2 October 2019

More Light on Darkness at Noon?


An interesting email from the Rev. Richard Martin of Glasgow arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago. “Apologies if I am the 4000th person to make this point!” he writes, but after reading my introduction to Paul Boehm’s new translation of Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, he is wondering if my explanation for the English title could be wrong. Surely, the translator, who coined the title, must have had in mind the Gospel of St Mark, 15:33, on the crucifixion of Christ: “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.” 

Far from the 4,000th, the Rev. Martin was the first person to raise this point with me, so I revisited my introduction. I had written there - just as I had in my biography of Koestler - that the book’s title was chosen by its first translator, Daphne Hardy, who told me about it when I interviewed her. Koestler later informed his friends the title came from Milton’s Samson Agonistes, “Oh, dark, dark, dark, amid the blaze of noon,” but Daphne said her inspiration had been the Book of Job, 5:14: “They meet with darkness in the daytime, and grope in the noonday as in night.” 

I decided to look at the notes of my interview with Hardy again and was surprised to see how long she had hesitated before referring me to Job. She actually said she wasn’t sure if it was one hundred percent true, but she knew the story of Job very well and thought it her most likely source. Taking advantage of biographer’s license, I passed it on as near-fact. 

Hardy was a budding sculptor, a keen reader, and a believing Christian. She may  have had several sources swirling in her mind for the effect she wanted, but she had to decide in a hurry and like so many before her, chose to look to the bible for a suitable title. In such circumstances, the Reverend Martin’s suggestion is quite convincing. A quote from one of the gospels sounds more likely to come to Hardy’s mind than Milton or Job, and this particular citation, with its attendant imagery, fits the bill very well. One can never be sure, of course, but the Reverend Martin's proposal comes closer to the mark than any other so far.