Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

From 'Chocolate' to 'Darkness at Noon': Recognizing the Soviet Carceral System in Inter-War Europe

Fri31  Mar04:15pm(15 mins)
Gilbert Scott Room 253
Prof Muireann Maguire


Muireann Maguire1
1 University of Exeter, UK


1949 was the year when 1984 was published - a novel which depicts an invented 'nightmare' state where, to quote the cover blurb of an early edition, 'the authorities keep a check on every action, word, gesture, or thought'. As in his previous political satire, Orwell clearly has the Soviet Union in his sights: and certainly his portrait of life in Oceania has formed our preconceptions of the supreme police state ever since. But how did we arrive at the Orwellian vision of police surveillance and irrefutable guilt, and how did it come to be correlated with the Soviet situation? In this paper, beginning with how the fall, incarceration, and execution of an NKVD interrogator is depicted in Aleksandr Tarasov-Rodionov’s widely translated 1922 novel Chocolate, I will examine the literary formation of Western preconceptions of the Soviet Union and of its justice and carceral system in particular. I focus on specific fictions by two well-known inter-war authors: Ayn Rand (We the Living, 1936) and Arthur Koestler (Darkness at Noon, 1940). Both Koestler and Rand directly experienced the Soviet state, which they later attacked in their writing. I will discuss how these two books contributed to the stereotyping of Soviet totalitarian violence in the Western imagination prior to Orwell's 1984.