Yesterday I gave an introduction and synopsis, today we'll get to what it all means. Tomorrow we'll discuss "Objectivism" a bit, and that'll wrap things up for us on this novel.
I’ve got a thing for Russian Novels. I haven’t read as many of them as I’d like to have, but I really enjoy them for their singleminded lack of brevity. I love how they’ll take a concept or story and just keep on hammering at it until every possible permutation is driven home. I admire that level of completion, and I really have a thing for American-Written Russian Novels. That is, Novels written by Russian expatriates in America in the 20th century. I’ve read everything that Nabokov ever wrote in English, for instance. It’s important to remember, then, that Ayn Rand’s real name was Alisa Zonov’yevna Rosenbaum, from St. Petersburg in Tsarist Russia. This, therefore, is a Russian-American novel.
So what can I say about it that hasn’t been said a thousand times over in a half-century of obsessive scholarly study? Not much, I’m sure, especially since the book goes out of its way to be a res ipsa loquitor kind of proposition: It deliberately says all it feels there is to say about itself. Even still, it’s worth talking about.
First off, when Doubting Thomas referred to this thing as his bible, I assumed he was talking about the profound effect it had on guiding his life, not on it’s actual size and weight. My copy is 1170 pages and weighs in at 4.6 pounds. Though I enjoyed the book, and though I enjoy sprawling Russian lit and its occasional glacial pace in general, I had to feel that this novel wasn’t a particularly effective idea-delivery system. It basically has only a handful of ideas - Objectivism is good, collectivism is bad, Static societies are bad, society is divided in to producers, moochers, and looters, and there is no fourth option, and that unbridled lasiez faire capitalism is the only hope for the world. She takes those five basic ideas and drives them home again and again and again, frequently to the point of disservice to the plot. It’s hard to accuse a book as deliberately didactic as this one of overstating their point, but at 3.28 ounces of book per idea, I’ll let you judge for yourselves.
And yet I did enjoy it. As with all Russian(ish) novels, once you get used to the pace and structure, if you just let it wash over you without screaming “Get to the point,” it becomes a fun, entertaining ride. The first half of the book, in which we watch a worm’s eye view of what is essentially the fall of Rome is pretty compelling. Indeed, Rand undoubtedly knew what she was on about here. She was twelve when the Russian Revolution hit, and watched six months of violence in her home town. Her dad’s business was confiscated by the Soviets, and the family was forced to run to the Crimea for four years before it was safe to come home again. Rand went to college in the Soviet Union, but her non-worker status and views resulted in her being purged prior to the completion of her fourth year. Eventually, however, she was let back in and graduated at age Ninteen, then went on to a technical school for film production. While visiting relatives in Chicago in 1926, she defected to the US, seeing our country as a kind of magical wonder world compared to her own, and dedicated herself to preventing Soviet Styled ‘experiments’ here and elsewhere through her development of the Objectivist philosophy.
Dagny, the protagonist, is obviously based on Rand herself, in a somewhat idealized form. She’s unbelievably good looking, but takes no notice of fashion nor girly things except when it suits her to do so. She’s unbelievably intelligent. She’s a business woman, driven to succeed in a man’s world on a man’s own terms. She’s got no kids, nor does she want them. She cares only about her work, though she does have a thing for music. She’s rich. This is a somewhat unlikely combination of attributes, but, hey, the chess pieces have to start off from somewhere, right? It didn’t bother me too much in the same way that it doesn’t bother me too much that Superman is an unlikely character with powers I can never hope to have. Dagny, likewise, is effectively superhuman, though, of course, she’s not a super heroine.
I *do* feel Rand goes