep in 1910, Kafka recorded his literary ideas, dreams, everyday occurrences and experiences. Theater and films he had seen were an important part of his life. After he had seen a Yiddish theater troupe perform in a café he wrote: "The sympathy we have for these actors who are so good, who earn nothing and who do not get nearly enough gratitude and fame is really only sympathy for the sad fate of many noble strivings, above all of our own."

In 1914 Kafka began his second novel, Der Process (The Trial) and wrote the short story "In der Strafkolonie," which was one of the few works published in Kafka's lifetime. The Trial depicted the hopeless attempts of Josef K. to survive nightmarish events, that start at his breakfast table. "Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning." Josef K. denies his guilt, and starts endless investigations of the court system. But there is no truth and he dies "like a dog." In the story "In der Strafkolonie" the truth is the function of an instrument of torture, a machine that kills its victims by writing the nature of their crime upon their body.

Kafka's characters are punished or threatened with punishment even before they have offended the authorities. "You may object that it is not a trial at all; you are quite right, for it is only a trial if I recognize it as such," one of the characters explains in The Trial. The book starts with the famous words: "Someone must have traduced Joseph K. for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning." Joseph K. encounters the merciless effects of law but no identifiable lawgiver, a theme Kafka further developed in the unfinished novel Das Schloss (1926, The Castle). In the final chapter two men – according to some critics symbols of his testicles – take Joseph away and execute him stabbing him through the heart.

In August 1917 Kafka discovered that he had contracted tuberculosis. He spent ten months with his sister Ottla in the Bohemian village of Zuerau. In 1919 he was hospitalized because of influenza. Kafka spent increasing periods of time on leave in various rural sanatoriums. He fell in love with Milena Jesenská, a twenty-four-year-old writer, who had translated some of his stories into Czech. After they separated she worked as a journalist and became a Resistance hero. Jesenská died in a German concentration camp in 1944. Later Margarete Buber-Neumann depicted her in Kafkas Freundin Milena (1963). Kafka's fear of sexuality was probably the main reason for his decision to leave Milena. He had written in 1913 in his diary "Der Coitus als Bestrafung des Glückes des Beisammenseins" and in the winter 1920-21 he stopped sending her regular letters.

After their relationship ended, Kafka wrote his last novel, The Castle, where K. arrives at a village, claiming to be a land surveyor. "The Castle hill was hidden, veiled in mist and darkness, nor was there even a glimmer of light to show that the castle was there." K. tries to obtain recognition of his status as the officially appointed land surveyor to the Castle, a mysterious domain that rules over the village. K wants to meet Klamm, the castle superior. His assistants, Arthur and Jeremiah, are not helping. K. makes love to the barmaid Frieda, a former mistress of Klamm. Frieda leaves K. when she discovers that he is merely using her.

"Aber auch Ihnen dürfte doch schon die Lückenlosigkeit der amtlichen Organisation aufgefallen sein. Aus dieser Lückenlosigkeit aber ergibt sich, dass jeder, der irgendein Anliegen hat oder aus sonstigen Gründen über etwas verhört werden muss, sofort, ohne Zögern, meistens sogar noch ehe er selbst die Sache zurechtgelegt hat, ja, noch ehe er selbstr von ihr weiss, schon die Vorladung erhält." (from Das Schloss)

Kafka retired in 1922 on a pension. Next year he met on the Baltic Dora Diamant, a twenty-five old woman from an Orthodox Jewish family, who worked in the kitchen of a holiday camp. Kafka's illness released him from the daily responsibilities of bourgeois life but also cut his income – his parents sent him provisions and money from Prague. Kafka, who wrote letters busily, was occasionally forced to send postcards because he did not have money for the letter post. His health rapidly deteriorated. In 1924 Kafka moved with Dora to the Kierling Sanatorium outside Vienna. When he proposed marriage and wrote to Dora's father, the reply was "no". However, later Dora described herself as "the wife of Franz Kafka." Dora survived Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia, and World War II. She died in London in 1952.

