Book of da Week: Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka The Metamorphoses
Franz Kafka’s glorious The Metamorphosis.

We knew we’d get to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung – in the author’s written language of choosing) eventually, and thusly… here it is. It was first published in October 1915 in a monthly called Die Weißen Blätter. Eine Monatsschrif (The White Pages. A Monthly) – yep, that’s 100 years ago this month! It’s a quite legendary novella which is one of those pieces of writing which everyone has heard of – even the philistines whom refuse to read!

The notoriously elusive Mr. Kafka is still shrouded in a considerable amount of mystery, and most of what he wrote wasn’t published during his lifetime. Indeed, Kafka instructed his close friend, Max Brod, to burn his work upon his death. Brod ignored this request, and published numerous of his novels in the decade after Kafka’s untimely demise (1924, aged only 40).

The Metamorphosis

What can one say differently about a book so much discussed over the last 100 years? Well, one can’t, but we can run through the standard motions. The plot is simple yet dramatic: travelling salesman Gregor Samsa awakes from troubling dreams to find he has been transformed into some sort of large insect. Remaining surprisingly calm about his dilemma, he begins to adapt to his new body (such as figuring out how to control his many new limbs). The problems begin with other people in his life.

As soon as his family discovers his unusual state, they generally attempt to (and fail miserably) adapt to his new appearance. Their bumbling efforts to come to terms with his transformation become increasingly tragic, with poor Gregor Samsa stuck in the midst of a whirlwind of negativity.

With its existential overtones, it’s a fantastic little story which helped influence Sartre and Camus over the rest of the century. As we established last week, Kafka was himself influenced by Gogol’s The Nose (from Petersburg Tales)… surely! Don’t believe us? We’re fairly certain the ellipsis proved it!

We first read The Metamorphosis in 2006, and shortly afterwards saw a theatre adaptation at the Lyric theatre in Hammersmith, London. Icelandic company Vesturport put on a brilliant production, with Gisli Orn Gardarsson playing Gregor Samsa with gymnastic brio. Nick Cave did the soundtrack, too, making The Guardian’s 5/5 review totally spot on.

You could watch the play somewhere, or you could put the time in and get it read pronto. We urge you to head for the latter – you can access the novella by downloading the PDF over at Classicly: The Metamorphosis. Do so, as this is a fantabulous read and it will make you a more cultured being, whether you’re later transformed into an insect or not!

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