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Ayn Rand: Her Life, Her Philosophy


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  • 3 months later...

Shoshana Milgram contributes a chapter to the newly released A Companion to Ayn Rand (Blackwell). It is the second chapter of the volume. It is titled “The Life of Ayn Rand – Writing, Reading, and Related Events.” This chapter is 23 pages, including endnotes (about 10,000 words without endnotes). It is organized into these sections:

Leaving Russia (1905–1926)

Early Career as an American Writer (1926–1936)

The Fountainhead: The Creation of Her First Ideal Man (1936–1943)

Atlas Shrugged: The Mind on Strike (1943–1957)

Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth (1957–1982)

Appendix: Concerning Biographical Sources

“The most important year of Rand’s youth was 1914: at the age of nine, she decided to be a writer. She had been writing stories for several years at this point. One night, in a London hotel room, when she was entertaining her sisters by inventing a story about the chorus girls she had seen on a theatrical poster, she realized that this task of devising interesting narratives about human lives was a writer’s life work—and the very career she wanted.”

. . .

“On June 8, 1958, she began to make notes for a projected non-fiction book Objectivism: A Philosophy for Living on Earth, . . . . She would work to support and defend the novel [AS] that had been misjudged and misunderstood, and also to crusade for reason (her top value, she said, ever since she could remember). . . .”

. . .

“‘I read a few of those modern philosophy essays that Nathan gave me, and all the questions that Leonard [Peikoff] was bringing home. And my conversations with Leonard. I began to see that what I took as almost self-evident, was not self-evident at all. . . . Leonard began to realize the importance of my statement that “existence is identity,” and he explained to me in what sense no philosopher had claimed it, not in this form. I had thought of it as what I said in Galt’s speech, that it’s merely clarification of Aristotle. I began to realize in what way it wasn’t. And it was that that was the turning point in my decision. I knew then that I could not write another novel for a long time.’ [AR] (Biographical Interviews)”

. . .

“In this chapter I draw on research I have done, much of it in the Ayn Rand Archives . . . toward a book-length study. . . . / For the facts of Ayn Rand’s life, I have relied on primary sources, including . . . an extensive series of biographical interviews conducted by Barbara Branden in 1960–1961 . . . (Biographical Interviews).” 

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The book is interesting in part for what it tells us of the current state of the party line. It's the first time I've seen an orthodox source credit Barbara Branden, not "a biographer", as Rand's interviewer. She, NB and David Kelley get extensive mentions in the index. Lennox and Hunt have both spoken at TAS events.

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  • 3 months later...


It's fun to compare Kira's scene of first lovemaking, which was with Leo, to Dagny's first time, which was with Francisco, and to the lovemaking scene for Dagny and John in the rail tunnel. I'll show text from the Kira scene below. I'm pretty sure the bridge in the scene is the Dvortsovy, which is shown in construction (1912-16) in this drawing by Anna Petrovna Ostroumova-Lebedeva.

construction of dvortsovy palace bridge Ostroumova-Lebedeva-Litografiya-008.jpg

“On the quay, at the Admiralty, Leo stopped the sleigh and they got out and walked along the parapet. The Neva was frozen. A solid coat of ice made a wide, white lane between its high banks. Human feet had stamped a long road across its snow. The road was deserted.

“They descended down the steep, frozen bank to the ice below. They walked silently, suddenly alone in a white wilderness.

“. . . And the golden spire of the Admiralty held defiantly a disappeared sun high over the dark city.

. . .

“They stood alone in the middle of the river. A tramway clattered, rising up the bridge, shaking the steel beams to their roots in the water far below. . . .

. . .

“‘You know what I wanted to tell you’, he said, his face very close to hers.

“And without a thought, without a will or a question, in voice that was someone’s order to her, not her voice, she answered ‘Yes’.

“His kiss felt like a wound.

“Her arms closed around the frightening wonder of a man’s body. . . .

. . .

“Leo took her arm and led her away, on perilous ground, through the deep, unbroken snow, to the bridge.

“They stood in the darkness of the steel vaults. Through the black webbing above they saw the red sky dying out slowly.

"She didn't know what he was saying; she knew that his lips were on hers. She didn't know that her coat collar was unbuttoned; she knew that his hand was on her breast and his hand was hungrier than his lips.

“When a tramway rose up the bridge over their heads the steel clattered convulsively, a dull thunder rolling through its every joint; and for a long time after it was gone the bridge moaned feebly.” (Rand 1936, 106–8)

Edited by Boydstun
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  • 6 months later...


