For an author whose name is instantly recognizable and synonymous with a particular style of writing Franz Kafka saw little success during his own lifetime. In fact his greatest works were actually published after his death.
The seeds for what can be thought as the Kafkaesque world that features in his work were sown by the world that Franz Kafka grew up in. As a Czech Jew born in Prague when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ruled by a German upper class, Kafka like his characters was an outsider dominated by an oppressive state bureaucracy.
Franz Kafka was born July 3, 1883, in Prague to Hermann and Julie Kafka, a middle class Jewish couple. Franz was the eldest of four children with three younger sisters named Valli, Elli and Ottla. Prague at that time was the third largest city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire ruled by Emperor Franz Joseph. The official language of the Empire was German so not only did Kafka attend German schools and university but his literary works were also all in German.
In 1901 Kafka attended Karl Ferdinand University in Prague to study German literature later transferring to law and gaining his Doctorate in Jurisprudence in 1906. It was at university that Kafka met Max Brod who was to become his best friend and the man who would publish the bulk of Kafka's work posthumously.
Following university in 1907, Kafka found work as an insurance clerk during the day and began to write seriously in the evenings, however his work was seldom published. It was a few years later in 1912 that saw one of the most productive periods of his life, he wrote the stories 'The Judgement' and 'Metamorphoses' and the bulk of the novel 'Amerika'. Intriguingly Kafka never visited America and wrote the novel, though it was never completed, purely from his imagination and what little he knew of the country.
The second of his novels was begun in 1914 'The Trial' was the complex tale of the arrest and trial of an innocent man Joseph K. Joseph is persecuted by the illogical bureaucracy of the system and is finally executed never understanding the reasons why.
After a period of illness, Kafka had contracted both tuberculosis and influenza; he began in 1922 his third and final novel 'The Castle'. This was an abstract and dense book where the protagonist K is frustrated in his relentless but futile efforts to gain entry to the Castle that dominates and rules over the village he is visiting as a land surveyor.
Kafka continued to suffer with ill health and finally succumbed on June 3, 1924, dying exactly a month short of his 41st birthday. Kafka was insecure about the quality of his work and asked that his manuscripts be destroyed upon his death. Fortunately his close friend Max Brod disregarded this and worked hard to get them published so Kafka could earn the respect he deserved in death that he never found in life.
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