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Question: I read on the Internet somewhere that Ayn Rand' s least favorite novel was Anna Karenina...First of all, is that true? If so, what about her philosophy made her dislike it so? I really liked it, as a matter of fact!
Answer: Ayn Rand indeed regarded Anna Karenina as her least favorite novel. She presented her negative analysis of Anna Karenina in the article "What is Romanticism?" in her book The Romantic Manifesto, and in several places in her book The Art of Fiction. Rand was opposed to the fact that social ostracism was sufficient to destroy Anna's attempt to find happiness outside her unhappy marriage. Since Rand's philosophy advocates happiness as man's rightful and highest goal in life, a novel that depicts failure to achieve happiness would be considered the antithesis of her philosophy.
Rand admitted that the novel had good literary qualities, but as a philosopher, she was concerned with its philosophical message rather than its literary power. Rand portrayed strong heroes and heroines who overcome social pressures, so a novel that depicts society's success to destroy a couple's attempt to find happiness would be opposed to her philosophy. Rand focused on the moral implication of Anna Karenina, i.e., that a woman cannot escape an unhappy marriage and an officer is doomed to ruin his military career by pursuing his love for a married woman. She was also opposed to the graphic details of Anna's death under the wheels of a running train as unnecessarily horrific and cruel.
A reader's enjoyment of Anna Karenina does not imply a philosophical deficiency—it is possible to enjoy the novel on a literary level. And I should also point out that Rand overlooked one issue in the novel: the fact that Anna is torn between her love for her son and her love for the young officer. She is not destroyed only by social ostracism and unearned guilt. Her guilt for deserting her son is real.
[Editors Note: I would like to add that no Objectivist is obliged to share all of Ayn Rand's aesthetic tastes, and there are many reasons why one might enjoy a work of art. (This is not to deny artistic standards, but merely to point out that individual taste has many dimensions.)