Roderick Long has lately tracked down the song “John Gray” that Rand employed in We the Living. He reports it was written in 1923 by Matvei Blanter (1903–1990). The lyrics coincide with those translated by Rand. They are by Vladimir Mass (1876–1979).


“Petrograd had known sweeping epidemics of cholera; it had known epidemics of typhus, which were worse; the worst of its epidemics was that of ‘John Gray’.

“Men stood in line at the co-operatives—and whistled ‘John Gray’. At recreation hour in schools, young couples danced in the big hall, and an obliging pupil played ‘John Gray’. Men hung on the steps of speeding tramways, humming desperately ‘John Gray’. Workers’ clubs listened attentively to a lecture on Marxism, then relaxed while a comrade showed his skill on a piano out of tune, playing ‘John Gray’." (1936, 178)

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  • 2 months later...
  • 3 months later...


The transcription of Rand’s epistemology seminars (1969–71) included in the second edition of ITOE, contain some deep exchanges between Rand and Gotthelf (Prof. B )  and Peikoff (Prof. E). Outside those, the most sustained dialogues (in the transcription) are the penetrating exchanges between Rand and John O. Nelson (Prof. D).* Prof. Nelson had contributed an article on matters political to Rand’s The Objectivist in 1969. A note listing therewith some glimpse of Nelson’s academic stature included: “Professor Nelson agrees with the basic principles of Objectivism in ethics and politics.” That expresses perhaps too much concord even in those areas, but anyway, that statement rightly indicated that Nelson was of another perspective in areas of theoretical philosophy.

Jeff Broome, an acquaintance of John O. Nelson (1917–2005), writes in the Preface to a couple of Nelson studies on Hume:

“It wasn’t just Wittgenstein who was impressed by John’s penetrating philosophical mind. Ayn Rand would also become friends with John and Edna, inviting them to her Manhatten apartment for weekend exchanges of philosophical ideas. John was impressed with the depth of Ayn’s intellect, especially her ability to talk in depth about nearly countless topics and ideas. John proved her equal in conversations, a rarity among Rand’s inner circle of close friends.” (2010)

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  • 4 weeks later...


When Rand first began working on We the Living in 1929, its title was to be Airtight: A Novel of Red Russia. Clearly, one of the objectives of her novel was to exhibit the moral, economic, and technological inferiority of communist Russia in comparison to America and Europe. The main writing and rewriting of the novel was in 1933–35. By 1933 America was at the depth of its greatest economic depression. There was much clamoring from business and labor leaders for “economic democracy,” for the cartelization and socialization of major industries, and for central planning of production and consumption.

The picture of communist Russia that Rand was exposing in We the Living was as in the early 20’s. By the 30’s Russia was not Russia in the immediate aftermath of revolution and civil war. There were large construction projects underway over there, which were being touted by Stalin’s government to show the superiority of communism. A scene in Rand’s novel retained through her first couple of drafts to May 1934 was one in which Kira’s lover Leo mentions to her that in New York there are six million inhabitants and that they have subways. “It must be delightful—a subway” Leo remarks to Kira who adores such things (Milgram 2004, 13). That was cut from the novel by November 1935. There are additional reasons for removing the passage, but I think one was that Stalin’s Russia had completed its first underground metro, in Moscow, in May 1935. Rand’s use of the lack of subways in cities of communist Russia as illustration of its technical stagnation would not have been effective by 1935.


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When André Gide got back from the USSR in the 30s, he recounted a conversation with a writer he'd met. He'd submitted a story for official approval and was told to change the roads to paved - they're sure to be in by next year.

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  • 2 years later...

Atlas Shrugged was published on 10 October 1957. A brief interview with Rand by Lewis Nichols was published in the New York Times three days later. On the writing of Atlas Shrugged she remarked:

“‘It goes back a long way. I was disappointed in the reaction to The Fountainhead. A good many of the reviewers missed the point. A friend called me to sympathize, and said I should write a non-fiction book about the idea back of The Fountainhead.

‘While I was talking, I thought, “I simply don’t want to do this. What if I went on strike?” My husband [Frank O’Connor] and I talked about that all night, and the idea was born then.

‘. . . From the first night idea of the thinking people being on strike, it was natural to move to the mind on strike. With this as a theme, I decided to touch on industry, and to use a railroad as the connecting link for the story.

. . .

‘In front of the desk I had a plain railroad map of the country, and marked in the Taggart lines on that. There also was a furnace’s foreman’s manual, which I studied for steel making, and I had one very pleasant ride in the engine cab of a train.’

‘. . . The greatest guarantee of a better world is a rational morality . . . the collectivist cause is really dead. The capitalist case never has been clearly presented. . . . The doctrine of Original Sin is a monstrous absurdity, a contradiction in terms. Morals start only when there is a choice. . . .

