The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

Review: Ideal – The Novel and The Play

I am taking a break from writing about all the
rotten news, such as the murder
of Kate
Steinle
and the jihadist attack on the Marines
in Chattanooga
. To preserve my own sanity occasionally I need to write
about something that it is a pleasure to write about. So, please, do not
mistake my silence on these events as my indifference or having nothing to say about
them.
I left this customer review on Amazon Books for Ayn
Rand’s Ideal – The
Novel and The Play
:
This
is a fascinating double bill – a novel coupled with the later play version of
the novel.  And a compelling novel it is.
Having read the play Ideal many
times, I was familiar with the plot and the characters. Reading a stage play,
however, isn’t as rewarding as reading a novel of the play; concretes are
absent and the dialogue may be dry and abstract. The next best thing is to see
a staging of the play. But as a novelist I can “fill in the blanks” that
usually exist in the script of a stage play. The novel Ideal does that job for me. The novel creates a broader context and
offers more than enough details about reach of the characters and their unique
circumstances and contexts.
This
as a consequence makes re-reading the play all that more rewarding. We get to
see what she intended in the play.  It is
also fascinating to see in so many scenes in the novel rough premonitions of
events that will ultimately reappear in other forms and contexts in The Fountainhead. I would even go so far
as to say that the Johnnie Dawes’ spartan garret anticipates John Galt’s austere
room in Atlas Shrugged, as well as
the riveting drama that occurs in it. In his two Introductions – one for the
novel and one for the play – Leonard Peikoff offers salient insights into Ayn
Rand’s thinking and her literary style. For anyone wishing to see how the mind
of a great writer works, this is the book to read.
Concretes are absent in a playscript, which would make
reading one for most people an arid, unrewarding chore. A novel, however, must
supply vivid enough descriptions of characters and scenes for a reader to be
able to concretize them in his mind. And the reader must have a capacity for
imagination to make the task rewarding. Many people have an arrested capacity,
or lack one altogether, which is why they might rely on what Leonard Peikoff
refers to as percepts to derive any
value from a dramatized version of a playscript or a novel.
So, it’s a double-edged sword in terms of answering
the question of which form is more desirable for a reader and that conforms to
an author’s purposes: a novel or a play. Years ago I wrote a play called First Prize, which I later turned into a
novel.
The playscript is locked away in a Dramatists Guild safe deposit box in New York
City; I don’t even have a copy of it in my “trunk.” The play bears little
resemblance to the published novel, in terms of characterization, plot and
action. I know that the play version dissatisfied me because of the paucity of
scope and the amount of information I wished to convey. I don’t think now that
the play version would even lend itself to a worthy dramatization on stage or
in a movie.
Ideal, both
the novel and the play, is about Kay Gonda, a famous actress whose spiritual
presence on screen affects millions, regardless of the quality of the movies
she appears in. but while her screen presence inspires others, she is in search
of that quality in others, in terms of what Ayn Rand called “emotional fuel.”  
In his Introduction to the novel, Peikoff writes about
Rand’s decision:
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.
This is generally true for most readers and
movie-goers. However, some of my favorite movies have caused me to search for
the novels on which they were based. The novels have invariably been
disappointing. For example, A.E.W. Mason’s The
Four Feathers
(1902), while a competently written story, was one of the
dullest reads I have ever had, while the 1939 Alexander
Korda version
of the story is exciting and compelling. And, it is true; I could
never imagine how the best scenes in the film would read.    
Rand wrote the screenplay
for Christopher Massie’s 1944 novel Love
Letters
. The novel
is a disaster and ends malevolently. There is virtually no reference to the
novel to be found anywhere. Massie was noted for his horror stories, and that
would explain the character and ending of the novel. (Information on Massie
himself is scarce.) In an August 1945 letter to Gerald Loeb, a fan and correspondent
of hers, Rand explained why she worked on Love
Letters
.
….The
truth about Love Letters, as I see it, is this: it is essentially a very
silly and meaningless story — by the mere fact that it revolves around so
unnatural a thing as somebody’s amnesia. No, it has no moral lesson to teach,
nor any kind of lesson whatever. So, if you look at it from the standpoint of
content — it has none. But it has one valuable point as a story — a dramatic
situation involving a conflict. This permits the creation of suspense. If the
basic premise — amnesia — doesn’t interest you, then of course the rest of
the story won’t interest you. A basic premise in a story is always like an
axiom — you take it or you don’t. If you accept the premise, the rest will
hold your interest. As for me, I accept the premise out of sheer curiosity —
nothing more deep or important than that. That is, granting such a setup —
let’s see what can be made of it.

