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Ayn Rand, the idol of individuality

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Ayn Rand born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum, was a Russian-American novelist, philosopher, playwright and screenwriter. She is known for her two best-selling novels and for developing a philosophical system she called Objectivism.

Ayn Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia to a bourgeois family of Russian Jews, on February 2, 1905. Rand's father was a successful pharmacist. Russian Revolution of 1917 and the rise of the Bolshevik party under Vladimir Lenin disrupted Rand's family life. Her father's pharmacy was confiscated by the Bolsheviks, and the family fled to the Crimea which was initially under the control of the White Army during the Russian Civil War. She finished a high school in the Crimea and then completed a three-year program at Petrograd State University. The revolution changed the attitude to female education in Russia, the universities were opened to women, including Jews, allowing Rand to be in the first group of women to enroll at Petrograd State University, where she studied in the department of social pedagogy, majoring in history. Her first published work was essay about the actress Pola Negri, which had been written as one of the assignments. This time she adopted the name Ayn Rand as her professional nick name.

In late 1925 she obtained permission to leave Soviet Russia for a visit to relatives in the United States. Although she told Soviet authorities that her visit would be short, she was determined never to return to Russia. She arrived in New York City in February 1926. She spent the next six months with her relatives in Chicago, obtained an extension to her visa, and then left for Hollywood to pursue a career as a screenwriter.

Ayn Rand got first a job of an extra, and then of a script reader from the famed director Cecil B. DeMille in the film "The King of Kings". While working on the film, she met an aspiring young actor, Frank O'Connor; the two were married on April 15, 1929. They were married until his death fifty years later. Rand became an American citizen in 1931 She made several attempts to bring her parents and sisters to the United States, but they were unable to get permission to emigrate.

Rand's first literary success came with the sale of her screenplay "Red Pawn" to Universal Studios in 1932, although it was never produced. This was followed by the courtroom drama "Night of January 16th", first produced in Hollywood in 1934 and then successfully reopened on Broadway in 1935. In 1941, Paramount Pictures produced a movie version of the play. Rand did not participate in the production and was highly critical of the result. Her first novel, "We the Living", was completed in 1934 but was rejected by numerous publishers, until The Macmillan Company in the United States and Cassells and Company in England published the book in 1936. The most autobiographical of her novels, it was based on her years under Soviet tyranny. She began writing "The Fountainhead" in 1935 (taking a short break in 1937 to write the anti-collectivist novelette "Anthem"). "The Fountainhead" was rejected by twelve publishers but finally accepted by the Bobbs-Merrill Company. When published in 1943, it made history by becoming a best-seller through word of mouth two years later, and gained for its author lasting recognition as a champion of individualism.

After the publication of "The Fountainhead", Rand received numerous letters from readers, some of whom it had profoundly influenced. In 1951 Rand moved from Los Angeles to New York City, where she gathered a group of these admirers around her. They met at weekens at her apartment to discuss philosophy and later read the drafts of her new novel, "Atlas Shrugged".

Published in 1957, "Atlas Shrugged" was her greatest achievement and last work of fiction. In this novel she dramatized her unique philosophy in an intellectual mystery story that integrated ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, politics, economics and sex. Rand described the theme of the novel as "the role of the mind in man's existence-and, as a corollary, the demonstration of a new moral philosophy: the morality of rational self-interest." It advocates the core tenets of Rand's philosophy of Objectivism and expresses her concept of human achievement. The plot involves a dystopian United States in which the most creative industrialists, scientists and artists go on strike and retreat to a mountainous hideaway where they build an independent free economy.

Thereafter, Ayn Rand wrote and lectured on her philosophy - Objectivism, which she characterized as "a philosophy for living on earth." She published and edited her own periodicals from 1962 to 1976, her essays providing much of the material for six books on Objectivism and its application to the culture. Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982, in her New York City apartment.

Every book by Ayn Rand published in her lifetime is still in print, and hundreds of thousands of copies are sold each year, so far totaling more than 25 million. Several new volumes have been published posthumously. Her vision of man and her philosophy for living on earth have changed the lives of thousands of readers and launched a philosophic movement with a growing impact on American culture.

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