Karel Čapek

Karel Čapek
Born(1890-01-09)9 January 1890
Malé Svatoňovice, Austria-Hungary (today Czech Republic)
Died25 December 1938(1938-12-25) (aged 48)
Prague, Czechoslovakia (today Czech Republic)
Pen nameK. Č., B. Č.
OccupationNovelist, dramatist, journalist, theorist
Alma materCharles University in Prague
GenreScience fiction, Political satire
Notable worksR.U.R
Válka s mloky (War with the Newts)
Bílá nemoc (The White Disease)
Továrna na absolutno (The Absolute at Large)
Notable awards Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (in memoriam)
SpouseOlga Scheinpflugová
RelativesJosef Čapek (brother)
Helena Čapková (sister)


Karel Čapek (Czech: [ˈkarɛl ˈtʃapɛk] (About this soundlisten); 9 January 1890 – 25 December 1938) was a Czech writer, playwright and critic. He has become best known for his science fiction, including his novel War with the Newts (1936) and play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots, 1920), which introduced the word robot.[1][2] He also wrote many politically charged works dealing with the social turmoil of his time. Influenced by American pragmatic liberalism,[3] he campaigned in favor of free expression and strongly opposed the rise of both fascism and communism in Europe.[4][5]

Though nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times,[6] Čapek never received it. However, several awards commemorate his name,[7][8] such as the Karel Čapek Prize, awarded every other year by the Czech PEN Club for literary work that contributes to reinforcing or maintaining democratic and humanist values in society.[9] He also played a key role in establishing the Czechoslovak PEN Club as a part of International PEN.[10]

Čapek died on the brink of World War II as the result of a lifelong medical condition,[11]but his legacy as a literary figure became well established after the war.[4]


House of Čapek brothers in Prague 10, Vinohrady

Early life and education

Karel Čapek was born in 1890 in the Bohemian mountain village of Malé Svatoňovice. However, six months after his birth, the Čapek family moved to their own house in Úpice.[12] His father, Antonín Čapek, worked as a doctor at the local textile factory.[13] Antonín was a very energetic person; apart from his work as a doctor, he also co-funded the local museum and was a member of the town council.[14] Despite opposing his father's materialist and positivist views, Karel Čapek loved and admired his father, later calling him “a good example... of the generation of national awakeners.”[15] Karel's mother, Božena Čapková, was a homemaker.[13] Unlike her husband she did not like life in the country and she suffered from long-term depressions.[14] Despite that, she assiduously collected and recorded local folklore, such as legends, songs or stories.[16] Karel was the youngest of three siblings. He would maintain an especially close relationship with his brother Josef, a highly successful painter, living and working with him throughout his adult life.[17] His sister, Helena, was a talented pianist who later become a writer and published several memoirs about Karel and Josef.[18]

After finishing elementary school in Úpice, he moved with his grandmother to Hradec Králové, where he attended high school. Two years later, he was expelled for taking part in an illegal students' club.[13] Čapek later described the club as a “very non-murderous anarchist society.”[19] After this incident he moved to Brno with his sister and attempted to finish high school there, but two years later he moved again, to Prague, where he finished high school at the Academic Grammar School in 1909.[13][20] During his teenage years Čapek became enamored with the visual arts, especially Cubism, which influenced his later writing.[21] After graduating from high school, he studied philosophy and aesthetics in Prague at Charles University, but he also spent some time at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin and at the Sorbonne in Paris.[13][22] While he was still a university student, he wrote some works on contemporary art and literature.[23] He graduated with a doctorate of philosophy in 1915.[24]

World War I and Interwar period

Exempted from military service due to the spinal problems that would haunt him his whole life, Čapek observed World War I from Prague. His political views were strongly affected by the war, and as a budding journalist he began to write on topics like nationalism, totalitarianism and consumerism.[25] Through social circles, the young author developed close relationships with many of the political leaders of the nascent Czechoslovak state, including Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, Czechoslovak patriot and the first President of Czechoslovakia, and his son Jan,[26][27] who would later become foreign secretary. T. G. Masaryk was a regular guest at Čapek's "Friday Men" garden parties for leading Czech intellectuals. Čapek was also a member of Masaryk's Hrad political network.[28] Their frequent conversations on various topics later served as the basis for Čapek's Talks with T. G. Masaryk.[29]

