Did you know that “Kafkaesque” is a word? Considering that such a word exists, it can be rightly assumed that Franz Kafka is a literary pioneer of the twentieth century. All of his works strikes an odd balance between reality and dreams. It is this aspect of his writings that makes his novels a surreal read. According to scholars who have studied his life, the interplay between these two opposing concepts took root in his early life.
Kafka’s family was a minority within a minority – he belonged to a German speaking, Jewish family in Prague. Kafka’s father was an imposing dictator who was eager to crush his son’s creative side. Kafka’s mother, on the other hand, encouraged her son’s sensitivity, imagination and pensive outlook towards life. She recognized her son’s potential, for he would put up plays for them on family occasions, using his sisters’ as actors.
The manifestation of this emotional and mental conflict that took place in Kafka’s life since a young age can be seen in most of his works. Interestingly, though Kafka had a strained relationship with his parents, he lived with them till 31 years of age. When he was 36, Kafka wrote a 100-page letter to his father where he tried to explain his feelings about their relationship. It began thus,
You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you. As usual, I was unable to think of any answer to your question, partly for the very reason that I am afraid of you, and partly because an explanation of the grounds for this fear would mean going into far more details than I could even approximately keep in mind while talking. And if I now try to give you an answer in writing, it will still be very incomplete, because, even in writing, this fear and its consequences hamper me in relation to you and because the magnitude of the subject goes far beyond the scope of my memory and power of reasoning.
At university, Kafka studied Law which pleased his father, but simultaneously continued his studies in German and Art History to satisfy his own interests. During his studies, he met Max Brod, who would later become his closest friend and confidante. As he began working, Kafka was rather disappointed because his long working hours left little time for him to write. During the time he was employed, he would begin writing at 11 PM and continue to write “depending on my strength, inclination, and luck, until one, two, or three o’clock, once even till six in the morning.”
Despite being pre-occupied at all times, with work and his writings, Kafka made time for several romantic relationships. He was engaged on three different occasions but none of the engagements ended in marriage. This may have been because of his obsession with pornography, insecurities and fear of intimacy which made it hard for him to commit to relationships.
Most researchers agree that Kafka was clinically depressed and suffered from social anxiety all through his life. He contracted tuberculosis in 1917 and suffered for the next seven years when he died in 1924. Before dying, he wrote a letter to Max Brod,
“Dearest Max, My last request: Everything I leave behind me … to be burned unread,”
Max, however, published some of the works that Kafka had left behind. This included ‘The Trial’, which is Kafka’s most popular literary legacy.