The Evening Read-In: All About…The Metamorphosis

Our next Evening Read-In is just around the corner (this very evening at 9pm – get your tea and biscuits and laptop charged up now to listen in); to get in the mood, here are a few facts that you may not already know about this Read-In’s chosen story, The Metamorphosis

The Metamorphosis, or ‘Die Verwandlung’ in Franz Kafka’s native language German, was first published in 1915. It is Kafka’s most well-known piece of work and is considered to be one of the most influential stories of the 20th century.

The novella’s first translation into English appeared in the 1930’s. Since then, a number of translations have come into being – if you go into a library or bookshop, you’re likely to find at least six different translations of the story, each with their own slight differences in language and phrasing.

The focus of the story is the sudden ‘metamorphosis’ of the lead character Gregor Samsa, a travelling salesman, into a unnamed insect-like creature. Kafka intentionally decided not to name Gregor as a specific insect, wishing to emphasis the emotional impact of the change on Gregor rather than the physical aspects. Gregor is referred to in the original text as ‘ungeziefer’, which does not translate directly as ‘insect’ in English – its literal meaning is “unclean animal not suitable for sacrifice”, leading to lots of speculation amongst readers as to what Gregor has been transformed into.  

The Metamorphosis was banned under both the Soviet and Nazi regimes, with the Soviet Union describing the story as ‘decadent’ and ‘despairing’. All of Kafka’s work was also banned in his home country of Czechoslovakia (now split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia) because of Kafka’s preference for writing in German rather than Czech.

The Metamorphosis was one of the few pieces of fiction Kafka published during his lifetime; he never finished any of the full length novels he had written. Despite the acclaim his work, including The Metamorphosis, has now garnered, Kafka’s writing went largely unnoticed until after his death. However Kafka’s influence has been wide-reaching in recent years – authors including Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez have been influenced by Kafka’s surrealist humour and subversive style of writing and it’s not uncommon to hear of things being called ‘Kafka-esque’. Indeed, Gabriel García Márquez cited The Metamorphosis as being especially important to his own work, saying that the story showed him “that it was possible to write in a different way”.

The story has also found its way into other art forms in modern culture, being referenced in everything from Brian Keenan’s autobiography An Evil Cradling, to the sci-fi horror film The Fly, to the world of graphic novels and comics – even to an episode of The Simpsons. Most recently, it has appeared in the 2008 film The Reader, where Ralph Fiennes can be heard reading aloud from the novella. In 2006, a stage adaptation of the story featuring music from Nick Cave was first performed at the Lyric Hammersmith in London and went on to tour the world – it was still in performance last year.

One of the quirkier literary takes on The Metamorphosis was published last year; ‘The Meowmorphosis’ tells the story of Gregor Samsa’s transformation not into a ‘horrible vermin’ but a cute and cuddly kitten. You may be less confused to discover it was published by the company who also published ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ and ‘Android Karenina’.

And…did you know that there’s a connection between The Metamorphosis and Doctor Who? It’s not just to do with transformations – in fact, David Tennant played Franz Kafka in the 2011 Radio 3 play Kafka: The Musical.  

Be here to listen to Part 1 of The Metamorphosis being read aloud at 9pm this evening, and join us on Twitter for a live discussion of the story as it happens – use the hashtag #eveningreadin to interact and share your thoughts!

1 thought on “The Evening Read-In: All About…The Metamorphosis”

  1. Thanks for these intriguing little nuggets Lisa.

    I don’t have any facts of my own to add but when I was on holiday in the Far East (shortly after reading The Metamorphosis for the first time), whenever I saw a cockroach it helped me cope with their rather unwelcome presence in the bathroom to think that it may have been someone just like George, and therefore nothing to be scared of…

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