The Koestler Archive & Other Papers Relating to Arthur Koestler

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-146
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
      English, French, and German.
  • Physical Description
      circa 1000 books; 172 boxes (24 linear metres); 4 record albums.
  • Location
      MSS 2301-2461; MSS 2462-2468; JA 3904-3908; SC 3875-4988; SD 4026-4034; E2008.29

Scope and Content

The archive consists of inscribed and annotated books from Koestler's library, along with English-language editions and translations of his work into many languages; and Koestler's manuscripts and papers from 1940 to March 1983. The archive contains correspondence with or about members of Koestler's family; personal material including diaries, address books, medical files and other personal documents; literary manuscripts including interviews, broadcasts and speeches; correspondence with specific people; personal and fan correspondence; material on specific subjects such as ESP and euthanasia; business and financial papers; literary manuscripts by other authors, including those on Koestler; cuttings, offprints, and pamphlets including articles both by Koestler and on Koestler; non-print material such as photographs, tapes and medals, and records; and, files gifted by publishers Hutchinson comprising of papers and correspondence on particular books. Most of Koestler's earlier papers were lost when France fell in 1940 and when he left for England. The papers bequeathed in 1993 include personal files which are restricted until 2045; correspondence; reviews; royalty statements 1976-1993; contracts and rights correspondence; personal financial material; and, correspondence on wills, last message, sale of property, and winding up the estate.

In addition there is a greetings card to Kenneth H.S. Cohen (1900-1984), Intelligence Officer and industrialist, and Mary S. Cohen (1910-1991), artist, from Arthur Koestler, Christmas 1962 at E2008.29.

Administrative / Biographical History

In his writing, Arthur Koestler had examined the problems of political idealism and power, as well as evolution, psychology, the history of science, capital punishment, and the nature of artistic creation.

Koestler was born in Budapest, Hungary, 5 September 1905. He attended the University of Vienna, 1922-26, before becoming a journalist. Between 1926-29, he worked on a farm in Palestine and as an architect's assistant, as well as being an editor of a Cairo weekly. He became a foreign correspondent, foreign editor, and science editor for a number of German publishing houses, and in 1931 he was the only journalist on the Graf Zeppelin Arctic expedition.

In 1931, Koestler became a member of the Communist Party and during the 1930s he travelled in Central Asia and the Soviet Union. During the Spanish Civil War, he served as a war correspondent and was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the Fascists. Through the intervention of the British government he was released, and his experience of this period was described in Spanish testament (1937). His break with the Communist Party at the time of the Moscow Trials was the background to Darkness at noon (1938). That same year, he became editor of Zukunft.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Koestler was imprisoned in France but was released in 1940. He then escaped to England where he worked for the Ministry of Information, the BBC, and as a night ambulance driver. From 1940, Koestler wrote in English. He became a British citizen in 1948. Works of fiction during this period, include The gladiators (1939) and Arrival and departure (1943), both of which deal with questions of morality and political responsibility. His essays are collected in The yogi and the commissar and other essays (1945) and The god that failed (1949). His last political work, examining the dilemma of Europe after the Second World War, was The age of longing (1951).

In Arrow in the blue (1952) and The invisible writing (1954), Koestler took stock of his life, and then in his later works he tackled scientific and philosophical matters. The act of creation (1964) was perhaps the best known work of this period. Others include The lotus and the robot (1960) examining Eastern mysticism; The ghost in the machine (1967) looking at the effect of evolution on the human brain; and, The thirteenth tribe a study of the origins of the Jewish people (1976). Towards the end of his life a collection of his writings with a new commentary appeared, Bricks to Babel (1981).

Koestler had suffered from leukaemia and Parkinson's disease, and as believers in voluntary euthanasia he and his wife Cynthia took their own lives in 1983. Koestler's death was reported on 3 March 1983.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance. Note that access to some personal files are restricted until 2045

Acquisition Information

The Koestler Archive came to Edinburgh University Library in 1984 after the University accepted the offer of the Koestler Chair of Parapsychology. Through the efforts of Harold Harris, Koestler's literary executor, and the London Library to which Koestler had left his books, the extensive archive was transferred to EUL's Special Collections department. Other papers relating to Arthur Koestler were bequeathed by Harris in 1993. The greetings card was gifted in 2008 by Colin Cohen, son of Kenneth and Mary Cohen


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) The Koestler Archive in Edinburgh University Library. A checklist Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Library, 1987. (2) The new encyclopaedia Britannica. Vol. 6. Micropaedia. 15th edition. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., 1991.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives

Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H40 - being The Koestler Archive in Edinburgh University Library. A checklist Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Library, 1987. Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various other references to Koestler related material (check the Indexes for more details). In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence relating to abolition of capital punishment, 1955-1962, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Add MSS 56455A-56459B passim, and correspondence with Society of Authors, 1942-1943, at Ref. Add MSS 63280; correspondence with Dennis Gabor, 1946-1973, London University, Imperial College Library, Ref. B/GABOR NRA 29644 Gabor; correspondence (19 items, photocopies) with George Orwell, 1946-1947, London University, University College London (UCL) Manuscripts Room, Ref. George Orwell Archive; correspondence with Sir Alister Hardy, Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts, Ref. NCUACS5/4/88 NRA 31540 Hardy; letters to the Manchester Guardian, 1948-1953, Manchester University, John Rylands Library, Oxford Road, Ref. Guardian archives NRA 18162 Guardian; and, correspondence with Victor Gollancz, 1946, Warwick University: Modern Records Centre, Ref. MSS 157/3/CL/5/1-12.