Skip to comments.FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Climax of the d'Anconias
Posted on 02/14/2009 11:27:03 AM PST by Publius
Eddie hands a newspaper to Dagny; it has a most interesting story. The Peoples State of Mexico, upon inspecting the expropriated San Sebastian Mines, discovers that they are devoid of copper and utterly worthless. Dagny asks Eddie to call Francisco at the Wayne-Falkland Hotel for an appointment.
What follows is an extended flashback into the childhood of Dagny, Eddie, Francisco and Jim at the Taggart estate on the Hudson.
Francisco got a job at Taggart Transcontinental before Dagny, working illicitly as a call boy at a station on the Hudson Line. Each intended to eventually run the family business. Unlike those dAnconias who increased the family holdings by a mere 10%, Franciscos goal was to double them.
Francisco went to Patrick Henry University of Cleveland, the most distinguished institution of learning left in the world, but Francisco did not find all the courses interesting. He made only two close friends at college. (A major plot point for later!)
One incident shaped the relationship between Dagny and Francisco. When Dagny suggested that she get poor grades in order to be popular, Francisco slapped her and she liked it.
Dagny began the competition with Francisco by taking a job as night operator on the railroad at a nearby station while only sixteen. She went through life without male admirers, and her idea of a good time was working on the railroad. After a formal ball, she noted that she could have squashed ten of the men she had met. It was in her freshman year at college that Dagny and Francisco became lovers.
Francisco not only went to college, but by playing the stock market he amassed enough money to buy the copper foundry where he had been working secretly at night. Following college, Francisco worked for his father. One night, meeting Dagny in New York, he said, Theres something wrong with the world. A few years later he told Dagny not to be astonished by anything he did in the future and asked her to leave the railroad and let it go to hell under Jims stewardship. He warned her that the next time they met, she wouldnt want to see him. Over the years Francisco morphed into a worthless playboy squandering the dAnconia fortune.
Returning to the present, Dagny goes to Franciscos room at the hotel and finds him playing with marbles on the floor like a child. Dagny has figured out part of what Francisco intended with the San Sebastian Mines swindle. He has hurt the looters government of Mexico and his American investors, but Dagny cant penetrate to the heart of what he has done.
Dagny administers a shock to Francisco when she brings up the Fifth Concerto of Richard Halley. Francisco avoids a direct answer and says that Halley has stopped composing.
Francisco lays out the reaction of the Mexican government, which had made promises to its people to be delivered by the confiscation of the mines. Now the government has to blame the greedy capitalists. The miners town he built was made of shoddy material and will be gone within a year. He has cost the railroad and his investors millions. Taggart Transcontinental will fail, and Ellis Wyatt will be the next to go under. He tells Dagny as she is leaving that she is not ready to hear the reasons behind what he is doing.
The Purpose of This Chapter
Weve met Dagny, Hank and their enemies. Weve heard about Francisco, but weve never met him. Now we find out about the long history of Dagny and Francisco, both in business and on a personal basis. We also find that Francisco is involved in some kind of project aimed at destroying certain people, companies and countries, but we dont know why. (This is the books plot.)
The Wayne-Falkland Hotel is based upon the real life Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan.
The Taggart estate is based upon one of many Vanderbilt holdings, all of which were built by the descendants of Cornelius Vanderbilt of the New York Central. Commodore Vanderbilt himself lived modestly in lower Manhattan. Both Vanderbilt and James Jerome Hill were models for Nat Taggart.
Ayn Rand and Sex
There are no children in this book; the plot is about adults and adult matters. It is only in this chapter that we meet our characters as teenagers and we find Francisco and Dagny as lovers.
Franciscos slapping Dagny after that comment about doing poorly in school to gain popularity requires some history about the period. In that era popularity was considered more important than academic excellence. Smart people werent popular, which is why young Ronald Reagan hid his questing mind in the disguise of a backslapping athlete. Even as an adult, Reagan hid his cerebral qualities from others, which is why he was characterized incorrectly by Clark Clifford as an amiable dunce. Understanding this in its historical context, Dagnys comment to Francisco was not totally out of bounds.
