Kafka, Franz

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Kafka, Franz

Franz Kafka (fränts käf´kä), 1883–1924, German-language novelist, b. Prague. Along with Joyce, Kafka is perhaps the most influential of 20th-century writers. From a middle-class Jewish family from Bohemia, he spent most of his life in Prague. He studied law and then obtained an executive position in the workmen's compensation division of the Austro-Hungarian government. Most of his works were published posthumously. His major novels include Der Prozess (1925, tr. The Trial, 1937, 1998), Das Schloss (1926, tr. The Castle, 1930, 1998), and Amerika (1927, tr. 1938), the latter the first novel he wrote (1913) and the last to be published. In prose that is remarkable for its clarity and precision, Kafka presents a world that is at once real and dreamlike and in which individuals burdened with guilt, isolation, and anxiety make a futile search for personal salvation. Important stories appearing during his lifetime were "Das Urteil" (1913, tr. "The Judgement," 1945), Die Verwandlung (1915, tr. The Metamorphosis, 1937), "Ein Landarzt" (1919, tr. "A Country Doctor," 1945), In der Strafkolonie (1920, tr. In the Penal Colony, 1941), and "Ein Hungerkünstler" (1922, tr. "A Hunger Artist," 1938).

See his diaries, ed. by M. Brod (tr. 1948–49); his letters to Felice Bauer, ed. by E. Heller and J. Born (tr. 1973); biographies by M. Brod (1937, new ed. 1995), R. Hayman (1981, repr. 2001), E. Pawel (1984), N. Murray (2004), R. Stach (2 vol., 2002–8, tr. 2005–13), and S. Friedländer (2013); biography of his youthful years by E. Kendall (2013); studies by W. H. Sokel (1966), E. Heller (1974), S. Corngold (1988), and M. Anderson (1990).

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