Ideal, page 1
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Ideal: the novel and the play/Ayn Rand.
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Also by Ayn Rand
PART I | IDEAL : The Novel
Introduction to Ideal: The Novel
A Note on the Manuscript of Ideal
1. Kay Gonda
2. George S. Perkins
3. Jeremiah Sliney
4. Dwight Langley
5. Claude Ignatius Hix
6. Dietrich von Esterhazy
7. Johnnie Dawes
PART II | IDEAL: The Play
Introduction to Ideal: The Play
IDEAL: The Novel
Introduction to Ideal: The Novel
In 1934, Ayn Rand wrote Ideal twice: first as a novel (fifty percent longer than Anthem), with which she was dissatisfied and edited only lightly; then, rewritten, as a polished stage play. Each version is the same in the four respects AR regarded as essential to literature (poetry apart): in each the same story conveying the same theme is enacted by (almost) the same characters; and despite large differences in editorial polish, each is written in AR’s inimitable literary style. Although she chose not to publish the novel, she kept its typescript intact in her office.
Why did AR turn Ideal into a play? She never spoke to me about this but, to the best of my knowledge, the basic answer lies in the epistemological difference between the two literary forms. A novel uses concepts and only concepts to present its events, characters, and universe. A play (or a movie) uses concepts and percepts; the latter are the audience’s observations of the physical actors, their movements, their speeches, et al. As an example, take novels made into movies, even if faithfully adapted. In the novel, the experience is complete simply through reading; now and then you may wish to see a character or event, but the desire is peripheral and transient. In the movie—while some form of dialogue, a conceptual element, is indispensable—seeing and continuing to see are required by the essence of the medium. You can be absorbed in a novel and wonder idly what a given scene would look like; but you do not watch the scene on-screen and wonder what it would read like.
Good novelists do work to give perceptual reality to their characters, but they do it within the limits of their form. Whatever their genius, they cannot give the reader an actual perceptual experience. Thus the crucial question in our context: What if a certain story by its nature requires such experience? What if its essential element(s) can be properly presented and grasped only by the use of perceptual means (in conjunction of course with the conceptual)?
The clearest example of such an element in Ideal is Kay Gonda’s exalted beauty, spiritual and physical. This is the specific kind of beauty at the base of the play. It is the beauty not only of a heroine, but of an enchanting screen goddess—which is what makes it possible for her to be the embodiment for so many millions of their ideal. If this attribute of Kay’s is not convincing, the story fails. And other things being equal, it seems that the perceptual in this context would win hands down over a purely conceptual treatment. A description of the actress Greta Garbo or the young Katharine Hepburn, however great the writer, could never fully convey (at least to me) the radiant perfection of their faces; yet, when looked at on-screen (if not as vividly as on the stage), they are taken in at a glance. (I choose these two examples, because they were AR’s favorite female movie faces; Garbo was the inspiration for Kay.)
Here is another aspect of Ideal that may call for a perceptual element. The story in either version gives us a fairly rapid parade of characters—each stylized succinctly to represent a variant of the theme (the evil of betraying one’s ideals), each presented in a single brief scene. These characters are portrayed eloquently, but only with the sparing detail this type of stylization requires. Given this
Here is a third consideration. Ideal in either version has a story but not, in AR’s definition, a plot (she was the first to make this point). Its beginning and end are logically connected, but the steps of Kay’s quest as she moves from one traitor to the next are not presented as a logical progression moving step by necessary step to a climax. So perhaps AR came to think that, as a novel, the story might seem a bit slow, might be read as merely a static series of character sketches. By contrast, a play can more easily suggest movement in a story, even one without a plot, because it offers continual physical activity. By itself, of course, this last has no aesthetic value in any art form except the dance. But one can see that, in some cases, it might help to lessen the problem of a work being static.
None of the above is to be taken as disparaging the novel form. A novel’s purely conceptual nature—its very freedom from the need to make its world perceptually available—allows it to create and make real, in each of its attributes, a complexity incomparably greater and more powerful than that possible to a play. If Kay Gonda is more real on the stage, Dagny Taggart is not; in fact, she is far more real to us in the pages of a book than she would be if we knew her only as an actress speaking lines. The reason is that a full grasp of her nature and force depends heavily not just on her dialogue and observable activity, but on the information we get from the novel’s non-perceptual element. Three obvious examples: the novel gives us what goes on unspoken in her mind; what went on in her now unseen past; and countless revealing events physically impossible to put onstage or often even into a movie.
Even in regard to theoretically observable scenes, the novel does not merely describe what, if we were present, we would observe. On the contrary, the novel can impart unique information and achieve unique effects by taking hold of our perceptual faculty and directing it. The author directs us through the nature and scope of the details he selects for a given scene; he can go from an integrated abundance far more than the eye alone could cope with, down to a deliberate sparseness emphasizing merely one small aspect of a perceptual entity while ignoring all the rest as unimportant, a type of selectivity that a perceiver by himself could not perform (e.g., one architect is characterized in The Fountainhead mostly through his dandruff).
Then there is all the information and emotion we gather from the author’s own use of evaluative words and connotations in narrative. And who knows how much more? To identify all the distinctive features possible to such a lengthy and comparatively unlimited art form as the novel is a task beyond my ability; I cannot even find a decent book about it. But I do want to add here a certain qualification: namely, many of a novel’s attributes are possible to a limited extent in a play or movie—but the emphasis is on limited.
