Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Remington-Rand Story, Again

In my discussion with James Valliant, I pointed out that in Allan Gotthelf’s 2000 book On Ayn Rand, Gotthelf says that Rand took her last name from a Remington-Rand typewriter. I also pointed out that Gotthelf states that he checked all the biographical portions of the book with archivists at the ARI. Valliant responded by stating that Gotthelf says that he "erroneously" relied on PAR. Valliant further says there is nothing in the archives to support the claim that Rand took her name from a Remington-Rand (“RR”) typewriter.

I am willing to give Gotthelf the benefit of the doubt. Certainly he realized the mistake quite shortly after he published his book.

Here is what Gotthelf says:

“Barbara Branden has written a biography/memoir of Ayn Rand, based in part on taped interviews with her in 1960 and 1961. The book has numerous factual errors . . . . Because of this, although I have consulted the book where it draws directly on the taped interviews, I have checked every report I have used (and other details of Ayn Rand’s life) with archivists at the Ayn Rand Institute, which has access to all the tapes.” (OAR, p. 27.)

A couple things should be noted. First, Gotthelf says that he relied on PAR only where it concerned taped interviews of Rand. Branden attributes the RR story to Fern Brown. Therefore, by Gotthelf’s own admission, he didn’t rely on PAR for the name issue. Second, he says he checked his facts in all instances with the ARI. He emphasizes two more times that he checked the biographical sections with the ARI. (Pages 2 & 17.) He also says that Harry Binswanger read drafts of the book (although it’s possible that the draft Binswanger read didn’t have the name discussion).

It’s also important to compare what Fern Brown said about the name (as relayed by PAR in 1986) and what Gotthelf said in 2000.

Here is the Brown version (at page 71 in PAR):

1. AR chose the first name “Ayn” upon arrival to the US, having first heard it presumably in Russia (this actually is not from Brown);
2. Rand brought a RR typewriter with her from Russia;
3. While in the U.S., AR looked at her RR typewriter, prompting her to chose “Rand” as her last name;
4. Rand didn’t tell her family in Russia her new name for fear that they might be endangered.

Here is the Gotthelf version (at page 19 in OAR):

1. AR settled on “Rand” while in Russia;
2. AR first spotted “Rand” on a RR typewriter in Russia (no mention if it was hers or if it was brought to the U.S.);
3. AR was leaning toward “Ayn” while in Russia;
4. AR’s family in Russia knew her new last name;
5. Rand decided on a new name because, if she became famous, her family in Russia might be endangered.

Gotthelf bases at least part of the above on a letter that AR’s sister Nora wrote to her from Russia before Rand had arrived in the U.S. This is obviously information from the archives that Branden didn’t have access to.

The versions are more dissimilar than similar. The most significant difference is the name “Rand.” Gotthelf says that AR chose it while in Russia after spotting it on a RR typewriter. There is no mention of whether the typewriter was Rand’s or whether it was brought to the U.S.

I think it’s clear that by 2000 Gotthelf/ARI knew that Fern Brown’s story could not be true, at least in large part. Knowing this, it is extremely unlikely that they accepted the RR story based exclusively on PAR. Therefore, there was a separate oral tradition that supported the RR story.

If this is true (and I think my analysis has shown it to be more likely than not), this makes plausible Barbara Branden’s recollection of having heard the RR story from Rand. It certainly undercuts any claim that she is lying.


Anonymous said...

it is indicative of a sick philosophical movement - and by this i mean the ARI orthodoxy - that utter *trivia* like this bulk so large.

ayn rand did some great things.

she was also a flawed human being. one need look no further than her "to whom it may concern" about the brandens - or some elements of her fiction (as with how dagny treats rearden after she meets galt) - to see some of the flaws. so what?

in their zeal to demonstrate rand's perfection, they deny reality.

sa said...