‘The fault of the American system goes back to the Constitution. It is so vague on general welfare that the looters get in.’”

“Looking into the future a bit, into the new world beyond page 1168 {the last page}, Miss Rand would see the Taggart lines being rebuilt, first between New York and Philadelphia, then, in ten years, across the continent. . . .

“And Miss Rand herself? She will be sitting still for a long time, now, resting and playing records. Not her invention, the Halley’s Fifth Concerto, which runs like the Third Man Theme through Atlas Shrugged, but Rachmaninoff.”

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Back on December 31st, 2019 a mention of the book Calumet K came to my attention. As an aside, the word 'calumet' had crossed my awareness back on July 19th, 2018 as the 'word-of-the-day' Put that in your calumet and smoke it.

An e-book version was available on project Gutenberg, and provided the opportunity to enjoy what was touted to be one of Ayn Rand's favorite novels. The book added another unique portrayal to the grain harvest disaster illustrated in Atlas Shrugged by concretizing an antithesis. It was based on one of the author's father's life experience.

Calumet “K” was based on an event in the life of Webster’s father, Towner Keeney Webster*, who in 1897 constructed a grain elevator under pressure similar to that experienced by the book’s hero, Charlie Bannon. Thanks to Dr. Shoshana Milgram for sharing with me the transcript of a talk in which she mentioned this fact: “Calumet ‘K’: Ayn Rand’s Favorite Novel,” delivered at Objectivist Conferences, June 7, 2017.
* per the referenced wikipedia entry, the actual purpose of the structure built can readily be called into question.

With Illinois being one of the two states currently sporting a geographical location identified as Calumet, at this point, one can only speculate as to why it was selected to be included as part of the tale's title.

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I got into Merwin & Webster a very long time ago at the now-defunct Acres of Books in Long Beach CA. Favorite of the ones I've read is Comrade John , at once a satire and an adventure story that pits an architect against a flimflamming prophet based unmistakably on Elbert Hubbard. I suspect it was where Rand got the idea for the architectural ghosting that Roark does for Keating.

(In the NYT interview that Boydstun mentioned, Rand also said that Dagny and John would marry. One of the Objectivist forums once had a thread on what practical difficulties the characters would face in picking up the pieces and building a new order.)

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  • 4 months later...

“As a child, I saw a glimpse of the pre-World War I world, the last afterglow of the most radiant cultural atmosphere in human history (achieved not by Russian, but by Western culture). So powerful a fire does not die at once: even under the Soviet regime, in my college years, such works as Hugo’s Ruy Blas and Schiller’s Don Carlos were included in theatrical repertories, not as historical revivals, but as part of the contemporary esthetic scene. . . .

“[That period’s] art projected an overwhelming sense of intellectual freedom, of depth, i.e., concern with fundamental problems, of demanding standards, of inexhaustible originality, of unlimited possibilities and, above all, a profound respect for man. The existential atmosphere (which was then being destroyed by Europe’s philosophical trends and political systems) still held a benevolence that would be incredible to men of today, i.e., a smiling, confident good will of man to man, and of man to life.” (Romantic Manifesto 1971)

The two theatrical works Rand mentioned were, as evidenced below, not works trotting along without reins of the new communist regime.


Pavel Vasilevich Samoylov was a distinguished actor who played the role of Ruy Blas, and in 1923 he was Honored Artist of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.


-- From Robert Stevens (2004)

“In his study, Russian and Soviet Theatre—Tradition and the Avant-Garde, Konstantin Rudnitsky recounts that Schiller’s plays held a special place in the theatre of the new revolutionary society of the Soviet Union.

“‘In the Civil War years, the plays of Friedrich Schiller enjoyed huge popularity. Their freedom-loving spirit, their characteristic opposition of heroism and villainy, their wealth of dramatically effective situations—all this guaranteed success with an unsophisticated audience. Intrigue and Love and The Robbers were enthusiastically acted by amateurs in numerous clubs. The Bolshoi Dramatic Theatre in Leningrad, led by Alaxander Blok, Maria Andreevna and Maxim Gorky, opened on February 5, 1919 with a production of Schiller’s Don Carlos’ (Russian and Soviet Theatre—Tradition and the Avant-Garde, page 75,).

“Rudnitsky continues, ‘The attraction of the broad masses to the classical repertoire was explained not only by the fact that the beauty and emotional richness of plays by Griboedov, Gogol and Ostrovsky, Shakespeare and Molier, Schiller and Beaumarchais and other great writers were revealed for the first time to audiences who had previously not had the opportunity of going to the theatre ... they served as it were to unite the distant past with the present day and instilled in the audience feelings and ideas close to and consonant with the Revolutionary struggle’ (ibid. 48).

