Arthur Koestler: Wikis


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Arthur Koestler

Arthur Koestler in 1948
Born Kösztler Artúr
5 September 1905
Died 1 March 1983
Occupation Novelist, Essayist, Journalist
Nationality Hungarian, British
Ethnicity Jewish/Hungarian
Citizenship Naturalized British subject
Period 1934-1983
Subjects Fiction, Non-Fiction, History, Autobiography, Politics, Philosophy, Psychology, Parapsychology, Science
Notable work(s) Darkness at Noon
Notable award(s) Sonning Prize (1968)
CBE (1972)
Spouse(s) Dorothy Ascher (1935–50), Mamaine Paget (1950–52),
Cynthia Jefferies[1] (1965–83)
Children Christine Graetz (b. 13 April 1955)

Arthur Koestler CBE (5 September 1905, Budapest–1 March 1983, London) was an author of essays, novels and autobiographies. Koestler was born in Budapest but, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. His early career was in journalism. In 1931 he joined the Communist Party of Germany but, disillusioned, he resigned from it in 1938 and in 1940 published a devastating anti-totalitarian novel, Darkness at Noon, which propelled him to international fame.

Over the next 43 years, Koestler espoused many political causes and wrote novels, biographies, and numerous essays. In 1968 he was awarded the prestigious Sonning Prize "for outstanding contribution to European culture", and in 1972 he was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE).

In 1976 Koestler was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, and three years later with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia in its terminal stages.[2] He committed suicide along with his wife in 1983 in London.



He (Koestler) began his education in the twilight of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, at an experimental kindergarten in Budapest. His mother was briefly a patient of Sigmund Freud's. In interwar Vienna he wound up as the personal secretary of Vladimir Jabotinsky, one of the early leaders of the Zionist movement. Traveling in Soviet Turkmenistan as a young and ardent Communist sympathizer, he ran into Langston Hughes. Fighting in the Spanish civil war, he met W.H. Auden at a "crazy party" in Valencia, before winding up in one of Franco's prisons. In Weimar Berlin he fell into the circle of the infamous Comintern agent Willi Münzenberg, through whom he met the leading German Communists of the era: Johannes Becher, Hanns Eisler, Bertolt Brecht. Afraid of being caught by the Gestapo while fleeing France, he borrowed suicide pills from Walter Benjamin. He took them several weeks later when it seemed he would be unable to get out of Lisbon, but didn't die. Along the way he had lunch with Thomas Mann, got drunk with Dylan Thomas, made friends with George Orwell, flirted with Mary McCarthy, and lived in Cyril Connolly's London flat. In 1940, Koestler was released from a French detention camp, partly thanks to the intervention of Harold Nicholson and Noël Coward. In the 1950s, he helped found the Congress for Cultural Freedom, together with Mel Lasky and Sidney Hook. In the 1960s, he took LSD with Timothy Leary. In the 1970s, he was still giving lectures that impressed, among others, the young Salman Rushdie.
Anne Applebaum, reviewing Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic [3]

Origins and early life

Koestler's father, Henrik Koestler, was born on 18 August 1869 in the town of Miskolc in northeastern Hungary. Henrik's father, Leopold Koestler, was a Russian Jew who had settled in northeastern Hungary in 1860, where he married a local woman. Henrik left school at age 16 due to his parents' strained financial circumstances and took a job as an errand boy with a firm of drapers. Determined to improve his prospects, he taught himself English, German and French, and in the course of a few years obtained promotion to the sales department and eventually became a partner in the firm. A few years later, he set up his own business importing textiles into Hungary.[4][5]

Arthur's mother, Adele Koestler (née Zeiteles), was born on 25 June 1871 into a prominent Jewish family in Prague. Her father, Jacob Zeiteles, was a Viennese businessman. Adele grew up in Vienna in relative prosperity until her father met with financial misfortune in about 1890 and left for America, never to return to his family. In their reduced financial circumstances, Adele and her mother moved from Vienna to Budapest to stay with Adele's married sister.[4], pp. 8–9

In 1898 Henrik Koestler met and married Adele, and they set up their household in Budapest, where on 5 September 1905, Arthur, their only child, was born.[4] The Koestlers were relatively prosperous by local standards and lived in spacious, well-furnished, rented apartments in various predominantly Jewish districts of Budapest, large enough to accommodate a resident cook/housekeeper as well as a foreign governess during Arthur's early years.[4], p. 20

Arthur's primary school education started in a local school at age six. The outbreak of World War I in 1914 deprived Henrik Koestler of his foreign suppliers, and his business collapsed. Facing destitution, the Koestlers gave up their Budapest apartment and moved temporarily to a boarding house in Vienna. From that point, the family never again had a permanent home neither in Budapest nor in Vienna, moving frequently from one boarding house to another.[4][6], p. 24, 26–27 In 1916 Arthur was entrusted to the care of a small boarding school in Baden, near Vienna.[4], pp. 24–25

When the war ended, the Koestlers returned to Budapest, and in 1918 Arthur witnessed at first hand the political chaos that followed the end of the war: the short-lived Hungarian Bolshevik Revolution of 1919, the temporary occupation of Budapest by the Rumanian Army, and finally the White Terror under the right-wing regime of Admiral Horthy.[4][7], p. 26

