novel - Darkness at Noon

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					                   Darkness at Noon


Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon as the second part of a trilogy: the first volume was The
Gladiators (1939), first published in Hungarian. It was a novel about the subversion of the
Spartacus revolt. The third novel was Arrival and Departure (1943), about a refugee during
World War II. By then living in London, Koestler wrote that novel in English. Of these two,
only The Gladiators has had much sales success.[citation needed]

Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon in German while living in Paris. His companion, the
sculptor Daphne Hardy, translated it into English during early 1940 while she was living with
him in Paris. The German text was lost as Koestler and Hardy escaped Paris separately during
May 1940, just before the German army occupation after its defeat of the French. On
reaching England, Hardy began arranging to have the manuscript published.

Koestler joined the French Foreign Legion, deserted it in North Africa, and eventually made
his way to Portugal.[1] Waiting in Lisbon for passage to England, Koestler heard a false report
that the ship taking Hardy to England had been torpedoed and all persons lost (along with his
only manuscript); he attempted suicide.[2][3] (He wrote about this incident in Scum of the
Earth (1941), his memoir of that period.) Koestler finally arrived in London, and the book
was published there during early 1941.


Darkness At Noon is an allegory set in the USSR (not named) during the 1938 purges, as
Stalin consolidated his dictatorship by eliminating potential rivals within the Communist
Party, the military, and the professions. None of this is identified explicitly in the book. Most
of the novel occurs within an unnamed prison and in the recollections of the main character

Koestler drew on his experience of being imprisoned by Francisco Franco's officials during
the Spanish Civil War, which he described in his memoir Dialog with Death. He was kept in
solitary confinement and expected to be executed. He was permitted to walk in the courtyard
in the company of other prisoners. While not beaten, he believed that other prisoners
were.[citation needed]


The main character is Nicholas Salmanovitch Rubashov, a man in his fifties of age, based on
"a number of men who were the victims of the so-called Moscow trials," several of whom
"were personally known to the author."[4] Rubashov is a stand-in for the Old Bolsheviks as a
group,[5] and Koestler uses him to explore their actions at the 1938 Moscow Show Trials.[6][7]
Secondary characters include some fellow prisoners:

      No. 402 is a Czarist army officer and veteran inmate.[8]
      "Rip Van Winkle", an old revolutionary demoralized by 20 years of solitary confinement and
       further imprisonment.[9]
      Hare-Lip, he "sends his greetings" to Rubashov, but insists on keeping his name secret.[10]

Two other secondary characters never make a direct appearance but are mentioned

      No. 1, representing Joseph Stalin, dictator of the USSR. He is symbolized by a picture, a
       "well-known color print, which hung over every bed or sideboard in the country and stared
       at people with its frozen eyes."[11]
      Old Bolsheviks. They are represented by an image in his "mind's eye, a big photograph in a
       wooden frame: the delegates to the first congress of the Party," in which they sat "at a long
       wooden table, some with their elbows propped on it, others with their hands on their knees,
       bearded and earnest."[12]

Rubashov has two interrogators:

      Ivanov, a comrade from the civil war and old friend.
      Gletkin, a young man characterized by starching his uniform so that it "cracks and groans"
       whenever he moves.[13]

Plot summary

Darkness at Noon is divided into four parts: The First Hearing, the Second Hearing, the Third
Hearing, and the Grammatical Fiction.

The First Hearing

The novel begins with Rubashov's arrest in the middle of the night by two men from the
secret police (in the USSR, it was called the NKVD). When they came for Rubashov, they
woke him from a dream in which he was being arrested by the Gestapo.[14] One of the men is
about Rubashov's age, the other is somewhat younger. The older man is formal and
courteous, the younger is brutal.[15] The difference between them introduces the first major
theme of Darkness At Noon: the passing of the older, civilized generation, and the barbarism
of their successors.

Imprisoned, Rubashov is at first relieved to be finished with the anxiety of dread during mass
arrests. He is expecting to be kept in solitary confinement until he is shot.[16] He begins to
communicate with No. 402, the man in the adjacent cell, by using a tap code. Rubashov
quickly realizes that they don't have much to discuss. Unlike Rubashov, No. 402 is not an
intellectual; he just wants to hear the details of Rubashov's latest sexual encounter. Rubashov
humors him for a time, but is too embarrassed to continue.[17]

