Today Marks 79th Anniversary of Karel Čapek's Death

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Perhaps the most versatile writer in Czech history, Karel Čapek was well-known as a playwright, novelist, story writer, journalist, children’s author, biographer, essayist, illustrator, photographer, and translator. 

The son of a country doctor, Čapek suffered all his life from a spinal disease, and writing seemed a compensation. He studied philosophy in Prague, Berlin, and Paris and in 1917 settled in Prague as a writer and journalist. 

He also worked as dramaturg and director for the Vinohrady Theatre from 1921 to 1923. During August of 1935 at the age of 45, he married his long-time girlfriend, actress, and writer Olga Sheinpflugová.

It was in 1916 that Capek's literary activities began, at first in co-operation with his elder brother Josef, who was himself a writer and painter. They published several joint efforts, including The Insect Play (1921), which is known worldwide. Even when they were not working together, they sought each other's advice. Karel asked his older brother for help with his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots (published 1920, performed 1921) and asked him for a word to describe a machine that looks like a man and can do much more work. Josef thought up the word robot, from the Czech for hard work, robota, and this word then found its way into international use. 

Other works, following the pattern of R.U.R., include the novel Továrna na absolutno (1922; The Absolute at Large); Krakatit (1924; An Atomic Phantasy); and Válka s mloky (1936; The War with the Newts).

Ater the Communist Party took power in Czechoslovakia in 1948, there was a backlash against Karel Capek's works. In the early fifties there was a complete ban on Capek's works, and later in the same decade, only his works related to the fight against fascism were permitted.

He died of double pneumonia on Christmas Day, 1938, shortly before his 49th birthday. His grave is among the resting places of many well-renowned Czechs at Prague’s Vyšehrad Cemetery.

Author: red


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