However, when she is slapped, Dagny finds that she likes it. There is an undercurrent of precocious sexuality and sadomasochism in that slap. When she and Francisco lose their virginity together, the prose turns purple.
She knew that fear was useless, that he would do what he wished, that the decision was his, that he left nothing possible to her except the thing she wanted most to submit. She had no conscious realization of his purpose, her vague knowledge of it was wiped out, she had no power to believe it clearly, in this moment, to believe it about herself, she knew only that she was afraid yet what she felt was as if she were crying to him: Dont ask me for it oh, dont ask me do it!
This is Rands updated version of the aching need that appears in The Fountainhead. People who are devoutly religious become queasy at this passage and again when Rand waxes philosophical.
Isnt it wonderful that our bodies can give us so much pleasure?, he said to her once, quite simply. They were happy and radiantly innocent. They were both incapable of the conception that joy is sin ... She knew the general doctrine on sex, held by people in one form or another, the doctrine that sex was an ugly weakness of mans lower nature, to be condoned regretfully. She experienced an emotion of chastity that made her shrink, not from the desires of her body, but from any contact with the minds who held this doctrine.
Rand here disposes of the puritanical branch of Judeo-Christianity in a few well honed sentences. She not only supports the Dagny-Francisco relationship but condemns those who would criticize it in the name of a narrow, outmoded morality. Exceptional people the Creators make their own rules, which may well be a tip of the hat to Nietzsche.
But Dagny has had no other partners this far into the story, and it appears that Francisco has not either. Both remain true to each other, defining their own concept of chastity. This elevates sexuality into something sacred and transcendent, which is another theme of the book.
Patrick Henry University
Dont confuse this fictional school with the very real Patrick Henry College of Purcellville, VA.
One of the most enjoyable Marx Brothers movies was Horse Feathers, a 1932 musical comedy that revolves around the football rivalry between Darwin and Huxley colleges. The opening number has Groucho and a chorus of professors singing:
I don't know what they have to say
It makes no difference anyway;
Whatever it is, I'm against it!
Colleges of the Twenties were profoundly conservative institutions, hard as that may be to believe today. The concept of academic freedom was by no means guaranteed, be the professor tenured or not. The Great Depression was to change all that, and soon the economic theories of Karl Marx began to replace those of Groucho Marx. The great institutions of the Ivy League led the way.
It would appear that even during the Forties and Fifties, Rand held a low enough opinion of the Ivy League to locate her ideal university in Cleveland, an industrial city not known as a great seat of learning. In fact, the business of Cleveland was manufacturing.
Naming a university dedicated to reason to Patrick Henry, however, is just as problematic as naming a fundamentalist Christian college after the same man, which is what happened in Purcellville. Henry does not fit the stereotype of either a man of objective reason or of religious faith. His life and legacy are far more complicated.
Patrick Henry belongs to the same group as Thomas Paine and Samuel Adams, revolutionaries who lit the flame that George Washington kept from being extinguished. Like Adams, Henry had failed in business many times, but while Adams became a wizard at the art of political propaganda, Henry turned instead to the law. As a lawyer, Henry stood for home rule and economic self-determination, siding with the ancient British tradition of being taxed by ones own legislators. He further argued that colonial legislatures could not assign that right to Parliament. Because Parliament had long exercised a general right to tax the colonies, Henrys assertion was considered treasonous.
In addition to the above principles, Henrys intellectual justification for separation from Britain revolved around corruption. There is a tendency to look at that period of American history and see a halcyon era when corruption didnt exist. In fact, the colonial governments of early America were every bit as corrupt as some state governments today. Wherever there is a pipeline of government cheese, there are mice and rats attempting to divert some of that cheese into their private larders. For Henry, gold and silver were too important to be diverted into the mouths of grifters, looters and moochers, which is why he became the scourge of corruption in Virginia politics. He could personally fight corruption in Williamsburg, but the corruption in London was so entrenched it could only be fought by separation. Rand must have viewed Henry as an early American model.
