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It is a well-known story that the original German manuscript of Darkness at Noon was presumed lost until relatively recently (2015), well after Koestler's death. The English translation by Daphne Hardy was thus used as a "master copy" and the source for translations to other languages (including German).

It is also generally acknowledged (at least nowadays) that this translation was deficient in many ways, as Hardy was not a professional translator and had to work in a hurry.(*)

Nevertheless, Koestler lived long enough after the publication of the novel. Presumably, given his fluency in English, he was perfectly able to correct the problems with the text himself after the WWII, especially considering immense popularity of the novel at the time. And/or he could fix the German "translation". Yet he didn't do it.

Why is that? Are there any accounts of his personal opinion on the English text? Was he actually satisfied with the text enough? Or he just didn't bother? (There are authors who don't tend to touch their past texts, just as there are those who constantly revise them. Perhaps knowing Koestler's inclinations in this regard might help to shed the light).


(*) When I read it, I felt that it was a rather poor translation from Russian at times: there were many calques and clichés from Russian phraseology. But this may have been intentional for the setting, and we know that Koestler knew enough Russian. I haven't read the new translation yet to compare how it feels in this regard.

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Koestler wrote Darkness at Noon while he was living in France with Hardy, who was his lover. Koestler was fluent in English, which he taught himself as a young man and indeed in later life he stopped writing in German and wrote in English. Hardy, meanwhile, was the daughter of a diplomat who'd been educated in Holland and was fluent in several languages, including German.

Hardy apparently worked on the translation of the book at literally the same time as Koestler was writing it.

The version the world came to know was an English translation that Koestler’s 21-year-old lover, Daphne Hardy, produced almost simultaneously while the two shared a small apartment in Paris in the run-up to the war; they would pull a curtain across the middle of the apartment every day after breakfast, and Koestler would write on one side while Hardy translated on the other.

from Foreign Policy Magazine.

Given that the two were intimate, were fluent in each other's native languages and that Hardy worked on her translation in tandem with Koestler's production of it, it's very hard not to imagine that Koestler would have had ample opportunities to make any misgivings he had with her work clear and come to some compromise if one were necessary.

Everything we know about the history of the text after the translation points to Koestler being very happy with the English version. He settled permanently in Britain in 1953 and was available to editors during several reprints of Darkness at Noon including a new hardback edition of his collected works. If he had any serious issues with the translation, he thus had ample opportunities to correct them. Indeed Hardy's son, Paul Henrion, wrote a letter to the Guardian newspaper stating:

Koestler’s English was good and he would, I believe, have checked every word Daphne wrote. The book mattered to him more than anything else he ever wrote and he would have made sure that what was published contained only what he wanted to say.

The Guardian

There doesn't seem to be any suggestion that Koestler ever officially went on the record to confirm or state his satisfaction with the translation. But given that his direct involvement in the translation process was common knowledge, it's quite likely he was simply never asked.

It's interesting to note that Rupert Hart-Davis, the editor who received Koestler's manuscript in Britain, did have issues with the translation, believing it stuck too rigidly to German syntax patterns. However, he was unable to reach Koestler due to the German occupation of France and his letters to the Swiss publisher, Emil Oprecht, on the matter went unanswered. So he went ahead and published Hardy's translation without revision.

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    Hardy started translating the novel while Koestler was interned in Le Vernet as a way of filling her time. When he read through the first pages he commented "Also Schätzen, das ist ser gut" ("Well darling, this is very good"). Clearly happy with the quality of the translation! Feb 20, 2023 at 11:05
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I address some of these questions in 'Back-translation as Self-translation: The Strange Case of Darkness at Noon' (Translation and Literature, 2020). Here is the abstract:

This article is a response to the recent discovery in manuscript of the lost German version of Koestler's best-known novel, now published as ‘the’ original. The circumstances surrounding the production of that MS, together with Daphne Hardy's English translation, are examined. It is shown that over half of Koestler's later ‘back-translation’ from English is in fact based on a version of the German that pre-dates the MS, and that this itself post-dates Hardy's Darkness. Moreover, Koestler regarded himself as ‘co-translator’ of the English and seemed prepared to concede priority to Hardy's (and his) version over his own re-worked German. In the light of this, the notion of a single stable original of the novel may be called into question. The essay makes use of research conducted in the Koestler Archives in Edinburgh, and also of scanned copy of the German manuscript.

Because of periodic raids by the Parisian police, Koestler kept several carbon copies of work in progress. If not confiscated those ended up in various places, unsynchronized. The newly-discovered German MS, now published by Elsinor Verlag, contains corrections and amendments made up to five or six weeks after Hardy's translation was sent to Cape in London. The partial MS which Koestler somehow recovered during the war (50% plus of the original) and used as the basis for his back-translation, constitutes an earlier draft.

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    Is there an open-access version of your paper? Feb 21, 2023 at 18:29
  • No, but if you wish, I can send a pdf. Feb 22, 2023 at 8:50
  • I'm a bit unclear about the sequence here: "Koestler's later ‘back-translation’ from English is in fact based on a version of the German that pre-dates the MS, and that this itself post-dates Hardy's Darkness." Does this itself refer to the rediscovered typescript, or to the German version predating it? Could you edit your answer to add a clarifying sentence that lists each version in order? Thanks!
    – verbose
    Feb 25, 2023 at 17:59
  • Because of periodic raids by the Parisian police Koestler kept several carbon copies of work in progress. If not confiscated these ended up in various places, unsynchronized. The newly discovered German MS, now published by Elsinor Verlag, contains corrections and amendments made up to five or six weeks after Hardy's translation was sent to Cape in London. The partial MS which Koestler somehow recovered during the war (50% plus of the original) and used as the basis for his back-translation, constitutes an earlier draft. Please write to [email protected] for further clarification. Feb 27, 2023 at 9:29

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