Cartoonist, Czech painter, graphic artist, writerWas born 9 January 1890 – 25 December 1938) was a Czech writer of the early 20th century. He had multiple roles throughout his career, including playwright, dramatist, essayist, publisher, literary reviewer, photographer and art critic. Nonetheless, he is best known for his science fiction including his novel War with the Newts and the play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), which introduced the word robot. He also wrote many politically charged works dealing with the social turmoil of his time. Largely influenced by American pragmatic liberalism, he campaigned in favor of free expression and utterly despised the rise of both fascism and communism in Europe.
Čapek was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times, but he never won. However, several awards are named after him, such as the Karel Čapek Prize, which is awarded every other year by Czech PEN Club for literary work that contributes to reinforcing or maintaining democratic and humanist values in the society. He was also a key figure in the creation of the Czechoslovak PEN Club as a part of the International PEN. He died on the brink of World War II as a result of lifelong medical condition, but his legacy as a literary figure has been well established after the war.
Karel Čapek was born in 1890 in the Bohemian mountain village of Malé Svatoňovice. However, six months after his birth, the Čapek family moved to their own house in Úpice. His father, Antonín Čapek, worked as a doctor at the local textile factory. Antonín was a very energetic person; apart from his work as a doctor, he also co-funded the local museum and was a member of the town council. Despite opposing his father’s materialist and positivist views, Karel Čapek loved and admired his father, later calling him “a good example… of the generation of national awakeners.” Karel’s mother, Božena Čapková, was a homemaker. Unlike her husband she did not like life in the country and she suffered from long-term depressions. Despite that, she assiduously collected and recorded local folklore, such as legends, songs or stories. Karel was the youngest of three siblings. He would maintain an especially close relationship with his brother Josef, a highly successful painter, living and working with him throughout his adult life. His sister, Helena, was a talented pianist, but later become a writer and published several memoirs about Karel and Josef.
After finishing elementary school in Úpice, he moved to Hradec Králové with his grandmother where he attended high school but after two years he got expelled for taking part in an illegal students’ club.
Čapek later described this club as a “very non-murderous anarchist society.” After this incident he moved to Brno with his sister and attempted to finish high school there, but after another two years he moved Prague where he finished high school at the Academic Grammar School in 1909.
During his teenage years Čapek became enamored with the visual arts, especially Cubism, which influenced his later writing. After graduating high school he studied philosophy and aesthetics in Prague at Charles University, but he also spent some time at the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin and at the Sorbonne in Paris. While he was still a university student, he wrote some works on contemporary art and literature. He graduated as a doctor of philosophy in 1915.