Following the Revolution, Henry opposed the adoption of the Constitution, arguing that it gave the federal government too much power, and his opposition led to the Bill of Rights. Yet a decade later, he executed a complete turnaround and switched to the Federalist Party, backing Washington, Adams and John Marshall, and going so far as to argue that the Jefferson-Madison Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, supporting a states right of nullification, would lead to civil war. He died the same year as George Washington.
Some Discussion Topics
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Our First Freeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Theme
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Chain
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Top and the Bottom
FReeper Book Club: Atlas Shrugged, The Immovable Movers
Attending the night school.
I have previously posted the advice to READ THIS BOOK, set it aside for three months, then carefully re-read it.
I add to my advice. As I recall the events of the last 3 weeks, I now urge the having of a giant ‘barf-receptacle’ at hand as you read.
The characters of Atlas Shrugged are in the seats of power in Washington. The “journalists” of Atlas shrugged populate the media. The ‘losers’ of the book are headlined in todays media. The ‘evil’ winners of the book are being vilified in today’s media and condemned in the halls of congress.
In other words, we are NOT reading Atlas Shrugged. We are LIVING Atlas Shrugged. Soon to come to a “World of Change” near you. Best of luck.
You got that right, FRiend...finished AS last month and I'm watching it unfold is truly unbelievable.
I’m just at the end - I’ve been bogged down in that long monologue of a chapter for about a week now.
It will be especially refreshing to go back and enjoy discussing these earlier chapters.
Atlas Shrugged was 50 years ahead of the curve.
Queen of the wooden, chapter-long soliloquy, that Ayn Rand was, worthy as her overarching themes were and are. Slog through it and try not to be too perturbed, lol. You'll be glad you did.
Ping to Chapter 5.
When we get to the soliloquys I’ll have some advice, one week in advance, for how to read them.
Sorry I’m missed these threads... please add me to your “ping” list... When do we get to the “Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog” legislation? I’m figuring that that’s just a few months down the road in the Obama Administration.
My apologies for the late post. I ended up completely rewriting my essay on Parick Henry, and that took up much of the morning here in Seattle.
We discussed that last week. Click on the links above for previous threads.
I just got my hardbound copy of Atlas Shrugged after so many people encouraged reading it. I heard about the “moochers” and immediately thought of ACORN, community organizers and Democratic voters.
I just pray I am not forced to defend my property from my hungry fellow countrymen.
For the first time in human history there is no place to flee to.
There is no America that is wide open and unconquered.
There is no Australia that is rough, rugged and untamed.
There is no escape hatch for those persecuted either by religions intolerance, communism, or suppression of intellectual pursuits to flee to.
bump for later; doing taxes now
Her atheism bugs me some, but I don't judge people or ideas in the context of religion.
There is a certain sense of satisfaction that Mike Wallace will live long enough to eat his words. Karma can be a bitch.
Thank you. I appreciate that. I’m never sure if I’m doing it right or not.
“When do we get to the Anti-Dog-Eat-Dog legislation?”
That’s covered in the Porkulus bill, I bet. Along with all the other ridiculous legislation foretold in the book, dime to a doughnut.
I’m looking forward to the tips on how to read the monologues. Because, dang, they are tough sledding. I waded through one and kept thinking, ‘this could be easily summed up in about 2 paragraphs and be just as effective’.
The John Galt speech would make for some interesting fillibuster material, though. ; )
Good! We shouldn't be thinking about "escape" (even within the now-corrupt concept of the power of the vote) ...even if it was available.
The time is nearly here to simply "take" back acccess to our unalienable rights and re-institute the original Constitutional Republic. Let the marxist Tories once again populate another country. This one is ours.
Betty and Jim have no respect for themselves or for any one else. They practically engage in sex out of boredom. You can't even call it animal behavior..because with few exceptions animals only mate for reproduction.
The whole experience is of intense competition..Males of many species engage in competition..battle to earn the right to copulate.
Betty and Jim lack meaning in life and lack meaningful sex.
Dagney and Francisco...despite having sex sans bands of matrimony..have followed a classically romantic model.
They know each other intimately,spirit, mind and body. They are great friends and most importantly they respect themselves and each other. They have standards, they are capable of judging the good from the best. Neither will accept substandard performance from themselves.
They value one another unlike Betty/Jim who value no one.
Sex with Dagney/Francisco is a celebration , union of two equals. They share their life force as being a valuable thing.
Jim imitates life.. Dagney is alive.
You could put Cliff notes out of business.
I agree with you on “taking back” however there is a reluctance among people of conservative values to shed blood of their countrymen.
It won’t be done bloodlessly this time.
Remember that little event called the French Revolution?
I love your answer. It’s a keeper.
First, some context. AS was published in 1957, three years before the controversy that the execrable and nearly unreadable Lady Chatterlys Lover brought to the publishing world. The entire genre of bodice-ripping romance novels was yet a twinkle in its authors eyes. This was hot stuff for the mid 50s. Rand has been consigned by certain feminist thinkers as superficial in politics, philosophy, and in psychology, which is as far from the truth as anyone who has taken the trouble actually to read her can imagine. Susan Brownmiller went so far as to publish the essay entitled Ayn Rand: Traitor To Her Own Sex, (1975), an epithet which given its source any normal author would wear as a badge of honor, and I would imagine that Rand did so. I will not take the trouble to quote it inasmuch as I am entirely uninterested in anything further Brownmiller has to say on the topic. After Against Our Will I felt like scouring my brain with drain cleaner.
Other feminists ones with a bit more respect for their fellow females have come to a rather different conclusion. Camille Paglia has touched on the topic in several places, the Reason Magazine Interview for one, wherein she gives us this zinger: One would think that women's studies, if it really obeyed its mission, would make her [Rand] part of the agenda. But no, of course not! Women's studies has been oriented toward rediscovering the mediocre thinker, or the writer who talks about her victimization, rather than someone who preaches individualism and independence as Ayn Rand does.
Just so. Let us discuss Dagnys sexuality, which to me is the most interesting thing about her. She is in every sense a Superwoman, fit to compete on even terms with any male in the novel and prevail. And yet we see her in her schoolgirl days consorting with her childhood friend Francisco DAnconia in a deliberate and gleefully subordinate role. You havent any pride at all, [says James Taggart], The way you run when he whistles and wait on him. Why dont you shine his shoes? Because he hasnt told me to, she answered.
She and Francisco were 16 at the time, to be sure, and hence certain exaggerations in character were forgivable that would be impermissible to their adult personas. Less forgivable is his reaction to her playful suggestion that she deliberately get Ds in school in order to be more popular, which was an outraged slap in the face. It is the first indication we get that Francisco can be a bit of a cad. Let us charitably hope that it was a character flaw that did not survive into adulthood, as subsequent behavior (no spoilers now) seems to me to indicate that it did not.
But what is revealing is Dagnys reaction to her bleeding lip:
He turned abruptly, took out his handkerchief and dipped it into the water of the river. Come here, he ordered.
She laughed, stepping back. Oh, no. I want to keep it as it is. I hope it swells terribly. I like it.
Does Rand think, then, that masochism is an integral part of female sexuality? Actually, yes, she does. From Part 7 of the Journals of Ayn Rand, with respect to Roark and Dominique in The Fountainhead, Like most women, and to a greater degree than most, she is a masochist and she wishes for the happiness of suffering at Roark's hands. Sexually, Roark has a great deal of the sadist, and he finds pleasure in breaking her will and her defiance. Yet he loves her
(Props to Reginald Firehammer for the quotation.)
There is more to it than that, of course. D/s sex is by definition a case of power transfer, one reason it appeals occasionally to the powerful in real life. The excitement in it is a case of release, of vulnerability, of letting go. It is not in the least restricted to female sexuality, although AS mercifully declines to explore those turbid waters. But the novel simply drips with this aspect of male/female psychological discourse. We see this, for example, in the scene where Dagny has determined to beat Francisco in tennis at last he toys with her, she suffers, and prevails. And yet, when the two finally do get around to enjoying one another sexually it is no act of sadomasochism at all but one of tenderness, respect, and learning. It is at that point and only then when we can regard either character as remotely adult.
It is fitting, then, that we break with Francisco for awhile at that point as he departs for college, an interim period that Rand has left deliciously mysterious, for it changed Francisco for good. I note parenthetically one additional reference to Aristotle, Franciscos dissertation on the Immovable Mover. What else do we know of his college days? Little enough.
Have you made any friends? Two. He told her nothing else.
And so she meets him later in a hotel during a moment of existential crisis, the nature of which is as baffling to us as it is to her, but the above was a clue. He is going to meet someone to discuss it. One of those two friends? We do not know yet.
And it is after this that he settles into his new persona, Francisco the playboy, the wastrel, the cad. Dagny cant believe it is real but judging from Franciscos unmistakable deeds, it can hardly be otherwise. Or can it? She has had, after all, fair warning: Dagny,, dont be astonished by anything I do, or by anything I may ever do in the future. Well, all right, it isnt really fair warning, but it is a warning of sorts. One might suspect that given their antecedents he owed her that much, at least. (I am of the old romantic school that holds that once a man has slept with a woman she is entitled to more respect, not less.)
But her confusion and dismay is fully warranted, and not, perhaps, as a result of Franciscos playacting but of what he has actually done, and perhaps even actually has become. Francisco has not fallen from a state of grace, he has leapt. This is a necessarily religious image, a result, in my opinion, of Rands transference of godhead to her human characters. Francisco has sinned, is sinning, and what could possibly offer him redemption? We shall see.
Here we encounter a difficulty in Rands moral treatment, one that Paglia pointed out in her Reason interview, that Rand is occasionally quite cruel to her less-than-superhuman characters. And so are her supermen and women. Francisco has come to see the farce, by which he does not mean the divorce of the woman he is being falsely blamed for romancing. His farce is the discovery by the Mexican authorities that the DAnconia property that they nationalized stole is, in fact, worthless. Such a thing must take considerable effort, and expense (some $15 million of Franciscos money) to ruin, but it has taken far more of the looters money (James Taggarts for one) with it when it went. That is, of course, Franciscos object.
My dissatisfaction with that is based in part on the high ideals of Franciscos youth, that nothing is more important than the job that one does, meaning that ones honor is measured by returning to ones employer ones best effort, giving, in effect, full value of goods to purchaser. It is a failing of youth in general to hold to each of a number of noble ideals in succession as the only one important, learning in adulthood that they inevitably conflict and that one must temper ones enthusiasm for one in order to follow another. (That lays one open to the charge of hypocrisy, a rhetorical tactic that the Left has come to hone to a fine art. They avoid it being directed their way by pretending not to hold the ideals under discussion themselves even though those are the basis for criticism.)
But Francisco has sinned. On his properties are DAnconia employees for whom he has constructed roads, bridges, dwellings, out of substandard materials due to the systems corruption. He laughs about this. It is, in his view, the just desserts of those who participate in that corrupt system to be despoiled by it. That is not, in my view, entirely the case.
Franciscos sin is that he has permitted this in the face of his earlier ideal that treats the employer-employee relationship as one of sacred honor. Yes, of course the system these people inhabit has defrauded them. But what of his obligation to return to them his own best effort in recompense for theirs? He has rejected this, and I do not believe it is simply a characteristic of his new persona. I believe he never really understood it in the first place, judging from his private comments on the matter to Dagny. I am not entirely sure that she does either.
One of my principal criticisms of Atlas Shrugged in general is that the act of Atlas shrugging holds an inherent callousness to the welfare of those less-than-godlike inhabitants who do their best to live up to the arrangements dictated by the idealized capitalist relationships. Their suffering is the necessary consequence of social upheaval, an integral part of every social revolution ever conducted, but to my taste Rand is just a little inhumane about its treatment. Will it be worth the cost? This is a very utopian frame of mind, this business of a phoenix arising from the ashes of the past. But in those ashes will be human bones.