Tomb of Karel Čapek and Olga Scheinpflugová at Vyšehrad cemetery

Čapek began his writing career as a journalist. With his brother Josef, he worked as an editor for the Czech paper Národní listy (The National Newspaper) from October 1917 to April 1921.[30] Upon leaving, he and Josef joined the staff of Lidové noviny (The People's Paper) in April 1921.[31]

Čapek's early attempts at fiction were short stories and plays for the most part written with his brother Josef.[32][33] Čapek's first international success was R.U.R., a dystopian work about a bad day at a factory populated with sentient androids. The play was translated into English in 1922, and was being performed in the UK and America by 1923. Throughout the 1920s, Čapek worked in many writing genres, producing both fiction and non-fiction, but worked primarily as a journalist.[25] In the 1930s, Čapek's work focused on the threat of brutal national socialist and fascist dictatorships; by the mid-1930s, Čapek had become "an outspoken anti-fascist".[25] He also became a member of International PEN and established, and was the first president of, the Czechoslovak PEN Club.[10]

Late life and death

In 1935 Karel Čapek married actress Olga Scheinpflugová, after a long acquaintance.[13][34] In 1938 it became clear that the Western allies, namely France and the United Kingdom, would fail to fulfil the pre-war agreements, and they refused to defend Czechoslovakia against Nazi Germany. Although offered the chance to go to exile in England, Čapek refused to leave his country – even though the Nazi Gestapo had named him "public enemy number two".[35] While repairing flood damage to his family's summer house in Stará Huť, he contracted a common cold.[30] As he had suffered all his life from spondyloarthritis and was also a heavy smoker, Karel Čapek died of pneumonia, on 25 December 1938.[33]

Surprisingly, the Gestapo was not aware of his death. Several months later, just after the German invasion of Czechoslovakia, Nazi agents came to the Čapek family house in Prague to arrest him.[11] Upon discovering that he had already been dead for some time, they arrested and interrogated his wife Olga.[36] His brother Josef was arrested in September and eventually died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945.[37] Karel Čapek and his wife are buried at the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague. The inscription on the tombstone reads: "Here would have been buried Josef Čapek, painter and poet. Grave far away."[35]

Other Languages
العربية: كارل تشابيك
azərbaycanca: Karel Çapek
تۆرکجه: کارل چاپک
Bân-lâm-gú: Karel Čapek
беларуская: Карал Чапек
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Карэл Чапэк
Bikol Central: Karel Čapek
български: Карел Чапек
བོད་ཡིག: ཁ་རེལ་ཆ་ཕེག
bosanski: Karel Čapek
brezhoneg: Karel Čapek
català: Karel Čapek
čeština: Karel Čapek
Deutsch: Karel Čapek
Ελληνικά: Κάρελ Τσάπεκ
español: Karel Čapek
Esperanto: Karel Čapek
euskara: Karel Čapek
فارسی: کارل چاپک
français: Karel Čapek
Gaeilge: Karel Čapek
galego: Karel Čapek
한국어: 카렐 차페크
հայերեն: Կարել Չապեկ
हिन्दी: करेल चपेक
hornjoserbsce: Karel Čapek
hrvatski: Karel Čapek
Bahasa Indonesia: Karel Čapek
íslenska: Karel Čapek
italiano: Karel Čapek
עברית: קארל צ'אפק
ქართული: კარელ ჩაპეკი
latviešu: Karels Čapeks
Lëtzebuergesch: Karel Čapek
lietuvių: Karel Čapek
magyar: Karel Čapek
македонски: Карел Чапек
მარგალური: კარელ ჩაპეკი
Nederlands: Karel Čapek
Nordfriisk: Karel Čapek
norsk nynorsk: Karel Čapek
occitan: Karel Čapek
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Chapek Karel
ਪੰਜਾਬੀ: ਕਾਰਲ ਚਪੇਕ
polski: Karel Čapek
português: Karel Čapek
română: Karel Čapek
русиньскый: Карел Чапек
русский: Чапек, Карел
slovenčina: Karel Čapek
slovenščina: Karel Čapek
српски / srpski: Карел Чапек
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Karel Čapek
svenska: Karel Čapek
Türkçe: Karel Čapek
Türkmençe: Karel Çapek
українська: Карел Чапек
Tiếng Việt: Karel Čapek