December 2013

Barbara Branden (1929-2013)

Boswellian Biographer of Ayn Rand

After falling under the spell of Ayn Rand's novel The Fountainhead as a teenager, Barbara Branden grew to become Rand's intimate friend and intellectual protégé for nineteen years until 1968, when Rand broke with her. In 1986, Branden published The Passion of Ayn Rand [find in library], a remarkably balanced biography that was reviewed by Louis Torres in the May 1987 issue of Aristos under the title "Boswell's Johnson, Branden's Rand: The Passion of Ayn Rand in Historical Perspective."

Two epigraphs to that review--penned nearly a century apart (and both quoted here in part)--shed light on the review's title. The first is by James Boswell, from his classic biography of Samuel Johnson:

. . . and he will be seen as he really was; for I profess to write, not his panegyric, which must be all praise, but his Life; which, great and good as he was, must not be supposed to be entirely perfect. . . . [In] every picture there should be shade as well as light. . . .

Then second is by Branden:

. . . I hope to show in her story that she was something infinitely more fascinating and infinitely more valuable than either goddess or sinner. She was a human being. She lived, she loved, she fought her battles, and she knew triumph and defeat. The scale was epic; the principle is inherent in human existence.

Regarding Branden's detractors, Torres wrote:

Much of the criticism leveled at Branden [by Rand acolytes] has ignored the fact that she has fashioned a work in the best biographic tradition. In her approach to life-writing--both in her attitude toward her subject and in the specific biographic devices she uses--Branden follows in the footsteps of a long line of worthy predecessors, stretching back to antiquity and representing nearly every historical era since.

As Torres concluded, Branden's "is likely to remain the definitive biography of Ayn Rand."

Future attempts may be cast from different points of view, adding new perspectives and details, but none is likely to more dramatically or convincingly re-create the unique and complex woman who was Ayn Rand, or more movingly demonstrate the essential beneficence of her intellectual legacy.

We reprint the review here in memory of Branden, who died in her home in Los Angeles of a lung infection on December 11.

Prominent among Branden's other notable achievements was a lecture series entitled "Principles of Efficient Thinking" [introduction] [review] [excerpts], which Torres attended when it was delivered in New York in the early 1960s.

We will always be grateful to Branden for graciously allowing us to use a photograph she had of Ayn Rand in academic dress, for the cover of What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand. Taken on the occasion of Rand's honorary doctorate of humane letters from Lewis & Clark College in 1963, the image struck just the dignified note we were seeking. (A credit line on the back cover of the book acknowledges Branden's generosity.) In the full original photograph (which is one of the photo inserts in The Passion of Ayn Rand), Rand is posing with Barbara and Nathaniel Branden (her husband at the time) and Frank O'Connor, Rand's husband.

See also the remembrance in The Huffington Post Blog by Branden's friend James Peron ("Barbara Branden, Biographer of Ayn Rand, Dies," December 12, 2013; and her obituary in the New York Times, published online on December 25.

May she rest in peace.

-- The Editors