Today in 1946, Ayn Rand began writing what has become perhaps the most important novel ever written: Atlas Shrugged.
As many of her readers know, the book went on to become an international best seller and remains so today. What most people might not know however, is that Ayn Rand first began thinking of the plot and themes that would form the novel when she was only 18.
Excerpted below is a passage from The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden. As a disclaimer, I want to say that I am aware of the criticisms of Ms. Branden’s book. Having read it, I can say I agree with the majority of them. Errors of memory can be forgiven but the armchair psychologizing which often takes a nasty tone and the unfair treatment and interoperation of certain events cannot.
That being said, I’ve found the following short passage from the book to be incredibly interesting and believe that it is true in essentials:
“As Alice later described the story (she was hesitant to describe it at all: “It’s so primitive,” she said, laughing) of the “grandfather of Atlas Shrugged,” the leader of the strike was a woman of so astonishing a beauty that any man who saw her had to follow her, and join her for the rest of his life. “It is not just physical beauty,” Alice would explain, “but also its spiritual meaning. Her beauty is symbolic; lesser men would be perfectly indifferent to her, but if a man were an unusual soul, he would not be able to resist her.”
The story opens as men of achievement from all over Europe— statesmen, inventors, scientists, artists— begin to vanish, and friends can gather only that the night before each disappearance, the man was seen with an exquisitely beautiful woman.
One by one, Europe’s men of ability are disappearing.
The reader learns that the heroine has not told the men the nature of her goal, she has asked only that they follow her. When she has drawn out the leading brains of Europe, she explains her purpose to them: to take them to the United States, to break all ties with an increasingly collectivist Europe, and to allow Europe to collapse.
Before they can leave, however, one new figure arises. He is the hero, a great French inventor named Francis; 6 he is the last genius left and Europe’s one remaining intellectual weapon.
He resents the woman, whom he has never seen, because he thinks she is attempting to rule the world. He gives a public test of an airplane he has invented that flies faster than any plane yet devised.
When he lands, the heroine sees him— and she falls in love. “That night, in his laboratory,” Alice would recount, “Francis gets a private wireless message from her. She wires: ‘I need your services. I will buy you. I offer one million dollars.’
He wires back his answer: ‘I don’t need your services. I will buy you. I offer two million dollars.’ A few moments later, he sits in his laboratory shaken, emotionally reached for the first time in his life, because the answer has come back: ‘I accept.’ He replies that he will expect her in his laboratory on this exact day and time next year. “
A year has passed. He is in his laboratory again. At the exact hour and minute of the woman’s original message, there is a knock on his door. She enters, wearing a black cape and veiled. He puts two million dollars on the table between them. She takes off her veil and cape; she is naked.
“The next morning, the newspaper headlines announce that the inventor has disappeared. He becomes the leader of America; she has merely been the spirit of the strike. They declare war on Europe, which they conquer easily because all the machinery, the inventions and the brains are on their side. The book ends on a free world and on their triumph.