(I like my title better!)
Yet the sprinklings of patriotic, almost Capra-esque populism that softened The Fountainhead’s unavoidable elitism are absent entirely in her follow-up, Atlas Shrugged, replaced by an almost hallucinatory misanthropy. What happened, Burns wonders, in the intervening thirteen years?
The answer seems obvious to me now, rereading her book in my 50s:
Ayn Rand, the avatar of adolescence, was going through The Change.
“Now in her forties,” writes Burns of the author between novels, “Rand struggled with her weight, her moodiness, her habitual fatigue.” Already dependent on the crazy-making Benzedrine she’d been popping to help her meet her Fountainhead deadline, Rand was hurtling toward what we’d now recognize as a midlife crisis.
Enter Nathaniel Blumenthal. He’d begun corresponding with Rand while still a high school student, but unlike her thousands of other teenage fans, he’d even memorized The Fountainhead. At UCLA, he’d coauthored a letter to the campus paper, declaring that a professor with suspected Communist ties who’d killed himself deserved “to be condemned to hell.” Then he changed his surname to “Branden” because it had “Rand” in it.
So, basically a nut.
Rand ended her life as one of the “moochers” she’d railed about.