Franz Kafka

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Franz Kafka
BirthplacePrague, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary (now Czech Republic)
novelist, short story writer, insurance officer

Kafka, Franz

(fränts käf`kä), 1883–1924, German-language novelist, b. Prague. Along with JoyceJoyce, James,
1882–1941, Irish novelist. Perhaps the most influential and significant novelist of the 20th cent., Joyce was a master of the English language, exploiting all of its resources.
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, 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 an executive position in the workmen's compensation division of the 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), R. Stach (2 vol., 2002–8, tr. 2005–13), and S. Friedländer (2013); biography of his youthful years by E. Kendall (2013); studies by W. H. Sokel (1966), E. Heller (1974), S. Corngold (1988), and M. Anderson (1990).

Kafka, Franz


Born July 3, 1883, in Prague; died June 3, 1924, in Kierling, near Vienna. Austrian author.

Kafka was the son of bourgeois Jewish parents. He studied at the law faculty at the University of Prague from 1901 to 1906 and worked for an insurance company from 1908 to 1922. Kafka’s stories first appeared in magazines in 1909. The collection Reflection (1913) and the stories “The Judgment” and “The Stoker” (1913) and “The Metamorphosis” (1916) were published separately. After World War 1 Kafka published the story “In the Penal Colony” (1919) and the collections A Country Doctor (1919) and A Hunger-Artist (1924). His friend M. Brod, the executor of his will, published three novels by Kafka in 1925 and 1926—Amerika (unfinished), The Trial, and The Castle —as well as the collection of stories The Great Wall of China (1931).

Kafka’s writing is characterized by verisimilitude of details, events, and the thoughts and behavior of individual people, presented in unusual, often absurd interrelationships and in nightmarish or fantastic fairy-tale-like situations. Embodied in the images and conflicts of Kafka’s works are the tragic powerless-ness of the doomed “little man,” and at the same time the merciless cruelty and absurdity of the bourgeois social system and its laws, customs, and morals. The alogism of thought frequently makes it difficult to understand Kafka’s prose.

Kafka’s creative method, characteristic of 20th-century modernist literature, influenced, to varying degrees and in various forms, many German and Austrian writers, the Swiss authors M. Frisch and F. Dürrenmatt, the French writers J. P. Sartre and A. Camus, such representatives of the “literature of the absurd” as E. Ionesco and S. Beckett, and some literary figures of the USA and other countries of the Americas. Soviet literary criticism views Kafka’s creative work as an artistically brilliant expression of the deep crisis of bourgeois society, seen as a hopeless impasse from which the writer saw no escape.


Gesammelte Werke, vols. 1–8. Frankfurt am Main, 1951–58.
Tagebücher. [Frankfurt am Main, 1967.]
Briefe. Frankfurt am Main, 1958.
Briefe an Milena. Frankfurt am Main, 1952.
In Russian translation:
Roman, Novelly, Pritchi. [Preface by B. Suchkov.] Moscow, 1965.
“Iz dnevnikov.” Voprosy literatury, 1968, no 2.
“Pis’mo k ottsu.” Zvezda, 1968, no. 8.


Zatonskii, D. V. Fronts Kafka i problemy modernizma. Moscow, 1965.
Knipovich, E. “F. Kafka.” In Sila pravdy. Moscow, 1965.
Dneprov, V. Cherty romana XX v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1965. Pages 117–71, 199–207.
Suchkov, B. “F. Kafka.” In Liki vremeni. Moscow, 1969.
Janouch, G. Gespräche mit Kafka. Frankfurt am Main, 1951.
Richter, H. Franz Kafka. Berlin, 1962.
Brod, M. Über Franz Kafka. [Frankfurt am Main-Hamburg, 1966.]


Kafka, Franz


Franz Kafka (1883–1924) was born in the Old Town area of Prague, Czechoslovakia. He attended German schools and in 1901 entered Prague University, where he earned the doctor of law in July 1906. He worked for an insurance company from 1908 until 1922. In August 1921 he had begun to cough blood but had dismissed the illness as of purely psychic origin. The disease was later diagnosed as pulmonary catarrh (inflammation of a mucous membrane), with a danger of tuberculosis. After living on an estate at Zuru, near Saaz, for some time, he spent the rest of his life in sanatoria, dying in the Kierling Sanatorium, near Vienna. Among his works are the novella The Metamorphosis; the short stories “The Judgement” and “A Country Doctor”; and three novels: The Castle, The Trial, and Amerika.

Kafka had considerable intimacy with the world of dreams for most of his life and experienced mental states in which dreamlike images and fantasies emerged. In many instances these images were recorded in his notebooks, and they appear here and there in his stories, which are written from inner experience with only limited support of psychoanalytic investigation of dreams and dream symbolism.

The dreams recorded by Kafka are notable for their abundance of detail and their visual preciseness. Kafka was aware of the danger related to such intimacy with the dreamworld, namely, the possible loss of connections to the real world and the breaking off of human relations. His work served to connect him with the real world.

For Kafka, as for other authors of this century, the dream constituted the primary means for representing unconscious experience. The mechanical problems of expressing the dreamworld did not exist for Kafka because of his particular prose style, which undergoes no distortions and is perfectly consistent in reporting events, real or delusional. He was able to erase the boundaries between reality and dream, and his transition from one world to another is as imperceptible as the moment between waking and sleeping.

Kafka’s “dream technique” is a product of his concept of the dream as a work of art. He explored the aesthetic properties of the dream and the relationship between unconscious mental processes and the form and composition of the dream. His dream technique is characterized by the particular use of metaphor, which in a dream is represented literally. In Kafka’s diaries the evolution of a story (i.e., the details of the story) from a metaphor can often be traced.

In The Metamorphosis, the protagonist is a noxious bug, as in a symbolic dream. Although the story does not recount the dream of its protagonist, Gregor, who, as the text explains, has just awakened from a troubled dream and is now presumably back in reality, The Metamorphosis does evoke the quality of dream experiences as perfectly as any dream memory. The reader is taken vividly into the dreamworld, which, despite being a surreal universe of fantastic shapes, is a world of incredible clarity and intensity.

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This summer, the Kunstmuseum Wolfs burg and the Vitra Design Museum examine the depth of this polymath's impact, with two exhibitions under the same roof, one boasting works by fifteen artists, including Olafur Eliasson and Katharina Grosse, the other featuring historical objects from the Vitra: furniture, models, and drawings by Steiner and Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, along with letters to Steiner from Piet Mondrian, Richard Neutra, and, of all people, Franz Kafka.