Ayn Rand - A False Romantic
The Romantic period at its height extended over just a bit more than a century, from the latter half of the eighteenth century through to nearly the end of the nineteenth century. During this period, a new school of poetry was forged, and with it, a new moral philosophy. But, as the nineteenth century wound down, the Romantic movement seemed to be proving itself far more dependent on the specific cultural events it spanned than many believed; that is, the movement was beginning to wind down in time with the ebbing of the industrial and urban boom in much the same way that the movement grew out of the initial period of industrial and urban growth. Thus, it would be easy to classify the Romantic movement as inherently tied to its cultural context. The difficulty, then, comes when poets and authors outside of this time period-and indeed in contexts quite different then those of the original Romantic poets-begin to label themselves as Romantics.
The twentieth century author Ayn Rand, author of works such as The Fountainhead, Anthem, and Atlas Shrugged, is one such example of a self-labeled Romantic. In 1971 Rand published a collection of essays in a book she titled The Romantic Manifesto. This series of essays, with topics ranging from romantic art to the nature of a novel, carefully lays out Rand's conception of Romanticism and her place within it. The question one must ask, then, is how does Rand manage to write a work of nearly two hundred pages on the nature of Romanticism without ever once mentioning any of the key Romantic poets: Keats, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, and so on. The obvious answer would seem to be that Rand's conception of Romanticism must be diametrically opposed to that of the genuine Romantics and that, therefore, Rand cannot in any traditional sense be considered a Romantic. A careful analysis of Rand's own fiction, however, along with some of the statements she makes in her manifesto, reveals a fairly strong corollary between her writing and that of the original Romantics. While their methods and basic philosophies may differ, Rand and the Romantics appear to be fighting for the same thing; they both believe that, through their writing, they can promote a moral revolution within their readers.
Before an analysis can be made of Rand's writing, one must first confront her philosophy and the role it plays in virtually every written word she put down in her career. Rand's self-created philosophy was that of Objectivism, a philosophy that proclaims, among other things, the objective nature of reality, the denial of "mysticism," the worship of reason, and the value of absolutes. One needn't dig deeply into any of Rand's writing to find traces of this philosophy; every character, every setting, and every plot she writes is deeply set in an Objectivist context. This voraciously single minded pursuit of her philosophy is at once her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. By placing...