Kafka spent in the sanatorium the last six weeks of his life. He suffered from thirst and in his last letter to his parents he recollects his childhood when he drank beer with his father during their visits to a bathing establishment. Kafka died of tuberculosis on June 3, 1924. His unfinished novel, Der Verschollene(retitled Amerika), was published in 1927. Kafka never visited the United States but his protagonist, the 17-year-old Karl Rossmann, enters New York Harbor as an immigrant and sees the Statue of Liberty, who holds in her hand not a lamp but a sword. Karl's picaresque adventures lead him to a theater and to the company of other castaways. Walter Benjamin noted in 1934 in his essay on Kafka that "While in the earlier novels the author never addressed himself otherwise than with a mumbled initial, here he experiences a rebirth on a new continent with a full name." Kafka managed to write six chapters but it is open to discussions how he planned to end the novel.

As a Jew Kafka was isolated from the German community in Prague, but his friend and biographer Max Brod (1884-1968) did his best to promote Kafka's career as a writer. However, Kafka published only a few stories. During the last two and half years of his life Kafka finished some of his best works. Among them were "Ein Hungerkünstler", in which the hero is left to die unwatched in his unusual profession, and "Josephine, die Sängerin", in which the central character is a mouse, who sings – or squeaks. Kafka requested before his death that all his manuscripts should be destroyed, an act of self annihilation, which has been regarded as an evidence, that he was not in sound mind at that time. "Of all my writings the only books that count  are these: The Judgment, The Stoker, Metamorphosis, Penal Colony, Country Doctor, and the short story: Hunger-Artist," he wrote to Max Brod, well aware that his friend would disregard his wish. Brod published the unfinished novels The Trial, The Castle, and America, classics of modern fiction.

For further reading: Franz Kafka and Prague by P. Eisner (1959); Franz Kafka: A Biography by M. Brod (1960) Die Kafka-Literatur by Harry Järv (1961); The Process of Kafka's Trial by A. Jaffe (1967); Franz Kafka: A Critical Study of His Writings by W. Emrich (1968); Conversations with Kafka by A. Janouch (1971); On Kafka's Castle: A Study by R. Shepard (1973); Kafka's Other Trial by E. Canetti (1974); Kafka by Erich Heller (1974); Kafka: A Biography by R. Hayman (1982); F. Kafka and Prague by J. Grusa (1983); The Nightmare of Reason by Ernst Pawel (1984); Kafka: Judausm, Politics, and Literature by R. Robertson (1985); F. Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature by G. Deleuze and F. Guattari (1986); Critical Essays on Franz Kafka, ed. by R. Gross (1990); Kafka by Pietro Citati (1990); Franz Kafka: A Study of the Short Fiction by A. Thiher (1990); Kafka and Dostoevsky by W.J. Dodd (1992); Franz Kafka, the Jewish Patient by Sander Gilman (1995); Kafka - Die Jahre der Entscheidung by Rainer Stach (2002); Kafka's Last Love: The Mystery of Dora Diamant by Kathi Diamant (2003) - See also: Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde. Trivia: G. Janouch's Conversation with Kafka (1971) is a hoax; Kafka suffered insomnia like many authors, among them Charles Dickens. Kafkaesque - a term used often by critics to describe a narrative mode combining a realistic style with the distortions and absurdities of nightmare scenarios. Suom.: Suomeksi on julkaistu myös valikoimat Nälkätaiteilija, suom. Aarno Peromies, Kristiina Kivivuori & Eeva-Liisa Manner (1959), Erään koiran tutkimuksia, toim. Kai Laitinen (1967), Novelleja, suom. Aarno Peromies (1972), Keisarin viesti, suom. Aarno Peromies (1989) sekä Kirjeitä perheelle 1922-1924, suom. Markku Mannila (1990).

