Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Little More on the Life of Rand

I suppose it would have behooved me to have read and commented on Anne C. Heller's Ayn Rand and The World She Made before Jennifer Burns' Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right. Burns' book states right in its subtitle it's focus on Rand's influence in the conservative movement and its libertarian offshoots. Heller keeps her eye on Rand's life and so paints a more detailed portrait of the ego queen. The details on Rand's early years in Russia--like how the hero of a French adventure story developed over her life from the subject of a girlhood crush to the prototype for the larger-than-life protagonists in her fiction, or the trivia bit that she was childhood friends with the sister of Vladamir Nabokov(!)--are particularly welcome, as are the details of some of her unpublished or unproduced works.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the two books is the portrait of Rand's husband Frank O'Connor that emerges. He is still ultimately, acquiescent in her monomania, but he does not always remain silent. Mention is made of times when Frank would lose his temper with Rand, after which she would apologize profusely, so afraid was she of losing him. So troubled in fact was there marriage, that Rand had considered divorcing him during the long stretch of Atlas Shrugged's composition but did not want to upset her life while she was working on the novel (the virtue of selfishness made manifest). She was not the only one who considered it:

Once, during a vicious quarrel between the O'Connors in the presence of the Brandens, Frank walked out of the living room, into the bedroom. Barbara followed. She found him half sitting, half lying on the bed in an attitude of sorrow and defeat. "I want to leave her," he told Barbara, clutching her arm. "But where would I go?" Rand was the center of his life.

I'll have more to say about Rand's politics later.