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Full text of "ModernGermanLiterature18801950"

452                   MODERN   GERMAN   LITERATURE

from E. T. A. Hoffmann through Edgar Allen Poe to the neo-
romantic Grofesken which were popular just as Kafka was trying
his 'prentice hand. His contacts then were with the Prague Jews,
whom he met in the cafes of the town; of these Gustav Meyrink
in particular specialized in hair-raising nightmarish stories. In
Kafka's stories, however, the horrors are not worked up to curdle
the reader's blood; we read the most ghastly of them with nerves
unthrilled and mind alert, realizing that they are intensified meta-
physical symbols.

Kafka's life story is in great part the key to his work. Born in
Prague as the son of well-to-do Jewish parents he was a pupil at
the Gymnasium and thereafter was a student at Prague University,
first of chemistry and German language and literature, from which
he switched over to law. He made friends with a fellow student,
Max Brod (p. 381), who, after Kafka's early death, published his
friend's work. After taking his degree in 1906 Kafka was for a
year a barrister without pay (Keferendar) in attendance at the law
courts; when, however, his father insisted on his earning money
he worked for a year in the family business, then as an official in
a workmen's insurance company. Since he finished work at 2.0
p.m. he had leisure to follow his literary leanings. In World War I
he was granted exemption from military service on the grounds of
poor physique and ill health. By 1917 he was known to be suffering
from tuberculosis. He went to Berlin to devote himself to litera-
ture; but the post-war privations aggravated his disease and he
was removed to a sanatorium near Vienna, where he died in 1924
at the age of forty-one. In the last years of his life he lived happily
with Dora Dymant, and wished to marry her, but her father for-
bade the marriage because Kafka was not orthodox. Our know-
ledge of Kafka's life comes mostly from Max Brod's Fran% Kafka;
eine Jtiographie (1936). The poet Richard Garta in Brod's novel Das
Zaubemich der Liebe (1928) is more or less a pen-portrait of his
friend. His love letters to Milena, a married lady who translated
his early work into Czech, are revealing; there was love on both
sides, but instead of consummation there was that helpless frus-
tration which is one of the key-notes of his work. Dora Dymant
has provided information concerning the last years of his life. One
of the main facts is that of his relations with his father, who, a
successful business man, had tio understanding for the literary
avocations of his son. In consequence there developed the son-