Selected works:

  • Betrachtung, 1913
    - Meditation (translators: Willa and Edwin Muir, Tania and James Stern, in The Complete Stories, 1971; Malcolm Pasley, in The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992; Joachim Neugroschel, in The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 1995 Siegfried Mortkowitz, 1998)
    - Keisarin viesti (suom. Aarno Peromies, toim. Kai Laitinen, 1969)
    - film: La Colonia penal, 1970, dir. by Raoul Ruiz, starring Luis Alarcón, Mónica Echeverría and Aníbal Reyna
  • Der Heizer: Ein Fragment, 1913 (the first chapter of the novel Der Verschollene/Amerika, 1927; first published in vol. 3 of Kurt Wolff's series Der jüngste Tag, May 1913)
    - The Stoker (translated by Malcolm Pasley, in The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992; Joachim Neugroschel, in The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 1995)
  • Das Urteil, 1913 (in Arkadia)
    -  The Judgement (translators: Willa and Edwin Muir, Tania and James Stern, in The Complete Stories, 1971; Malcolm Pasley, in The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992; Joachim Neugroschel, in The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 1995)
    - Tuomio (toim. Kai Laitinen, teoksessa Nälkätaiteilija; suom. Aarno Peromies et al., 1959; teoksessa Kootut kertomukset, toim. Hannu-Pekka Lappalainen, 1997)
  • Die Verwandlung, 1915
    - The Metamorphosis (in The Complete Stories, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, Tania and James Stern, 1971) / The Transformation and Other Stories (translated by Malcolm Pasley, 1992) / The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories (translated by Joachim Neugroschel, 1995) / The Metamorphosis and Other Stories (translated by Donna Freed, 1996) / Metamorphosis and Other Stories (translated by Stanley Appelbaum, 1996) / Kafka’s The Metamorphosis and Other Writings (edited by Helmuth Kiesel, 2002) / Metamorphosis and Other Stories (translated by Michael Hofmann, 2007) / The Metamorphosis and Other Stories (translated by Joyce Crick, introduction and notes by Ritchie Robertson, 2009)
    - Muodonmuutos & Rangaistussiirtolassa (suom. Aarno Peromies, 2007)
    - films: Förvandlingen, 1976, dir. by Ivo Dvorák, starring Peter Schildt;  The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa, 1977, dir. by Caroline Leaf (10 min); Prevrashcheniye,  2002, dir. by Valeri Fokin, starring Yevgeny Mironov, Igor Kvasha and Tatyana Lavrova 
  • In der Strafkolonie, 1919
    - The Penal Colony, Stories and Short Pieces (translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, 1948) / In the Penal Settlement: Tales and Short Prose Works (translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins, 1973) / In the Penal Colony (translated by Malcolm Pasley, in The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992) / The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories (translated by Joachim Neugroschel, 1995)
    - Muodonmuutos & Rangaistussiirtolassa (suom. Aarno Peromies, 2007)
  • Ein Landarzt, 1919
    - A Country Doctor (translations: in The Complete Stories, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, Tania and James Stern, 1971; Malcolm Pasley, in The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992; Joachim Neugroschel, in The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 1995)
    - Maalaislääkäri (suom. Aarno Peromies, toim. Kai Laitinen, teoksessa Keisarin viesti, 1969)
  • Brief an der Vater, 1919
    - Letter to His Father (translated by E. Kaiser and W. Wilkins, 1966)
  • Ein Hungerkünstler, 1924
