Karel Capek (pronounced CHAH-pek), 9. 1. 1890 (Male Svatonovice) - 25. 12.
1938 (Prague), Czech writer, playwright, journalist, poet,
translator, critic and philosopher. Brother of Josef Capek. Chair of
Czechoslovak PEN club at 1925 - 1933. First czech writer significantly
successful abroad and doubtlessly one of the greatest Czech writers. In the
time of Hitler's threat he was also a great stand-by for the Czech
From 1925 friend of the first Czechoslovakia president Tomas Garrigue
Masaryk - he wrote books Hovory s T.G.M. (The Talks with T.G.M., Mlceni s
T.G.M. (The Silencing with T.G.M.), and Nablizku T.G.M. (Near T.G.M.).
He was a great humanist, his ideas of freedom and equality were
particularily appreciable in the time right before World War II. But already
after the World War I he started to write novels carrying warning to the
mankind - possibility of abusing technics against the basic values of human
existence, but also danger of definite single-valued philosophical and
political conceptions. His plays and books also show powerful insight to the
psychology and sociology. This was especially perspicous in his dramas
RUR (famous Rossum's Universal Robots; here the word robot appears the
first time ever), Vec Makropulos (Affair Macropulos), novels Tovarna na
absolutno (The Absolute at Large), Krakatit and an alegoric play Ze zivota
hmyzu (The Life of Insects).
In pragmatic proses Hordubal, Povetron (Aerolite) and Obycejny zivot
(Ordinary Life), he develops his conviction about ambiguity of the human's
truth and existence of no absolute and universal sense of life.
He travelled a lot around the Europe and described his experiences and
feelings in a line of travel feuilletons: Italske listy, Anglicke listy,
Vylet do Spanel, Obrazky z Holandska, Cesta na sever.
He created original type of short detective stories (Povidky z jedne
kapsy, Povidky z druhe kapsy), he wrote Kniha apokryfu (Apocryphal Tales) and
he set out collection of feuilletons, newspaper columns and tiny proses from
various periods of his news activities - Zahradnikuv rok (The Year of
Gardener), Jak se co dela (How Is What Done) and so on. Some say that these
publicistic activities are his greatest heritage to the Czech literature.
Also, you have to count in his creations for children, in particular
Devatero pohadek (The Ennead of Fairy Tales) and Dasenka cili Zivot stenete
(Dasenka or a Puppy Life).
At the end of the 30s, he once more returned to the utopic writings
reflecting the reality in an alerogic way, that includes namely a novel Valka
s mloky (The War with the Newts) and his two last dramas Bila nemoc (White
Disease) and Matka (Mother).
His writings are pearls of the czech language - it features incomparable
scale and quality of pen (his books have genuine style of writing and
phrasing, making them to be read easily, with amusement and also with respect
for the author) and vocabulary (by counting the words appearing in his
writings, it was concluded that his language consisted of more than 11000 czech
words), composing either amusing stories or complex serious works with great
insight and depth.
However, some others object that his dramas are too focused on their morale,
and the persons are not well-developed psychologically and only used to fulfill
author's goals and forward the message. Although he worked with his brother
Josef at first (in particular, they composed the play Life
of Insects together), later they went asunder. Josef, himself writing mainly
philosophical and rather challenging works, criticized Karel for being too
eye-taking and just making himself popular by writing too trivial literature;
he said that Karel's last good book was Bozi muka (apologies, but I can't
think out any sufficiently well translation of the title, neither I'm aware of
any existing one) from his early period of work, also focusing on philosophy, questions
of freedom and meaning of life, and containing motives of mystery and enigma.
Nevertheless they stayed friends for the whole life.
Karel Capek was writing for Lidove Noviny (famous Czech newspaper) in
20s and 30s, and together with Frantisek Peroutka he was one of the central
persons in the so-called "castle group" of people around the president
Masaryk. He also founded a literary group called "Patecnici" (Friday-men),
gathering on every Friday in his villa discussing. In about 1935, he was
expected to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, however the nacism
threat was already raising, and Sweden wanting to ensure its neutrality and
safety declined. From then on, things started to get worse and worse. The
Czechoslovak newsmen started to publically criticize him in the newspapers, in
the shadow of fear of Hitler. The society turned against him out
of fear, and he suffered bad of it. In the winter of 1938 he dies, thus
making also his final prophet of the soon death of the First Republic of
Czechoslovakia (teared apart by Hitler in spring of the next year). His
brother Josef dies in one of the last marches of death in
"The best. This word should be definitively left to the merchants
and governments. In each shop is sold the best goods. Each government says that
it has the best intentions. Why not to leave it to them! It's enough for us to
look for the good goods and good intentions. After all, we don't have even so
much of the simply good on the world."