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Definition: Kafka, Franz from Philip's Encyclopedia

German novelist, b. Czechoslovakia. He published only essays and short stories, such as Metamorphosis (1916), during his life. Kafka asked his friend Max Brod to destroy his works after his death, but Brod and published the trilogy of unfinished novels for which Kafka is best known today: The Trial (1925), The Castle (1926) and Amerika (1927). They are disturbing studies of alienation of the individual in a bureaucratic and totalitarian society.

Summary Article: Kafka, Franz
From Chambers Biographical Dictionary


Austrian novelist

Born of German-Jewish parents in Prague, he graduated in law there, and although overwhelmed by a desire to write, found employment (1907-23) as an official in the accident prevention department of the government-sponsored Workers' Accident Insurance Institution. A hypersensitive, introspective person who felt emasculated by his domineering father, he eventually moved to Berlin to live with Dora Dymant in 1923, his only brief spell of happiness before succumbing to a lung disease. He published several short stories and essays, including, "Der Heizer" (1913, "The Boilerman"), "Betrachtungen" (1913, "Meditations") and "Die Verwandlung" (1916, Eng trans "The Transformation", 1933; more widely known as "Metamorphosis"). His three unfinished novels, Der Prozess (1925, Eng trans The Trial, 1937), Das Schloss (1926, Eng trans The Castle, 1937) and Amerika (1927, Eng trans America, 1938), were published posthumously, through his friend Max Brod, and translated by Edwin Muir and Willa Muir. Literary critics have interpreted Das Schloss variously as a modern Pilgrim's Progress (however, there is literally no progress), as a literary exercise in Kierkegaardian Existentialist theology, as an allegory of the Jew in a Gentile world, or psychoanalytically as a monstrous expression of Kafka's Oedipus complex, but his solipsism primarily portrays society as a pointless and irrational organization into which the bewildered individual has strayed (Kafkaesque). He has exerted a tremendous influence on Western literature, not least on such writers as Albert Camus, Rex Warner and Samuel Beckett. As The Trial, Der Prozess has been memorably filmed by Orson Welles (1962) and staged by Steven Berkoff (1970). A number of his other writings have been published posthumously, including Briefe an meinem Vater (1919, Eng trans Letters to my Father, 1954), Briefe an Milena (1952, Eng trans Letters to Milena, 1967) and Briefe an Felice (1967, Eng trans Letters to Felice, 1974), and his diary and other correspondence.

  • Stern, J P, The World of Kafka (1980); Thorlby, A, Franz Kafka (1972).
© Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd 2011

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