Issued two years after Ayn Rand’s death in 1982, this collection of previously unpublished fiction shows some of the steps by which Rand developed her literary abilities. (Because the plays Ideal and Think Twiceare covered as part of the collection Three Plays on this site, those plays are not discussed at length here.)
Rand’s progress as a writer, from age 21 to 35, is apparent in the thirteen complete and partial works presented here: six short stories, two stage plays, four excerpts from drafts of novels, and a screen scenario.
A word of caution from Rand’s literary executor, Leonard Peikoff: “To those unfamiliar with Ayn Rand, . . . I want to say that this book is not the place to begin. Read her novels first” — along with any nonfiction of personal interest. “Then, if you wish, pick up the present collection.”
— Leonard Peikoff, editor, The Early Ayn Rand
This collection includes the following:
According to Rand’s literary executor, Leonard Peikoff, the selections in this volume “exhibit Ayn Rand’s continuous growth in every area: depth of theme, ingenuity of plot structure, stature of hero. Most of all, they exhibit the maturation of her style, from the broken English of ‘The Husband I Bought’ to the power and poetry of The Fountainhead.”
From “Vesta Dunning” (material cut from The Fountainhead):
“The voice was exultant, breaking under an emotion it could not control. It seemed to fail suddenly in the wrong places, speaking the words not as they should have been spoken on a stage, but as a person would fling them out in delirium, unable to hold them, choking upon them. It was the voice of a somnambulist, unconscious of its own sounds, knowing only the violence and the ecstasy of the dream from which it came.
“Then it stopped and there was no sound in the room above. Roark went up swiftly and threw the door open.
“A girl stood in the middle of the room, with her back to him. She whirled about, when she heard the door knock against the wall. His eyes could not catch the speed of her movement. He had not seen her turn. But there she was suddenly, facing him, as if she had sprung up from the floor and frozen for a second. Her short brown hair stood up wildly with the wind of the motion.”
As “The Husband I Bought” opens, 21-year-old Irene Wilmer seemingly has everything: great beauty, a large inheritance and the best house in her little hometown — but what she wants most is the love of Henry Stafford. Despite his love for her, Stafford is in financial trouble and doesn’t want to be a gold digger.
With passionate pleading, Irene overcomes Henry’s resistance and becomes Mrs. Henry Stafford, devoting her entire inheritance to pay his debts. “Four years of perfect, delirious happiness” follow — but then Claire Van Dahlen comes to town, and Irene’s love for Henry will be tested in ways she had dreaded even to conceive.
The title has a double meaning. It encompasses not only Irene’s decision to use her inheritance to wipe out her new husband’s debts, but also the much dearer emotional price she would pay to buy happiness for the man she loves.
— Irene Stafford, “The Husband I Bought” by Ayn Rand
Juliana Xenia Winford — everybody calls her “Jinx” — is the 18-year-old daughter of the richest man in town. She’s described as “slim, straight, strong like a steel spring,” and she’s the fearless and adventurous heroine of the lighthearted tale “Good Copy.”
One evening, Jinx is speeding home alone on a deserted highway when she almost runs into Laury McGee’s car, which he has parked across the road to stop her. It turns out that McGee, a local newspaper reporter, is so fed up with unexciting, small-town events that he’s decided to make some news of his own — with a high-society kidnapping.
McGee parlays his scheme into a flood of sensational byline articles that raise his reputation with the newspaper’s editor. But back at McGee’s “lair,” Jinx is having entirely too much fun playing the role of kidnap victim. Who’s holding whom hostage, and what will the ransom turn out to be?
When we first meet Joan Harding, near the beginning of “Red Pawn,” she is arriving by boat at a prison camp on a remote island on Soviet Russia’s east coast. We see her through the eyes of Commandant Kareyev, who has agreed to withdraw his resignation on condition that a woman be sent to the all-male island, for his pleasure only:
“He watched her walking down the gangplank. The fact that her steps were steady, light, assured was astonishing; the fact that she looked like a woman who belonged in exquisite drawing rooms was startling; but the fact that she was beautiful was incredible.”
Who is Joan Harding, and what is she after? Why is she being offered up as the answer to this lonely commander’s ultimatum? And what will he do when he comes face-to-face with the soul-crushing consequences of the political ideal to which he has devoted his life?
