Koestler in the battle of the behemoths


In a noble if melodramatic way, Koestler had once held a sort of dress rehearsal for suicide with Walter Benjamin, as both contemplated being taken alive by the Gestapo. (He kept the pills Benjamin gave him, while the latter swallowed his on the Spanish border a few days later.) By comparison, his own suicide in 1983 was an affair very much lacking in grandeur. His mind and his body were certainly both giving way, but he seems to have allowed or perhaps encouraged his healthy wife, Cynthia, to join him in the extinction. An earlier study by David Cesarani was lurid to the point of sensationalism about Koestler’s callousness toward his wives and other women (to say nothing of other people’s wives). It has been plausibly alleged that in his compulsive seductions—of Simone de Beauvoir, for one—he did not always stop quite short of physical coercion. Scammell does his best to plead extenuation here, but is obviously uncomfortable. Just as many of the people who believe in numinous coincidence and supernatural intervention are secretly hoping to prove that it is they themselves who are the pet of the universe, so many of those who overcompensate for inferiority are possessed of titanic egos and regard other people as necessary but incidental. At least this case is a tragic one when considered as a life story, because it shows us what a noble mind was there o’erthrown.

more from Christopher Hitchens at The Atlantic here.