In 1920 the family moved to Vienna once again and in September 1922 Arthur enrolled at the Vienna Polytechnical University to study engineering.[4], pp. 24–25 At the same time he also enrolled in a Zionist duelling student fraternity, one of the many different student societies there at the time.[8]

In the autumn of 1925, a few months before his final exams Arthur, in an "unpremeditated and inexplicable act", burned his Matriculation Book, effectively putting an end to his prospect of graduating from the university.[9] The Matriculation Book contained the records of examinations he had passed, the courses attended and other relevant details and it was irreplaceable; graduating without the book was virtually impossible. In the middle of March 1926, Koestler wrote a long and dishonest letter to his parents, telling them that he was going to Palestine for a year as an assistant engineer in a factory and that on his return home the experience will put him in good stead for finding a well-paid job in Austria and laying the foundations for his future prosperity. On 1 April 1926 he left Vienna for Palestine.[10]

1926-1931 Palestine, Paris and Berlin

Koestler arrived in Palestine in April 1926 and for a few weeks lived in an agricultural collective. However, his application to join the collective, (Kvutzat Heftziba), was rejected by its members.[11] For the next twelve months he supported himself by whatever menial work or commercial enterprise he could find in the cities of Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but for most of the time he was penniless and starving, and frequently had to depend on the kindness of friends and acquaintances for survival.[12] His occasional involvement with the writing or editing of broadsheets and other publications, mostly in German, were all short-lived. In the spring of 1927 he left Palestine briefly, to run the Secretariat of Jabotinsky's Revisionist Party in Berlin. Later that same year, through the intervention of a friend, Koestler obtained the position of Middle East correspondent for the prestigious Berlin-based Ullstein-Verlag group of newspapers. He returned to Jerusalem and for the next two years produced a succession of detailed political essays, as well as some lighter reportage, for his principal employer and for other newspapers. He travelled extensively, interviewed heads of state, kings, presidents and prime ministers[13] and greatly enhanced his reputation as a journalist. But by 1929 Koestler was tired of living in Palestine and in June 1929, while on leave in Berlin, he successfully lobbied at Ullstein for a transfer away from Palestine.[14] In September he was sent to Paris to fill a vacancy in the bureau of the Ullstein News Service. A year later, in 1931, he was called to Berlin and appointed science editor of Vossische Zeitung and science adviser to the entire Ullstein newspaper empire.[15] The same year he was Ullstein's natural choice to represent the paper on board the Graf Zeppelin airship which carried a team of scientists over the Arctic to the North Pole and back. Koestler was the only journalist on board and his live wireless broadcasts and subsequent articles and lecture tours throughout Europe brought him further kudos. Soon after that he was appointed foreign editor and assistant editor-in-chief of the mass-circulation Berliner Zeitung am Mittag.[16][17] Throughout 1931 Koestler had been moving closer to the Communist ideology and on 31 December 1931, he applied for membership of the Communist Party of Germany.[18]

The 1930s

Koestler wrote a book on the Soviet Five-Year Plan but it did not meet with the approval of the Soviet authorities and it was never published. In September 1933 he returned to Paris and for the next two years was active in anti-Fascist movements writing propaganda under the direction of Willy Muenzenberg, the Comintern's chief propaganda director in the West.

In 1935 he married Dorothy Ascher, a fellow Communist activist (they separated amicably in 1937).[19] In 1936, during the Spanish Civil War he undertook a visit to General Franco's headquarters in Seville on behalf the Comintern but using the London daily News Chronicle as cover.[20] He had to escape when recognised and denounced as a Communist by a former German colleague. Back in France he wrote L'Espagne Ensanglantée, which was later incorporated into his book Spanish Testament. In 1937 he returned to Loyalist Spain as a war correspondent of News Chronicle but was captured by the Nationalist rebels. From February until June he was imprisoned under sentence of death. He was eventually exchanged for a 'high value' Nationalist prisoner held by the Loyalists, the wife of one of Franco's ace fighter pilots.

After his release he returned to France and in order to support himself accepted an offer to author a sex encyclopaedia, which was published to great success under the title The Encyclopœdia of Sexual Knowledge by the joint authors of 'Drs. A. Costler, A. Willy, and Others'.[21] In July 1938, he finished work on his novel The Gladiators. Later that year he resigned from the Communist Party and started work on a new novel that in 1941 was to be published in London with the title Darkness at Noon. That same year, 1938, he became editor of the German weekly paper in Paris Zukunft (The Future)[22] In 1939 he met and formed an attachment to the sculptor Daphne Hardy, who subsequently translated the manuscript of Darkness at Noon from German into English and smuggled it out of France for publication in London.

