WHO WAS FRANZ KAFKA?
Franz Kafka (1883-1924) is the author of three unfinished novels, Der Prozeß (The Trial), Das Schloß (The Castle) and Amerika as well as numerous shorter works, including Das Urteil (The Judgement), Ein Landarzt (A Country Doctor), In der Strafkolonie (In the Penal Settlement) and Die Verwandlung (The Metamorphosis).
Very few of these works were published in Kafka’s lifetime, and when he died of tuberculosis shortly before his forty-first birthday, he was little known outside his home city of Prague.
Just before his death, he asked his closest friend, Max Brod, to destroy everything he had written. Fortunately, Brod did not carry out Kafka’s wishes but set about meticulously editing and publishing all the manuscripts he could find and, in doing so, ensured Kafka’s massively influential literary legacy.
By the 1930’s, Kafka’s reputation had begun to grow, then after the Second World War it exploded around the globe.
What started out as the intensely personal expression of self-doubt, self-disgust, despair, desperation and isolation touched a universal chord. Kafka seemed to confirm the feelings of the generations caught in the shadows of the two Great Wars.
His private themes were seen as symbolising the far wider political and social struggles of minority religions, cultures and movements. Groups such as the Freudians, Expressionists, Absurdists, Avant-Gardists, Marxists and Zionists saw him as their representative and spokesman. He has come to be seen as the master-purveyor of twentieth century Angst.
Today Kafka is the most acclaimed writer of the twentieth century, recognised as the father of modern literature, yet his superb story, Metamorphosis, has never been made into a feature length film, so this is the first attempt ever in world cinema to bring a faithful adaptation of the most famous short story in literature to the big screen.
THE METAMORPHOSIS (DIE VERWANDLUNG) - WHAT DID IT MEAN?
Kafka’s creature, with its hard outer shell and ineffectual jaws, can be seen as twentieth century literature’s most poignant and vivid symbol of self-willed schizophrenia. One of the many ways of interpreting The Metamorphosis is to see it as being about a person who puts forward flimsy little legs and a useless mouth as the signs of a total incapacity to bear the burden placed upon him. He literally puts up a protective shell around himself as an expression of his refusal to take responsibility any more. In this state he finds some sort of hope for peace. But the marvel of The Metamorphosis is that it has as many meanings as it has readers. It is a tantalising enigma which throws out a challenge to its readers as well as touching and moving them. The companion book, The Centenary Edition, also available through this website, presents a new translation with comprehensive notes and commentary, which discuss some possible interpretations.
Franz Kafka in 1924 just before his death