Birthplace: Prague, Czechia
Location of death: Kierling, Vienna, Austria
Cause of death: Tuberculosis
Remains: Buried, New Jewish Cemetery, Prague, Czechia
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Metamorphosis
Franz Kafka is an icon of dark existentialist and absurdist literature who often wrote about themes of isolation, alienation, and authoritarian oppression. His best known work includes the short story "The Metamorphosis", in which the main character transforms into a beetle, as well as "In the Penal Colony", "The Hunger Artist", and the novels The Trial, The Castle, and the unfinished Amerika. Also of note were the various autobiographical observations and literary ideas culled from his many journals as well as his famed "Letter to His Father", in which he attempted to explain their strained relationship and his emotional peculiarities.
Kafka was born in Prague in 1883. Although Kafka was born a Jew he complained of feeling little in common with other Jews. He attended synagogue but four times a year, spoke mainly German (although Czech had been the language of his childhood), and had little cultural involvement with the Jewish community, with the exception of Jewish theater groups. His middle class bourgeois family aspired to upward mobility and acceptance into the German mainstream.
As outlined in "Letter to His Father", Franz Kafka's father, Hermann Kafka, was a major influence in the writer's life. Generally portrayed as large, loud, volatile, and domineering, Hermann Kafka was a self-made man who had risen from poverty to entrepreneur shopkeeper. The younger Kafka often felt he had more in common with his mother's side of the family. Kafka's mother, Julie Löwy, was the second child of a well-to-do cloth merchant and brewer, and her relations were more accustomed to a calmer, more genteel approach to life. Kafka also felt life might have been different if his father's rage might have been spread amongst other sons; however both his younger brothers, George and Heinrich, died when barely out of infancy, and it was left to Franz alone to struggle with the mantle of his father's expectations and frustrations. Of his three sisters -- Gabrielle (Elli), Valerie (Valli), and Ottilie (Ottla) -- it was the youngest sister, Ottla, whom Franz loved the most, and whom Herman Kafka liked the least.
As a youngster Franz Kafka was a voracious reader and enjoyed putting on plays for his sisters. After completing his primary studies, he went on to study law at Charles Ferdinand University (better known as the University of Prague). After graduation he took a position as a insurance agent, a job he retained until weakness from tuberculosis forced him to retire. Meanwhile he began writing on the side, and even had a few things published.
But he remained self-deprecating about his writing, as he was about himself in general, and on his death bed asked his close lifelong friend Max Brod to burn all his unpublished works, including journals and correspondence. It was a promise Brod did not keep. Instead Brod, who had always been impressed with Kafka's literary abilities, edited a portion of what remained and had it published. Interest in Kafka's work soared and, over the years, has continued to garner a following. While Kafka holds a considerable following among existentialists, who find in his gloom and doom anxiety about life an expression of deepest truth (that we are meaningless and alone, yet can't help but yearn for it all to matter), he also finds sympthetic response among magical realists and others who favor an absurdist, surreal representation of life.
Kafka himself attributed much of his outlook on life to the affects of the relationship with his father. In Letter to His Father (1919) he stated: "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." His work was often fraught with cold, authoritarian figures that persecuted and threatened for reasons barely understood and often unexplained -- a situation which perfectly summed up Kafka's childhood sense of his own father.
Illness and physical limitation also plagued Kafka, yet another senseless extrusion of suffering which implied to him a callous universe or perverse creator. In addition to the tuberculosis that had first appeared in 1917, Kafka experienced frequent bouts of insomnia, migraine headaches, boils, constipation, and other ailments. He was a hypochondriac and possibly an anorexic, as his weight suffered wild fluxuations and his dietary peculiarities progressed through prodigious consumption of unpasteurized milk (a possible source of infectious tuberculosis) to a completely vegan diet.
His attitudes toward sexuality was also marked by extreme neurosis. Unable to reconcile his physical urges (which were visited upon prostitutes and loose women) with his romantic longings, he had a series of prolonged, probably chaste, engagements that invariably ended in his breaking off the relationship. Despite this fact, and despite his being overwhelmed with feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing, he was much liked by friends (including women friends) for his gentle, cool demeanor, his wry wit, and his obvious intelligence. He was further viewed not as weak and repulsive, his own fear, but as boyishly good looking, as well as neat and austere.
Franz Kafka died in 1924 from complications related to tuberculosis. It has been noted that due to the great pain in his throat, from this condition, he was unable to eat and barely to drink in his last days. He often complained of thirst in his letters home to his father, and at the end may have simply starved to death. His body is buried in Prague, in the Jewish section of the Strasnice cemetery. His mother and father are interred beside him. All three of his sisters were killed in Nazi concentration camps during World War II.
Father: Hermann Kafka (b. 1852, d. 1931)
Mother: Julie Löwy (b. 1856, d. 1934).
Brother: Georg (d. infancy)
Brother: Heinrich (d. infancy)
Sister: Gabrielle ("Elli", d. WWII concentration camp)
Sister: Valerie ("Valli", d. WWII concentration camp)
Sister: Ottilie ("Ottla", d. WWII concentration camp)
Girlfriend: Felice Bauer
Mistress: Grete Bloch (friend of Felice Bauer, claimed to have borne Kafka's child)
Mistress: Milena Jesenská-Pollak (writer)
Girlfriend: Dora Dymant
High School: Deutsche Knabenschule, Prague (1889-93)
Draft Deferment: World War I
Risk Factors: Tuberculosis, Insomnia, Vegetarian, Depression
Is the subject of books:
Franz Kafka: A Biography, 1995, BY: Max Brod
Kafka, 2004, BY: Nicholas Murray
Author of books:
Der Prozeß (1925, novel, "The Trial")
Das Schloß (1926, novel, "The Castle")
Amerika (1927, novel, "America")
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