Study Guide

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka Introduction

Who is Franz Kafka? Kafka himself tried to answer that question through his writing.

Kafka, who died in 1924 at the age of 40, was Jewish in an anti-Semitic Europe. He was a German speaker in Prague. (Point of information: Prague was then part of Bohemia, which is now known as the Czech Republic.)

He was a writer stuck in a boring day job.

He was a stranger, no matter where he was. "I am away from home and must always write home," he wrote two years before his death, "even if any home of mine has long since floated away into eternity." Little did he know that his own books would break the frozen seas inside millions of people.

southern-gothic--kafka-and-moby-dick--kafkaesque

Franz Kafka Trivia

After he became a vegetarian, Kafka went to the Berlin Aquarium, stood in front of the tanks, looked at the fish and said (out loud), "Now at last I can look at you in peace. I don't eat you anymore."

Not a single one of the six Kafka children lived a full, long life. Two of Franz's siblings died in infancy, and all three of Kafka's younger sisters were murdered in the Lodz and Auschwitz concentration camps during the Holocaust.

Here's the schedule of Kafka's typical day during the years he was employed in the Workers Accident Insurance Institute. Kafka worked at his desk job from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. He lunched until 3:30, slept until 7:30, exercised, and then joined his family for dinner. He started writing around 11 p.m. and kept at it "depending on my strength, inclination, and luck, until one, two, or three o'clock, once even till six in the morning." He then made "every imaginable effort to go to sleep" before leaving for the office again in the morning.

Kafka's writings were banned in his native Prague during the communist regime. The ban was lifted in 1989.

The writer has an asteroid named after him. Discovered in 1983, 3412 Kafka passes by Earth every 523 days.

Kafka wrote his short story "The Judgment" in a single all-night burst of creativity on 22 September 1912.

A researcher going through Kafka's papers at Oxford's Bodleian Library in 2008 was stunned to come across a rather large stash of porn. Yes, Kafka enjoyed naughty magazines. He kept the collection in a locked cabinet at his parents' house and took the key with him whenever he went on vacation.

Franz Kafka Resources

Books

Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis (1915)
"One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin." With this famous sentence, Kafka's harrowing allegory of alienation begins. Gregor Samsa's transformation into a bug is one of the most famous stories in modern literature. If you read one thing by Franz Kafka, this should be it.

Franz Kafka, The Trial (1925)
This novel, published after Kafka's death, is one of his most Kafkaesque works. Protagonist Josef K. is an ordinary man who suddenly finds himself persecuted by shadowy authorities for an unnamed crime he didn't commit. This haunting story is a golden example of Kafka's masterful ability to communicate helplessness and menacing absurdity.

Franz Kafka, Amerika (1927)
This novel, an expansion of Kafka's short story "The Stoker," is about a European immigrant lost in America. Subtitled "The Man Who Disappeared," the novel was unfinished at the time of Kafka's early death. Its fragmentary quality is a reminder of Kafka's great promise and untimely end.

Franz Kafka, The Complete Stories (1995)
Kafka's primary medium was the short story. And it is through this medium that his literary identity really shines through. Kafka started writing short stories in college and continued right up until his death from tuberculosis in 1924. This collection traces his development as an artist.

Max Brod, Franz Kafka (1947)
Max Brod and Franz Kafka first became friends as students at Charles-Ferdinand University in Prague. It's thanks to Brod that the world knows who Franz Kafka is at all. Kafka named Brod his literary executor and asked him to burn all but a few of his papers after his death. Brod wisely refused, and ushered many of Kafka's most famous works into publication. This biography of Kafka is an intimate look at the writer by someone who knew him well.

Reiner Stach, Kafka: The Decisive Years (2005)
Being Kafka's biographer is no easy task. In the personal papers he left behind, he is as tormented and hard to pin down as one of his characters. Stach's exploration of the writer is the most thorough biography published since Kafka's death. This is the first of three volumes that Stach has planned for the biography.

Music

Gyorgy Kurtag, Kafka Fragments
This musical suite is a series of forty short pieces for the violin and a soprano singer, each inspired by a story, novel or letter of Kafka's. The Hungarian composer Gyorgy Kurtag completed this work in the late 1980s - just around the time that the Soviet Union was beginning to loosen its grip on Eastern Europe and Kafka's works became more widely available.

Poul Ruders, Kafka's Trial
The Danish composer Poul Ruders created this opera, which meshes Kafka's biography with scenes from his novel about a lawyer inexplicably persecuted by the law. Composer Ruders wanted the opera to be a comedy in the style of Kafka - that is to say, a little nightmarish and not really funny at all.

Nigel Kennedy, Kafka
Violinist Nigel Kennedy is a former child prodigy who has now established a career as a mature musician. The songs on this album of acoustic and electric violin vary wildly in genre from jazz to Middle Eastern to heavy metal. The connection to Kafka? Well, that's for Kennedy to know and you to try to figure out while you listen.

Socos & The Live Project Band, Kafka
The Live Project Band is an experimental rock band based in Athens, Greece. Their 2007 album, Kafka, is a double-disc set of songs inspired by Franz Kafka. Like the author himself, the songs defy easy categorization.