“The Bolshevik revolutionary and literary figure Anatoli Lunacharsky noted of the play that ‘in this, according to Schiller’s idea, first apostle of the idea of freedom, we the people of the revolutionary avant-garde, can in a sense recognise our predecessor ... not for one moment does the audience doubt in the final triumph of Posa’s idea, a triumph which Posa himself, of course, could never have foreseen’ (ibid. page 49)”.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Clip from the fine film Love Letters (1945). Writer of screenplay - Ayn Rand.

(The popular song of the same title was written that year and was played without the words in that film. In 1962 an adaptation of it recorded by Ketty Lester became a hit. I was 13. I like that recording very much.)

Edited by Boydstun
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  • 8 months later...

In the December 1966 issue of The Objectivist, Ayn Rand wrote of her visit to an exhibition of José Manuel Capuletti’s paintings the preceding month in a midtown gallery. Rand wrote of his wife Pilar, who in that exhibit was his only female model (aside from portraits). His marriage with Pilar Lopez later ran aground. At a Mass in Frankfurt am Main, he met Iris Henrich.

Paintings of Capuletti mentioned by Rand, of which I’ve got pretty good images to show below, are Le Mur (The Wall), The Last Hour of Lady Godiva, and Not Guilty. The exhibition Rand saw was his fourth in New York, and she noted that his earlier somewhat surrealistic juxtapositions of incongruous objects into thematically incomprehensible arrangements had vanished by this fourth show. She reported that Capuletti acknowledged Velasquez and Vermeer as his two teachers.

Ellen Stuttle has mentioned to me: “I met Pilar twice, and sort of ‘talked’ with her—using gestures and Larry's help with some French/English translation. Both times were in early 1970, one at the Hammer Gallery exhibit where the Desnudo Rand bought was on display and one at Allan Blumenthal's recital, which Capuletti and Pilar attended. / He [Capuletti] spoke a bit of English. Rand and he mainly talked in French.”*

Capuletti died in 1978. I’ll include Capuletti paintings also below of Pilar and of Iris. Also, Desnudo and one called Sleep.

Le Mur (The Wall).jpg

Last Hour.jpg



Iris with Paintings.jpg



Edited by Boydstun
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Pencil sketch of Ayn Rand from Sunday afternoon, June 11, 1967, as she watched Nathaniel Branden lecture on romantic love at the Sheraton-Atlantic Hotel in New York City.  As you can see, I did the sketch while taking notes.  I was sitting two rows behind her.  This was roughly a year prior to their break.  The hotel is no longer there.  It used to be adjacent to the Empire State Building.

AR 6-11-1967 (two).jpg

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  • 8 months later...
  • 1 month later...

I had been unable to attend David Kelley’s summer seminar in 2001. Shortly after the seminar, I was sent from David’s organization The Objectivist Center a large envelope, which I happened upon today. The cover note: “Mr. Boydstun, Merlin Jetton asked me to send this to you. Enjoy!”

Enclosed was an 8x10 photo reproduction of a sketch of Ayn Rand which is in the National Portrait Gallery. The sketch was made 21 November 1959 by Everett Raymond Kinstler. Mr. Kinstler died in 2019. (Merlin my friend and fellow intellectual traveler died last February; his memorial ceremony is this coming Saturday.)

Around 2000 Kinstler recalled the occasion of the sketch, recalled in an interview with the organization American Renaissance for the Twenty-First Century:

“I was a great admirer of hers, and it was at an evening at the National Arts Club. The occasion was to honor Eleanor Roosevelt. When Mrs. Roosevelt was given a standing ovation, Miss Rand refused to stand . . . . She was interested in the fact that I was an artist and that I was an admirer of hers. She came up to the studio afterward with her husband Frank O’Connor. I had a copy of Atlas Shrugged, and she was very impressed with my underlinings . . . . [While we] talked, I did a very modest head of her in charcoal. It is not a very significant drawing, but the evening was memorable . . . . I was just very impressed with her.”

Edited by dream_weaver
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  • 1 month later...
On 9/19/2020 at 9:32 PM, Boydstun said:

Clip from the fine film Love Letters (1945). Writer of screenplay - Ayn Rand.

(The popular song of the same title was written that year and was played without the words in that film. In 1962 an adaptation of it recorded by Ketty Lester became a hit. I was 13. I like that recording very much.)

