Editor’s note: This is a lightly edited version of a speech delivered at TOS-Con 2022, which was adapted from Timothy Sandefur’s forthcoming book, Freedom’s Furies: How Isabel Paterson, Rose Wilder Lane, and Ayn Rand Found Liberty in an Age of Darkness (Cato Institute, November). The article contains spoilers of Ayn Rand’s novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.
Those of you who have read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged may remember that the first time the word “Atlantis” is mentioned is in chapter six. Dagny Taggart is at a cocktail party and overhears someone utter the book’s catchphrase, “Who is John Galt?” She turns to walk away but is stopped by one of the guests, an unnamed woman who says in a conspiratorial tone, “I know who is John Galt.”
“Who?” Dagny asks.
“I knew a man who knew John Galt in person,” the woman answers. “This man is an old friend of a great-aunt of mine. . . . Do you know the legend of Atlantis, Miss Taggart?”
“Vaguely,” Dagny replies.
“The Isles of the Blessed,” the woman says. “That is what the Greeks called it. . . . They said Atlantis was a place . . . only the spirits of heroes could enter . . . because they carried the secret of life within them. . . . A radiant island in the Western Ocean. Perhaps what they were thinking of was America.”
The woman explains that John Galt actually found Atlantis—and Dagny loses interest, thinking the woman must be crazy—whereupon the woman becomes belligerent. “My friend saw it with his own eyes,” she says. “You don’t have to believe it.” When Francisco d’Anconia interrupts them, the woman “brusquely” walks away.1
The incident is so brief that it’s easy to miss the fact that this brusque and belligerent woman who knew about Atlantis was actually a real person. Just as Ayn Rand famously included herself in a “cameo” in the novel—as the character of the fishwife—so the woman at the cocktail party is a cameo of a real person—a woman who helped inspire Atlas Shrugged—Rand’s onetime friend and mentor, Isabel Paterson. . . .
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1. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Random House, 1957), 153–54.
2. The only biography of Isabel Paterson available is Stephen Cox, The Woman and the Dynamo (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2004).
3. Isabel Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” New York Herald Tribune, August 8, 1943.
4. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” February 27, 1927.
5. Howard Shaff and Audrey Karl Shaff, Six Wars at a Time: The Life and Times of Gutzon Borglum, Sculptor of Mount Rushmore (Sioux Falls, SD: Center for Western Studies, 1985), 214–15.
6. Whittaker Chambers, Odyssey of a Friend: Whittaker Chambers’ Letters to William F. Buckley, Jr. (New York: Putnam, 1970), 94.
7. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” July 7, 1934.
8. Irene and Allen Cleaton, Books and Battles: American Literature 1920–1930 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1937), 130.
9. Basil Davenport, “The Apostle of Common Sense,” Saturday Review of Literature, October 27, 1934, 237.
10. Cox, Woman and the Dynamo, 84.
11. John Chamberlain, A Life with the Printed Word (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1982), 35; Angna Enters, Silly Girl: A Portrait of Personal Remembrance (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1944), 136; Bruce Gould, American Story: Memories and Reflections of Bruce Gould and Beatrice Blackmar Gould (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 92.
12. Franklin Roosevelt, “First Inaugural Address,” in Great Speeches: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, ed. John Grafton (Mineola, NY: Dover, 1999), 28–33.
13. Benjamin L. Alpers, Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 26; Page Smith, Redeeming the Time: A People’s History of the 1920s and the New Deal (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1987), 432.
14. Anne O’Hare McCormick, “The Excitement of the Hundred Days,” in The New Deal and the American People, ed. Frank Freidel (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1964), 15.
15. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” March 5, 1933.
16. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” June 11, 1933.
17. Walter Lippmann, “The Metaphysics of Gold,” New York Herald Tribune, January 26, 1934.
18. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” February 4, 1934.
19. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” April 2, 1933.
20. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” April 23, 1933.
21. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” January 18, 1942.
22. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” January 18, 1942.
23. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” December 17, 1933.
24. Isabel Paterson, Never Ask the End (New York: Literary Guild, 1933), 165.
25. Isabel Paterson, Golden Vanity (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2017), 176. Paterson was probably referring here to the “regrading” of Denny Hill in Seattle—specifically to Denny Regrade Number 2, which began in 1928 and took two years. Regrading consisted of flattening enormous swaths of the city with steam shovels and hydraulics, reconfiguring much of the area that now encompasses the Space Needle.
26. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” January 17, 1943.
27. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” August 8, 1943.
28. Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (New York: Harper Perennial, 2007), 313; H. W. Brands, A Traitor to His Class (New York: Anchor Books, 2009), 654–55; Jack Mitchell, Executive Privilege (New York: Hippocrene Books, 1992), 169–82; Burton W. Folsom, “FDR and the IRS,” Hillsdale College, Hillsdale, MI, 2006, https://www.hillsdale.edu/educational-outreach/free-market-forum/2006-archive/fdr-and-the-irs/.
29. “Ickes Lashes at Big Business,” Boston Globe, December 31, 1937.
30. Michael Janeway, The Fall of the House of Roosevelt: Brokers of Ideas and Power from FDR to LBJ (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), 93.
31. Isabel Paterson, “Capital Is on Strike,” New York Herald Tribune, May 25, 1938.
32. Isabel Paterson, “On Hands and Knees,” Sioux City (IA) Journal, June 12, 1938.
33. Isabel Paterson, “Notes on President’s Vocabulary, Particularly Anent Opposition,” New York Herald Tribune, June 6, 1938.
34. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” July 5, 1936.
35. Shoshana Milgram Knapp, “‘Seven Shows a Day’: Ayn Rand’s Howard Roark, Individualism, and the Presidential Election of 1940” (presentation at the Social Science History Association Annual Conference, Boston, November 11, 2021).
36. Ayn Rand, Letter to Earle Balch, November 28, 1943, in Michael Berliner, ed., Letters of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1995), 102.
37. Ayn Rand, Letter to Linda Lynneberg, February 21, 1948, Ayn Rand Letters, Ayn Rand Institute, https://courses.aynrand.org/works/previously-unpublished-ayn-rand-letters-4/.
38. Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead (New York: Bobbs Merrill, 1943), 569.
39. Michel de Montaigne, “On Affectionate Relationships” (De l’amitié), in Montaigne: The Complete Essays, trans. M. A. Screech (London: Penguin, 2003), 230. Screech translates Montaigne’s original wording (“parce que c’était lui, parce que c’était moi”) a little differently. See also Adam Sutcliffe, “Friendship in the European Enlightenment: The Rationalization of Intimacy?,” in Conceptualizing Friendship in Time and Place, ed. Carla Risseeuw and Marlein van Raalte (Leiden: Brill-Rodopi, 2017), 152. Paterson’s book inscribed to Rand is in the possession of a private collector.
40. Cox, Woman and the Dynamo, 221.
41. Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, Who Is Ayn Rand? (New York: Paperback Library, 1962), 186.
42. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” September 1, 1946.
43. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” September 1, 1946.
44. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” May 7, 1944, November 19, 1933.
45. Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine, ed. Stephen Cox (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1993), 91–92.
46. Paterson, God of the Machine, 153.
47. Paterson, God of the Machine, 155.
48. Paterson, God of the Machine, 89.
49. Ayn Rand, Letter to John C. Gall, July 4, 1943, Ayn Rand Letters, Ayn Rand Institute, https://letters.aynrandarchives.org/document/1329.
50. Ayn Rand, Letter to Earle Balch, November 28, 1943, Ayn Rand Letters, Ayn Rand Institute, https://letters.aynrandarchives.org/document/76404.
51. Ayn Rand, Letter to Isabel Paterson, February 7, 1948, in Berliner, Letters, 188.
52. Isabel Paterson, Letter to Ayn Rand, ca. December 30, 1943, Isabel Paterson Papers, Hoover Presidential Library. The quotation is from Étienne Gilson’s, Reason and Revelation in the Middle Ages (New York: Scribner’s, 1939), 49. Paterson had recommended that book in “Turns” alongside The Fountainhead on October 10, 1943.
53. Ayn Rand, Letter to Isabel Paterson, October 10, 1943, in Berliner, Letters, 174.
54. As Rand later told the story, Atlas Shrugged was inspired by a phone call in which an unnamed friend—evidently Paterson—told her she had a “duty” to publish a nonfiction book about her philosophy, to which Rand responded by angrily suggesting she would go “on strike.” It seems likely that this conversation concerned The Moral Basis of Individualism, a nonfiction treatise that Rand never completed. The most plausible explanation is that Rand and Paterson discussed the idea of a “strike” novel for some time before that call.
55. Ayn Rand, Letter to Isabel Paterson, February 7, 1948, in Berliner, Letters, 190.
56. Isabel Paterson, Letter to Ayn Rand, ca. February 14, 1948, Hoover Presidential Library.
57. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 239–40.
58. Paterson, “Turns with a Bookworm,” September 19, 1943.
59. Tom Girdler, Boot Straps (New York: Scribner’s, 1943), 363.
60. Girdler, Boot Straps, 357–58.
61. Ayn Rand, Letter to Tom Girdler, July 12, 1943, in Berliner, Letters, 81–85. Girdler replied politely, but made clear in Boot Straps that “I don’t think of hope of reward as selfishness. . . . Most of the people I have known in my life have been constantly trying to get a fatter pay envelope, not for themselves, but for those they love.” Boot Straps, 458.
62. Isabel Paterson, Never Ask the End (New York: Literary Guild, 1933), 162.
63. Paterson, Never Ask the End, 69.
64. Rand, Atlas Shrugged, 1058.
65. Ayn Rand, Letter to Leonard Read, May 18, 1946, in Berliner, Letters, 276.
66. Isabel Paterson, Letter to Ayn Rand, ca. August 30, 1945, Hoover Presidential Library.
67. Isabel Paterson, Letter to Ayn Rand, ca. October 7, 1943, Hoover Presidential Library.
68. David Harriman, ed., Journals of Ayn Rand (New York: Dutton, 1999), 412.
69. Rose Wilder Lane, fragmentary undated letter to Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand Institute, (143_LN3_012_001).
70. Harriman, Journals, 412.
71. It is not known why Paterson declined to review The Fountainhead. It is possible she believed doing so would be improper, because she had advised Rand on the manuscript. It is also possible that Paterson had misgivings about the book that she declined to mention to Rand. After Paterson’s death, her copy of The Fountainhead was discovered; it included numerous handwritten edits. Cox, Woman and the Dynamo, 305.
72. Cox, Woman and the Dynamo, 314.
73. Isabel Paterson, Letter to Muriel Hall, ca. November 1957, in Stephen Cox, ed., Culture and Liberty: Writings of Isabel Paterson (New York: Routledge, 2015), 237.
74. William F. Buckley, Jr., “RIP, Mrs. Paterson,” National Review, January 28, 1961, 43.
75. Paterson, God of the Machine, il.