Written by Marie-France Plourde

 

Fabulous, Famous Franz!

A biography of Franz Kafka

(1883-1924)

 

 

First of all, I would like to thank Mr. Hermann Kafka and Mrs. Julie Löwy for their first child born on July 3, 1883 in Prague, named Franz for the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary. As you might know, this young boy became a famous 20th century writer. He is well-known for the alienation shown in his texts, especially in one of his famous works, The Metamorphosis published in 1915.

 
                                                                                                                

 

           

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  As a child, Kafka was quiet and withdrawn.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.

 Kafka 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.

 In 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.”

Works Cited

          Consulted on March 25th  2006

          http://www.gradesaver.com/classicnotes/authors/about_franz_kafka.html

          Consulted on March 25th 2006

          http://www.kafka-franz.com/

 

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