Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
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Translator’s Introduction
by Paul Selver for R.U.R. Theatre Guild Edition

Karel Capek was born in 1890 in Northern Bohemia. His literary work comprises plays, poems, criticism and short stories. Of his plays the earliest is “The Robber,” which was begun as early as 1911, but was not completed until after the war. It may be described as an allegorical comedy. The anonymous central figure, from whom the title of the play is derived, represents the victorious and energetic spirit of youth, seizing all it covets, and ridiculing the sober and law-abiding logic of old age. As a play, it suffers from a lack of uniformity in its texture, in which lyrical romanticism alternates with the elements of farce and melodrama.

“The Robber” was followed by “R. U. R.” which it is hardly necessary to discuss here in detail. The same applies to “The Life of the Insects,” written by Capek in collaboration with his brother Josef, and performed in New York under the title, “The World We Live In.” This curious satire on human society relies more upon scenic effects than does “R. U. R.” Nevertheless the devastating third act, even from a purely literary point of view, must be regarded as a masterpiece of condensed and sustained satire. Capek’s latest play, “The Makropoulos Affair,” an amusing comment upon longevity, was first performed at Prague in November, 1922, and shows that his dramatic powers are as alert and ingenious as ever.

Capek’s short stories also reveal a strong and original talent. The volume entitled “The Crucifix” contains penetrating psychological studies, which indicate the direction of Capek’s philosophical interests. The “Tales of Distress,” in which Capek skillfully, relentlessly, but compassionately demonstrates how human it is to err, also maintain a high standard, both in the actual style and in the handling of tragic or semi-tragic situations.

Of Capek’s miscellaneous works, reference may be made to his “Criticism of Words,” in which his capacity for wit, irony, and satire, is exercised to the full. His future development will be followed with great interest. It is significant that at the period when Czechoslovakia is so triumphantly justifying its establishment as an independent State, Capek is beginning to obtain for Czech literature, of whose vigorous and progressive spirit he is a typical representative, the world-wide attention which it merits, but of which it has hitherto been deprived owing to the adverse circumstances of its development.

London, December 19, 1922.  

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