— Joan Harding, “Red Pawn” by Ayn Rand
In “Her Second Career,” Claire Nash is a Hollywood star who believes “in her own greatness, deeply, passionately, devotedly” — a belief she holds because critics hail her as a genius and fans adore her, not because she actually brings any distinctive value to her roles.
Nash’s producer wants her to convince Winston Ayers — a distinguished English author who shuns Hollywood because stars like Nash “are not worth writing for” — to write her next screenplay. Ayers proposes a wager: He will write a screenplay, but only if Nash will attempt a “second career” — by starting over, under another name in Europe, and seeking fame a second time, to prove that her current stardom is due to merit rather than chance.
Nash (who anticipates the character of Peter Keating in The Fountainhead fourteen years later) must confront the ugly reality of the fame machinery that anoints mediocrity as if it were excellence.
— Claire Nash, “Her Second Career” by Ayn Rand
Vesta Dunning, an actress, “was not pretty, nor gracious, nor gentle, nor sweet; she played the part of a young girl not as a tubercular flower, but as a steel knife. . . . She achieved the incredible: she was the first woman who ever allowed herself to make strength attractive on the screen.”
Yet for all her abilities as an actress, Dunning finds herself increasingly unhappy in her affair with Howard Roark. When she proves willing to compromise her artistic ideals for financial success, she loses Roark’s love and her own self-respect.
Because Rand edited Dunning out of The Fountainhead, her literary executor, Leonard Peikoff, advises that this excerpt should be read as an individual, self-contained piece: “If I may state the point paradoxically, for emphasis: these events did not happen to Roark — they are pure fiction!”
— Vesta Dunning, “Vesta Dunning” by Ayn Rand
According to Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, success and happiness are to be expected in life, if one puts in the effort necessary to think and act rationally, to acquire genuine knowledge and pursue life-sustaining values.
In this sense the universe is “benevolent”: this formulation of Rand’s is not meant to suggest that the universe is “looking out” for man but rather that, by the metaphysically given nature of reality, man has the capacity to achieve the values his life requires. Failure and suffering are not man’s fate.
In several selections in this volume — including “Good Copy,” “The Husband I Bought” and Ideal — one witnesses Rand beginning to explore this theme, so characteristic of her mature fiction and philosophy.
Rand’s purpose in writing fiction, she said, “is the projection of an ideal man. The portrayal of a moral ideal, as my ultimate literary goal, as an end in itself — to which any didactic, intellectual or philosophical values contained in a novel are only the means.”
Although in these early stories and excerpts Rand is not yet ready to present her conception of the ideal man, she explores from various perspectives the theme of idealism. What does a genuine dedication to values look like?
In “The Husband I Bought,” for instance, the focus is on a woman’s feelings for her ideal man, and the question is what should she be willing to do, for her own sake, for the man she loves. “Red Pawn” concerns in part the question of the proper ideal to which to dedicate one’s life. And Ideal exposes different ways in which people pretend to themselves to have ideals.
Anticommunists are typically “conservatives” who concede that self-sacrifice for society’s sake is a moral ideal, but regard it as impractical because people are too weak and selfish to practice it. Ayn Rand, by contrast, saw communism as fundamentally, thoroughly and necessarily immoral. On her view, the claim that personal lives and values should be systematically sacrificed for the collective is the opposite of a “noble ideal.”
In “Red Pawn,” Rand dramatizes for the screen the evil of a communist dictatorship — of any dictatorship for that matter, including fascist and religious regimes — by showing how it necessarily destroys the personal values and happiness of people living under it.
Rand’s moral opposition to communism also enters into “Think Twice,” set in the 1950s, where the Soviet threat figures in the plot.
Good-natured humor, Ayn Rand held, is never directed at a value, but always, in her words, at the undesirable, the negligible, the contradictory, the pretentious. Rand employs humor often and effectively in her fiction, including most of the selections here:
In a note to herself at about age 23, Rand said: “Stop admiring yourself — you are nothing yet.” Although she was certainly on the way to developing her ability to write, her stern warning reminds us that writing ability, like all skills, is learned and not inborn — and that we must be honest with ourselves.
Rand was 21 years old in 1926, when this collection starts. Readers who are interested in her literary development will see a marked progression in several areas: