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Extensive Biography


Basic facts

   Born on January 9, 1890 in Male Svatonovice near Trutnov in Northeastern Bohemia.
   His father Antonin Capek was a doctor. His mother Bozena Capkova was a housewife.
   Died on December 25, 1938 in Prague.
   Czech nationality.


   Karel Capek is a Czech author, playwright, journalist and translator of the first half of the 20th century. He was the first Czech writer to become recognised worldwide. In this he helped a great deal to promote other authors and the whole of Czech literature abroad. For a certain time Karel Capek served as the head of the Czech PENclub(Poets', Essayists, Novelists' club). In the time preceeding the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia he used all his influence and connections trying to help save his country from the iminent danger of an attack on its integrity. He fought until the end of his life, unfortunately in vain, to warn the Western powers, Czechoslovakia's allies, to help ward off the threat of the rising aggressivity of Nazi Germany. For this and other reasons Karel Capek is known and highly estimated by every Czech and Slovak.

The childhood

   Karel Capek was born on January 9, 1890 as the third and last child into the family of Antonin Capek, a doctor. He had an older sister Helene and an older brother Josef, with whom he has been soulmate for all his life. In July 1890 the family moved to nearby town of Upice where the father of the family had opened practice.
   That's where Karel went to Elementary school from 1895 to 1900. In 1900 Capek's grand mother who had great influence on Capek's language and his social thinking moved in to live with the family.
   For two years he went to a local middleschool but in the fall of 1901 moves with his grand mother to Hradec Kralove, the principal town of Eastern Bohemia, where he attends Junior high school and first two years of High school. In the summer of 1905 Capek is expelled from the High school for taking part in an illegal students club.
   So in the fall of 1905 Capek moves to Brno, some 200km from Hradec Kralove, where he lives close to his sister Helena, who got married there. He stays in Brno for 2 years and moves to Prague along with his parents where he starts the final two years of high school at the prestigious Academic High School in the fall of 1907. Capek graduates with all A's in June 1909.

The University years

   In September 1909, Karel Capek, along with his brother Josef, go to Munich, where they stay for a month, fascinated by the University and the museums and galleries there. In October, Karel Capek signs up at the Charles University of Prague for courses on philosophy. In his second year of studies (1910), Capek goes to the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin. The first half of his third year of his University studies (1911) takes place at the Charles University, the other one at the Sorbonne of Paris. After the end of the semester there, Capek travels a bit around France and returns to Prague, to where he continues for three more years. On November 29, 1915 Capek graduates as Master of Philosophy. The same year, Capek isn't enlisted to fight in World War I because of the problems with his back, which followed him throughout all his life.