He thinks of the Old Bolsheviks, No. 1, and the Marxist interpretation of history. Throughout
the novel Rubashov, Ivanov, and Gletkin speculate about historical processes and how
individuals and groups are affected by them. Each hopes that, no matter how vile his actions
may seem to their contemporaries, history will eventually absolve them. This is the faith that
makes the abuses of the regime tolerable as the men consider the suffering of a few thousand,
or a few million people against the happiness of future generations. They believe that gaining
the socialist utopia, which they believe is possible, will cause the imposed suffering to be

Rubashov meditates on his life: since joining the Party as a teenager, Rubashov has officered
soldiers in the field,[18] won a commendation for "fearlessness",[19] repeatedly volunteered for
hazardous assignments, endured torture[20], betrayed other communists who deviated from the
Party line,[21] and proven that he is loyal to its policies and goals. Recently he has had doubts.
Despite 20 years of power, in which the government caused the deliberate deaths and
executions of millions, the Party does not seem to be any closer to achieving the goal of a
socialist utopia. That vision seems to be receding.[22] Rubashov is at a quandary, between a
lifetime of devotion to the Party, and his conscience and the increasing evidence of his own
experience on the other.

From this point, the narrative switches back and forth between his current life as a political
prisoner and his past life as one of the Party Elite. He recalls his first visit to Berlin about
1933, after Hitler gained power. Rubashov was to purge and reorganize the German
Communists. He met with Richard, a young communist cell leader who had distributed
material contrary to the Party line. In a museum, underneath a picture of the Pieta, Rubashov
explains to Richard that he has violated Party discipline, become "objectively harmful", and
must be expelled from the Party. A Gestapo man hovers in the background with his girlfriend
on his arm. Too late, Richard realizes that Rubashov has betrayed him to the secret police. He
begs Rubashov not to "throw him to the wolves," but Rubashov leaves him quickly. Getting
into a taxicab, he realizes that the taxicab driver is also a communist. The raxicab driver
offers to give him free fare, but Rubashov pays the fare. As he travels by train, he dreams that
Richard and the taxicab driver are trying to run him over with a train.

This scene introduces the second and third major themes of Darkness At Noon. The second,
suggested repeatedly by the Pieta and other Christian imagery, is the contrast between the
brutality and modernity of Communism on the one hand, and the gentleness, simplicity, and
tradition of Christianity. Although Koestler is not suggesting a return to Christian faith, he
implies that Communism is the worse of the two alternatives.

The third theme is the contrast between the trust of the rank and file communists, and the
ruthlessness of the Party elite. The rank and file trust and admire men like Rubashov, but the
elite betrays and uses them with little thought. As Rubashov confronts the immorality of his
actions as a party chief, his abscessed tooth begins to bother him, sometimes reducing him to

Rubashov recalls being arrested soon after by the Gestapo and imprisoned for two years.
Although repeatedly tortured, he never breaks down. After the Nazis finally release him, he
returns to his country to receive a hero's welcome. No. 1's increasing power makes him
uncomfortable but he does not act in opposition; he requests a foreign assignment. No. 1 is
suspicious but grants the request. Rubashov is sent to Belgium to enforce Party discipline
among the dock workers. After the Italian invasion of Ethiopia during 1935, the League of
Nations and the Party condemned Italy and imposed an international embargo on strategic
resources, especially oil, which the Italians needed. The Belgian dock workers are determined
not to allow any shipments for Italy to pass through their port. As his government intends to
supply the Italians with oil and other resources secretly, Rubashov must convince the dock
workers that, despite the official policy, as Communists they must unload the materials and
send them to the Italians.

Their cell leader, a German communist immigrant nicknamed Little Loewy, tells Rubashov
his life's story. He is a communist who has sacrificed much for the Party, but is still
completely dedicated. When all the workers have gathered, Rubashov explains the situation.
They react with disgust and refuse his instructions. Several days later, Party publications
denounce the entire cell by name, virtually guaranteeing arrest by the Belgian authorities,
who were trying to suppress Communism. Little Loewy hangs himself. Rubashov then begins
a new assignment.

In the novel, after about a week in prison, he is brought in for the first examination or
hearing, which is conducted by Ivanov, an old friend. Also a veteran of the Civil War, he is
an Old Bolshevik who shares Rubashov's opinion of the Revolution. Rubashov had then
convinced Ivanov not to commit suicide after his leg was amputated due to war wounds.
Ivanov says that if he can persuade Rubashov to confess to the charges, he will have repaid
his debt. With confession, Rubashov can lessen his sentence, to 5 or 10 years in a labor camp,
instead of execution. He simply has to cooperate. The charges are hardly discussed, as both
men understand they are not relevant. Rubashov says that he is "tired" and doesn't "want to
play this kind of game anymore." Ivanov sends him sent back to his cell, asking him to think
about it. Ivanov implies that Rubashov can perhaps live to see the socialist utopia they've
both worked so hard to create.

