Biography of Karel Capek

Karel Capek
Karel Capek
Karel Capek, praised by Arthur Miller for "warning against
the tyranny and unreasonableness of the rational," was
honoured on this Czechoslovakian stamp issued in 1958.

Born on January 9, 1890 at Male Svatonovice, Karel Capek was a leading literary figure during the two decades of Czech independence beginning in 1918. The breadth of his literary interests is reflected in titles ranging from The Gardener's Year to Letters from England.

In addition to being a broadway hit, his play, Rossum's Universal Robots, introduced the word Robot (coined by by Capek's brother Josef) to the popular vocabulary. The word is derived from the Czech word Robota, meaning "heavy labour." From the Life of the Insects, first produced in 1922, also enjoyed considerable success. After writing Adam the Creator in 1927, Capek focused his energy on writing novels rather than drama. Two science fiction novels, The Factory of the Absolute (1920) and Krakatit (1924), written in the early 1920's, were followed by a trilogy written in the mid-1930's which included Hordubal, Meteor and An Ordinary Life.

A champion of democracy, Capek wrote a biography of the Czech president, T.G. Masaryrk and satirized dictatorships in his novel, War with the Newts. His death on Christmas day in 1938 saved him from sharing the fate of his brother and literary partner, Josef, who was arrested and deported to a concentration camp when the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939. A final novel, published in English as The Cheat, was completed by Capek's wife, Olga Scheinpflugova, after his death. She also wrote a biographical novel entitled A Czech Novel.

Links are included for works listed on

1990 - Toward the Radical Center: A Karel Capek Reader - , Karel Capek, Peter Kussi (editor), Arthur Miller (foreward)

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© Grose Educational Media, 2004