The war years, 1940-45

After the outbreak of World War II the French authorities detained him for several months in Le Vernet Internment Camp as an 'undesirable alien'.[23] They released him in early 1940 due to strong British pressure. Koestler described the period 1939 to 1940 and his incarceration in Le Vernet in his book Scum of the Earth. Shortly before the German invasion of France, in order to get out of the country, he joined the French Foreign Legion, deserted it in North Africa, and made his way to England.[24]

Arriving in England without an entry permit he was imprisoned pending examination of his case. He was still in prison when his book Darkness at Noon was published in early 1941. Immediately upon release he volunteered for army service and while awaiting his call-up papers and a posting he wrote Scum of the Earth (January-March 1941), which was the first book he wrote in English. For the next twelve months he served in the Pioneer Corps

January 1945, Kibbutz Ein Hashofet, Koestler is 5th from the right

In March 1942 he was assigned to the Ministry of Information where he worked as a scriptwriter for propaganda broadcasts and films.[25] In his spare time he wrote a novel, Arrival and Departure, and a number of essays, which were subsequently collected and published in The Yogi and the Commissar. One of the essays, titled On Disbelieving Atrocities, (originally published in the New York Times)[26] dealt with the Nazi atrocities being committed against the Jews, as did several of his other articles at the time. Daphne Hardy, who had been doing war work in Oxford, joined him in London in 1943 but they parted company a few months later, although they remained very good friends until Koestler's death.[27] In December 1944 he travelled to Palestine with an accreditation from The Times newspaper. There he had a clandestine meeting with the head of the Irgun underground organisation, Menachem Begin, who was wanted by the British and had a £500 bounty on his head, but Koestler failed to persuade him to abandon militant attacks and accept the prospect of a two-state solution for Palestine after the war. Many years later, Koestler wrote in his memoirs: “When the meeting was over, I realized how naïve I had been to imagine that my arguments would have even the slightest influence.”[28]

He stayed in Palestine until August 1945, collecting material for his next book Thieves in the Night, then returned to England, where the new woman in his life, Mamaine Paget, was waiting for him.[29][30]

The post-war years


In January 1949 he and Mamaine moved to a house he bought in France, where he wrote a contribution to The God That Failed and finished work on Promise and Fulfilment. The book received poor reviews both in the U.S. and in England. His other book to come out in 1949 was Insight and Outlook. This too received lukewarm reviews. In July he commenced work on the first volume of his autobiography, Arrow in the Blue. In the same month a new part-time secretary started working for him, Cynthia Jefferies, who eventually would become his third wife. In the autumn he started work on The Age of Longing on which he continued to work until the summer of 1950.

During the summer he had reached agreement with his first wife, Dorothy, for an amicable divorce and their marriage was annulled on 15 December 1949.[31]. This cleared the way for his marriage to Mamaine Paget,[32] which took place on 15 April 1950 at the British Consulate in Paris.[33] In June he delivered a major speech at the CIA-front Congress for Cultural Freedom held in Berlin. In the autumn he went to the United States on a lecture tour and was at the same time actively lobbying for permanent resident status in the U.S. for himself. At the end of October, entirely on impulse and virtually unseen, he bought a small island with a house on it on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania with the intention of living there at least for part of each year.[34]

For the next two years, 1945–47, Koestler worked on Insight and Outlook. In March 1948 he went on a literary and political lecture tour in the United States. When soon after his return from the U.S. war broke out between the newly declared State of Israel and the neighbouring Arab states, he travelled to Israel with accreditations from several newspapers, American, British and French.[35] Mamaine Paget went with him. They arrived in Israel on 4 June and stayed there until October.[36] Later that year they decided to leave England for a while and move to France. News that his long-pending application for British nationality had been granted reached him in France in late December. Early in the new year (1949) he returned to London to swear the oath of allegiance to the British Crown.[37] In January 1949 he and Mamaine moved to a house he bought in France. That same year his book Insight and Outlook was published. He commenced work on his autobiography Arrow in the Blue, assisted by his new part-time secretary, Cynthia Jefferies.

In June he delivered a major speech at the Congress for Cultural Freedom held in Berlin. In the autumn he went to the United States on a lecture tour and was at the same time actively lobbying for permanent resident status in the U.S. for himself. While in the United States he bought a small island with a house on it on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania with the intention of living there at least for part of each year.[34] In January 1951 the dramatized version of Darkness at Noon, by Sidney Kingsley, opened in New York. Critics loved the play and it won the New York Drama Critics' Award. Koestler donated all royalties from the play to a fund he set up for helping struggling authors, “Fund for Intellectual Freedom" (FIF)[38] In 1951 the last of his political works, The Age of Longing, was published in which he examined the political landscape of post-war Europe and the problems facing Europe.

In August 1952 his oft-troubled marriage to Mamaine collapsed. They separated but remained very close right up to her sudden and unexpected death in June 1954.[39][40] The book Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51, edited by Mamaine's twin sister Celia Goodman, gives useful insight into their lives together over those years. After their separation he abandoned earlier plans for living overseas and decided to make his permanent home in England. In May 1953 he bought a three-storey Georgian town house on Montpelier Square in London and sold his houses in France as well as the one in the United States. The first two volumes of his autobiography, Arrow in the Blue, which covers his life up to December 1931 when he joined the German Communist Party, and The Invisible Writing, which covers the years 1932 to 1940, were published in 1952 and 1954 respectively. A collection of essays, The Trail of the Dinosaur and Other Essays, largely on the perils facing civilization, was published in 1955. On 13 April 1955, Janine Graetz, with whom Koestler had an on-off relationship over a period of years in the 1950s, gave birth to a daughter fathered by him.[41] Koestler had virtually no contact with his daughter throughout his life in spite of repeated attempts by Janine to persuade him to meet Cristina and take some interest in her.

Koestler's main polemic during 1955 was his campaign for the abolition of capital punishment and hanging. In July he started work on Reflections on Hanging. Later that same month his former secretary, Cynthia Jefferies, arrived from New York, where she was living at the time, for a few weeks holiday and she was pleased to resume former relations with him, both professional and private. When her extended stay in London was over she returned to New York. In early November, Koestler cabled Jefferies asking her to come back to London for six months to resume secretarial work for him. Jefferies was delighted to oblige. She wound up her affairs in New York and by the end of the month was back in London working for him and with him at the house on Montpelier Square – and she stayed with him for the rest of her life, and his.