Early works and the 20's

   In 1917, Capek becomes a member of the board of editors of the Narod (Nation) magazine and starts a job as a private teacher to Prokop Lazansky, the son of the Count of Lazany. This job takes him to the Lazany estate out in the country. Capek terminates the job in October 1917 and immediatly, along with his brother becomes an editor of the cultural section with the Narodni listy (the National paper). At the same time, both the brothers are at the beginning of the startup satirical weekly Nebojsa(the Unafraid).
   In the summer of 1920, Capek makes acquaintance with Olga Scheinpflungova, an actress and his future wife. At the end of the year, Capek along with his brother and some other editors resign in protest of the way the paper's politics went. This year Capek publishes his fitst important work, a play called R.U.R., which stands for Rossum's Universal Robots. In this play Capek first used the worldwide used word robot which he invented. It was invented by his brother Josef, from the verb robotovat, archaic for working.
   In April 1921 Capek and his brother become editors of a more prestigious newspaper, the Lidove noviny (The People's paper), which also offered both the brothers a better salary. In September of the same year Capek becomes a dramatic advisor to the prestigious Kralovske Vinohrady Theater. Olga Scheinpflungova, his future wife also performed in this theater.
   In 1922 Karel Capek first met with the president of that time Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrique Masaryk, whom he soon befriended and with whom he later published a series of interviews. In August, Capek threatens to resign from the dramatic advisor post in protest of actor rehiring by the National Theater, the best Czech theater of that time. After things set right, Capek stays. In November Capek moves to a bigger flat where he now lives alone. It is at that time that the tradition of meetings of intellectuals of all opinions on Fridays at Capek's place is born. It went on until Capek's death.
   In April 1923, Capek really resigns from the dreamatic advisor post and goes on a two month medical visit to Italy.
   In April 1924 Capek's mother dies. Capek visits England in June and July at the occasion of the Penclub conference and the British Imperium Exhibition.
   In January 1925 Capek sets up a commitee that will help set up the Czechoslovak Penclub. In the same month Capek first visits Tomas Garrique Masaryk at the Prague Castle, the Czech presidential residence. He is elected the chairman of the Czechoslovak Penclub in February. In May Capek gets elected to the Czech Academy of Sciences, but soon resigns because he feels that the membership should be delegated to more important authors as he says. In September , both he and his brother who is by that time a well known and respected cubist artist, enter the newly established National workers party, he runs for seat in the parliament, but the party fails, doesn't get not one single seat and ends in a few years.
   In 1926 actively participates in some manifesto's. During the summer holiday Capek stays at the presidential summer residence in Topolcanky, Slovakia.On the New Year's Eve, Capek organises a party in the presence of president Masaryk in which he satirizes the Czech political scene. Which leads to an unfriendly campaign against Capek's person.
   In 1927 Capek wants to resign for the Penclub chairmanship, but after pressure from the club doesn't. In the first part of the year, a press campaign is led against him. Capek sues the newspapers that led the campaign. In July, Capek takes part in Czech writers' tour to Paris, where he meets with France's clutural and political elite. He stays at the presidential residence in September and October. On October 28, on the Czech Independence day, Capek and his brother Josef is elected the Czech national award for drama, for the play Adam Stvoritel (Adam the Creator).
   In 1928 Capek publishes the first part of the series of interviews with the president called Talks with Tomas Garrique Masaryk: The age of youngness after a summer stay at the presidential residence where the interview took place. Htese talks were at a very high level, they were very much philosophical, talked about religion and such.
   In March 1929 the editor that Capek sued two years ago is ordered by the court to pay compensation and to publish an apology in the paper. Capek's father dies in April. He stays at the presidential residence in September and leaves for Spain with Olga Scheinpflungova in October.

First half of the 30's

   In June 1930, Capek gets elected into an advisory board for the affaires of the National Theater. He spends early autumn in Topolcianky, the presidential residence again.
   In January 1931 Capek is elected by The Committee for the development of mental cooperation by the Society of Nations, the predecessor to the UN, into the Comittee for literature and arts. He is reelected the chairman of the Czech Penclub in March. Capek takes part in a worldwide conference of Penclubs in Hague, Holland after that Capek travels around Holland. In July, Capek takes part for the first time in the Committee of the Society of Nations. This year Capek also publishes the second part of the Interviews: Part 2: Life and work.
   In 1932 Capek changes his publishing house from Aventinum, which ends bussiness to a renouwned Czech publishing house Frantisek Borovy, where Capek becomes a partner with an investement of 500 000 Czech crowns. He spends part of the autumn with the president again.
   In February 1933 Capek starts up a huge discussion in the cultural press about the nature and function of critique. In March, Capek resigns on the Czech Penclub chairmanship. The autumn is spent at Topolcianky, the presidential residence.

Second half of the 30's

   In January 1934, Capek signs a plea for help to children affected by the economical crisis signed by writers, artists and scientists. In November Capek signs another Czech writers' petition against organized nazi disturbances.
   In June 1935 at the worldwide Penclub conference in Barcelona, Spain, Capek gets nominated for the worldwide Penclub chairmanship by the standing chairman, H.G. Wells, but Capek immediately resigns. In the summer Capek participates at an international conference of writers' organisations for the defence of culture in Paris. In July Capek travels to Italy to the Dolomites, where he asks Olga for her hand. Capek and Olga Scheinpflungova get married in Prague on August 16, 1935. In October, Capek gets nominated into the committee that awards the State Prizes for literature.
   In July 1936 Capek takes part in a Symposion organised by the Committee by the Society of Nations in Budapest. In July, Capek travels with Olga to Dannmark, Norway and Sweden. In November the Norweigan press nominates Capek for the Nobel prize for literature.
   In February 1937, Capek visits Edvard Benes, the new Czechoslovak president at the Prague castle In June, Capek participates at the Penclub conference in Paris where he was invited as a special guest. In July Capek spends the holidays travelling around Austria, Switzerland and Southern France. On October 11, Capek takes part in the funeral service for the ex - president TGM.

