"Well, the story begins in 1920,..."
|A rather cool poster for a 1939 production.|
In Act I, Helen Glory arrives at the remote island location where the robots are made. She's the daughter of the famous Sir Edward Glory (and is very beautiful) so she's immediately shown in to see Harry Domin the managing director of the company. Domin--and all the other directors, Alquist, Busman, Fabry, Gall, Hallemeier--comically fall in love with her on the spot, and so, even though they see right through her scheme to liberate the robots, they don't care and show her all their secrets.
But it isn't Helen who convinces the directors; it's the directors who convince Helen. That opening quote is Harry Domin starting to explain the history of Rossum's Universal Robots and all the great things they've achieved. In 1932, Old Rossum (Old Reason in the version I just read) discovers the key to manufacturing life. He putters around with his discovery, but young Rossum sees the potential and makes a fortune. In Act I, around the year 2000, both Rossums are dead, but the company is a worldwide powerhouse. People don't have to work any more; the world is rich; robots do everything.
Act II finds us ten years later: Helen is married to Harry Domin, the director, but not everything is Utopian in this Utopia. Humans, including Helen, are no longer having babies. Robots are breaking down faster. Worse there's a new manifesto calling for robot liberation making the rounds.
By Act III, the robots are in active rebellion, and in Act IV? Well, you'll just have to see for yourself what happens in Act IV.
It's definitely a case where the road to whatever that outcome was is paved with good intentions. Čapek writes of his play:
"General Director Domin shows in the play that the development of technology frees man from heavy physical labor, and he is right. Alquist, with his Tolstoyan outlook, believes that technology demoralizes man, and I think he is right, too. Busman believes that only industrialism is capable of meeting modern needs, and he is right. Helena instinctively fears all these human machinations, and she is quite right. Finally, the robots themselves revolt agains all these idealists, and it seems they are right, too."So with everybody being right, how can anything go wrong?
I read the play in the pink volume on the right (tr. by Peter Majer and Cathy Porter) from Methuen Press, but I'd read it previously in Catbird Press edition translated by Claudia Novack-Jones. I think I now prefer the Majer and Porter translation, but as far as I can tell with no Czech, both are fine. One major difference between the two is that the Majer and Porter translation makes clear the impact of the name Rossum for a Czech by changing the founder's name to Reason. (Rozum is the Czech word for mind/reason/intellect.) I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that; it seems a little heavy-handed, but maybe I'm just used to the name Rossum in the play.
Of course, why not have both? I do! With the exception of the play R.U.R., there's not much overlap between the two volumes. The Čapek quote above comes from the Catbird Press edition. Čapek died young, in 1938, of pneumonia; he'd suffered a crippling problem with his spine for his entire life. But not before he became world-famous and had been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The play was first printed in Czech in 1920 (though the first production wasn't until January of 1921) and as such it's my first contribution to Simon and Kaggsy's #1920Club. Thanks to them for hosting!
I love the sound of this. It's definitely going on my Must Read list. :DReplyDelete
I'd love to see this one on stage some day. I'll bet it would be fun.Delete
Sounds marvellous! I've read and loved War with the Newts so I obviously need to read this one too. I share your thoughts about the name change - I always prefer them left as they are but with an explanatory note about the meaning! Thanks for joining in!ReplyDelete
Thanks for hosting!Delete
If you loved War With The Newts, I do think you'll like this one, too.
i haven't read this one either: just the Newt one... and it has, evidently, some resonance with modern civ... i'll look for a copy... tx: great reviewReplyDelete
It's a bit astonishing how prophetic this was. Just hopefully not too prophetic!Delete
OK! Your review of RUR has convinced me to read War With The Newts...ha ha. It was the third "brilliant" that swayed me. :DReplyDelete
War With The Newts is a novel. Even at the best, reading plays is always a little strange, so yes! Go for it. War With The Newts it is. Did I mention it's brilliant?Delete
What a bizarre topic for a play. I'd like to see it performed because while it sounds like it would be enjoyable in novel form, I wonder it would come across as a play. I've never heard of Capek. I'll have to read War With The Newts though. You've intrigued me. That is, if I can find it ...ReplyDelete
I'd be curious to see it as a play myself. I think it could work. Years ago I saw a different one of his plays (The White Plague) and I remember liking it, but I've forgotten the details of the production anymore.Delete
Toronto's library has the eBook as a circulating copy, but the print copy is reference only. But in a comment on my opening #1920Club post, somebody said that the press that does my preferred translation, the one shown, is still operational & you can order direct from them: http://catbirdpress.com/authorpages/capek.htm
How interesting to learn more about the story behind the word 'robot' - I knew that bit of trivia but nothing else about it.ReplyDelete
The play's fun. Čapek became famous world wide pretty quick, but then after he died he sort of disappeared, except for the word robot, for English readers. Which is too bad.Delete