Arthur Koestler Biography
Died At Age: 77
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born Country: Hungary
Born in: Budapest, Austria-Hungary
political ideology: Zionism, Communism, Anti-Communism, Voluntary Euthanasia, Anti-totalitarian
Spouse/Ex-: Cynthia Jefferies (1965–83), Dorothy Ascher (1935–50), Mamaine Paget (1950–52)
father: Henrik Koestler
mother: Adele Koestler
place of death: London, England
City: Budapest, Hungary
Cause of Death: Suicide
education: University of Vienna
awards: 1968 - Sonning Prize
Arthur Koestler was a British author and journalist of Hungarian origins who was best known for his political novel ‘Darkness at Noon.’ He was once involved with the Communist Party of Germany and was sent to the Soviet Union to write about its first five-year plan. The book he wrote after much extensive research was rejected by the Soviet authorities on the ground that it contained too many criticisms of communism. He later left the Communist party disillusioned with Stalinism. During 1930s and 1940s, he was one of the main politically active authors who were open and unabashed in their criticism of Soviet totalitarianism during the cold war period. Fluent in four languages including French and German, he supported many political causes in the several novels, biographies and essays he wrote. His first novel ‘The Gladiators’ was an allegory for the corruption of communism by Stalin and his second novel, the critically acclaimed ‘Darkness at Noon’, reflected his views on totalitarianism. He was a strong advocate of the Zionist movement. During World War II, he was interned as a political prisoner in the ‘Le Vernet Internment Camp’ but was released in early 1940 owing to strong British pressure. He wrote of his experience in the camp in his book ‘Scum of the Earth.’ Other than politics, he was also interested in topics such as euthanasia, existentialism, psychology, paranormal happenings, etc
- Arthur Koestler was born in Budapest, Hungary, as the only son of Henrik Koestler, an industrialist and inventor, and Adele. His parents were Jews though Koestler himself renounced religion later on.
- He enrolled in the University of Vienna in 1922 for a degree in engineering. There he became attracted to the Zionist movement. His father’s business failed and he could not pay his college fees. Thus, he was expelled before he could complete his degree.
- In 1926, he left for Palestine to look for a job. At first he could find only a menial job as a farm labourer, but then he was selected as a Jerusalem-based correspondent for German Newspapers.
- Over the next two years he worked and traveled extensively, specializing in political writing which established his reputation as a journalist. In 1929, he was appointed to the bureau of the Ullstein News Service and in 1931 he became the science editor of Vossische Zeitung.
- In 1937, he wrote his first memoir, ‘Spanish Testament’, describing his experiences as a prisoner sentenced to death by the National Forces of General Franco during the Spanish Civil War. He was eventually exchanged for a ‘high value’ Nationalist prisoner held by the Loyalists.
- He published his first novel ‘The Gladiators‘ in 1939. It ostensibly dealt with the Spartacus revolt in the Roman Republic though it was actually an allegory for the corrupt practices involved in Stalin’s socialism.
- After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Koestler was detained for several months in Le Vernet Internment Camp in France. He was released in early 1940 due to strong British pressure.
- His second novel, ‘Darkness at Noon’, published in 1940 was the story of a Bolshevik imprisoned and tried for treason against the government. The storyline alluded to his disillusionment with communism.
- His second memoir, ‘Scum of the Earth’ (1941) is a vivid account of his life as a prisoner in Le Vernet concentration camp in France during 1939-40.
- He wrote his book ‘Dialogue with Death’ in 1937 as a section of his memoir ‘Spanish Testament.’ This section which describes his experiences as a prisoner on death row was published as a book in its own right in 1942.
- Two other books, ‘Arrival and Departure’ (1943) and ‘Thieves in the Night’ (1946) were published in the following years though they could not find much popularity among the readers. He published two other memoirs in the 1950’s.
- His political novel ‘Darkness at Noon’ published in 1940 is his best known work. The book reflected his disillusionment with communism in the Soviet Union. It is one of the most popular anti-communist books ever written.
- His second memoir, ‘Scum of the Earth’ (1941), in which he described his life as a political prisoner in the Le Vernet Concentration Camp in France and his eventual escape, earned many positive reviews from critics.
- He was awarded the Sonning Prize "for outstanding contribution to European culture" in 1968.
- His personal life was very controversial and he had been involved in numerous love affairs. He was said to have misogynistic tendencies and was believed to have treated the women in his life badly.
- He had been married thrice, the first two of his marriages ending in divorce. He had a daughter named Christina, born as a result of his affair with Janine Graetz.
- During his later years, he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and leukaemia. He did not want to suffer any indignities towards the end of his life, so he committed suicide along with his wife in 1983.
- He founded The Koestler Trust in 1962, which is an award scheme to help prison inmates in the U.K to express themselves creatively.
- Even though Hungarian was his mother tongue, he wrote only one novel in that language.
- He had experimented with hallucinogens and also wrote about them.
- David Cesarani, an English historian had alleged that Koestler had been a serial rapist.
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