Monday, August 04, 2008

James Valliant on the O'Connors' Marriage

In The Passion of Ayn Rand’s Critics, James Valliant claims that “[i]f we are to take the Brandens’ word for it, the O’Connors’ marriage was an empty fraud. For Rand, it was maintained by her fantasy-like projection of O’Connor. For O’Connor, this supposed financial dependence serves to explain what is otherwise inexplicable to the Brandens—O’Connor’s staying by Rand’s side.” [PARC, p. 152.]

On SoloPassion on July 10, 2008, Valliant said that Barbara Branden describes the O’Connors’ marriage as “something of a fraud . . . .”

As Ms. Branden describes it, Mr. Scherk, the O'Connor marriage was something of a fraud from the start -- built as it was on Rand's fantasy-like projection of a hero who embodied her distinctive values, not the reality of O'Connor, if we are to believe her. By the 1940s, it is suggested that the fraud was wearing thin -- Rand was allegedly becoming frustrated with a lack of intellectual communication. Of course, there is evidence which contradicts this portrait of a troubled marriage in the 1940s or a lack of intellectual communication -- as PARC notes. In any case, when did Ms. Branden ever say that the marriage become honest or solid thereafter? She implies that the friction had settled -- but does she ever suggest that the O'Connor marriage "got real"? (As PARC also makes quite clear, the nature of the relationship between the O'Connors carried a element of mystery for the Brandens -- note the title of the chapter.)

Contrary to Valliant, neither of the Brandens describes Rand’s marriage as a “fraud” or anything like it. It is true that the Brandens contend that Rand projected certain qualities on O’Connor that he didn’t possess (and they seem accurate in this conclusion). But this is a far cry from claiming that their marriage was “built . . . on” (much less sustained for fifty years by) Rand’s projection. Both mention the sincere love and affection that existed between the two. Like most marriages, the O’Connors’ marriage had its up and downs. Rand probably wouldn’t have embarked on the affair with Branden if she was completely satisfied with Frank as a husband.

The Brandens’ claim that Rand became “frustrated with a lack of intellectual communication” in the 1940s to such an extent that Rand considered divorce is highly believable. (And see William Scherk’s excerpt from the Brandens in which he highlights Valliant’s selective quotations.) Contrary to Valliant, there is no evidence that undercuts this. Valliant does not cite a single report of any “intellectual communication” between Rand and O’Connor. Even Valliant concedes, "[w]hether they were always truly happy together, especially in light of Rand's affair, can be questioned . . . ." [PARC, p. 157.] It is not hard to believe that in such an unusual marriage one or both of the parties would consider divorce.

Turning to Valliant’s recent claim that Barbara Branden never describes the O’Connor’s marriage as “becom[ing] honest or solid thereafter [e.g., after the 1940s],” this begs the question of whether Valliant’s description of PAR is correct. In any event, it is rather incredible that Valliant missed this moving description of their marriage post-1968:

Ayn had turned once more to Frank, seeking the special comfort that he alone could give her. He was the one man who had never betrayed her, who had always stood by her, who was her ally and her support through all the triumphs and traumas of her life. It appears that now, at last, she began to truly love the man she had married—or perhaps, to accept the fact that she always had loved him, loved him as he was and as he had been . . . . Without the words to name it, he [Frank] had always accepted and revered her as no one else had ever done, and the personal rejections of a lifetime made his understanding and acceptance more valuable to her than they had ever been before. She clung to him, hating to have him out of her sight . . . . [I]t was the relationship that was the most purely emotional of her life which gave her, in the end, the most satisfaction. [PAR, pp. 364-65.]

As to Valliant’s final contention that “[f]or O’Connor, this supposed financial dependence serves to explain what is otherwise inexplicable to the Brandens—O’Connor’s staying by Rand’s side . . . .,” this is another misrepresentation.

First, only Barbara Branden mentions the possible financial reason Frank had for remaining with Rand. As is typical, Valliant has attributed something to both Brandens which is stated only by one.

Second, Barbara Branden does not say that financial concerns were the reason why O’Connor stayed with Rand for fifty years. Branden says that Frank once told her that he wanted to leave Rand, "'But where would I go? . . . What would I do? . . .'" [PAR, p. 262.] Branden interprets this as, in part at least, a concern for how Frank would support himself after a divorce. [Id.] She does not claim that this was the determining factor in Frank’s remaining with Rand for the entire length of the marriage.

Third, while the Brandens do find a certain “mystery” in Rand’s and O’Connor’s love for each other, it is a stretch to say that they found Frank’s staying with Rand for fifty years “inexplicable.” (See the above quote from Barbara Branden.)