My
only interest in that picture was purely technical — how to create a good
construction that would be dramatic and suspenseful, out of practically
nothing. The novel on which the picture was based was a holy mess. Whatever
story interest and unity it has, I had to invent. But we picked this particular
novel because it had elements of a possible situation. That is very rare in
picture stories.*
In short, via a screenplay, it was Rand’s task to  create the vehicle for the percepts that were
not possible in Massie’s novel, neither technically nor in Massie’s style. I
don’t think she would have put it that way in 1945, but had she been able to,
it would have been over the heads of Paramount’s studio bosses.
Peikoff writes about reading a novel vs. reading a playscript:
Every
artistic form possesses certain unique potentialities and thereby lacks certain
others. A play or a movie made from a novel is 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 elements. 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.
True enough. I couldn’t write a play worthy of my attention
or that was worth producing in grade school. So I chose the novel genre. Peikoff
underscores what I noted above about reading a novel vs. reading a playscript:
Although
novel and play are equal in the above sense, a play’s script by itself it 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 ideologue by
itself can certainly have value, but it is not the value of an artwork, merely
one of its attributes. This difference, I believe, is a major reason why novels
are vastly more popular among readers than playscripts.
I can vouch for that. However, from a novelist’s
craft-learning perspective, reading the playscripts of Terence Rattigan, Edmond
Rostand,  and even of Shakespeare gave me
not a few pointers on how to write dialogue that is integrated with action.
Peikoff writes in his Introduction to the play that
the focus of the play “is men’s lack of integrity,  their failure to act according to the ideals
they espouse. The them4 is the evil of divorcing ideals from life.” Rand got the
idea for the story (for the novel and then later the play) from a woman who
claimed that “she worshipped a certain famous actress and would give her life
to meet her.”
Miss
Rand was dubious about the authenticity of the woman’s emotion, and this
suggested a dramatic idea: a story in which a famous actress, so beautiful that
she comes to represent to men the embodiment of their deepest ideals, actually
enters the lives of her admirers. She comes in a context suggesting that she is
in grave danger. Until this point, her worshippers have professed their
reverence for her – in words, which cost them nothing. Now, however, she is no
longer a distant dream, but a reality demanding action on their par, or betrayal.

                “What do you dream of?” Kay Gonda,
the actress, asks one of the characters in the play’s thematic statement.
                “Nothing,” he answers. “Of what account
are dreams?’
                “Of what account is life?”
                “None. But who made it so?”
                “Those who cannot dream.”
                “No. Those who can only dream.”
Peikoff describes how some of the characters react
to Kay Gonda’s sudden actual appearance in their lives. The most startling
vignette for me was the one in which Gonda appears before an artist who has
painted every important facet of her face, yet does not recognize her when she
appears. He laughs in her face, and throws her out. Peikoff writes that the
artist “is, in effect, the spokesman for Platonism, who explicitly preaches
that beauty is unreachable in this world and perfection is unattainable.
Since
he insists that ideals are impossible on each, he cannot, logically enough,
believe in the reality of any ideal, even when it actually confronts him….This
philosophically induced blindness, which motivates his betrayal of her, is a
particularly brilliant concretization of the play’s theme, and make a dramatic
Act I curtain.”
(Parenthetically, I might add that this particular
mentality – the artist’s – can act as key insight to understanding why politicians,
intellectuals, and the news media will defend collectivism in all its forms –
the Soviet, Nazi, and Islamic forms especially – even in the face of the facts
of the death and destruction they wreak on the world, in claiming that they are
good ideas corrupted by bad men, that such death and destruction are anomalies
and not the “ideals” in their purest form or application. Communism, Nazism,
and Islam, in the hands of their “idealists,” in their purest forms, can only bring death and destruction.)
Discussing the sense of life and loneliness of Rand
at the time (the 1930’s) she shared with Kay Gonda, Peikoff quotes Kay Gonda’s
cry as Rand’s own:
I
want to see, real, living, and in the hours of my own days, that glory I create
as an illusion! I want it real! I want to know that there is someone,
somewhere, who wants it, too! Or else what is the use of seeing it, and
working, and burning oneself for an impossible vision? A spirit, too, needs
fuel. It can run dry.
Rand’s sense of life never changed. It was with her
from the beginning of her life to the very end. It shows in all her fiction. Ideal: The Novel and The Play is a fine
place to start to understand her and her work.
Ideal – The Novel
and The Play
, by Ayn Rand. Introductions by Leonard Peikoff; A Note on the
Manuscript of the novel Ideal by
Richard Ralston.  New York: New American Library,
2015.  246 pp.

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