Franz Kafka is considered to be one of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. His work, most of which was published posthumously, continues to be a source of research,
scholarship and philosophical discussion in diverse academic, literary and popular arenas.
Franz Kafka was born on July 3rd 1883, the first child of Hermann and Julie Kafka. His parents were upwardly mobile middle class, his father setting up a dry goods store and his mother coming from a well-to-do family. Hermann Kafka was born on September 14, 1852 in the little town of Wossek, about sixty miles south of Prague, near Pisek, the fourth child of a butcher, Jacob Kafka. His family was poor and by the age of 18 he had moved to Prague with the hope of bettering his situation. He succeded, opening his own store and winning Julie Löwy, born on March 23, 1856 in Podebrady, the second child of Jakob Löwy, a well-to-do cloth merchant and brewer. They were married on September 3, 1882 and Franz, named after the Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary, came along less than one year later.
Franz was sent to German schools, not Czech ones, which demonstrates his father's desire for social advancement. At this time the vast majority of people in Prague spoke Czech, but owing to the power of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the language of the elites was German. Franz had been speaking mostly Czech as a child (owing to the fact that his governesses were Czech), but learned to master the German tongue early, as reflected in his wonderful handling of it in his stories. In school he did well, taking classes like Latin, Greek and history. At the age of 13, he had his bar mizvah, which he later remembered as dull and meaningless. His religious upbringing was limited mostly to that and going to the synagogue four times a year with his father.
In 1901 he graduated from the Altstädter Gymnasium, after which he went to the Charles-Ferdinand University, where he decided to study chemistry, along with one of his friends. This only lasted for two weeks before he switched to law. The next semester he tried his hand at German Literature, only to find out that the professors and the studies didn't exactly agree with him, after which he switched back to law, which he said he chose because it didn‘t interfere with his mental health. In June 1906, he graduated with a doctorate in law.
The most bizarre aspect of his sex life, though, was that he found sex to be absolutely repulsive and disgusting. Hence, the very idea of "normal married life" with a respectable woman was out of the question for him. "Coitus as the punishment for the happiness of being together," he wrote in his diary, when he faced the prospect of marriage and what that would entail. It was the reason why he broke off all his engagements, sometimes at the last minute, in order to escape it. Franz seemed to have suffered from the malady quite common at that place and time: namely, the virgin/whore complex, where every woman was either a "nice girl" or a slut, with nothing in between.
Franz Kafka has become an icon of sorts, emblematic of modern times. His popularity increased exponentially after the publication of his stories in the 20s and 30s, especially due to the English translations made by the Muirs. He is now an institution, his own adjective, ‚Kafka-esque‘.
About ten years ago, somebody bought the manuscript of The Trial for two million dollars. Not quite as good as Stephen King or John Grisham, but not bad for an uncompleted manuscript meant for the flames. Few writers have had such an effect on their times as he had.
The life and work of Franz Kafka in documents - photographs, manuscripts, diaries, correspondence and first editions of Kafka’s works, audio-visual programs and much more, is located in Hergetova cihelna, Cihelna 2b, Lesser town, where a permanent exhibition in the Memorial Hall commemorates the life and work of the most famous representative of the Prague German literature.
Address: Námestí Franze Kafky 5, Prague 1, Old Town