Lost Valentinos, "Kafka"
"Kafka" is a song off the first album of the quirky Australian band Lost Valentinos. It uses Kafka's death as a metaphor for the pain of a breakup. Heavy.

Kafka, Truths
They really love Franz K. Down Under. Kafka is a funk band (the exact number of members fluctuates) out of Brisbane, Australia. According to the band's MySpace page, its founders came together out of shared admiration for "jazz, funk... and 18th Century Russian and Czech writers." We dig it.

Images

Franz Kafka
A portrait of the author.

Little Kafka
A photograph of Franz Kafka, age 5.

Kafka, 1906
A photograph of the author taken when he was about 23 years old.

Kafka's Signature
The author's Johnny Hancock.

Kafka's Grave
Kafka's burial place in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague.

Wax Kafka
The statue of Franz Kafka at the Prague Wax Museum.

Movies & TV

Kafka (1990)
This film, starring the grim-faced actor Jeremy Irons, is not exactly a biopic about Franz Kafka, nor is it directly based on any of Kafka's works. Instead, director Steven Soderbergh set out to make a film more Kafkaesque than Kafka himself. Kafka - the title character - is a secret writer who is working a soul-sucking job in 1919 Prague. Soon he is sucked into a web of deception and persecution straight out of The Trial.

Franz Kafka (1992)
This is an obscure, short animated film by writer/director Piotr Dumala. Dumala created a unique form of animation that relies on paint and sand manipulated on plaster - hard to describe, but fascinating to watch.

The Trial (1962)
The eccentric filmmaker Orson Welles was a perfect candidate to adapt Kafka's harrowing account of a man hounded by authorities and tried for reasons no one will explain. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio watched Welles's adaptation of The Trial for inspiration when they were making the thriller Shutter Island.

The Trial (1993)
This is a more literal interpretation of Kafka's novel, starring Kyle MacLachlan as Joseph K. and Anthony Hopkins as The Priest. It was written by the esteemed Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter, a worthy handler of Kafka's prose.

Franz Kafka's It's a Wonderful Life (1993)
This is an Oscar-winning short film that blends Kafka's Metamorphosis with the cheery Frank Capra classic It's a Wonderful Life. Now that they mention it, we do see the parallels. In one, Gregor Samsa wakes up to find himself an insect; in the other, George Bailey suddenly finds himself a ghost.

Metamorphosis (2002)
The Russian director Valeri Fokin created this adaptation of The Metamorphosis. For obvious reasons - it's really hard to play a bug - this is a difficult text to adequately adapt to the screen. But this art-house film is definitely worth a watch.

Websites

Finding Kafka in Prague
What a cool and creative website! Web designer Alice Whittenburg and writer Greg Evans teamed up to create this interactive site that explores modern Prague in search of the real Kafka. It combines photos, text, and sound to make it feel like you really are walking the city in Kafka's footsteps.

Franz Kafka: Das Schloss
This site, run by Jeff Nowak and Allen B. Ruch, is a fascinating compendium of Kafka quotes, criticism, biography, and bibliography. It's a good place to click around if you're curious to know more about Kafka.

The Kafka Project
The Kafka Project is an ambitious web undertaking that aims to make all of Kafka's works (in the original German) available on the Internet. Don't speak German? The site's organizers are also trying to post translations of the works when they are available, including several in English.

My Tribute to Franz Kafka
Kafka fan Brian Herzog has created this page as a tribute to his literary idol. It's a good web resource, with several of Kafka's more obscure works and fragments posted in full. It also serves as a bit of a discussion forum among Kafka fans, with Herzog and other readers weighing in with their interpretations.

The Franz Kafka Society
There are societies dedicated to Franz Kafka all over the world. But the one based in his native Czech Republic (Bohemia, as it was known during Kafka's life) is among the most active. Their website has good information about the author. The society also awards the annual Franz Kafka Prize, a prestigious international award that honors writers whose work reaches across nations and cultures.

Franz Kafka Biography
This page is like an online scrapbook of Kafka odds and ends. It sports reproduced primary documents like his engagement announcement, along with photographs of his family, friends and lovers. It's fun to browse through. We cannot figure out why the main page of kafka-franz.com is for Miami condo sales, though.

Video & Audio

Franz Kafka - Rock Opera!
It's exactly what it sounds like - a cartoon rock opera about Kafka. And it's awesome.

The Onion: "Prague's Franz Kafka International Named World's Most Alienating Airport"
This is a joke - repeat, this is a joke. But a funny one. Check out this fake news report from The Onion.

Metamorphosis
An audio book of Kafka's novel.

Franz Kafka by Piotr Dumala
A haunting animated film about the writer.

The Country Doctor
A short anime film (in Japanese, with English subtitles) based on Kafka's short story.

The Metamorphosis
A controversial adaptation of the famous novel by filmmaker Carlos Atanes.

Primary Sources

The Metamorphosis
E-text of Kafka's novel, in English.

The Trial
An English translation of Kafka's novel.

"A Hunger Artist"
Text of Kafka's short story.

"Before the Law"
A fragment by Kafka.

"Conversation With the Supplicant"
The text of Kafka's short story, also called "Conversation With the Worshipper."

"Give It Up"
A haunting fragment by Kafka.