The Trial: Biography

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On July 3, 1883, Franz Kafka was born to retailer Hermann and Julie Kafka in Prague, which was at the time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1918, Austria-Hungary dissolved as part of the outcome of World War I, and Prague became the capital of Czechoslovakia, presently the Czech Republic.  Kafka was the eldest of six children; two of his younger brothers died before Kafka was six. His sisters were later to die in concentration camps.  As a child, both of Kafka’s parents worked in their retail establishment and the children spent a great deal of time with servants. The author had a deeply troubled relationship with his father Herman Kafka, a large boisterous man. Growing up, Kafka, who was quiet and withdrawn, learned German as his primary language. 

The future author grew up with a minimal Jewish education but celebrated his Bar Mitzvah and attended synagogue occasionally. He switched his studies from chemistry to law at the Charles University of Prague and also studied German and art history.  During these years he met Max Brod who was to remain a close friend and ultimately became the first editor of Kafka’s literary works after his death.  On June 18, 1906  Kafka, who suffered from severe depression throughout his life,  graduated with a Doctor of Law degree and worked in the civil courts until he was hired a year later by the Assicurazioni Generali, an Italian insurance company where he experienced the type of routine, mechanized job his character Joseph K. worked at in The Trial. He was miserable. By now, Kafka had also started his writing career and found that his frustration with his job affected his writing. After half a year, he resigned and began another job with the Worker's Accident Insurance Institute where he moved up the company ladder while managing also to write successfully at night.

In 1911, he developed an abiding interest in the Yiddish theatre and developed a corresponding interest in Judaism. The following year, 1912, Max Brod introduced Kafka to Felice Bauer. They were twice engaged over the following five years but broke up in 1917, the year he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.  Kafka’s writings make clear that he had a deep aversion to marriage. He compared it at one point, to a “voluntary execution.”  Desiring independence, he moved to Berlin in 1923 to focus on his writing. While there, he lived with Dora Diamant, who deeply influenced his interest in the Talmud, the sacred book of Jewish faith.  He was forced to return to Prague, and the care of his family, however after his tuberculosis advanced. In 1924, he went to a sanatorium in Austria where he died at the young age of 42.

After Kafka’s death, his friend Max Brod defied the author’s wishes and failed to burn Kafka’s unpublished manuscripts.  As a result, Franz Kafka is remembered as one of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century and continues to intrigue readers and scholars in many disciplines. 

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