Franz Kafka, who was born 130 years ago, is celebrated today with a Google doodle of the protagonist in 'The Metamorphosis.'
The Google homepage Wednesday depicts an insect with a top hat and briefcase returning home from a long day at the job. The doodle, of course, is a wry homage to "Die Verwandlung," or "The Metamorphosis," Franz Kafka's chilling 1915 novella about a man – Gregor Samsa – who finds himself suddenly transformed into a giant, squirming insect.
So who was Franz Kafka, exactly? Only one of the greatest novelists in history, and the man who helped usher in a century of modernist fiction. As John Updike wrote in a forward to a 1971 collection of Kafka's stories, Kafka's writing was always marked – as is certainly true of "The Metamorphosis" – with a sensation of profound dread.
"In Kafka's peculiar and highly original case," Updike continued, "this dreadful quality is mixed with immense tenderness, oddly good humor, and a certain severe and reassuring formality. The combination makes him an artist; but rarely can an artist have struggled against greater inner resistance and more sincere diffidence as to the worth of his art."
Kafka was born 130 years ago this week, in Prague, as the oldest child of Hermann and Julie Kafka, who together operated a dry goods business. (Franz Kafka later said of his father that he was a "true Kafka in strength, health, appetite, loudness of voice, eloquence, self-satisfaction, worldly dominance, endurance, presence of mind, [and] knowledge of human nature ...")