Read Part 1.
The official version — at least the former official version, I don’t know if Barbara Branden’s hagiography in Who Is Ayn Rand? is in the canon any more — of how Ayn Rand met her husband goes like this:
One morning, she boarded a streetcar as usual for the long ride to the [de Mille] studio in Culver City…she glanced across the aisle.
He was tall and slender; a strand of fair hair fell over his forehead; he wore an open shirt, and slacks over long legs. The skin of his face was taut against high cheekbones. His mouth was long and thin. His eyes were a cold, clear blue. He was half-dozing, his body relaxed with the boneless elegance of a cat….
She knew that if she were a painter and were asked to put on canvas her own private vision of the perfect human face and figure, it would be this face and this figure that she would struggle to create. She felt as if she were chained to her seat — or chained to him — and unable to move.
Then she felt the jolt of a sudden terror: he would get off the streetcar, and she would never learn who he was.
Not to worry, kids: he turns out to be an extra in the de Mille extravaganza King of Kings, just like her. They’re together for days and she doesn’t open her mouth. Finally she manages to make him trip over her on the set and she finds out his name is Frank O’Connor. Then, disaster:
When she arrived on the set the next day he was not there. She learned that the scenes in which he was working had been completed. She did not know where he lived; his name was not listed in the telephone book; the casting office refused to release the addresses of actors; the few people with whom she was acquainted could not help her. He had vanished, and she knew of no way to find him.
Nine months later, she runs into him in the library.
He led her outside into the summer afternoon. They walked aimlessly — and talked purposefully. They discussed movies and writing and acting and what they inteded to do in the future; they talked eagerly, without strain and with no sense of being strangers. By the end of the day, she knew that what she had seen in his face, that first morning on the streetcar, she now had found in his character…She had found her spiritual ally, who saw the world as she saw it.
Uh huh. Today’s question is, did Ayn Rand fall in love with the face or the character? Did Frank O’Connor have to be a Randian hero, or just look like one? The Ayn Rand of Atlas Shrugged says she fell in love with the character:
…a man’s sexual choice is the result and the sum of his fundamental convictions. Tell me what a man finds sexually attractive and I will tell you his entire philosophy of life. Show me the woman he sleeps with and I will tell you his valuation of himself. No matter what corruption he’s taught about the virtue of selflessness, sex is the most profoundly selfish of all acts, an act which he cannot perform for any motive but his own enjoyment — just try to think of performing it in a spirit of selfless charity! — an act which is not possible in self-abasement, but only in self-exaltation, only in the confidence of being desired and being worthy of desire. It is an act that forces him to stand naked in spirit, as well as in body, and to accept his real ego as his standard of value. He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience — or to fake – a sense of self-esteem….Love is our response to our highest values – and can be nothing else…
This sexual psychology is entirely deductive. Sex is a value, sex is an expression of one’s highest values, so falling in love with an inferior person necessarily puts your own moral bankruptcy on display.
Stendhal, on the other hand, says Ayn Rand fell in love with the face. We can reverse the genders for our purposes:
Here is what happens in the soul:
2. You think, “How delightful it would be to kiss her, to be kissed by her,” and so on…
3. Hope. You observe her perfections, and it is at this moment that a woman really ought to surrender, for the utmost physical pleasure. Even the most reserved women blush to the whites of their eyes at this moment of hope. The passion is so strong, and the pleasure so sharp, that they betray themselves unmistakably.
4. Love is born. To love is to enjoy seeing, touching, and sensing with all the senses, as closely as possible, a lovable object which loves in return.
5. The first crystallization begins. If you are sure a woman loves you, it is a pleasure to endow her with a thousand perfections and to count your blessings with infinite satisfaction. In the end you overrate wildly, and regard her as something fallen from Heaven, unknown as yet, but certain to be yours.
At the salt mines of Salzburg, they throw a leafless wintry bough into one of the abandoned workings. Two or three months later they haul it out covered with a shining deposit of crystals. The smallest twig, no bigger than a tom-tit’s claw, is studded with a galazy of scintillating diamonds. The original branch is no longer recognizable.
What I have called crystallization is a mental process which draws from everything that happens new proofs of the perfection of the loved one.
It is at this point, with Ayn Rand already half in love with him, that Frank O’Connor drops out of sight for nine months. Note that so far he has shown nothing in the way of character. Stendhal continues:
This is what happens next to fix the attention:
6. Doubt creeps in. First a dozen or so glances, or some other sequence of actions, raise and confirm the lover’s hopes. Then, as he recovers from the initial shock, he grows accustomed to his good fortune, or acts on a theory drawn from the common multitude of easily-won women. He asks for more positive proofs of affection and tries to press his suit further.
He is met with indifference, coldness, or even anger…
Or absence, in this case. Long absence sets the scene for what Stendhal calls “the second crystallization.”
The lover begins to be less sure of the good fortune he was anticipating and subjects his grounds for hope to a critical examination.
He tries to recoup by indulging in other pleasures but finds them inane….Thus begins:
7. The second crystallization, which deposits diamond layers of proof that “she loves me.”
Every few minutes throughout the night which follows the birth of doubt, the lover has a moment of dreadful misgiving, and then reassures himself, “she loves me”; and crystallization begins to reveal new charms. Then once again the haggard eye of doubt pierces him and he stops transfixed…Torn between doubt and delight, the poor lover convinces himself that she could give him such pleasure as he could find nowhere else on earth.
Nine months of this sort of thing would make anyone’s eye of doubt pretty haggard. Ayn Rand’s romance was on Stendhal’s pattern and not at all on her own. Frank O’Connor was neither a hero nor a villain. He was a weak and ineffectual man who liked to work in his garden, and paint, and drink, and was very much in love with Ayn Rand. The loved one is not perfect until the lover makes him so. Ayn Rand used to know this about love herself; before the notorious “rape by engraved invitation” scene in The Fountainhead, Dominique and Roark have had exactly one, highly sublimated conversation about marble. She doesn’t find out he’s a hero until she’s already been to bed with him.
It would not be necessary to insist on this rather obvious point unless Objectivism made such a virtue of ignoring it and hurt so many people in the process. Ayn Rand damaged herself and her marriage by conducting an affair with Nathaniel Branden, mostly because she thought he fit the profile of a suitable lover better than her husband did. Many followers of Rand were told to give up their lovers because they weren’t proper manifestations of the “highest values,” i.e., weren’t Objectivists. I hope Objectivist psychologists are no longer handing out this sort of advice, but I don’t know, and would be curious if any readers wish to enlighten me. It’s not the most serious intellectual error in Objectivism — only the one that has caused the most misery.