A strange and powerful man
FRANZ Kafka was born in Prague on 3 July 1883, the son of a prosperous dealer in fancy goods. As the family were among Prague's German speaking minority, Kafka first went to the Volksschule elementary school, then from 1893 to 1901, to the German Gymnasium. He read Jurisprudence at the Karl-Ferdinand University in Prague and took his doctorate in 1906.
In 1902, Kafka had first met Max Brod, the editor, critic, novelist, who introduced him to the literary circles of Prague, and in the year that he took his degree Kafka entered a short story, The Sky in Narrow Streets, for a competition run by the Viennese periodical Zeit. Kafka started work in the Prague office of Italian insurance company in 1907, but in July of the following year he joined the semi governmental Workers' Accident Insurance Bureau, where he was to remain until his retirement in 1922. As illness enveloped him in later years, the generosity of this organization in granting extended leave became increasingly important in giving Kafka time to write.
It was in 1909 that Kafka's literary career began to take shape, for in that year a short story was accepted by a Prague journal and he read to Brod the opening chapters of an unfinished novel, Wedding Preparations in the Country. He began to keep his diaries in 1910, a time when he also developed an interest in the Yiddish theatre, becoming a friend of the actor Itzhak Lowy. That contact is recognizable in the episode of the 'dog musicians' in Investigations of a Dog-a story that can at one level, be read as allegorical autobiography.
In 1912, Kafka was introduced to Felice Bauer, a Berlin secretary. He was to be twice engaged to her in 1914 and 1917; neither engagement led to marriage. A month after meeting her, however, he wrote to her the first letter of what was to be a voluminous correspondence. In that autumn, he began both America and Metamorphosis. Next year he went to see Felice in Berlin, and a short story dedicated to her was published in Brod's yearbook, Arcadia. The outbreak of war in 1914 thwarted Kafka's plans to become a journalist, but he was in a reserved occupation, which exempted him from conscription. By 1917, it was confirmed that Kafka had tuberculosis-a condition already foreshadowed in 1913 when he had spent some time in a sanatorium for cure.
On his return to Prague in 1918, he met Julie Wohryzek, who agreed to marry him in 1919. This year saw the appearance of A Country Doctor and In the Penal Settlement. The engagement was terminated in 1920, the year in which Kafka fell in love with his Czech translator, Milena Jesenska. Illness overtook him and while in a sanatorium during the winter of 1920-21, he told Brod that he wished all his work to be destroyed after his death. He retired from work in 1922 and next year decided to live in Berlin with a Polish Hebrew student, Dora Dymant.In the spring of 1924 he was in an advanced stage of laryngeal tuberculosis. His doctor forbade him to speak and he was reduced to communicating in notes. One such read 'Often offer the nurse wine'; and another, written after he had been refused a morphine injection,' Kill me, or else you are a murderer'. He died on 3 June 1924 and on the 11 June was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Prague.
Kafka's most famous works are the two major novels, The Trial and The Castle, which are the first books that established his reputation; the works that led to the coining of the word 'Kafkaesque'. Kafka is a master of the fusion of banality and menace. His genius is such that he defies all attempts at classification. He achieves the supreme step that challenges any artist in any form, for he speaks directly to the reader with a book in his hands. And his demand is to be read in imperative.
Compiled by Sarah Z H
Source: The published works of Kafka (1883-1924)