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Her name is a kind of psychological litmus test; it inevitably provokes violent reactions of either fierce admiration or indignant denunciation. But neutrality seems impossible.
Both as a thinker and as an artist, Ayn Rand stormed against the tide. As a philosopher, she was an uncompromising champion of reason, individualism and pure capitalism. As a novelist, she was an impassioned Romantic. In both capacities, she was startling, original, unprecedented.
The goal of her writing, she said, was not to capture a "slice of life," but to project her moral vision of man "as he might and ought to be."
And rejecting the notion that a "serious" novel had to be dull, she dramatized her philosophical themes in intricate plots loaded with color, romance, adventure and grandeur.
One may love or hate her stories; one cannot easily forget them.
Atlas Shrugged , her last and most ambitious epic, appeared in 1957. Now Leonard Peikoff-the late author's heir-has compiled a remarkable selection from her unpublished fiction of the 1920s and 1930s.
The collection includes short stories, plays, a film synopsis and excerpts cut from her novels before publication. It is a record of rapid, astonishing literary growth, and it makes for thoroughly entrancing reading.
Even her first amateurish effort, "The Husband I Bought" (written before the Russian-born author had acquired proficiency in English), evokes a haunting idealism. And those who think of Ayn Rand as a stern, humorless personality will be delighted by the broad, comic gaiety of "Good Copy," the obvious O. Henry influence in "Escort" and the light satire of "Her Second Career."
Her first professional work, the powerful film synopsis Red Pawn, anticipates the ideas and Olympian spirit of the later novels. Ideal (a bitter protest against moral hypocrisy) and Think Twice (an ingenious philosophical whodunit) show the author in mature command of her themes, style and theatrical medium. And even the passages excised from her novels contain many veins of pure literary gold.
Another standout is a lengthy excerpt cut from The Fountainhead about the first love affair of the hero, Howard Roark, and an actress reminiscent of the young Katherine Hepburn. It is a measure of the author's talent-and discipline-that work of such merit was considered extraneous.
Dr. Peikoff's introduction and notes provide welcome glimpses into Ayn Rand's personal life and intellectual genesis. He also lucidly explains her unique fiction method.
This collection will be best enjoyed by those who have first read her famous novels. But it also stands on its own as enchanting entertainment.
For fans and foes alike, here's a fascinating look at the literary roots of America's most intransigent individualist.