Every writer is
different. Each has his or her own way of working, a method for getting words
down on paper. Some are procrastinators, some are methodical, some write in
between juggling a daytime job and caring for a family.
Franz Kafka (3 July 1883 – 3 June 1924) was born into a middle-class,
German-speaking Jewish family in Prague, the capital of the Bohemia, which was then
part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was a writer of novels and short
stories and is widely regarded as one of the major figures of 20th-century
literature. His work, which combines elements of realism and fantasy typically
features a lone protagonist faced with a bizarre or surrealistic predicament.
His work explores the themes of alienation, existential anxiety, guilt, and
Over the course of his life, Kafka wrote hundreds of letters to family
and close friends, including his father, with whom he had a strained and formal
Louis Begley, in his biography of Kafka, describes his daily routine.
Kafka had been trained as a lawyer and then began work as an insurance officer
for the insurance company, Assicurazioni Generali. Because of the long hours
(12-hour shifts) he found little time for writing. But eventually he was
promoted and this afforded him more time, since the shifts were shorter.
[…] promoted to the
position of chief clerk at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute, he was
now on the one-shift system, 8:30 AM until 2:30 PM. And then what? Lunch until
3:30, then sleep until 7:30, then exercises, then a family dinner. After which
he started work around 11 PM (as Begley points out, the letter- and
diary-writing took up at least an hour a day, and more usually two), and then
“depending on my strength, inclination, and luck, until one, two, or three
o’clock, once even till six in the morning.” Then “every imaginable effort to
go to sleep,” as he fitfully rested before leaving to go to the office once more.
This routine left him permanently on the verge of collapse. (Begley)
His fiancée once suggested to him that he might alter his schedule to
something more manageable and easier to deal with. His response? “The present
way is the only possible one; if I can’t bear it, so much the worse; but I will
bear it somehow.”
His crushing schedule and the unbearable torture it gave rise to sound
like a description of one of his own short stories – the lone hero trapped in
an impossible situation, unable to escape from the constant pressure because of
his compulsion to write, yet suffering from sleep deprivation and extreme
mental and physical exhaustion. Add to this the frustration that few of his
writings were published during his lifetime and those that were received very
little popular or critical attention, and you have a perfect storm and an ideal
recipe for disaster.
There can be no doubt that Kafka’s grueling daily grind contributed greatly
to his early demise, in 1924, due to complications arising from consumption at
the premature age of 40.
Labels: Assicurazioni Generali, consumption, Franz Kafka, Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute