Arthur Koestler: A 20th-Century Novelist for the 21st-Century Reader

Public lecture: Mgr. Zénó Vernyik, Ph.D. (Technical University of Liberec)

Arthur Koestler: A 20th-Century Novelist for the 21st-Century Reader

Department Staff Room (G316) on Tuesday, 2 November, 12 p.m. (noon)

Zénó Vernyik is a graduate of our Ph.D. programme (2012) and is currently the Chair of the English Department at the Technical University in Liberec ( He has published on urban space in poems by e.e. cummings and novels by Peter Ackroyd, and most recently has edited a volume on Arthur Koestler (2021).

Lecture Title: Arthur Koestler: A 20th-Century Novelist for the 21st-Century Reader

Abstract: The casual observer might easily consider Arthur Koestler a rather forgotten twentieth-century writer, or at best a one-book wonder, the author of Darkness at Noon. Admittedly, such a view is not completely unwarranted. The opinions of the few people who do discuss him in an English-speaking context rarely do so in words of praise. Tibor Fischer (2010), one of those critical of Koestler's oeuvre, for example, asserts that however "fascinating [. . .] [Koestler's] life was, he doesn't matter much anymore." And even David Herman (2015), one of Koestler's most vocal defenders, admits that albeit Koestler's "masterpiece Darkness at Noon sold more than half a million copies in France in two years after the war, [he] is now increasingly regarded as a Cold War dinosaur” (191). Just as importantly, a cursorly look at major publications in English painted a rather similar picture as recently as a few months ago. Even this summer, in English, there was no more recent monograph available on the market than Mark Levene's Arthur Koestler, published in 1984, a year after Koestler's death, in 1984, and no fresher volume of essays than the one edited by Murray A. Sperber in 1977, Arthur Koestler: A Collection of Critical Essays.

Yet, the publication of Arthur Koestler's Fiction and the Genre of the Novel: Rubashov and Beyond (2021) this September was hardly a surprising development. Koestler's adventurous and controversial life has drawn rarely paralleled attention, resulting in a proliferation of newer and newer academic biographies (3 of them published in English and a further 8 in other European languages in the past two decades), in a novel, Bernard Otterman's (2015) Self-Deliverance: The Death and Life of Arthur Koestler, and an opera, József Sári's and Elisabeth Gutjahr's (2000) Sonnenfinsternis. Besides, starting sometime around 2012, and the trend getting especially strong since 2015, dozens of new contributions on Koestler's fiction have appeared in print by a whole range of authors (Duban, Gaskill, Helff, Herman, Holt, MacAdam, Salt, Satkunanandan, Shorten, Spariousu, Stähler, Vernyik, Weßel and Zocco).

The present lecture, thus, aims, rather than rigorously arguing a specific thesis, to showcase the variety of Koestler's novels, inviting those present to revisit and reassess them. With the topics of Koestler's novels including terrorism, massive migration, espionage, rape trauma, war trauma, the crisis of faith, propaganda, fake news and the role and responsibility of intellectuals in major international crises, these texts are easily just as topical today as they were at the time of their publication. Beyond being topical, Koestler's books are also poignant love stories, journeys into the human mind and soul, dramatic renditions of the central dilemmas of human existence, written in a distinct and personal style, with captivating plots and intriguing characters.

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