Born in Prague, Bohemia in 1883, Franz Kafka went on to become a major influence in modern fiction. His novels and short stories most often include bleak realism combined with absurdity and surrealism. His unique style of storytelling has given birth to the term Kafkaesque. While I wouldn’t necessarily describe these tales as horror, they are definitely dark, somber and bizarre. Franz died in 1924 of tuberculosis. Below we take a look at some of his stories.
- “Metamorphosis” (1915) – This novella portrays the hopeless existence of Gregor Samsa, a hard working traveling salesman who wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a man-sized insect. His mind remains his own, but he struggles to move or do anything useful in his new and monstrous condition. Life grows steadily worse for him as his family who had relied on him for support are forced to care for him at a heavy cost causing them to resent him. He’s forced to see and hear how his terrible existence brings them heartache and despair.
- “A Country Doctor” (1917) – A country doctor, endeavoring to get to the house of a sick boy on a cold winter day, manages to find a stablehand hiding amidst the pigs to loan him horses for the necessary ride. The stablehand ends up biting the doctor’s attractive, young servant girl in the process. Once the doctor arrives at the house, he finds that the boy isn’t actually sick. Things get worse for the doctor as everything progresses. He finds himself unable to leave and is poorly treated by the people there who make unrealistic demands of him due to his profession.
- “In the Penal Colony” (1919) – In this novelette a well renown traveler visits the penal colony of an area where a military official proudly shows him their new, high-tech execution machine in which the prisoner is strapped to a bed to have his crimes etched into his skin by needles deeper and deeper over an excruciating twelve hour period of time. The military official tries hard to convince the traveler to argue in defense of the machine and its process to those who’d like to have it shut down, but he’s actually horrified by the practice. This is my favorite Kafka story.
- “The Vulture” (1920) – This is a flash fiction piece about a man being attacked by an intelligent vulture. The man is offered assistance by a stranger. This one comes to a swift and brutal end.
- “The Knock at the Manor Gate” (1933) – A nobleman faces imprisonment or worse merely because his sister jokingly knocks (or pretends to knock) at the gate of a manor.
- “The Judgement” (1948) – Georg Bendemann struggles to balance the various aspects of his life. He’s planning a wedding, trying to protect the feelings of a lonely friend who’d moved to Russia, keeping his family business going and dealing with his aging, ill father with whom he has a strained relationship. His father turns out to be much stronger and angrier than he appears, however, in this well-written but dark story.
Article by Matt Cowan