That clip from the film is no longer available. It's script:



Try to think back.

Think of Roger Morland

before you married him.

Think of the time when you loved him.

I never loved him.

How do you know that

if you don't remember him?

Because I remember the man I loved.

Who was he?

I don't remember his name or his face.

It seems very long ago.

He wrote to me.

I remember his letters.

Tell me, Mr. Phillips, are you happy?

Why do you ask that?

Because you see,

I think very few people are happy.

They wait all their lives

for something to happen to them.

Something great and wonderful.

They don't know what it is.

But they wait for it.

Sometimes it never happens.

What they want...

is the kind of spirit

I found in those letters.

The spirit that makes life beautiful.

I loved that man.

I loved him more than my own life.

I still love him.


Rand's screenplay was based on a novel The Love Letters by Chris Massie. Rand remarked in a letter to her brother-in-law in 1945: “The screenplay is an adaptation of a dreadful novel called The Love Letters. It's coming out soon—the novel, I mean. Don't read it. It's awful. We only took the general idea from it—and the screenplay is practically an original by me. It's a vast improvement, if I do say so myself” (see Letters of Ayn Rand, p. 166)." <–

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  • 8 months later...
  • 1 year later...

I have not read the more famous biography of Ayn Rand, the one by Barbara Branden, which was made into a movie. I have read the following biography by Nathaniel Branden.

The book MY YEARS WITH AYN RAND is a recounting of all the years the author Nathaniel Branden was connected with Ayn Rand and his years beyond direct connection up to the time of Rand’s death in 1982. The story begins when Nathan was 14 years old (1944) and first read THE FOUNTAINHEAD. The story has a lot more autobiography of the author than I had expected, but as it went along, I could see how that was sensible for the sort of personal-psychology reflectiveness with which the author is saturated and saturates this story. 

Near the end of the book, Branden writes:

“Here is what I believe: Ayn was a great thinker and a great woman. She was also a struggling human being, as we all are. If one cannot understand her humanity, shortcomings included, one cannot fully appreciate her greatness; one cannot know Ayn Rand.”

It is those “shortcomings” which the author thinks he has conveyed within his book (and which I do not accede to as being shortcomings) that might bring others not myself to conclude that the book reflects negatively on the person Ayn Rand. The author may have had that as part of his purpose, but it does not succeed with me.

Late in life, I have asked myself the common question: Would you do anything different were you able to live your life again? The first thing that came to my mind was that I wished I were more patient and gentler with some of my immediate family (now deceased), not cutting them (and other people) off and out of my life for long periods so brutally (even if deserved). But then I think on it a little further and realize that that is ridiculous. Supposing I were the same person of the moments in the hypothetical reliving, I would have made the same choices and behaviors. (I say that from knowing that my personality in that respect has not changed.) And a 20-20 hindsight perspective on a whole life is simply garbage anyway. Real life is, at most all times of it, with an unknown and indeed not-yet-set course, among potential distant-future courses growing out of present choices.

I can think of a “shortcoming” in my personality: that I was pretty shy and, in some situations, insecure. But what on earth does such a thought mean? That I would have been better off as a youth had I not been me in those respects? Honestly, fully, the “I” would be an equivocation. Such an exercise is foolishness.

There are some things simple to change and still be oneself. When I was a youth, I hunted. I killed wildlife, which we ate, not that we couldn’t go to the grocery store. When I learned Rand’s theory of ethics, though there seemed no implication about hunting (mainly for sport), hunting seemed to me out of tune in sensibility with that ethical basis I had come to accept. I stopped going hunting, later sold my shotgun, and remained the same essential self.

So, I do not accede to the usual easy talk of “shortcomings” of real persons concerning their personalities. Furthermore, insofar as “shortcomings” is meant to entail a moral failing, there can be no such thing for characteristic behavioral responses over which one has no originative genuine choice.

I gather that, in context, the “shortcomings” in Rand the person, referred to in Branden’s paragraph I quoted above, were mainly responsive behaviors towards persons in her presence and with backdrop for her a love affair with the author, whom Rand had greatly admired. That it had been and had ended, and her attitude towards it all in old age, seemed natural and nothing “shortcoming” to me. 

I take issue with an assertion, additionally, in that quoted paragraph. That is the idea that in knowing personal particulars about a person—such as how went the dinner party we made for a couple last night or what physical labor I like most to do or who all turns me on or who was my unrequited would-be lover—are NOT more my humanity or more who I am than my prose writing, most of all, my scholarly papers. Nothing is more me than my mind, and nothing shows that thing so much as my written works. I earnestly suggest the same is so for the person Ayn Rand or any writer.

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