Written by Marie-France Plourde
biography of Franz Kafka
Kafka grew up in a
middle-class family governed by the owner of a dry goods store, his father.
According to many sources, Hermann Kafka was a domestic tyrant who often threw
his anger at his son. It also
seems that he did not agree with most of his son’s choices and tastes in
life, especially the interest he had in Yiddish theatre, vegetarian food and
silence. This father’s rejection of him is reflected in some of his novels
like The Metamorphosis, and is
clearly stated in the various journals he wrote during his lifetime.
Franz Kafka and his three sisters, Gabriele, Valerie and Ottilie, were raised
by a governess like almost all children from the middle and upper classes at
the time were. Since his governess was Czech, Kafka learned to speak Czech as
a child, and he quickly mastered German, the
language of the elites at that time in Prague.
As a child, Kafka was quiet and withdrawn. He enjoyed reading and
writing plays for his sisters during their spare time. He went to German
schools instead of Czech schools because his father wanted him to benefit from
the social advancement offered in German Schools. In 1901, he graduated from
the Altstädter Gymnasium and entered Charles Ferdinand University.
Surprisingly, Kafka showed signs of fickleness
in the choices of the classes he attended. First, he decided to follow one of
his friends, and study chemistry. This only lasted two weeks. Then, he
switched to law. The next semester, he tried German literature but found out
that both the professors and the study did not agree with the way he thought.
Frank Kafka was not seen as an ordinary common writer at that time, so it is
not surprising that the literature classes he attended did not fit his world
view. Nowadays, Kafka is seen as a modernist writer even if he wrote before
this period started. Finally, Kafka decided to go back to law believing that
this field of study would not interfere with his personal world view and so,
with his mental life. While attending university, Kafka met Max Brod, who was
a student writer. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship. Kafka finally
graduated in 1906 with a doctorate. From 1908 for almost the rest of his life,
Kafka worked at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute. This job was not
great, but since it had short hours (from 8:00 to 2:00), it allowed him to
think and write. He started to
write around 1898, but those works were destroyed. Around 1904-1905, he began
to write more seriously.
was, in my opinion, a contemporary man. As
I said before, he was not like the other men of his time. His works were quite
modern and eccentric. He showed unsteadiness in his career choice at the
beginning of his adulthood just like young people are also often accused to
show. Kafka showed sexual and love instability throughout his life. He had
numerous affairs, each one more controversial than the one before. He had a
lot of one-night stands even if he strongly believed that sex was repulsive
and disgusting. He often broke off engagements at the very last minute
claiming that he would not be able to fit the role of husband.
In 1913, he nevertheless proposed to Felice Bauer (who accepted the
proposal) in a letter. In the same letter, he gave her all the reasons why he
would be bad for her. Unfortunately, in 1914, he broke off his engagement with
her, and proposed to her again in 1917. Their affair finally ended when Kafka
was diagnosed with tuberculosis the same year. Kafka changed from one woman to
another, but seemed to have more affairs through letters, and friendly
relationships than more typical adult love affairs. The women who followed
Felice Bauer were: Grete Bloch, Milena Jesenská-Pollak, and Dora Diamant.
1924 Kafka’s health declined rapidly. He went from sanatorium to sanatorium.
In April he went to a sanatorium in Kierling, Austria where he agreed to the
publication of A Hunger Artists. He
died on June 3, 1924.
After his death, Kafka
wanted his good friend Brod to burn all his works. Thanks God Brod did not
carry out his task since if he had done so, neither you nor I, would have the
opportunity to read his original and fascinating works! Truly, without the
great help of Brod, the literary world would have failed to see a real
“institution”, an “icon emblematic of modern times.”
Grade Saver, 2006: Biography of Franz Kafka
on March 25th 2006
Leni’s Franz Kafka page,
Consulted on March 25th
Kafka, Franz. Journal. Bernard Grasset, éditeur. Paris, 1954.
Kafka, Franz. Lettres ŕ ses parents (1922-1924). Gallimard, 1990.
Robert, Marthe. Seule, comme Franz Kafka. Editions Calmann-Lévy, France. 1978.
Editions Pierre Belfond, Paris. 1983 .