Ayn Rand, 20th Century Romanticism, and Romantic Realism.
Thriller Plots, Heroes, Philosophical Themes, Matchless Style:
The Royal Highway from Ivanhoe to Les Misérables to Atlas Shrugged
David Kelley, Ph.D., founder of The Atlas Society, writes in his preface: “Walter [Donway] refers often to [Ayn] Rand’s Romantic Manifesto, with illuminating observations drawn from his deep understanding of her Objectivist philosophy. But he goes far beyond Rand’s book in his detailed treatment of the Romantic movement. Even those well-versed in Objectivism will find arresting insights and applications.” From the perspective of the mid-Twentieth Century, when the schools of “Naturalism,” then “Realism,” had swept “serious” literature, Ayn Rand could look back on Romanticism and discern—as even Hugo did not in full—what truly constituted its spirit and power. What was essential and what accidental, what consistent with its vital spirit and what contradictory to it.
Ayn Rand Resuscitates Dying Romanticism
This enabled her, as she progressed from novel to novel—and the growth that occurred from We the Living to The Fountainhead to Atlas Shrugged seems astounding—to attain a Romanticism of ruthless purity that with the writing of Atlas Shrugged endowed her art with unprecedented power. See the chapter, “Ayn Rand Resuscitates Dying Romanticism.” She had identified what gives Romanticism its incomparable ability to excite the imagination, lift the spirit, and inspire intense hero-worship.
She mastered a literary method that rendered Atlas Shrugged and its events and heroes immortal in the minds of readers—part of an experience readers say no other fiction gave them—and made it literally life-changing. I give personal testimony to that experience in the chapter, “Incurable Atlas Fever.”
History’s Profoundest Philosophical/Psychological Esthetics
If in her novels she resuscitated the Romantic Revolution, she gave that movement at least a slender chance to grow against almost insurmountable cultural odds. She was able to do so by virtue of her parallel careers as a novelist and philosopher. Even as her novels became more consciously, consistently Romantic, her own philosophy emerged and became more explicit, articulate, and complete. Her hope that the future might see a rebirth of Romanticism was heard by many of us.
In writing Atlas Shrugged, she was determined not only to create a grand epic of the clash of values on a world stage—at levels simultaneously intimately personal, social, political, and philosophical—but at the same time to define what should be a hero’s values. If, in Romantic fiction, men and women embodied the grandeur of dedication to their values, what should those values be? As she put the assignment to herself: Define a philosophy for successfully living on earth.
Heroes Who Could Live and Succeeded on Earth
Atlas Shrugged became perhaps the first Romantic novel in history with heroes who lived and acted not for conventionally accepted “highest values”—an era’s prevailing conception of the noble—but by a philosophy and code of values originated by the author and introduced to the world in the pages of a novel. The rest is history, as a generation of mostly young readers turned the last page of Atlas Shrugged not only on fire to emulate its heroes but possessed of an explicit exposition of the ideas that made those heroes possible.
Romanticism Reborn is a new edition of the book originally published independently under the title, Ayn Rand's Road to Romanticism, and is now published by The Atlas Society.
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