Brno: Polygraphie, 1922. Octavo, measuring 7.75 x 5.5 inches: 219, . Original tan pictorial wrappers with blue and orange design by the author’s brother Josef, spine and lower wrapper lettered in blue, text block uncut, many individual signatures unsewn and laid in (as issued). Title page printed in blue and black, twenty full-page black-and-white illustrations (included in collation). Manuscript prices in blue and grey pencil to verso of upper wrapper. Ink inscription by Capek in year of publication to front fly leaf. Small chip to head of spine, closed tear at top joint of front wrapper.
First edition of this biting science-fiction satire by a major Czech modernist, inscribed by Capek in the year of publication to an actress at the national theatre. Capek’s plot is set in motion by an invention. A new carburetor uses nuclear fission to create clean, cheap energy, but also releases a byproduct of “Absolute,” a “God particle” that produces an intense spiritual experience: “It must be some kind of poisoning.” Mixing the philosophy of Leibniz and Spinoza with commentary on modern technology and capitalism, Capek explores the unexpected pairing of limitless energy and unrestrained inspiration with black humor: “There have been some serious cases of enlightenment.” The climax of the book reflects the cynicism produced by World War I, as an absurd Great War breaks out between competing religious groups: “you should not listen to those people when they proudly say what they lived through was the greatest war of all time. We all know, of course, that in a few decades’ time we will manage to create a war which is even greater.” The novel is illustrated by Karel Capek’s brother Josef, an important modernist illustrator and book designer. The two brothers were central members of the Czech avant-garde between the wars: their intellectual circle promoted the modern renaissance of written Czech, publishing works like Továrna Na Absolutno in the vernacular rather than German. Josef Capek would die in a concentration camp in 1945, victim of an “even greater” war. Capek inscribed this copy in Czech to the actress Tana Cuprova, later art manager of the national theatre in Prague where R.U.R., Capek’s most famous play, introduced the word “robot” to the world. Text in Czech. A wonderful inscribed copy of an important early science-fiction novel.