Although Koestler resumed work on Kepler's biography in 1955 it was not published until 1959, and in the interim it acquired the title The Sleepwalkers. The emphasis of the book changed to A history of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe', which became also the book's subtitle. Copernicus and Galileo were added to Kepler as the major subjects of the book. There was plenty to distract Koestler from work. Early in the year it was Jefferies unintended pregnancy and arrangements for an illegal abortion.[42] In October it was the Hungarian uprising and for the next two months he was busy organising anti-Soviet meetings and protests.

In June 1957 Koestler gave a lecture at a symposium in Alpbach, Austria, and fell in love with the village; bought land there, had a house built and for the next twelve years used it as a place for summer vacations and for organising symposia.

In May 1958 he had a hernia operation.[43] In December he left for the East - India and Japan - and was away until the spring of 1959. The resulting book was The Lotus and the Robot.

In the spring of 1960, on his way back from a conference in San Francisco, he interrupted his journey at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where some experimental research was going on with hallucinogens. He tried psilocybin but had a 'bad trip'. Later, when he arrived at Harvard to see Timothy Leary he partook in further experiments with drugs but wasn't enthusiastic about that trip either.[44] In November 1960 he was elected to a Fellowship of The Royal Society of Literature.

The year 1962 was notable for the debate about whether Britain should join the European Common Market. Koestler was strongly in favour of joining and he was greatly disappointed when, in January 1963, Britain's application to join was rejected.

1963 was made notable by Willy Brandt's courtesy call on Koestler in Alpbach. Brandt was Mayor of Berlin at the time.[45] Koestler's book The Act of Creation came out in May 1964. In November he undertook a lecture tour of various universities in California.

The main event of 1965 was his marriage in New York, on 8 January, to Cynthia Jefferies.[46] They then proceeded to California, where, at the Center for Advanced Studies at Stanford, he participated in a series of seminars.

Koestler spent most of 1966 and the early months of 1967 working on The Ghost in the Machine. In his article Return Trip to Nirvana, published in 1967 in the Sunday Telegraph, Koestler wrote about the drug culture and his own experiences with hallucinogens. The article also challenged the defence of drugs in Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception.

In April 1968, Koestler was awarded the prestigious and valuable Sonning Prize “For outstanding contribution to European culture”. The Ghost in the Machine was published in August of same year and in the autumn he received an honorary doctorate from Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. In the later part of November the Koestlers flew to Australia for a number of television appearances and press interviews, but the experience was not a happy one for him.

At the end of the decade, Koestler was elated to learn that the House of Lords had finally gave their consent to the abolition of hanging for which he had been campaigning for many years.

The first half of the 1970s saw the publication of four more of his books: The Case of the Midwife Toad (1971), The Roots of Coincidence and The Call Girls (both in 1972), and The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973 (1974).

In the New Year Honours List for 1972, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Final years, 1976-83

Early in 1976 Koestler was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. The trembling of his hand made writing progressively more difficult.[47] He cut back on overseas trips and spent the summer months at the farmhouse in Denston, Suffolk, which he had bought in 1971. That same year saw the publication of The Thirteenth Tribe.

In 1978 he published Janus: A Summing Up. Two years later, in 1980, he was diagnosed also with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Walking and writing became an effort and Koestler's physical condition visibly deteriorated[48] but he kept on working. His book Bricks to Babel was published that year. His final book, Kaleidoscope: Essays from Drinkers of Infinity and The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973 and some later pieces and stories was published the following year, 1981.

During the final years of his life he established the KIB Society (with Brian Inglis and Tony Bloomfield), to sponsor research 'outside the scientific orthodoxies' (which, after his death, was renamed The Koestler Foundation), and in his capacity as Vice President of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society, later renamed EXIT, he wrote a powerful pamphlet on suicide, outlining the case both for and against, with a section dealing specifically with how best to do it.[49]

Koestler and Cynthia ended their own lives on the evening of 1 March 1983.[50][51]

Death and its controversies

Koestler had stated more than once that he was not afraid of being dead but was afraid of the process of dying.[52] He did not wish to suffer the indignity of losing control over his body or mind. His suicide was not unexpected among close friends. Shortly before his suicide his doctor had discovered a swelling in the groin which indicated a metastasis of the cancer. He and his wife killed themselves on 1 March 1983[53][54][55] with an overdose of barbiturates (Tuinal), taken with alcohol.[56] Their bodies were discovered on the morning of 3 March, by which time they had been dead for thirty-six hours.

