Karel Čapek Biography

Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Čapek, a practicing journalist, is best remembered as a dramatist who also wrote children’s stories, short stories, and novels, many of them satirical. An early master of science fiction, Čapek’s most famous play, R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (with Josef Čapek, 1921; English translation, 1923) popularized the word “robot,” invented by his brother Josef.

Early Life

Karel Čapek, the last of Antonin Čapek and Božena Čapková’s three children, was born on January 9, 1890, in the country town of Malé Svatoňovice, situated in the Krakonose Mountains a few kilometers from what later became Czechoslovakia’s border with Austria and Germany. Antonin, a physician, had far-ranging interests and led a local amateur theatrical group. Božena Čapková was a cultured woman with a particular interest in regional folklore. She knew the folk songs and legends of her area, and her children were steeped in folk culture from their earliest recollections. Karel and Josef, his brother and lifelong companion, imbibed these early influences, and the writing of each reflects them. Karel was a sickly child. His mother, a neurotic, was distrustful of men, including her husband, and was hypochondriacal. She was abnormally concerned about the health of her children, especially Karel, whose lungs were weak.

Karel and his brother were seldom apart until 1910, when Karel, having studied at the Gymnasium at Brno in Moravia and having then completed his secondary education in Prague, went to Berlin to study further, while Josef went to Paris. Before he went to Berlin, however, Karel studied philosophy for one year at Charles University in Prague, where he met Thomas G. Masaryk, a professor of philosophy who was President of Czechoslovakia from 1918 until 1935 and was intimate with the Čapek brothers throughout their lifetimes. Before they went their own ways in 1910, Karel and Josef had collaborated on a folk play, Lásky hra osudná (wr. 1910, pr. 1930), but they were to collaborate on nothing more until they published Krakonošova zahrada (1918; the garden of Krakonos), a collection of their early sketches. Their most thoroughgoing collaboration, Ze života hmyzu (1920; The Insect Play, 1923), followed it.

Karel became interested in the pragmatism of William James, and, in 1911, while visiting Josef in Paris, he broadened his interest in art and aesthetics, becoming aware for the first time of the writings of Henri Bergson and of Bergson’s concept of the élan vital, which was to influence Karel’s future writing greatly. He completed his doctoral dissertation in aesthetics in 1915, probably led to this topic by the experience of his Parisian summer.

Because chronic spinal problems caused Karel agonizing pain, he had to seek employment that would not overtax him. He served for a year as tutor to the son of Count Vladimír Lažanský, then returned to Prague to become a journalist for Národní listy, for which he became a literary and art editor before leaving in 1921 to accept a position with Lidové noviny, a newspaper for which Josef also worked.

Life’s Work

Throughout his adult life, Čapek had abiding political concerns. His overtly political books include his three-volume Hovory s T. G. Masarykem (1928-1935; President Masaryk Tells His Story, 1934; also as Masaryk on Thought and Life, 1938), his O věcech obecných: Čili, Zóon politikon (1932; on public matters), and his posthumously published collection, Věci kolemnás (1954; the things around us).

Čapek honed his thinking skills through his extensive study of James’s pragmatism, which resulted in his publishing Pragmatismus (1918) early in his career. This philosophical exploration combined with his delving into aesthetics, which resulted in his publishing his doctoral dissertation as Musaion (1920-1921) and led him to understand specific ways in which art can affect and influence a whole society.

His early employment as a journalist gave Čapek the fluency required to write voluminously. It taught him as well some of the investigative techniques that would help to shape his later writing, particularly his political satires. The Čapek brothers received international attention for two of their collaborations, R.U.R. and The Insect Play, both plays that deal with the question of a technology that gets out of control. The plays are not anti-progressive so much as they are anti-utopian. They question the wisdom with which humankind will deal with the technological...

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Karel Čapek Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Born on January 9, 1890, Karel apek was the youngest of three children. His sister, Helene, after whom a major character in R.U.R. is named, was born in 1886 and also became a writer. Josef, who was Karel’s closest lifelong friend as well as his brother, was born in 1887. The apek family was living at that time in the idyllic country town of Malé Svatoovice, close to what later became Czechoslovakia’s border with Austria and Germany. The town, situated in the Krakonoe Mountains, was essentially bilingual, so that apek and his siblings grew up with equal fluency in German and Czech.

apek’s father, Antonín, was a country doctor, but his interests encompassed a wide range of topics. Always intrigued by theater, he headed an amateur theatrical group in his town. He enjoyed painting, was a poet although he remained unpublished, and was an enthusiastic gardener who passed on this enthusiasm to both of his sons. apek’s mother, Boena apková, was extremely cultivated, having a particular interest in the folklore of her area and in the music and tales that had grown out of this folklore. She told and read many tales to her children when they were very young, and she sang to them the songs of their region. The later work of both apek brothers reflects directly these early influences. Until his final days, Karel was more devoted to fairy tales than to any other form of literature, save, perhaps, mystery stories, to which he was addicted.

Boena apková was basically quite neurotic. Abused by her father, she quickly developed a resentment for and distrust of her husband. Their marriage was not a happy one. Her hypochondria manifested itself in an overconcern for the health of her children, particularly for the health of Karel, who was very small at birth and who suffered early from weak lungs, an affliction with which he lived throughout his life and which ultimately brought about his death in 1938.

apek was exposed to a broad range of people as he was growing up, partly because his father’s patients came from all walks of life and levels of society and partly because his mother surrounded herself with the people who best knew the folklore of the region, the peasants who lived in the environs in which apek was reared.