Every artistic form possesses certain unique potentialities and thereby lacks certain others. A play or movie made from a novel is almost always inferior to it because it cannot approach the complexity of the original work. By the same token, a relatively simple novel may be superior onstage, because of the power the story gets from the perceptual element. Novel and play, therefore, each within its own form, are equal—i.e., each fulfills AR’s definition of art: “a recreation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value judgments.” It is the prerogative of the author to choose the genre of his work. AR, as we know, chose to put Ideal on the stage.
Although novel and play are equal in the above sense, a play’s script by itself is not the equal of either. By itself, a script is not a work of art or a genre of literature. Novel and play alike, being complete, enable you fully to enter and experience the world they create. But the script by itself does not: it omits the essence in this context of literary art; it is written for perception (to be heard from a cast of actors seen on a stage), yet by itself it is detached from any such perception. To read dialogue by itself can certainly have value, but it is not the value of an artwork, merely of one of its attributes. This difference, I believe, is a major reason why novels are vastly more popular among readers than playscripts.
Like every playwright, AR chose the stage for Ideal on the premise that her play would be produced. In today’s culture, however, there is no such production; most of us have and will continue to have no chance to see Ideal onstage, let alone to see it done properly—and even less chance to see a decent treatment if it were turned into a movie. The closest we can come to entering fully the world of Ideal is to read the novel. The comparison we face is a complete artwork with problems and a better artwork that is inaccessible to us.
But the novel has more than problems: it has many of the virtues uniquely possible to a conceptual treatment of the story. Although AR was dissatisfied with it, I do not think that by publishing it now I am contradicting her wishes. The reason is the nature of our culture now, plus the fact that so long a time has passed since her death. At this point, eight decades after the release of the play, no one can imagine that she considered this novel to be finished work, or fully worthy of her own standards of publication. In order to reaffirm her decision, we are not advertising this as “a new Ayn Rand novel.” Indeed, my main purpose in writing this Introduction is to emphasize that and to suggest why, despite its many virtues, she rejected it—and then, in that context, to let you in on these virtues.
In praising the novel, I do not mean to minimize the changes AR made in recasting it, because in several respects the play is obviously more eloquent and dramatic. I have not tried to compare the two works page by page, so I cannot comment on all the changes (an impossible task). Novel and playscript are deliberately bound together in this volume, so the reader can discover and judge for himself their quality and difference.
Translating the novel into a play involved two essential tasks. One was the theatrical requirement to tell the story in briefer form—only through dialogue spoken in stageable scenes. The other was the writer’s requirement to give the text a full editing. In regard to each of these, the changes are vast in number. In several passages, indeed, AR does not so much adapt or edit the novella as rewrite or even create from scratch.
There is, however, one change of substance, which goes beyond the above. In Chapter 3 of the novel, the central character is Jeremiah Sliney, an ignorant, dialect-speaking farmer. On her typescript, even before she started the play, AR slashed out the whole chapter, with ruthless lines signifying emphatic rejection. (I have seen her make such lines on my own manuscripts.) Dropping Sliney from the play, she instead took the name of a son-in-law of his, who had been an incidental character, and made him the scene’s central character. In this reincarnation, Chuck Fink has an ideological identity: he is a member of the Communist Party.
I do not know AR’s reason for this change, but I have some pretty good guesses. Sliney’s ignorance and dialect make him less believable as a character in the play’s context, i.e., less convincing as a conflicted idealist. For that role, an articulate urban intellectual is, I think, more believable. In addition, Fink brings to the story a new version of the evil it condemns: he is the man who betrays his ideal because of allegiance not to Babbitt or to God, but to Marx and the “social good.” This is a much more philosophical approach to the causes of Kay Gonda’s torture than Sliney’s desire for money. And there is another reason that may be operative; AR may have thought that Sliney’s betrayal of Kay could be taken as supporting a slogan she despised, namely: “Money is the root of all evil.” Whatever her reason(s) for it, though, the change offers us a side benefit: Fink gave her the best opportunity in the play to satirize, and thus gives us, immersed in an often bleak context,
Despite AR’s deletion of Sliney, I have left him in the novel just as he was in its first draft. I do so not because of his scene’s artistic value, but because it provides a small window into AR at work, a window that lets us see her power to create even in the earliest, unsatisfactory stage of a work, along with her absolutism in scrapping it if, like Rearden, she sees that it is not yet good enough. Of course, for the creator, the novel is not good enough, but for us, I think, its inadequacies do not diminish its value—both as art and as pleasure.
I first read the novel in 1982, the year AR died. I did not know about it until then, although I had long been familiar with the play. Sitting on a warehouse floor amid an overflow of her documents, I decided with a perfunctory interest to skim it a bit. To my surprise, I was drawn in and wholly absorbed, even at points in tears. When I finished, I felt a wrench, because I wanted to stay a little longer in Kay Gonda’s world. This manuscript is so good, I felt, it’s a shame it hasn’t been made public. At last, thanks to Richard Ralston, its time has come.
During his lifetime, an author publishes his mature, accomplished works. But when he has gone, it is a common practice to bring out his unpublished material, including his juvenilia, his early, faltering attempts. This is especially common if he has become an immortal in his field whose every word, early or late, is avidly consumed by a large body of readers and a growing number of scholars. What you are about to read is one of AR’s juvenilia written in her twenties when she was still ignorant of everything she would learn in the next fifty years. That’s all this novel is, nothing more.
But how many mature writers, I wonder, can match the genius of AR or create her universe of logic and passion? Even in embryonic form, she is still there—and thus still here.
Aliso Viejo, California
A Note on the Manuscript of Ideal
by Ayn Rand / Literature & Fiction / Philosophy / Nonfiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes