"Had one to name the artist who comes nearest to bearing the same kind of relation to our age that Dante, Shakespeare, and Goethe bore to theirs, Kafka is the first one would think of. . . . Kafka is important to us because his predicament is the predicament of modern man." —W. H. Auden "I cannot say what I admire more, the naturalistic presentation of an imaginary world, rendered believable through a minute precision of the images, or the daring turn to the mysterious." —Andre Gide
Franz Kafka was one of the most significant and influential fiction writers of the 20th century. Dark, absurdist, and existential, his stories and novels concern the struggles of troubled individuals to survive in an impersonal, bureaucratic world.
Franz Kafka was born in 1883 to a well-to-do middle-class Jewish family. His father, the self-made proprietor of a wholesale haberdashery business, was a domineering man whose approbation Franz continually struggled to win. The younger Kafka's feelings of inadequacy and guilt form the background of much of his work and are made explicit in his "Letter to His Father" (excerpted in this volume), which was written in 1919 but never sent.
Kafka was educated in the German language schools of Prague and at the city's German University, where in 1908 he took a law degree. Literature, however, remained his sole passion. At this time he became part of a literary circle that included Franz Werfel, Martin Buber, and Kafka's close friend Max Brod. Encouraged by Brod, Kafka published the prose collection Observations in 1913. Two years later his story "The Stoker" won the Fontaine prize. In 1916 he began work on The Trial and between this time and 1923 produced three incomplete novels as well as numerous sketches and stories. In his lifetime some of his short works did appear: The Judgment (1916), The Metamorphosis (1916), The Penal Colony (1919), and The Country Doctor (1919).
Before his death of tuberculosis in 1924, Kafka had charged Max Brod with the execution of his estate, ordering Brod to burn the manuscripts. With the somewhat circular justification that Kafka must have known his friend could not obey such an order, Brod decided to publish Kafka's writings. To this act of "betrayal" the world owes the preservation of some of the most unforgettable and influential literary works of our century.