Koestler's suicide note:[57]

To whom it may concern. The purpose of this note is to make it unmistakably clear that I intend to commit suicide by taking an overdose of drugs without the knowledge or aid of any other person. The drugs have been legally obtained and hoarded over a considerable period. Trying to commit suicide is a gamble the outcome of which will be known to the gambler only if the attempt fails, but not if it succeeds. Should this attempt fail and I survive it in a physically or mentally impaired state, in which I can no longer control what is done to me, or communicate my wishes, I hereby request that I be allowed to die in my own home and not be resuscitated or kept alive by artificial means. I further request that my wife, or a physician, or any friend present, should invoke habeas corpus against any attempt to remove me forcibly from my house to hospital.
My reasons for deciding to put an end to my life are simple and compelling: Parkinson's Disease and the slow-killing variety of leukaemia (CCI). I kept the latter a secret even from intimate friends to save them distress. After a more or less steady physical decline over the last years, the process has now reached an acute state which added complications which make it advisable to seek self-deliverance now, before I become incapable of making the necessary arrangements.
I wish my friends to know that I am leaving their company in a peaceful frame of mind, with some timid hopes for a de-personalised after-life beyond due confines of space, time and matter and beyond the limits of our comprehension. This 'oceanic feeling' has often sustained me at difficult moments, and does so now, while I am writing this.
What makes it nevertheless hard to take this final step is the reflection of the pain it is bound to inflict on my surviving friends, above all my wife Cynthia. It is to her that I owe the relative peace and happiness that I enjoyed in the last period of my life – and never before.

The above note was dated June 1982. Below it appeared the following:

Since the above was written in June 1982, my wife decided that after thirty-four years of working together she could not face life after my death.

Further down the page appeared Cynthia's own farewell note:

I fear both death and the act of dying that lies ahead of us. I should have liked to finish my account of working for Arthur – a story which began when our paths happened to cross in 1949. However, I cannot live without Arthur, despite certain inner resources.
Double suicide has never appealed to me, but now Arthur's incurable diseases have reached a stage where there is nothing else to do.

The funeral was held at the Mortlake Crematorium in South London on 11 March.[50]

The first controversy arose about why he allowed or consented to his wife's simultaneous suicide. She was only fifty-five years old and believed to be in good health. In a typewritten addition to her husband's suicide note Cynthia Koestler wrote that she could not live without her husband. Reportedly, few of their friends were surprised by this admission, apparently perceiving that Cynthia lived her life through her husband's and that she had no 'life of her own'.[58] Her total and absolute devotion to Koestler can be seen clearly in her partially completed memoirs.[59] In addition, had she survived her husband's suicide, she might have faced criminal charges for assisting him with the suicide.[citation needed]

This said, according to a profile of Koestler by Peter Kurth:[60]

All their friends were troubled by what Julian Barnes calls "the unmentionable, half-spoken question" of Koestler's responsibility for Cynthia's actions. "Did he bully her into it?" asks Barnes. And "if he didn't bully her into it, why didn't he bully her out of it?" Because, with hindsight, the evidence that Cynthia's life had been ebbing with her husband's was all too apparent.

The second controversy was occasioned by the terms of his Will. With the exception of some minor bequests Koestler left the residue of his estate, about £1 million, to promote research into the paranormal through the founding of a Chair in Parapsychology at a university in Britain. The Trustees of the Estate had great difficulty finding a university willing to establish such a Chair. Oxford, Cambridge, King's College London and University College London, were approached and all refused. Eventually, the Trustees reached agreement with Edinburgh University to set up a chair in accordance with Koestler's request.[61]

Controversial personal life

Koestler's relations with women have been a source of controversy. In 1998, a biography of Koestler by David Cesarani alleged that Koestler had been a serial rapist and that the British writer Jill Craigie had been one of his victims in 1951. Craigie confirmed the allegations.[62] In his biography Koestler: The Indispensable Intellectual, Michael Scammell countered that Craigie was the only woman to go on record that she had been raped by Koestler, and had only revealed this in public 50 years after the alleged incident.

Scammell admits that Koestler could certainly be rough and sexually aggressive, and others (including Cesarani) claim that Koestler had misogynistic tendencies, reportedly engaging in endless seductions and generally treating the women in his life badly. As argued by Geoffrey Wheatcroft in a review of Cesarani's biography, philandering on this scale is neurotic: a man driven to copulate with as many women as possible not only has difficulty establishing happy relations with women, or regarding them as equals, but does not actually like women.[63][64][65]

Influence and legacy

It is difficult to think of a single important twentieth-century intellectual who did not cross paths with Arthur Koestler, or a single important twentieth-century intellectual movement that Koestler did not either join or oppose. From progressive education and Freudian psychoanalysis through Zionism, communism, and existentialism to psychedelic drugs, parapsychology, and euthanasia, Koestler was fascinated by every philosophical fad, serious and unserious, political and apolitical, of his era.
— Anne Applebaum, The New York Review Of Books [3]

Darkness at Noon was one of the most influential anti-Communist books ever written.[66] Its influence in Europe on Communists and sympathisers and, indirectly, on the outcomes of elected governments, was substantial.[67] Ultimately, a writer's legacy is the body of his writing. Koestler wrote several major novels, two volumes of autobiographical works, two volumes of reportage, a major work on the history of science, several volumes of essays and a considerable body of other writing and articles on subjects as varied as genetics, euthanasia, Eastern mysticism, neurology, chess, evolution, psychology, the paranormal and more.[68]

Politics and causes

Koestler embraced a multitude of political as well as non-political issues. Zionism, Communism, anti-Communism, voluntary euthanasia, abolition of capital punishment, particularly hanging, and the abolition of quarantining of dogs being re-imported into the United Kingdom are examples.

Paranormal and scientific interests

During the last 30 years of his life, Koestler wrote extensively on science and scientific practice. A case in point is his 1971 book The Case of the Midwife Toad about the biologist Paul Kammerer, who claimed to find experimental support for Lamarckian inheritance. Mysticism and a fascination with the paranormal also imbued much of his later work.

