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Franz Kafka Biography


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Franz Kafka Biography
Hermann Kafka

Hermann Kafka

Franz Kafka is one of the most famous modernist writers. His life was filled with turmoil, darkness and loss. And, his works grew out of that very tempestuous past. What do you know about the life and works of Franz Kafka? Yes, he wrote about a giant bug (Metamorphosis), but he created so much more! Here's a bit about his life...

His Father

Hermann Kafka was the father of Franz Kafka, and he played an important (if tempestuous) role in the writer's life. Hermann had been born and raised in Wossek, 50 miles south of Prague. He was the fourth child of Jacob Kafka, a ritual butcher. He worked hard, starting from an early age. He left home at 14, joined the army at 19, and eventually moved to Prague--where he opened a successful dry-goods shop, with a partner). He also met his wife, married, and had children... (Franz was born on July 3, 1883.)

It is, of course, fitting to begin a discussion of Franz Kafka's life by taking more than a singular glance in his father's direction. He feared his father, and wrote a long letter to him (entitled Letter to His Father (which was never sent and was published posthumously, like most of his works). The work contains a long list of complaints; it explores the relationship between Franz and his father, as well as with his mother, sisters, wives, etc.; and the letter also explains some of his ambiguous feelings about Judaism.

In the letter, he writes:

"I have always hidden from you, in my room, among my books, with crazy friends, or with crackpot ideas. I have never talked to you frankly; I have never come to you when you were in the synagogue, never visited you at Franzensbad, nor indeed ever shown any family feeling; I have never taken any interest in the business or your other concerns; I saddled you with the factory and walked off; I encouraged Ottla in her obstinacy, and never lifted a finger for you..., while I do everything for my friends. If you sum up your judgment of me, the result you get is that, although you don't charge me with anything downright improper or wicked..., you do charge me with coldness, estrangements and ingratitude."

In a 2008 review of a translation of the letter, Eric Ormsby ends with this episode:

"Once when Franz Kafka was strolling with his younger friend Gustav Janouch in Prague, they ran into Hermann Kafka leaving his shop. As they drew near, Hermann boomed, 'Franz. Go home. The air is damp.' In a whisper, Kafka explained, 'My father. He's worried about me,' adding, 'Love often wears the face of violence.'"

We have "only the son's side" as Ormsby says, but that those lines portray some bit of the petrified state that Franz (at least) believed himself to be in...

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