Critical Overview

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George Orwell was the most influential initial critic of Darkness at Noon, which he called a “masterpiece” and explained in the New Statesman: “Brilliant as this book is as a novel, and a piece of prison literature, it is probably most valuable as an interpretation of the Moscow ‘confessions’ by someone with an inner knowledge of totalitarian methods.” Orwell wrote that the book was not received well, but Koestler’s biographers note that the book was indeed favorably reviewed. As David Cesarani writes in his biography Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind: “Praise for the novel flowed in from all quarters.” Iain Hamilton points out in Koestler: A Biography: “Kingsley Martin, editor of the New Statesman, did a great deal to promote Darkness at Noon which he described (correctly) as ‘One of the few books written in this epoch which will survive it.’”

Since its original reception, the novel has become widely famous and influential, especially as a political tool during the Cold War. Cesarani writes: “The novel was regarded as a potent anti-Communist weapon from the 1940s to the 1970s when, alongside Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984, it was a set text in schools in the USA and Britain.” It has been variously debated and attacked as a coherent philosophical work, believed and contested as a historical account of the Moscow Show Trials, and hated and loved by socialists and former socialists. Commentary on the novel, particularly on its influence over the debate about Communism, continues to be written.

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