A personal memoir of the late philosophical novelist
Why on earth would a 15-year-old read The Fountainhead 25 times? Because Ayn Rand made other novelists seem so dull. She was light years ahead of anyone else in terms of drama, excitement, ideas, eroticism, sophistication, glamour, philosophy, aesthetics, psychology and most especially
ethics. I never wanted to leave that exciting universe she had created.
In her introduction to a new translation of Victor Hugo's novel, Ninetythree, Rand wrote:
[quoteright]"...Do not look for 'the folks next door' -- you are about to meet a race of giants, who might have and ought to have been your neighbors... Do not say that the actions of these giants are 'impossible' because they are heroic, noble, intelligent, and beautiful -- remember that the cowardly, the depraved, the mindless, the ugly are not all that is possible to man... Do not say that 'life is not like that'; ask yourself: whose life?"
In researching the author after reading the book the first time, I came across photographs of Rand and her husband Frank O'Connor. Frank looked like every hero she ever wrote about: tall, slim, elegant and stylized -- a male Garbo. That, I decided, was the kind of hero I wanted in my life and I would settle for nothing less. A year later in boarding school, I was the only girl who did not have a boyfriend -- even a girl who looked like Charles Bronson in drag had one. Two dorm mates offered to introduce me to their brothers at an upcoming party. One turned out to be a lookalike for Radar in MASH. The other looked like every hero Rand ever wrote about. Luckily, he was attracted to me and thus became my first boyfriend. The man I later married was of the same ilk. So when people told me that heroes like that didn't exist I just looked arrogant and contemptuous a la Ayn Rand.
When I eventually met Frank O'Connor, I discovered in him a sweetness and kindness of character totally unlike the characters Rand wrote about, who were always scornful, arrogant and contemptuous. I liked Frank's way better. He had a very beneficent influence on my life and character.
I've never met a libertarian or objectivist influenced by Rand who was sexist. How could they he? Rand was an authentic, top-of-the-line genius. She was always showing us the connection between ideas. Syllogistical reasoning wasn't enough. We had to form sorites, chains of arguments, premises leading to conclusions which became the premises of further arguments. Brilliant.
As her villains fought her heroes by ignoring them and lauding mediocrity, the academic and literary worlds lauded a piece of soap opera bilge called By Love Possessed when Atlas Shrugged was published. When she died last month, the press spent days writing about the death of a drugtaking second-rate comedian, relegating Rand's obituary to the back pages.
Rand's penchant for making outrageous statements made it easier for her enemies to discount her. I remember my ex-husband calling me in Mallorca once to tell me that Ayn had come out for air pollution. Of course. At the height of the oil crisis, she went on the Donahue show and said that the oil companies weren't charging us enough. We knew what she meant. Non-readers of Rand did not.
Just as one of her characters, Henry Cameron, became more and more arrogant the more he was ignored, Rand also in later years would brook no disagreement. Many brilliant people were sent to Coventry: Edith Efron, Nathaniel Brandon, Barbara Branden and even me. True-blue objectivists would dramatically turn away from my husband and me if they ran into us in public -- all except Frank O'Connor. He was too big a person for that.
When Frank died, Ayn said on the Donahue show that if she could believe in an afterlife, she would want to be there to plead for Frank, to tell St. Peter what a good person Frank was. I remember thinking to myself: "You're wrong, Ayn. It's Frank who will have to plead for you."
I loved Frank. I only admired Ayn. But she was a great novelist and a great thinker. And I've learned that those who rush to disparage her and discount her achievements fear and hate her greatness, not her weaknesses.
Editor's Note : Sandra first contacted Ayn Rand in New York, by ferreting out her phone number and calling her apartment. Through Ayn and Frank she met Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Alan Greenspan, and Leonard Peikoff. Sandra wound up editing Branden's lectures on objectivism.
She is interested in astrology, disco dancing, and Claude Lelouche films. She has had a book published in Japanese.
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