An Interview with Jeff Britting: IDEAL

Jul 30, 2014 by

Michael F Shaughnessy –

1)      Jeff, first of all, can you tell us about who you are and what you do?

I’m happy to! Currently, I’m curator at the Ayn Rand Archives, which is a department of the Ayn Rand Institute. The Archives is the world’s largest repository of Rand-themed material. Our mission is to collect and make available documents by and about Rand in all media—a big task, as the evidence of Rand’s growing impact is considerable. But there is another aspect to my job. I bring Rand’s work to light in different mediums. I’ve curated exhibits on Rand, made university presentations, and co-operated with C-SPAN. I’ve also developed and staged her works. Last fall, I adapted a New York, off-Broadway stage production of her novel Anthem.

2)      How has Ayn Rand’s work impacted your life?

Positively, which is an understatement; more like profoundly. I was devoted to the arts from an early age. And when I turned sixteen, I decided to pursue music and drama. But I faced a terrible obstacle. This was the Vietnam War and the military draft.  I was outspoken in my opposition to the war and to risking my life against my will. I wasn’t a pacifist. But the idea that my life, my time and my mind belonged to my “community” or nation went against my grain. I was seeking arguments against the war. One day on the radio, I heard about a writer named Ayn Rand who had moral arguments against the war and the draft. So, I read her. And by the logic of her argument, I realized that if it is wrong to draft an individual, it is equally wrong to draft an entire economy. And so began my lifelong study of her ideas.

3)      Now, can you tell us about this “lost novel“?

To paraphrase Daniel Boone, Ideal was never lost; it was just obscured in the shadow of more famous works. The novelette was written in the early 1930s while Rand was living in Hollywood. Originally, Rand thought the novelette would succeed as serialized magazine fiction, and she continued revising the manuscript through the thirties. Her final effort was creating an adaptation of the work for the stage, which she completed in New York City. The idea had been suggested to Rand by her New York agent. Rand hoped that the play would be staged in her lifetime, but it was not.

4)      Can you provide perhaps a “teaser” as to what the book is about? What might we expect?

The writing is early Ayn Rand—but it is utterly distinctive to her. Ideal is the story of an actress—modeled on Greta Garbo—and her worshiping fans. These fans have written passionate letters to her claiming she is the embodiment of their deepest ideals. And she wonders:  Do her fans actually live by the ideals they claim to worship? So the actress shows up unannounced at the doorsteps of six fans, seeking shelter from the police. And the results are fascinating.

5)      Can you provide any details about where the novel has been all these years?

Interestingly, I always knew about Ideal. And the story intrigued me. I first read fragments inserted into a biographical essay about Rand and in the introduction to The Fountainhead. In a way, Ideal is one of the reasons I became a curator. Rand’s development as a writer is fascinating. I wanted to read the novelette and then the play, which was eventually published in 1984. Now, jumping some years later, when the Ayn Rand Archives was established, and I was offered the job of archivist, I began to process Rand’s papers. So Ideal the manuscript was placed in an acid-free box. I suppose that publication was a matter of time. Later, it was a combination of my suggestion and the simultaneous efforts of Richard Ralston, who, as manager of publications for the Ayn Rand Institute, recommended the novel for review by Leonard Peikoff, the preeminent Rand scholar writing today. Upon receiving a green light, Mr. Ralston deftly supervised the project. And now Ideal will be published by Penguin Random House in July of 2015.

6)      What have I neglected to ask?

Yes, something that couldn’t have been asked prior to this interview opportunity. The question is: When was the first performance of Ideal, the play? Well, contrary to reports in the press, Ideal’sfirst performance did not occur in New York City in 2010. The premiere staging occurred in Los Angeles in 1989. And I was one of several people who produced it. As for the critical reaction, thanks to the cloud, I’m happy to make it available here:  I hope this positive review of Ideal,the play, from the Los Angeles Times, bodes well for Ideal,the novelette!

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