There will be more of this later, quite a bit of it, where Rand attempts to address the question are there, then, no innocent victims? It is to me one of the central moral questions in AS, pertinent to current events as well. Can anyone say there are no innocent victims in Zimbabwe? One had better be careful how one answers that question; in the context of AS it might not be as clear-cut as one thinks.
It is a question that will haunt both Dagny and Hank Reardon, and with which they must deal before they join the ranks but there that would be telling
Dont you want to fight [the looters]? [Dagny asks Francisco.]
No. It is you who I must fight.
Have a great week, Publius! ;-)
Oopsie - poor proofreading - I meant Chapter Five, of course.
BTW, check the links in Post #6. I rather enjoyed Rand running rings around Mike Wallace and Phil Donahue.
Thank you so much for taking the time to prepare these weekly summaries of Atlas Shrugged.
I know it takes considerable time, thought and effort, and I appreciate your labor of love.
Taxman Bravo Zulu!
We were supposed to read and heed.
And then, having done so, prevent it FRom happening.
You know, it is pretty much impossible for anyone else to follow Publius and you!
Francisco allowed their own corrupt system to flourish.
He paid full price for construction of quality housing but allowed the looters to build it with the cheapest junk they could find and to pocket the rest.
He didn't as much condone the building of shanties and he knew it would take place because of the nature of the corrupt system.
His sin was one of omission rather than commission.
He failed to step in and make it right..but allowed greed and corruption to seek it's own level.
It because books like this aren’t allowed in liberal institutions.
They were too busy carrying Mao’s little red book and copies of Marx.
New Zealand is pretty liberal already.
LOL! I hope not. There’s always “Bill, yer fulla crap.” It’d be right more often than not... ;-)
OK, it is tough in this crowd, but I think I have an insight nobody has really remarked upon. This chapter very specifically shows us two children of privilege (and Eddie), and how they chose to grow up. They are juxtaposed with James. Dagny, Francisco, and Eddie spend their days constructing machines, exploring, and being producers. James is kind of a lump, and resents them for being doers.
The most important thing that we are being shown is that Francisco and Dagny both choose to work, and work at HARD jobs in their youth. Francisco even ran away from home one winter to work on one of his father’s ships. His father’s only question was, “Did you do a good job?”
We see a lot of self-made men in Atlas, but we are shown that being born to privilege is not enough. There is no such thing as just being “lucky”. James had all of the advantages that Dagny had, and he squandered them. The real people of value know that they have to work, no matter what their starting circumstances.
Case in point: the Vanderbilt family. Have you ever seen pictures, or been to, Biltmore in Asheville, NC? That place is a testimony to raw wealth. You would think that a fortune of that size should last forever, yet Gloria Vanderbilt was about the last one of any prominence....and the fortune basically does not exist. Wealth has to be re-earned generation after generation. “Luck” only gets you so far.
I saw a story in the Wall Street Journal several years ago about a Vietnamese community somewhere near Los Angeles. The story was about various benefactors to the community. The WSJ was very clever in that they named benefactor after benefactor, and told their stories. Inevitably, these people who were giving millions started out as penniless boat people, one guy making his first 20 bucks by selling the US Army jacket he had been given as a refugee. I thought it a wonderful illustration that your starting circumstance does not have to define your entire existence.
Repeatedly in Atlas, we hear various lame businessmen lament that “they never got a chance”, and Ayn Rand shows that you have to make your own chances.
Brilliant! Great catch. I should have picked up on that one.
I’ll tackle the sex issue, too.
“I’d never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.”
Jim doesn’t think much of himself, and knows that the only women who could possibly consent to be with him must feel the same way about themselves.
Use your own experience here. When someone amazing is interested in you, you feel amazing. I remember in high school, if it turned out the person that had a crush on you was kind of a loser, you kind of wondered if that was the best you could do.....? And what did that say about you if that particular person thought that they had a chance with you? Yeesh. (ooops, been there, done that!)
Dagny and Francisco are internally calibrated to their own wonderfulness (to the point of obnoxiousness, really) so they would never consider being attracted to anyone that wasn’t perfectly wonderful, as well.