In The Roots of Coincidence he took an overview of the scientific research around telepathy and psychokinesis and compared it with the advances in quantum physics at that time. It mentions yet another line of unconventional research by Paul Kammerer, the theory of coincidence or synchronicity. He also presents critically the related writings of Carl Jung. More controversial were Koestler's levitation and telepathy studies and experiments.


In Return Trip to Nirvana, published in the Sunday Telegraph in 1967, Koestler wrote about the drug culture and his own experiences with hallucinogens. The article also challenged the defence of drugs in Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception.


Koestler was a secular Jew. In an interview published in the London Jewish Chronicle in 1950 he argued that Jews should either migrate to Israel or assimilate completely into their local cultures.[69][70][71]

In The Thirteenth Tribe (1976), he advanced the controversial thesis that Ashkenazi Jews are not descended from the Israelites of antiquity, but from the Khazars, a Turkic people in the Caucasus who converted to Judaism in the 8th century and were later forced westward into present-day Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Koestler argued that by proving Ashkenazi Jews to have no connection with the biblical Jews, European anti-Semitism would lose all basis.

The book received numerous attacks but became immensely popular, and many scholars have expanded upon his thesis, including Israeli historian Shlomo Sand.


Koestler's mother tongue was Hungarian. However, at home, the family spoke mostly German. Thus from early life he was fluent in both languages. It is likely that he picked up some Yiddish too, through contact with his grandfather.[72] By the time of his teens he was fluent in Hungarian, German, French and English[73].

During his years in Palestine he became sufficiently fluent in Hebrew to write stories in that language[74] and during his years in the Soviet Union, (1932–33), although he arrived there with a vocabulary of only 1000 words of Russian, and no grammar,[75] he picked up enough colloquial Russian to be able to speak the language.

The Gladiators was the first novel that Koestler wrote and the only one written in Hungarian. All his other works up to 1940 were written in German. After 1940 he wrote only in English. (L'Espagne ensanglantée was translated into French from German.[76])

Published works



  • 1945. Twilight Bar.


NB The books The Lotus and the Robot, The God that Failed, and Von weissen Nächten und roten Tagen, as well as his numerous essays, all may contain further autobiographical information.

Other non-fiction

  • 1934. Von weissen Nächten und roten Tagen. About Koestler's travels in the USSR. In his The Invisible Writing, Koestler calls the book Red Days and White Nights, or, more usually, Red Days. Of the five foreign language editions − Russian, German, Ukrainian, Georgian, Armenian − which were intended, only the German version was eventually published, "thoroughly expurgated", in Kharkov, Ukrainian S.S.R., and the work is therefore very scarce.
  • 1937. L'Espagne ensanglantée.
  • 1941 Scum of the Earth. Account of his life in France before and after the outbreak of World War Two, with a detailed account of his internment at Le Vernet, the French concentration camp for undesirable aliens.
  • 1945. The Yogi and the Commissar and other essays.
  • 1949. The Challenge of our Time.
  • 1949. Promise and Fulfilment: Palestine 1917-1949.
  • 1949. Insight and Outlook.
  • 1955. The Trail of the Dinosaur and other essays.
  • 1956. Reflections on Hanging.
  • 1959. The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe. ISBN 0-14-019246-8   An account of changing scientific paradigms.
  • 1960. The Watershed: A Biography of Johannes Kepler. (excerpted from The Sleepwalkers.) ISBN 0-385-09576-7
  • 1960. The Lotus and the Robot, ISBN 0-09-059891-1. Koestler's journey to India and Japan, and his assessment of East and West.
  • 1961. Control of the Mind.
  • 1961. Hanged by the Neck. Reuses some material from Reflections on Hanging.
  • 1963. Suicide of a Nation.
  • 1964. The Act of Creation.
  • 1967. The Ghost in the Machine. Penguin reprint 1990: ISBN 0-14-019192-5.
  • 1968. Drinkers of Infinity: Essays 1955-1967.
  • 1970. The Age of Longing, ISBN 0-09-104520-7.
  • 1971. The Case of the Midwife Toad, ISBN 0-394-71823-2. An account of Paul Kammerer's research on Lamarckian evolution and what he called "serial coincidences".
  • 1972. The Roots of Coincidence, ISBN 0-394-71934-4. Sequel to The Case of the Midwife Toad.
  • 1973. The Lion and the Ostrich.
  • 1974. The Heel of Achilles: Essays 1968-1973, ISBN 0091194008.
  • 1976. The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage, ISBN 0-394-40284-7.
  • 1976. Astride the Two Cultures: Arthur Koestler at 70, ISBN 0-394-40063-1.
  • 1977. Twentieth Century Views: A Collection of Critical Essays, ISBN 0-13-049213-2.
  • 1978. Janus: A Summing Up, ISBN 0-394-50052-0. Sequel to The Ghost in the Machine
  • 1980. Bricks to Babel. Random House, ISBN 0-394-51897-7. This 1980 anthology of passages from many of his books, described as "A selection from 50 years of his writings, chosen and with new commentary by the author", is a comprehensive introduction to Koestler's writing and thought.
  • 1981. Kaleidoscope. Essays from Drinkers of Infinity and The Heel of Achilles, plus later pieces and stories.