    - A Hunger Artist (translations: in The Complete Stories, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, Tania and James Stern, 1971; Joachim Neugroschel, in The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, and Other Stories, 1995) / A Fasting-Artist (translated by Malcolm Pasley, in The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992)
    - Nälkätaiteilija (teoksista Erzählungen und kleine Prosa ja Beschreibung eines Kampfes, suom. Aarno Peromies, Kristiina Kivivuori ja Eeva-Liisa Manner, 1959)
  • Der Process, 1925
    - The Trial (translators: Willa and Edwin Muir, 1937; Douglas Scott and Chris Waller, 1977; Breon Mitchell, 1998; David Wyllie, 2009; Mike Mitchell, 2009)
    - Oikeusjuttu (suom. Aukusti Simojoki, 1946; Aarno Peromies, 1975)
    - films: 1962, Le procés, dir. and adapted by Orson Welles, starring Anthony Perkins. "I do not share Kafka's point of view in The Trial. I believe that he is a good writer, but Kafka is not the exreaordinary genius that people today see him as. That is why I was not concerned about the excessive fidelity and could make a film by Welles." (from Novels into Film by John C. Tibbetts and James M. Welsh, 1999); 1993, dir. by David Jones, adapted by Harold Pinter, starring Kyle MacLachlan, Anthony Hopkins; 1999, Am Ende des Gange, dir. by Michael Muschner (10 min)
  • Das Schloss, 1926
    - The Castle (translators: Willa and Edwin Muir, 1930; Mark Harman, 1998)
    - Linna (suom. Aarno Peromies, 1964)
    - films: 1968, dir. by Rudolf Noelte, starring Maximilian Schell, Cordula Trantow; 1986, dir. by Jaakko Pakkasvirta, starring Carl-Kristian Rundman as Josef K; 1990, Tsikhe-Simagre, dir. by Dato Janelidze; 1994, Zamok, dir. by Aleksei Balabanov, starring Nikolai Stotsky; 1997, Das Schloß, dir. by Michael Haneke, starring Ulrich Mühe
  • Amerika, 1927 (published by Max Brod; original version, as Der Verschollene, ed. by Jost Schillemeit, 1983)
    - Amerika (translated by Edwin Muir, afterword by Max Brod, 1945) / Amerika: The Man Who Disappeared (translated by Michael Hofmann, 2004) / Amerika: The Missing Person (translated by Mark Harman, 2008)
    - Amerikka (suom. Elvi Sinervo, 1965) / Mies joka katosi (suom. Markku Mannila, 2000)
    - films: 1969, dir. by Zbynek Brynych; 1983, Klassenverhältnisse, dir. by Jean-Marie Straub & Daniéle Huillet; 1994, dir. by Vladimír Michálekt, starring Martin Dejdar
  • Beim Bau der chinesischen Mauer, 1931
    - The Great Wall of China: Stories and Reflections (translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, 1946)
  • Erzählungen und kleine Prosa, 1935 (edited by Max Brod and Heinz Politzer)
    - The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories (translated by Willa and Edwin Muir, 1946/1995)
    - Erään koiran tutkimuksia (teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen ja Beschreibung eines Kampfes, suom. Aarno Peromies, 1967) / Keisarin viesti. Novelleja. Katkelmia. Tunnustuksia. (teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande, Beschreibung eines Kampfes ja Tagebücher 1910-1923, suom. Aarno Peromies, toim. Kai Laitinen, 1969)
  • Beschreibung eines Kampfes: Novellen, Skizzen, Aphorismen aus dem Nachlass, 1936
    - Description of a Struggle (translated by T. and J. Stern, 1958)
    - Erään koiran tutkimuksia (teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen ja Beschreibung eines Kampfes, suom. Aarno Peromies, 1967) / Keisarin viesti. Novelleja. Katkelmia. Tunnustuksia. (teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande, Beschreibung eines Kampfes ja Tagebücher 1910-1923, suom. Aarno Peromies, toim. Kai Laitinen, 1969)
  • Die Tagebücher 1910-23, 1951 (edited by Max Brod)
    - The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1910-1913 (translated by J. Kresh, 1948) / The Diaries of Franz Kafka 1914-1923 (translated by M. Greenberg and H. Arendt, 1948-49/1999) / The Diaries (Peregrine Books, 1964)
