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In most contemporary historical writing, the picture of modern life in Habsburg Central Europe is rather gloomy. Centered on Vienna in the twilight years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it is the story of the failure of rationalism and the rise of a politics of fantasy culminating in protofascist movements. This book tells a different story, focusing on the generation of Czech writers and artists distinguished by their optimistic view of the world in the years before the First World War. These figures, most notably Karel Capek, greeted the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy not with despair and trepidation but with a sense of hope and liberation, and their early vitalism and anti-rationalism later led them closer to liberalism, not further away from it.

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