Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
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Variant Editions of R.U.R. in Translation

Robert M. Philmus, in his article, “Matters of Translation: Karel Čapek and Paul Selver,” writing in 1971, identifies two English language variations of Paul Selver's translation of R.U.R. (We found a third.)

Philmus writes that Selver’s “R. U.R. exists in two different published versions: the American edition-originally from Doubleday but now available under other imprints (also in anthologized form), and the English [British], which remains the property of the Oxford University Press.” Philmus takes up the questions of changes made in the translations of the play, including the bowdlerizing of content and elimination of the lengthy speech by Alquist, the last surviving human at the end of the play.

The American Doubleday edition (Theatre Guild Libary edition whose slipcover is pictured in the suite introduction) is attributed only to Paul Selver only; the Oxford property is attributed to Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair.

The version republished in Blackbird—a Samuel French imprint, attributed to both Selver and Playfair with a 1923 copyright—differs considerably from either of the two editions identified by Philmus. As one marker, the American edition uses the word “gasoline,” the Playfair British edition substitutes the word “petrol.” The Samuel French, in the use of “gasoline,” aligns, on one point at least, with the American (Theatre Guild Library) edition, but differs many other ways.

The existence of the three variants in print in English, all copyrighted 1923, takes an already confusing history (given questions by Philmus of which Czech version Selver translated) and makes all from a reader's perspective, more—not less—tangled. Not to mention that though the Theatre Guild Library edition (what Philmus efers to as the Doubleday edition) only credits Paul Selver as translater, a cast list for the 1922 Garrick Theatre performance included in the Theatre Guild Library volume credits both Selver and Playfair.

We have neither the means nor expertise to make arguments or scholarly pronouncements about these variants, but having wandered into the brier patch, we offer screen shots of the play's ending in the three English variants and in the original Czech from the play's first edition; these snapshots show small, and large, variation within a short sample. The ending we publish here from the Oxford paperback includes the lengthy ending speech by Alquist. This is the speech omitted in the two U.S. published editions, which end, though with variation, on Alquist pronouncing the two robots to be “Adam” and “Eve.”

In the last scene, Alquist (the last living human) is speaking to two robots, Primus and Helena. Alquist is threatening to dissect one or the other of them.

R.U.R., Theatre Guild Library edition, translated by Paul Selver, (Doubleday: New York, 1923).
Predumably the text for the 1922 New York performance of the play by the Theatre Guild. The structure of the original Czech is a prelude followed by three acts; Sever reconceives the structure as three acts followed by an epilogue.

Theatre Guild Library edition title page

Theatre Guild Library editiion, page 186
Theatre Guild Library editiion, page 187

R.U.R., Samuel French edition, English version by Paul Selver and Nigel Playfair, Samuel French: New York, 1923).
Though the 1923 copyright to Doubleday is clearly present, this version is different from the Doubleday edition attributed only to Sever. The structure is in keeping, however, with the Theatre Guild Library edition: three acts and an epilogue.

Samuel French edition, title page
Samuel French edition, final page


The Brothers Čapek, R.U.R. and The Insect Play, Oxford Paperbacks (Oxford University Press: London, 1966).
These captures are from a 1966 Oxford University Press edition as we were unable to locate a 1923 edition from Oxford. The volume provides the following copyright statement: “‘R. U. R.’ and ‘The Insect Play, were first published as separate volumes in 1923 and were each reprinted ten times. First issued in OXFORD PAPERBACKS 1961. Reprinted 1964 and 1966.”

Pictured after the title page is a note on adaptation citing the removal of two names “Fabry” and “Helman.” Though “Fabry” appears in the Theatre Guild Library and Samuel French editions, “Helman.” curiously, appears in neither of these editions, nor in the Czech original—yet another puzzle. The reference to the first production of R.U.R in 1923 at the St. Martin’s Theatre is presumably to the first British production. The Oxford structure differs from the two prevous editions and from the Czech as the epilogue is presented here as a fourth act.

Oxford edition title page
Oxford edition notes page
Oxford edition page 103
Oxford edition page 104


R.U.R. (Aventinum: Prague, 1920).
Even without knowing Czech, Alquist's final speech in the original remains visually apparent. Karel Čapek’s original structure is given as a comic prelude followed by three acts. (Note the editing credit to Josef Čapek in the coda.)

Czech first edition title page


Czech first edition page 96
Czech first edition page 97

Czech first edition coda
Printed as a manuscript in Ohio type edited by Josef Čapek at the F. Obzina printer in Vyskov.

Issued in 2000 copies . . .

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