Kafka: A Biography

Overview

Although Franz Kafka (1883–1924) completed only a small number of works in his lifetime, perhaps no other author has had a greater influence on twentieth-century consciousness. This engrossing biography of the Czech novelist and short-story writer emphasizes the cultural and historical contexts of his fiction and focuses for the first time on his complex relationship with his father.
Nicholas Murray paints a picture of Kafka’s German-speaking Jewish family and the Prague ...

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Overview

Although Franz Kafka (1883–1924) completed only a small number of works in his lifetime, perhaps no other author has had a greater influence on twentieth-century consciousness. This engrossing biography of the Czech novelist and short-story writer emphasizes the cultural and historical contexts of his fiction and focuses for the first time on his complex relationship with his father.
Nicholas Murray paints a picture of Kafka’s German-speaking Jewish family and the Prague mercantile bourgeoisie to which they belonged. He describes Kafka’s demanding professional career, his ill health, and the constantly receding prospects of a marriage he craved. He analyzes Kafka’s poor relationship with his father, Hermann, which found its most eloquent expression in Kafka’s story “The Judgement,” about a father who condemns his son to death by drowning. And he asserts that the unsettling flavor of Kafka’s books—stories suffused with guilt and frustration—derives from his sense of living in a mysteriously antagonistic world, of being a criminal without having knowingly committed a crime.
Compelling and empathetic, this book sheds new light on a man of unique genius and on his enigmatic works.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The story is well known: the frail, anxiety-ridden young man in Prague who suffers under an overbearing, uncouth father. Every day he trudges off to his boring job at an insurance company. He is drawn to women yet agonizes about every relationship. At night, he writes away but wins scant recognition. He contracts tuberculosis, and his last, truly miserable years are spent in and out of sanatoriums. His final wish is that all his manuscripts be burned, but his best friend violates the request. Within a few years of his death in 1924, Franz Kafka's writings about characters ensnared by the world around them for no apparent reason are recognized as brilliant manifestations of literary modernism. Murray (Bruce Chatwin, etc.) is an experienced biographer and effectively relates Kafka's brief life, trying valiantly to depict a more normal Kafka, a man who lived in society with good friends, enjoyed sex, had wide-ranging intellectual interests and became enamored of Judaism. In Murray's account, Kafka's employer valued him highly, and under the imprint of no less a figure than Kurt Wolff, he experienced some literary success. Despite Murray's best efforts to contain Kafka's idiosyncrasies, though, the writer remains the tormented soul who created out of his personal anxieties and agonies some of the most acclaimed works of the 20th century. Agent, Derek Johns at A.P. Watt. (Sept. 30)n Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A biography that tries to pin down a well-known and widely discussed author risks seeming redundant, but this is definitely not the case with Murray's fascinating portrait of Kafka. Murray offers a new and original reading of one of the most complex writers of the 20th century, possibly the most significant such reading since the end of the Cold War. Born in Prague as part of the German-speaking minority, Kafka lived as the quintessential outsider: a Jew among Germans and a German among Czechs. Murray, himself a novelist as well as as a biographer, poet, and literary critic, divides this biography into four parts-"Prague," "Felice," "Milena," and "Dora," each revolving around a different aspect of Kafka's life. The first part explores the cultural milieu of Prague from the turn of the century until the author's death in 1924. The second analyzes Kafka's desperate long-distance relationship with Felice Bauer and the rich correspondence it generated over the course of five years. Milena is Milena Jesenska, a young writer who translated some of Kafka's stories into Czech and with whom he fell in love. Dora is Dora Diamant, his last lover, who described herself as "the wife of Franz Kafka." What emerges is a more humane, albeit complex Franz Kafka: an unhappy child, likable friend, passionate lover, and fiercely curious intellectual. This balanced literary biography is a masterpiece that belongs in all literary collections. [For an interview with Murray, see "Editor's Picks for Fall," LJ 9/1/04.-Ed.]-Ali Houissa, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300106312
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 8/23/2004
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.44 (h) x 1.35 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicholas Murray is the author of many books, including biographies of Bruce Chatwin, Matthew Arnold, and Aldous Huxley, a book of poetry, and two novels.

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Table of Contents

Part I Prague 1
Part II Felice 117
Part III Milena 267
Part IV Dora 353
Afterword 385
Notes 390
Chronology 419
Acknowledgements 422
Index 423
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