Karel Capek

Intertwined Forms



Karel Čapek was born on January 9, 1890, in Malé Svatoňovice, in Bohemia. He studied philosophy at Charles University in Prague. In 1915 Čapek completed a doctoral thesis on aesthetics and the following year he published Zářivé hlubiny a jiné prόzy, a collection of short stories written in collaboration with his older brother Josef. Around this time the Čapek brothers traveled to Paris where they remained deeply impressed by Cubism, elements of which they introduced in their paintings as well as contributing to the movement’s diffusion in Czechoslovakia. Although Čapek was active in the visual realm he is principally known for his literary contributions. A prolific writer in nearly every genre Čapek’s rich oeuvre includes novels, plays, poetry, travel books, fairy tales, and a book about gardening. Additionally he worked as a journalist and was the first to translate into Czech seminal works by Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Apollinaire.

The play Loupežník, written in 1920, marked the beginning of Čapek’s career as a playwright. Čapek’s most notable contribution is the introduction of the word robot into the international lexicon. The term first appeared in his dystopian play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) in 1921. Set in a future where all workers will be automated, R.U.R. won Čapek instant recognition and granted him a position among the founders of science fiction, long before it was established as an independent genre. From 1921 to 1923 he was director of the Královské Vinohrady theater in Prague, where he met the actress Olga Scheinpflugová, whom he married in 1935.

In 1924 Čapek released ‘Why I am not a Communist’, an essay in which he outlined the movement’s limitations. In the mid 1930s he published the ‘noetic trilogy’ composed of Hordubal (1933), Povětron (1936) and Obyčejný život (1934), three independent yet thematically related novels, and in 1936 he returned to science fiction with Válka s Mloky. By the end of the decade Čapek’s work dealt primarily with the growing threats posed by the rise of Nazism. At this time he was actively campaigning both at home and abroad in the attempt to warn the international community of the danger posed by Hitler to Czechoslovakia. Karel Čapek died on December 25, 1938 in Prague.

credits: Hangar Design Group