Brief Biography of Arthur Koestler
Arthur Koestler was born to a family of Jewish Hungarians who were moderately well-off. He attended the University of Vienna and subsequently became a journalist, reporting in the Middle East, Paris, and Berlin, among other places. At the end of 1931, he applied for membership in the Communist Party of Germany. During the Spanish Civil War, when he went to Spain as a Soviet agent, Koestler was arrested and spent time in prison. He slowly became disillusioned with communism as a result of the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact of 1938 and the revelation of the Moscow show trials. The latter in particular led to his writing of Darkness at Noon. In 1939, while he was writing the novel and living in Paris with his lover Daphne Hardy, Koestler was arrested on suspicion of working for the Soviets and was sent to an internment camp. He fled to England, joining the French Foreign Legion to escape arrest, and eventually became a British citizen in 1948. For the rest of his life, he continued publishing novels, memoirs, and critical works. The essays collected in The Yogi and the Commissar (1945) and The God that Failed (1949) explore his disillusionment with Communism. Eventually, Koestler would become especially interested in creativity, mysticism, and their relationship with science. At the end of his life he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He was a vocal supporter of voluntary euthanasia, and in 1983 he and his third wife Cynthia killed themselves by overdosing on pills.
Historical Context of Darkness at Noon
In 1917, the October Revolution in Russia overthrew the Russian monarchy and led to a civil war between the revolutionary “Reds” (or communists) under Vladimir Lenin, and the counter-revolutionary “Whites.” The “Reds” (whose leaders came to be known as Bolsheviks) won and in 1922 the Soviet Union, or USSR, was established. In the 1920s, after Lenin’s death, Joseph Stalin came to power and attempted to rapidly industrialize the largely rural nation through what he called a Five-Year Plan, in which the state also seized control of all businesses and farms. While the USSR did industrialize incredibly quickly, the policy also led to famines as well as to violent repression. This was the context for the Moscow show trials in 1936 to 1938. Stalin wanted to stamp out any remaining opposition among his leadership, especially among followers of Leon Trotsky, who hoped to keep spreading revolution abroad rather than focus on the homeland (a difference that can also be seen in the novel between the old guard and new guard). But Stalin also wanted to retain the support of the masses, rather than simply order a new wave of terror (which he’d done in earlier years). During the show trials, former Bolsheviks were required to state elaborately false confessions about their crimes in public trials and signal their contrition and willingness to be executed. Even after the famines and increasingly violence of the earlier years, many left-leaning people in the West, who were excited about the prospect of socialism finally being put into practice, still believed that the Soviet Union should continue to be supported. It was the shocking revelation of these show trials that, for many people—including Koestler—was the last straw, forcing them to withdraw their commitment to the USSR and, in some cases, to communism itself.
Other Books Related to Darkness at Noon
Several years after Darkness at Noon
was written, George Orwell published Animal Farm
(1945), an allegorical novel that also refers to the Soviet Union, though it covers a different period of Soviet history than Darkness at Noon
. Like Darkness at Noon
, Animal Farm
also refrained from naming Russia or Stalin explicitly; however, unlike Koestler’s realist political novel, Orwell’s is a full-fledged allegory. Its characters are animals on a farm that symbolically represent real people and historical events. In a different genre, Victor Kravchenko, a defector from the Soviet Union who fled to the United States during World War II, wrote a best-selling memoir entitled I Chose Freedom
in 1946. Together with Orwell’s and Koestler’s novels, this book helped teach people in the West about the realities of violence and totalitarianism in the Soviet Union, which had been allied with the U.S. and other Western countries during World War II.
Key Facts about Darkness at Noon
Full Title: Darkness at Noon
When Written: 1938-1940
Where Written: Provence and Paris, France
When Published: 1941
Literary Period: Modern (political/dystopian)
Setting: While the Fatherland of the Revolution, as it’s called, is never named explicitly, it is an obvious stand-in for the Soviet Union (USSR) in the 1930s during the time of the Moscow show trials. The Moscow show trials were a series of public trials in which members of the “old guard” of the Bolsheviks, the ruling Communist Party, confessed to be traitors to the Party in dramatic public trials, before being executed. Rubashov’s flashbacks also take us to another unnamed country where a fascist dictatorship has gained power—a clear representation of Nazi Germany—as well as Belgium, which is named.
Antagonist: While No. 1 is the haunting, menacing figure that affects all the characters in the novel, the leader himself never appears throughout the book. Instead, the interrogator Gletkin, a former peasant who robotically parrots the Party line, is the vehicle against whom Rubashov struggles as he slowly comes to accept that he will confess. Ivanov, the first interrogator, might seem to be another candidate for antagonist, but he, too, becomes a victim of the Party, or more precisely of the new guard of the Party that has no room for people like him or Rubashov. The rigid and contradictory Communist ideology might also be seen as the novel’s antagonist, as it’s the relentless and inhumane logic of Communism against which Rubashov struggles intellectually, and it is this ideology taken to its logical end that ensures Rubashov’s death.
Point of View: Most of the novel is told from a third-person limited omniscient perspective, restricted to the thoughts and viewpoint of Rubashov. This is interspersed, however, with excerpts from Rubashov’s diary, which are in the first person.
Extra Credit for Darkness at Noon