Writings as a contributor

  • The God That Failed (1950) (collection of testimonies by ex-Communists)
  • Attila, the Poet (1954) (Encounter ; ; 1954.2 (5)). On loan at the UCL library of the School of Slavonic & Eastern European Studies.
  • UCL library online
  • Beyond Reductionism: The Alpbach Symposium. New Perspectives in the Life Sciences (co-editor with J.R. Smythies, 1969), ISBN 0-8070-1535-0
  • The Challenge of Chance: A Mass Experiment in Telepathy and Its Unexpected Outcome (1973)
  • The Concept of Creativity in Science and Art (1976)
  • Life After Death, (co-editor, 1976)
  • Humour and Wit. I: Encyclopædia Britannica. 15th ed. vol. 9.(1983)
  • humour - Encyclopædia Britannica (by Arthur Koestler)

Biographies of Koestler

  • Atkins, J., 1956. Arthur Koestler.
  • Buckard, Christian G., 2004. Arthur Koestler: Ein extremes Leben 1905-1983. ISBN 3-406-52177-0.
  • Cesarani, David, 1998. Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind. ISBN 0-684-86720-6.
  • Hamilton, Iain, 1982. Koestler: A Biography. ISBN 0-02-547660-2.
  • Koestler, Mamaine, 1985. Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51. ISBN 0-297-78531-1 or ISBN 0-312-49029-1.
  • Levene, M., 1984. Arthur Koestler. ISBN 0-8044-6412-X
  • Mikes, George, 1983. Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship. ISBN 0-233-97612-4.
  • Pearson, S. A., 1978. Arthur Koestler. ISBN 0-8057-6699-5.
  • Scammell, Michael, Koestler: The Literary and Political Odyssey of a Twentieth-Century Skeptic. New York, Random House, 2009. ISBN 9780394576305. (Also published in UK as Koestler. The Indispensable Intellectual, London, Faber, 2010. ISBN 9780571138531.)

NB Langston Hughes's autobiography also documents their meeting in Turkestan during the Soviet era.

See also

  • German Writers in French Exile, 1933-1940, by Martin Mauthner (London: 2007), ISBN : 978 0 85303 540 4.


Key to abbreviations used for frequently quoted sources

  • CG Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51 (Celia Goodman, Ed.)
  • GM Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship (George Mikes)
  1. ^ There is a discrepancy between the various biographers in the spelling of the surname. David Cesarani uses the spelling Jeffries, Iain Hamilton, Harold Harris (in his Introduction to Living with Koestler: Mamaine Koestler's Letters 1945-51, Celia Goodman in the same book and Mark Levene in Arthur Koestler spell it Jefferies.
  2. ^ A. & C. Koestler (ACK) Stranger on the Square, London: Hutchinson 1984, ISBN 978-0-09-154330-3, p.10
  3. ^ a b Did The Death Of Communism Take Koestler And Other Literary Figures With It? by Anne Applebaum, The Huffington Post, January 26, 2010
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Cesarani, David (1998). Arthur Koestler: The Homeless Mind. William Heinemann. ISBN 0434113050. 
  5. ^ Arthur Koestler, "Arrow in the Blue" (AIB), Collins with Hamish Hamilton, 1952, p.21
  6. ^ AIB p.39
  7. ^ AIB pp.59-69
  8. ^ AIB p.86
  9. ^ AIB p.115
  10. ^ AIB pp.115-21
  11. ^ AIB p.125-132
  12. ^ AIB p.137, p.165
  13. ^ Cesarani p57
  14. ^ AIB pp.183-86
  15. ^ AIB p.212
  16. ^ Cesarani pp.69-70
  17. ^ Hamilton, David. (Hamilton) Koestler, Secker & Warburg, London 1982, ISBN 0436191016, p.14
  18. ^ AIB pp.303-04
  19. ^ ACK p.24
  20. ^ Koestler, Dialogue with Death, Arrow books, London 1961, p.7, (No ISBN)
  21. ^ IW p.260
  22. ^ IW p.495
  23. ^ IW p.509
  24. ^ ACK pp.20-22
  25. ^ ACK p.28
  26. ^ January 1944
  27. ^ Celia Goodman, ed. (CG), Living With Koestler, Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London 1985, ISBN 0297785311, p.7
  28. ^ ACK p.37
  29. ^ ACK pp. 29-38
  30. ^ CG p.21
  31. ^ CG p.120
  32. ^ CG p.120 & p.131
  33. ^ CG p.131
  34. ^ a b Cesarani pp. 375-76
  35. ^ Hamilton, p.146
  36. ^ CG pp.84 & 94
  37. ^ Cesarani p.325
  38. ^ ACK pp103-07
  39. ^ ACK pp.139-40
  40. ^ CG p.193
  41. ^ Cesarani p.425
  42. ^ Cesarani, p.443
  43. ^ Cesarani p.453
  44. ^ Cesarani pp.467-68
  45. ^ Cesarani p.480
  46. ^ Cesarani p.484
  47. ^ Cesarani p.535
  48. ^ Cesarani p.542
  49. ^ Cesarani p.542-43
  50. ^ a b Cesarani p.547
  51. ^ George Mikes, Arthur Koestler: The Story of a Friendship, Andre Deutsch, London 1983, p.76. ISBN 0233976124
  52. ^ GM p.75
  53. ^ GM p.76
  54. ^ Cesarani p.546
  55. ^ ACK p.11
  56. ^ GM pp.75-78
  57. ^ GM pp.78-79. (This information is in the public domain).
  58. ^ ACK pp.10-11
  59. ^ ACK Part Two
  60. ^ "Koestler'S Legacy". 1983-03-03. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  61. ^ Cesarani p.551
  62. ^ "Women force removal of Koestler bust". BBC. December 29, 1998. Retrieved 2009-07-19. 
  63. ^ "The darkness at noon for Arthur Koestler was in his heart...". New Statesman. 1998-11-20. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  64. ^ "Storm as Raphael defends rapist Koestler - News". The Independent. 1999-02-23. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  65. ^ "UK | Women force removal of Koestler bust". BBC News. 1998-12-29. Retrieved 2010-01-08. 
  66. ^ See, for example, John V. Fleming, The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books that Shaped the Cold War. Norton, 2009.
  67. ^ Theodore Dalrymple: Drinkers of Infinity
  68. ^ Cesarani p.557
  69. ^ Michael Ignatieff, Isaiah Berlin, London, Chatto and Windus, 1998, p.183
  70. ^ Jewish Chronicle, 5 May 1950
  71. ^ Arthur Koestler, "Judah at the Crossroads" in The Trail of the Dinosaur and other essays, London, 1955, pp.106-142
  72. ^ Cesarani pp.20-21
  73. ^ Hamilton p.4
  74. ^ AIB p.153
  75. ^ Cesarani p.84
  76. ^ IW, pp. 408-09

