Arthur Koestler

Darkness at noon 


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Darkness at Noon is the most famous novel by Arthur Koestler. Published in 1940, it tells the tale of Rubashov, a Bolshevik old guard revolutionary who is first cast out, and then imprisoned and tried for treason by the Soviet government he once helped create.

Through a complex process of intellectual arguments, mild physical torture, and moral reflection, Rubashov gradually agrees to publicly confess to multiple crimes against the state. He decides to confess to these imaginary crimes because he still wishes to serve the ideals of the revolution, and because his reflections lead him to accept he has caused severe suffering and torment to many of the people closest to him. The novel is set in 1938 during the Stalinist purges and Moscow show trials.

Darkness at Noon sold over 400,000 copies in France, causing great annoyance to those French communists who were still loyal to the Soviet revolution.

The book reflects the author's personal disillusionment with Communism and Stalin's destruction of the revolution; Koestler knew some of the defendants at the Moscow trials. Stalin is described in the book as "Number One", a barely-seen and menacing totalitarian leader.


  • Although the book's characters have Russian names, and also Arthur Koestler was later known for anti-Communist activities, neither Russia nor the Soviet Union are actually mentioned by name as the location of the book.
  • Koestler is believed to have drawn on his own prison experiences in this novel. He did not get imprisoned by the Soviets in actual fact, but by Francisco Franco's Falangist forces in Spain. Nonetheless, this probably formed a big part in his realistic depiction of political imprisonment in general.
  • Several inspirations have been suggested for Rubashov, including Bukharin. However, it is likely that Rubashov is no one, but Arthur Koestler himself. Koestler uses his experience of being imprisoned by Franco during the Spanish civil war. Like Rubashov, he was in solitary confinement, expected to be executed, paced his cell constantly, was permitted to walk in the courtyard in the company of other prisoners, wasn’t beaten himself but knew that others were beaten.
  • Due to Koestler's complex life, the novel was originally written in German and translated into English. However, the original German text has been lost, and German versions are back translations from English. Darkness at Noon is actually the second part of a trilogy, the first volume being The Gladiators about the subversion of the Spartacus revolt, and the third Arrival and Departure about a refugee in World War II. The Gladiators was originally written in Hungarian and Arrival and Departure in English. Of these two, only The Gladiators has had much success.
  • The French title is Le Zero et l'Infini, meaning "Zero and Infinity". Like Darkness at Noon, it reflects Koestler's lifelong obsession with the meeting of opposites, and dialectics.