The secret life of Ayn Rand

Engaging drama reveals how the writer and philosopher’s adherence to ‘rational selfishness’ affected those she was closest to

Thursday, 29th October 2020 — By Lucy Popescu

Ayn Rand 1943

AYN Rand, the Russian-American writer and philosopher who lived by the motto “greed is good”, rose to prominence in the 1950s. Her books continue to sell and her ideas remain influential today – she believed “rational self-interest” should guide an individual’s actions; and that altruism was “evil”.

In Sara Davies and Abigail Youngman’s engaging drama, Talk to Me: Ayn Rand, award-winning director Mary Ward-Lowery “interviews” the people closest to her: husband Frank O’Connor (Rupert Wickham), her sister Nora Drobysheva (Tracy-Ann Oberman), housekeeper Eloise (Kerri McLean) and Rand herself (Diana Quick) in an attempt to discover the woman behind the headlines.

Rand was born Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum in St Petersburg in 1905. She was barely a teenager when the communists confiscated her family’s property. After graduating from university, her family raised the money to send her to the US in 1926 where she changed her name and “embraced American values”.

Rand lived by her philosophy. Claiming love consisted of the “selfish pleasure” of two individuals acting on reason, Rand chose her husband, Frank, for his film-star looks. When she had an affair with psychology student Nathaniel Branden, she called a meeting and made the spouses begrudgingly agree to the arrangement.

In 1974, Nora visited Rand in New York. They had not seen one another for almost 40 years. Nora was surprised to find her famous sibling living in a modest apartment like “an ordinary housewife”. While there, Nora’s husband Fedor had a heart attack and, although Rand paid for his hospital stay, she refused to visit him. Inevitably bitter, Nora describes her sister as “a sick guru”, and claims “America ruined her” and that “she could have been a better person”.

Most of us know aspects of Rand the writer and/or her work. In Talk to Me the dramatised recollections and observations of her husband and sister reveal a woman whose adherence to “rational selfishness” proved painful to those she was closest to and ultimately caused her own alienation.

  • BBC Radio 4, 2.15pm, November 3

Related Articles