The closeness that developed between Karel and his brother Josef is largely attributable to the fact that Josef was expected as a small child to look after his sickly brother. The two were virtually inseparable until 1910, at which time Karel went to Berlin to study and Josef went to Paris. By this time, Karel had studied at the gymnasium in Brno in the province of Moravia for two years, from 1905 to 1907; had completed secondary school in Prague, where his father, by then retired from his medical practice, had come with his wife to live; and had spent one year, 1909-1910, as a student of philosophy at Charles University, where he presumably first came under the strong influence of Tomas G. Masaryk, also a philosopher.

When Karel went to Berlin and his brother to Paris, the collaboration of their early days was interrupted. Lásky hra osudná had been completed, but it was still to be eight years before the two brothers published Krakonoova zahrada, a collection of their earlier sketches, and twelve years before they were to engage in the thoroughgoing collaboration of which The Insect Play was the product.

apek, who had an...

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Karel Čapek Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The son of Antonin apek, a physician, and Boena apková, a woman much interested in folklore, Karel apek was the youngest of their three children. Born in Malé Svatoovice, a rural community in the Krakonose Mountains not far from Czechoslovakia’s border with Austria and Germany, Karel was a sickly child. Boena entertained her children with folktales, many of which eventually made their way into the writing of her sons, Karel and Josef.

Karel and Josef were seldom apart during their lifetimes, although in 1910 Karel went to Berlin to study and Josef went to Paris. Karel had already studied philosophy at Prague’s Charles University under Thomas G. Masaryk, who became president of Czechoslovakia in 1918, holding that...

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Karel Čapek Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The youngest child of a country doctor, Karel apek was born in 1890 in Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A weak and sickly boy, apek was pampered by his mother and protected by his older brother, Josef; they, together with his maternal grandmother, inspired him with a love for literature. Karel and Josef prepared themselves for a literary vocation by their prodigious reading in many foreign literatures; among Karel’s juvenilia are some verses influenced by Symbolism and the Decadents—French and Czech. Josef was to collaborate with Karel on some of his most celebrated successes, including R.U.R., but he was primarily a gifted artist, illustrator, and designer who gradually established himself as such,...

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Karel Čapek Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Karel apek (CHAH-pehk), a Czechoslovakian author and playwright, was born in 1890 in Malé Svatoovice, Bohemia, then still part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In a sense Karel rose and fell with his country, for his death at Prague on December 25, 1938, roughly coincided with the collapse of the young country. His last play, The Mother, was both against dictatorship and supportive of pacifism.apek, Karel[Capek, Karel]}apek, Karel[Capek, Karel]}apek, Karel[Capek, Karel]}

Although the sons of a doctor, Karel and his brother Josef followed their own inclinations, the latter known primarily as a painter but also as his brother’s able collaborator. Karel amazed the world and gave his country its most famous...

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Karel Čapek Biography (Drama for Students)

Karel Capek Published by Gale Cengage

Karel Capek was born in January, 1890, in Male Svatonovice, a small village in northeastern Bohemia, an area that is now Czechoslovakia. Capek, the youngest of three children, was a sickly child, but by all accounts, he had a happy childhood, largely because of the influence of his older brother, Josef, who was also his best friend. Capek began writing poetry and fiction in high school, and after graduation, Capek began publishing stories, illustrated by Josef, in Czech newspapers. After studying in Prague, Berlin, and Paris, Capek earned a doctorate at Prague’s Charles University in 1915. Even while at school, Capek and his brother continued to write, publishing their first book, a collection of tales, in 1916. Capek worked as a journalist and as a tutor, and he was intensely interested in the subject of Czech nationalism, often writing on that subject for his newspaper articles. His first play, The Outlaw, was produced in 1921. Capek fell in love with a young actress, who was an understudy in that play, but his poor health prevented them from marrying until 1935. R.U.R., Capek’s second play, was an enormous success, establishing Capek as an international playwright. During the next few years, Capek was very active, writing From the Insect World and The Makropoulous Secret in 1922. Adam the Creator was written with his brother, Josef, in 1927.

Although he was very successful as a playwright, Capek also turned his attention to novels. He published a succession of novels, including The Absolute at Large (1922), Krakatit (1924), Hordubal (1933), Meteor (1935), An Ordinary Life (1936), and War with the Newts (1937). Although he began his career as a successful playwright, it is as a science fiction writer that Capek is best known. His science fiction novels explore the possible misuse of technology, and while he did not oppose technology, Capek was concerned about man’s ability to consider all of the implications of such advances.

Capek briefly turned again to theatre in 1937, with The White Plague and The Mother (1938). Capek was opposed to Nazism, and both he and his brother were warned to leave Prague as the threat of World War II became a reality. Both declined, and Capek died of pneumonia just three months before the Nazis invaded Prague. Hitler’s troops did not know of Capek’s death when they came to his house to arrest him. Josef was arrested and sent to a concentration camp where he later died. Karel Capek is considered one of Czechoslovakia’s foremost writers. He not only championed freedom, but his contributions to literature are amongst the most important in Czech history.