Ayn Rand Within the Tradition of Exile Literature

Elizabeth Blake, University of Memphis

Recent examples of bicultural writers, such as Andreï Makine, who choose to write in the language of their adopted country rather than in their native language, encourage literary scholars to revisit the categories of exile, émigré, and expatriate writings. One author who transcends these traditional categories is the Russian-Jewish novelist Ayn Rand (née Alissa Rosenbaum) who emigrated in 1926 to America where she established herself so successfully as an American writer that John Glad denies her work a place in the canon of Russian émigré literature owing to the fact that she is “a strictly English-language author” (Glad 1999: 21). However, as Glad outlines in Russia Abroad, the identification of an author’s exile status relies not only linguistic but also cultural and political markers. My presentation will trace the presence of such cultural and political markers in Rand’s fiction in an effort to account for the experience of exile on her writings.

Chris Matthew Sciabarra’s study, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, demonstrates well how Rand’s writings continue in the Russian philosophical tradition with which she became acquainted during her studies at the University of Leningrad. Yet the common traits that her novels share with other émigré fiction remain largely unexplored. First, a brief discussion of the similarities between her exile biography and those of other Russian émigrés will reveal how she may be considered a writer in exile. Then, in order to place her novels within a Russian tradition, a close examination of her early fiction, Red Pawn and We the Living, will show that Rand’s early works have much in common with early Soviet novels (as described by Katerina Clark in The Soviet Novel). Finally, an analysis of the critical portrayal of strong centralized governments in We the Living and Anthem will show how she continues the twentieth-century Russian émigré tradition of exposing “the evil Soviet government” (Glad 1999: 15). Such an analysis will demonstrate that although Rand did not personally identify with the Russian émigré community, her shared experience of exile from Soviet Russia informed her writings and ultimately her philosophy of Objectivism.