    - Keisarin viesti. Novelleja. Katkelmia. Tunnustuksia. (teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande, Beschreibung eines Kampfes ja Tagebücher 1910-1923, suom. Aarno Peromies, toim. Kai Laitinen, 1969)
  • Gesammelte Werke, 1950-1974 (edited by Max Brod)
  • Briefe an Milena, 1951 (edited by Willy Haas)
    - Letters to Milena (translated by T. and J. Stern, 1953) / Letters to Milena (translated and with an introduction by Philip Boehm, 1990)
    - Kirjeitä Milenalle (suom. Aarno Peromies, 1971)
  • Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande und andere Prosa aus dem Nachlaß, 1953
    - Wedding Preparations in the Country and Other Posthumous Prose Writings (by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins, 1973)
    - Erään koiran tutkimuksia ( teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen ja Beschreibung eines Kampfes, suom. Aarno Peromies, 1967) / Keisarin viesti. Novelleja. Katkelmia. Tunnustuksia. (teoksista Erzählungen, Hochzeitsvorbereitungen auf dem Lande, Beschreibung eines Kampfes ja Tagebücher 1910-1923, suom. Aarno Peromies, toim. Kai Laitinen, 1969)
  • Briefe 1902-24, 1958 (edited by M. Brod)
    - Letters to Friends, Family, and Editors (translated by Richard and Clara Winston, 1990)
    - Kirjeitä perheelle 1922-1924 (suomentanut Markku Mannila, 1990)
  • Briefe an Felice und andere Korrespondenz aus der Verlobungszeit, 1967 (edited by Erich Heller and Jürgen Born)
    - Letters to Felice (translated by J. Stern and E. Duckworth, 1973)
    - Kirjeitä Felicelle (suom. Aarno Peromies, 1976)
  • Sämtliche Erzählungen, 1970 (edited by Paul Raabe)
  • The Basic Kafka, 1971 (edited by E. Heller)
  • The Complete Stories, 1971 (edited by Nahum N. Glatzer; translators: Willa and Edwin Muir, Tania and James Stern; with a foreword by John Updike, 1995)
  • Shorter Works, 1973 (edited by Malcolm Pasley)
  • I Am a Memory Come Alive: Autobiographival Writings, 1974 (edited by N.N. Glatzer)
  • Briefe an Ottla und die Familie, 1975 (edited by Klaus Wagenbach and Hartmut Binder)
    - Letters to Ottla and the Family (translated by R. and C. Winston, 1982)
  • Schriften, Tagebücher, Briefe, 1982- (edited by Jürgen Born, Gerhard Neumann, Malcolm Pasley and Jost Schillemeit)
  • Letters to Friends, Family and Editors, 1988 (translated by Richard and Clara Winston)
  • Briefe an die Eltern aus den Jahren 1922-1924, 1990 (edited by Josef Cermák und Martin Svatoš)
    - Kirjeitä perheelle 1922-1924 (suom. Markku Mannila, 1990)
  • Tagebücher: in der Fassung der Handschrift, 1990 (2 vols., edited by Hans-Gerd Koch, Michael Müller, Malcolm Pasley)
  • The Transformation and Other Stories, 1992 (edited and translated by Malcolm Pasley)
  • Nachgelassene Schriften und Fragmente, 1993-1993 (edited by Malcolm Pasley)
  • Historisch-kritische Ausgabe sämtlicher Handschriften, Drucke und Typoskripte, 1995-  (edited by Roland Reuss and Peter Staengle)
  • The Zürau Aphorisms of Franz Kafka, 2004 (translated by Geoffrey Brock and Michael Hofmann; originally published in Italy as Aforismi di Zürau, 2004)
    - Tuberkuloosifragmentit (suom. Ville-Juhani Sutinen, 2012) 
  • Brief an den Vater: mit einem unbekannten Bericht über Kafkas Vater als Lehrherr und anderen Materialien, 2004 (edited by Hans-Gerd Koch; afterword by Alena Wagnerova)
  • Die Zürauer Aphorismen, 2006 (ed. Roberto Calasso)
  • Kafka’s Selected Stories: New Translations, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism, 2007 (translated and edited by Stanley Corngold)
  • Franz Kafka: The Office Writings, 2009 (edited by Stanley Corngold, Jack Greenberg, and Benno Wagner; translations by Eric Patton with Ruth Hein)