Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 905
Koestler, Arthur 1905–
A Hungarian-born British writer, Koestler is best known for his novel, Darkness at Noon. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)
For a condemned man, Arthur Koestler has a remarkably healthy appetite. The bizarre quality of [The Ghost in the Machine] lies in the contrast between the first part, in which he defends with gusto the humanity of man, and the second part, in which he predicts our imminent self-destruction due to an inherent flaw in our make-up. He ends by pinning his hopes to a last-minute reprieve in the form of a hypothetical pill which would put us to rights by altering the chemistry of our brains.
John Davy, "The Great Chain of Being," in The Observer, October 15, 1967, p. 26.
Arthur Koestler has written in Hungarian and German, as well as English, and his novels have always been about the problems of revolutions, the ways in which power can corrupt not only its wielders but its victims, and (drawn from personal experience) the living nightmare of the prison and the concentration camp. Darkness at Noon, which presents the Soviet purges not as an historical abstraction but as a reality suffered by a devout revolutionary who now believes the revolution to have been betrayed, is not, like Nineteen Eighty-Four, a demented vision of the future but a faithful rendering of fact. Thieves in the Night shows the Palestinian Jews trying to build a society in the face of injustice and their own awareness of how suffering may corrupt rather than ennoble. The Gladiators takes the story of Spartacus and that slaves' revolt which the Roman historians tell us so little about, trying to make it an allegory of modern revolution (in a new State founded on hatred of oppression, how far is its ruler permitted to use oppression himself to maintain law and order?) Two terms seem inseparable from any discussion on Koestler and other practitioners of his kind of political novel; they are 'nightmare' and 'allegory'. These two words send us straight to Franz Kafka, whose fantasies have nothing to do with politics but who, nevertheless, once seemed in danger of becoming the one true mentor of political novelists in England.
Anthony Burgess, in his The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction (reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.; © 1967 by Anthony Burgess), Norton, 1967, pp. 107-08.
Throughout his life, Arthur Koestler, as gamblers would say, has put his money where his mouth is. As a Communist in civil-war Spain, only thinly disguised as a correspondent for a London paper, he lived for some time under sentence of death. Out of that experience came his novel Darkness at Noon. Like Dostoevsky's The Possessed, its metaphysic demonstrated how the sin of pride can convert pity for mankind into the power for action against man.
Koestler is a rare protean figure in modern intellectual life—a successful journalist, novelist and popular philosopher. His concern for ultimate issues and his idealistic involvement lend weight to his fiction. His wit, clarity and brilliance of exposition make his nine volumes of political, scientific and philosophical theory highly enjoyable as well as provocative. Yet all this has not kept him from being reproached by British and U.S. critics for being hung up on the concerns of the '30s. The indictment is unfair. Koestler is no warmed-over cold warrior. He belongs not only to the '30s, but to the years beyond—to the post-Hiroshima world of anguished men engaged in the great debate on man's nature, his past, his present, and his presumptive future.
"Request For Survival" (reprinted by permission of Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; © Time, Inc., 1968), in Time, March 1, 1968, pp. 85-6.
For about 10 years after the publication of [Darkness at Noon] in 1940 there was a danger that Koestler would remain in the constricting armour of his anti-Communism. For it is one of the minor but real criticisms of the whole Communist experience that it has left many good men in the aridity of a purely negative posture, unable to think or write about anything other than the iniquities of their God that failed. But Koestler saw the danger clearly enough, shed that armour (without in the least repenting of the necessary operation he had carried out) and changed himself into a philosopher of science.
Philip Toynbee, "Humanism Versus Mechanism," in The Observer, September 8, 1968, p. 27.
Part of the greatness of Darkness at Noon derives … from the way in which a deeply sophisticated and tortuous form of evil, embodied in the trials and temptations offered by Gletkin to Rubashov, is confronted with genuine moral simplicity. But in other contexts the effect is quite different. Moreover Koestler carries his moral passion into fields where its relevance is less clear. Hence the curious tone of his polemics against certain points of view in psychology.
Alasdair MacIntyre, "Doubts About Koestler," in Listener, September 12, 1968, p. 342.
For almost two decades, Koestler has steeped himself in science, philosophy, psychology and cosmology. He has written enormously and fascinatingly about Galileo, Kepler Newton, Copernicus, Descartes, the founding fathers of the modern world. He has reported significant psychological experiments which have shaken the behaviorist and Pavlovian theories of reflexes and robotry. And he himself has published his own findings about what he has called "the act of creation."…
Above all he is the European incarnate, a man without boundaries and to whom nothing human is alien.
Arnold Beichman, in The Christian Science Monitor, October 23, 1969.