Kafka, Franz

Kafka, Franz

Kafka, Franz, 1883-1924, German-language novelist, b. Prague. Along with Joyce, Kafka is perhaps the most influential of 20th-century writers. From a middle-class Jewish family from Bohemia, he spent most of his life in Prague. He studied law and then obtained a position in the workmen's compensation division of Austro-Hungarian government. Most of his works were published posthumously. His major novels include Der Prozess (1925, tr. The Trial, 1937, 1998), Das Schloss (1926, tr. The Castle, 1930, 1998), and Amerika (1927, tr. 1938), the latter the first novel he wrote (1913) and the last to be published. In prose that is remarkable for its clarity and precision, Kafka presents a world that is at once real and dreamlike and in which individuals burdened with guilt, isolation, and anxiety make a futile search for personal salvation. Important stories appearing during his lifetime were "Das Urteil" (1913, tr. "The Judgement," 1945), Die Verwandlung (1915, tr. The Metamorphosis, 1937), "Ein Landarzt" (1919, tr. "A Country Doctor," 1945), In der Strafkolonie (1920, tr. In the Penal Colony, 1941), and "Ein Hungerkünstler" (1922, tr. "A Hunger Artist," 1938).

See his diaries, ed. by M. Brod (tr. 1948-49); his letters to Felice Bauer, ed. by E. Heller and J. Born (tr. 1973); biographies by M. Brod (1937, new ed. 1995), R. Hayman (1981, repr. 2001), E. Pawel (1984), N. Murray (2004), and R. Stach (2005); studies by W. H. Sokel (1966), E. Heller (1974), and S. Corngold (1988).


(born July 3, 1883, Prague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary—died June 3, 1924, Kierling, near Vienna, Austria) Czech writer who wrote in German. Born into a middle-class Jewish family, he earned a doctorate and then worked successfully but unhappily at a government insurance office from 1907 until he was forced by a case of tuberculosis to retire in 1922. The disease caused his death two years later. Hypersensitive and neurotic, he reluctantly published only a few works in his lifetime, including the symbolic story The Metamorphosis (1915), the allegorical fantasy In the Penal Colony (1919), and the story collection A Country Doctor (1919). His unfinished novels The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926), and Amerika (1927), published posthumously against Kafka's wishes, express the anxieties and alienation of 20th-century humanity. His visionary tales, with their inscrutable mixture of the normal and the fantastic, have provoked a wealth of interpretations. Kafka's posthumous reputation and influence have been enormous, and he is regarded as one of the great European writers of the 20th century.

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