The year 1938

   For those who aren't familiar with the situation in which Europe was in the year 1938, I will try to give you some brief background. By that time Hitler's Germany was arming itself at incredible pace. The French and Brittish armies and governments watched this developement which they registered too late for them with great concern. They knew that if Germany had the occassion they'd use their military strength with which neither France nor Britain could cope with. So both the countries in which pacifist governments were in office started an appeasement policy towards Germany. That meant a policy that agreed with all German requests and demands as long as to keep them from making war. France and Britain thought that if they approach Germany this way, they will not try to expand their territory. However at that time Hitler had plans of invading Austria and Czechoslovakia.
   Austria, being easier to take and invade was rapidly invaded on 11.3.1938. Czechoslovakia which had a very modern at that time and an alliance treaty with France and the Soviet Union was a tougher country to take. There was also a line of forts and bunkers all along the border with Germany and Austria, that many thought unbreakable.
   In the region by the Czechoslovak border with Germany were many Germans, so the German nationalists started in coordination with Hitler civil unrests in the border regions. Germans infiltrated the border and attacked Czech police and army. Hitler demanded better treatement for the German mimnority in Czechoslovakia although the minority laws in Czechoslovakia were one of the best in the world at that time and definitely better than the German ones. All the improvements that the Czechoslovak government presented to the Germans were found as insufficient. Hitler demanded the undemandable. He wanted to add the borderlands to Germany. That was unacceptable for Czechoslovakia because all the forts and bunkers were there along with the strattegically important mountains so if the government agreed to the demands Czechoslovakia would have been open and defenseless to any attack by Germany. And nobody had any illusions about Germany just taking the borders, everybody ijn Czechoslovakia knew that after that, Germany would attack the rest of the country anyway.
   When the plans were rejected Hitler thretened with a military attack so a brittish lord was sent to negotiate between Germany and Czechoslovakia. His negotiations were unsuccessfull. On September 30, France and Britain afraid of the war between Germany and Czechoslovakia in which they didn't want to take any part signed along with Italy and Germany the Munich treaty by which Czechoslovakia is ordered to leave the border regions to Germany. For that Germany will not attack the rest of Czechoslovakia. France and Britain thought that the borderlands would suffice Germany and that they will not attack the rest of the country. This treaty was signed without Czechoslovakia's participation. After the signature of the treaty, France refused to fullfil the treaty of alliance so Czechoslovakia left without any allies had to capitulate and leave the border lands because now Germany had the right to take them militarilly and Czechoslovakia alone was uncapable to hold the border itself without heavy causaulties. In March 1939 Germany invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, thus breaking the treaty. In September Germany invaded Polanmd and the World War II started. Had not France and Britain not betrayed Czechoslovakia, there might have not been no World War II or not as bloody as the one that occurred.

   Karel Capek took an important part in the effort of all the Czechoslovak citizens to persuade the allies to stand with us and in the case it was really necessary fight the Germans. In June, Capek participates at the World Penclub meeting in Prague. There he warns all the participants of the eminnent German threat and asks them to alarm the countries from which they are from about the German threat. On September 12, Capek writes the Czechoslovak writers' note to all the world in which they explain the Czechoslovak politics towards Germany. On September 21 Capek writes the proclamation by which the Czechoslovak government informs the nation about the decision that France and Britain made in the case of Czechoslovakia. On Septtember 30, Capek writes the Czech writers' memento To the Conciousness of the World.
   In November, Capek is offered the possibility to leave the country and go to England into exile. Capek chooses to stay with the nation althoough he knows that after the Germans invade the rest of the country, he will be one of the first to be arrested. The second half of december, Capek suffers from heavy flu and inflammation of the kidneys.
   Karel Capek dies on December 25 in the evening.

Dominik Zunt 1998-2004, design: Radek Varbuchta