24 March 2016

Light on Darkness at Noon

Sensational news for Koestler watchers. A German graduate student, Matthias Wessel, was searching some files in the Zurich Central Library last July and stumbled across a manuscript that turned out to be nothing less than the long lost original German text of Darkness at Noon. Few people realize that the only version of the novel available till now has been a translation into English, an odd situation that has lasted for the 75 years since Koestler lost the original while fleeing from the Germans in occupied France in 1940. All the thirty to forty translations of Darkness at Noon made into other languages have been based not on the original text, but on the English translation.

My article on the subject, A Different 'Darkness at Noon,' has just appeared in the April 7 issue of the New York Review of Books (see Essays page). In it I analyze the English translation in the light of the new manuscript to show how its many mistakes and omissions are the result of a hasty version done in 1940 by Koestler's young girl friend at the time, Daphne Hardy. Daphne, like Koestler, was also on the run and had to work without dictionaries, reference books, and, not least, peace of mind. The present text (like all other available texts) is, in important respects, misleading and inaccurate, and I argue that, with the original text at last available, it is time to commission and publish a new translation. Fortunately the American publisher responsible for the present edition in print is ready to discuss the idea, and I will report back on developments when I know more.

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