Darkness at Noon, as George Orwell describes, is a political book that “cannot be read simply as a story dealing with the adventures of an imaginary individual.” Although fictitious, Darkness at Noon draws from the author’s own political experiences with the Soviet Union in the 1930’s and, as a result, exudes nothing but a harsh realistic tenor that places the reader inside a totalitarian regime.
Journalist and novelist, Arthur Koestler, was born in Budapest and educated in Austria. In 1931, Koestler joined the Communist Party of Germany. Due to his political allegiance, in 1937, while acting as a correspondent in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, Koestler was imprisoned by Francisco Franco, kept in solitary confinement, and sentenced to death. Fortunately for the literary world, Koestler was ultimately exchanged for a political prisoner held by Franco’s adversaries and was released before his sentence was lethally executed. Eventually disillusioned by Stalin’s practices, Koestler resigned from the Communist Party in 1938. Koestler’s firsthand political experiences were dismal, but it was those experiences with the Party and his imprisonment which lead him to write his darkly definitive masterpiece Darkness at Noon, whose power and influence have not been diminished by either the fall of widespread communism or the end of the Cold War.
In his allegorical novel and behind the bespectacled eyes of the narrative’s protagonist, Koestler wages war within the mind of Nicholas Rubashov, who is introduced as a founding father of an unnamed party, yet presumably one lead by Joseph Stalin. Rubashov’s character is a collective of a number of men, several of whom were personally known to the author, who were the victims of the so-called “Moscow show-trials,” which persecuted Old Bolsheviks and other nationalists suspected of behavior in opposition to Stalin and the new government of the Soviet Union.
Just as a trusted watchdog can viciously turn on his owner, the Party Rubashov helped create and the cause he devoted his life to, turned its wrath on another of its own and imprisoned him on suspicion of treason. Within the theater of his interrogations while imprisoned, the narrative flashes between present day and Rubashov’s career within the Party as one of its elite, showcasing the sacrifices he made for the “greater good.” His remembrances of the past provided Rubashov with a critical perspective which was unacceptable to the stability of the Party. The core of the story is the interplay between “old guard intellectualism” and the new generation “Neanderthals.” This generational gap creates a sounding board upon which the ideals that created the regime are balanced against the implementation of the necessities required to maintain it. As the novel concludes, Rubashov reaches an understanding of what is required to come to fruition. A creature of the Party, Rubashov makes the ultimate sacrifice to further “the cause” by eventually confessing to crimes which he did not commit and, therefore, signing his own death warrant. The question of why Rubashov chose this fate has been debated for decades.
Due to its enormous impact on society, Darkness at Noon has been acclaimed as one of the most important books of the twentieth century. Written so convincingly, the book has been used as a reference for adversaries of communism and other totalitarianisms. Seen as a condemnation of the ideal that, “the end justifies the means,” Darkness at Noon continues to shake the very foundation of a socialist utopia.
This volume has been photographically reproduced from the first English language edition of 1941.