External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.

Arthur Koestler (5 September 19051 March 1983) was a Hungarian-Jewish novelist, philosopher, and political activist who lived much of his life in England.


  • Einstein's space is no closer to reality than Van Gogh's sky. The glory of science is not in a truth more absolute than the truth of Bach or Tolstoy, but in the act of creation itself. The scientist's discoveries impose his own order on chaos, as the composer or painter imposes his; an order that always refers to limited aspects of reality, and is based on the observer's frame of reference, which differs from period to period as a Rembrant nude differs from a nude by Manet.
  • Look at this. Did you ever see a magazine called the New Musical Express? It turns out there is a pop group called The Police - I don't know why they are called that, presumably to distinguish them from the punks - and they've made an album of my essay The Ghost in the Machine. I didn't know anything about it until my clipping agency sent me a review of the record.
    • Writers at Work, George Plimpton
  • I profoundly admire Aldous Huxley, both for his philosophy and uncompromising sincerity. But I disagree with his advocacy of 'the chemical opening of doors into the Other World', and with his belief that drugs can procure 'what Catholic theologians call a gratuitous grace'. Chemically induced hallucinations, delusions and raptures may be frightening or wonderfully gratifying; in either case they are in the nature of confidence tricks played on one's own nervous system.
    • Return Trip to Nirvana from Sunday Telegraph in 1967
  • Indeed, the ideal for a well-functioning democratic state is like the ideal for a gentleman's well-cut suit- it is not noticed. For the common people of Britain, Gestapo and concentration camps have approximately the same degree of reality as the monster of Loch Ness. Atrocity propaganda is helpless against this healthy lack of imagination.
    • A Challenge to 'Knights in Rusty Armor, The New York Times, 14 February 1943
  • In the social equation, the value of a single life is nil; in the cosmic equation, it is infinite... Not only communism, but any political movement which implicitly relies on purely utilitarian ethics, must become a victim to the same fatal error. It is a fallacy as naïve as a mathematical teaser, and yet its consequences lead straight to Goya's Disasters, to the reign of the guillotine, the torture chambers of the Inquisition, or the cellars of the Lubianka.
  • Without the hard little bits of marble which are called 'facts' or 'data' one cannot compose a mosaic; what matters, however, are not so much the individual bits, but the successive patterns into which you arrange them, then break them up and rearrange them.
    • The Act of Creation
  • If one looks with a cold eye at the mess man has made of history, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has been afflicted by some built-in mental disorder which drives him towards self-destruction.
  • The evolution of the brain not only overshot the needs of prehistoric man, it is the only example of evolution providing a species with an organ which it does not know how to use.
    • The Ghost in the Machine
  • [T]he evidence from anthropology concurs with history in refuting the popular belief in a Jewish race descended from the biblical tribe. From the anthropologist's point of view, two groups of facts militate against this belief: the wide diversity of Jews with regard to physical characteristics, and their similarity to the Gentile population amidst whom they live. Both are reflected in the statistics about bodily height, cranial index, blood-groups, hair and eye colour, etc. Whichever of these anthropological criteria is taken as an indicator, it shows a greater similarity between Jews and their Gentile host-nation than between Jews living in different countries. (...).The obvious biological explanation for both phenomena is miscegenation, which took different forms in different historical situations: intermarriage, large-scale proselytizing, rape as a constant (legalized or tolerated) accompaniment of war and pogrom.
  • ... we find in the history of ideas mutations which do not seem to correspond to any obvious need, and at first sight appear as mere playful whimsies - such as Apollonius' work on conic sections, or the non-Euclidean geometries, whose practical value became apparent only later.
    • The Sleepwalkers (1959)
    • The First Nonlinear System of Differential and Integral Calculus (1979) by Michael Grossman


  • The more original a discovery, the more obvious it seems afterward.

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