Franz Kafka - Biography, His Childhood, Studies, Health & Work

Franz Kafka (1883-1924) was one of the most important German-language storytellers of the 20th century. He spent most of his life in his native city of Prague. Kafka is famous for his grotesque and absurd short stories and novels. 

Many of them appeared posthumously: the editor was Max Brod (1884-1968), his close friend and executor. Kafka's work cannot be assigned to any literary epoch or trend. It is unique: never before and never since has anyone written like Franz Kafka. Generations of readers have recognized themselves in his works up to the present day.

Franz Kafka

When Franz Kafka was born in Prague on July 3, 1883, his life as a writer was anything but predetermined. His father Hermann worked as a sales representative. Although unusually educated for the time, Julie helped her husband with his professional duties.

The young Kafka went to school in Prague, where he always suffered from his dominating father. Kafka studied in various directions and then worked in rather unpopular areas until he turned to write for a living. Through his excellent reports, he made a career and had more and more practice in processing his inadequate life in his work.

Many of Kafka's stories are characterized by inscrutable relationships, entanglements, and unclear structures of people or places. This is particularly evident in The Judgment or The Metamorphosis. 

The stories published after his death (on June 3, 1924, in Klosterneuburg) ("The Castle", "The Trial") are also influenced by this. In addition to his extensive work, the »Franz Kafka Prize« from the city of Klosterneuburg and the »Franz Kafka Literature Prize« from the society of the same name commemorates the writer.

Family and childhood (1883 – 1889)

Franz Kafka was born in Prague on July 3, 1883. He was the first child of the Jewish merchant Hermann Kafka (1852 - 1931) and his wife Julie, née Löwy (1856 - 1934). Franz had three sisters: Elli (1889-1942), Valli (1890-1942), and Ottla (1892-1943). 

All three women were deported and died in Nazi extermination camps. The brothers Georg and Heinrich died when they were small children.

Studies and the beginning of lifelong friendships (1901 – 1907)

After graduating from high school in 1901, Kafka first studied chemistry at Prague's Karl-Ferdinands-University, before switching to law. He also tried his hand at German studies and art history for a semester. Kafka completed his law studies in 1906 with a doctorate. A year of "legal practice" at the court followed.

In the second year of his studies, Kafka met Max Brod (1884 – 1968), who became his close friend and later his executor. Further lifelong friendships developed during the student days with Felix Weltsch (1884 – 1964) and Oskar Baum (1883 – 1941).

Kafka's health

Kafka spoke about doctors as such many times in his letters. He didn't trust them. He was a follower of naturopathy. He tried to interpret non-specific symptoms of illness such as insomnia, headaches, heart problems, or weight loss from which he suffered psychosomatically. 

There is some evidence of a connection between physical symptoms and the many conflicts that threatened Kafka throughout his life.

Inferiority complexes and feelings of guilt have plagued Kafka since childhood. The difficult relationship with his domineering father did the rest. The writing was later a way for Kafka to come to terms with a deeply felt inability to live; at the same time, it was accompanied by considerable self-doubt.

Another conflict arose from the need for a job that would secure a livelihood and the unpopular "day job". His ambivalent behavior towards women also testifies to inner conflict and insecurity.

After a hemorrhage in August 1917, Kafka was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis:

Sometimes it seems to me that the brain and lungs have communicated without my knowledge. "It can't go on like this," said the brain, and after five years the lungs agreed to help. - Letter to Max Brod

In 1918 Kafka contracted the Spanish flu. In 1922 he suffered a nervous breakdown and then became increasingly frail. Toward the end of his life, he was diagnosed with incurable tuberculosis of the larynx.

Franz Kafka died on June 3, 1924, at the age of only 40 in Kierling near Klosterneuburg near Vienna.

Kafka's two-part work

Kafka's work can be divided into works authorized by him during his lifetime and those published posthumously by Max Brod. Kafka had decreed that all unpublished manuscripts be destroyed after his death.

But his friend Max Brod, who had been appointed administrator by Kafka's father, began making Kafka's work accessible to the public.

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