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Friday, December 14, 2018

Ayn Rand and the Creation of Dominque

Jennifer Burns, in her book Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Chapter 2: “Individualists of the World, Unite!”), makes an interesting revelation on how Ayn Rand developed the heroine of The Fountainhead, Dominique. According to Burns, Rand created Dominque through a process of introspection and by combining the introspection with an analysis of her husband Frank O’Connor. Here’s an excerpt:
To capture the psychology of Dominique, a bitter and discontented heiress, Rand conjured up her own darkest moods. She tapped into all the frustration and resentment of her early years, her feeling that the world was rigged in favor of the mediocre and against the exceptional, and then imagined, “[W]hat if I really believed that this is all there is in life.” In the novel Howard would teach Dominique to let go of these poisonous attitudes, just as Rand herself had become more optimistic with her professional success and freedom to write. 
She combined this introspection with a new analysis of Frank, her beloved but troubling husband. When they first met, Frank was brimming with hopes and plans for his Hollywood career. He had several near misses, including a screen test with D. W. Griffith for a part that helped establish Neil Hamilton (later famous on TV as Batman’s Police Commissioner Gordon). But as Rand’s fortunes soared ever upward, Frank’s collapsed. In New York, with Rand’s income sufficient to support them both, Frank idled. He took charge of paying the household bills but made little effort to establish himself in a new line of work. It was an inexplicable turn of events for Rand, who valued career above all else. 
Now, as she crafted Dominique, Rand hit on a satisfying explanation for Frank’s passivity. Dominique, like Frank, would turn away from the world in anger, “a withdrawal not out of bad motives or cowardice, but out of an almost unbearable kind of idealism which does not know how to function in the journalistic reality as we see it around us.” Dominique loves Howard, yet tries to destroy him, believing he is doomed in an imperfect world. Confusing and conflicted, Dominique is among Rand’s least convincing creations. More important, though, was the effect this character had on Rand’s marriage. Seeing Frank as Dominique glossed over his professional failures and cast his defeated resignation in terms Rand could understand. 
Before I read Burns’s book, I didn’t know that Frank O’Connor was the inspiration for Dominque. In the Footnote, Burns refers to Rand’s Biographical Interview as the source for this information. As far as I know, the Biographical Interview is not available in the market.

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