The Second Hearing

The next section of the book begins with an entry in Rubashov's diary; he struggles to find his
place and that of the other Old Bolsheviks, within the Marxist interpretation of history.

Ivanov and a junior examiner, Gletkin, discuss Rubashov's fate in the prison canteen. Gletkin
urges using harsh, physical methods to demoralize the prisoner and force his confession,
while Ivanov insists that Rubashov will confess after realizing it is the only "logical" thing to
do, given his situation. Gletkin recalls that, during the collectivization of the peasants, they
could not be persuaded to surrender their individual crops until they were tortured (and
killed). Since that helped enable the ultimate goal of a socialist utopia, it was both the logical
and the virtuous thing to do. Ivanov is disgusted but cannot refute Gletkin's reasoning. Ivanov
believes in taking harsh actions to achieve the goal, but he is troubled by the suffering he
causes. Gletkin says the older man must not believe in the coming utopia. He characterizes
Ivanov as a cynic and claims to be an idealist.

Their conversation continues the theme of the new generation taking power over the old:
Ivanov is portrayed as intellectual, ironical, and at bottom humane, while Gletkin is
unsophisticated, straightforward, and unconcerned with others' suffering. Ivanov has not been
convinced by the younger man's arguments. Rubashov continues in solitary.
The Third and Fourth Hearing

Taking over the interrogation of Rubashov, Gletkin uses physical abuses, such as sleep
deprivation and forcing Rubashov to sit under a glaring lamp for hours on end, to wear him
down. Rubashov finally capitulates.

As he confesses to the false charges, Rubashov thinks of the many times he betrayed agents
in the past: Richard, the young German; Little Loewy in Belgium, and Arlova, his secretary-
mistress. He recognises that he is being treated with the same ruthlessness. His commitment
to following his logic to its final conclusion—- and his own lingering dedication to the
Party—- cause him to confess fully and publicly.

The final section of the novel begins with a four-line quotation ("Show us not the aim without
the way ...") by the German socialist Ferdinand Lasalle. The novel ends with Rubashov's


Koester's work was reviewed carefully; accounts were gradually getting to the West about the
scale of Stalin's purges and show trials.

The novel was translated into other languages: its French title is Le Zéro et l'Infini ("Zero and
Infinity"), representing Koestler's lifelong obsession with the meeting of opposites, and
dialectics.[citation needed] Le Zéro et l'Infini sold more than 400,000 copies in France.[citation needed]

The original German text was lost when Koestler fled Paris. German versions, published with
the title Sonnenfinsternis (literally "solar eclipse"), have been back translations from the
English.[citation needed]


Writers interested in the political struggles of the time followed Koestler and other Europeans
closely. The British author George Orwell wrote, "Rubashov might be called Trotsky,
Bukharin, Rakovsky or some other relatively civilised figure among the Old Bolsheviks."[23]
In 1944, Orwell noted that the best political writing in English was being done by Europeans
and other non-native British. His essay on Koestler discussed Darkness At Noon.[24] In a later
review of Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the critic Arthur Mizener said that Orwell
drew on his feelings about Koestler's handling of Rubashov's confession when he wrote his
extended section of the conversion of Winston Smith.[25]

During 1954, at the end of a long government inquiry and a show trial, Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu,
the former high-ranking Romanian Communist Party member and government official, was
sentenced to death in Romania.[26][27] According to his collaborator Belu Zilber, Pătrăşcanu
read Darkness at Noon in Paris while envoy to the 1946 Peace Conference, and took the book
back to Romania.[26][27]

Both American and European Communists considered Darkness at Noon to be anti-Stalinist
and anti-USSR. During the 1940s, numerous scriptwriters in Hollywood were still
Communists, generally having been attracted to the party during the economic and social
crises of the 1930s. According to Kenneth Lloyd Billingsley in an article published during
2000, the Communists considered Koestler's novel important enough to prevent its being
adapted for movies; the writer Dalton Trumbo, "bragged" about his success in that to the
newspaper The Worker.[28]

At the height of the media attention during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, U.S. President Bill
Clinton reportedly referred to Koestler's novel, telling an aide, "I feel like a character in the
novel 'Darkness at Noon'," and, "I am surrounded by an oppressive force that is creating a lie
about me and I can't get the truth out."[29]