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Shortly after their wedding anniversary celebration (p. 152 in my edition), Hank Reardon recalls Lillian coming down from New York on her own initiative to see his Mills:

[Hank] remembered the day when Lillian came from New York to his office, of her own sudden choice, and asked him to take her through his mills. He heard a soft, low, breathless tone - the tone of admiration - growing in her voice, as she questioned him about his work and looked at the place around her. He looked at her graceful figure moving against the bursts of furnace flame, and at the light swift steps of her high heels stumbling through drifts of slag, as she walked resolutely by his side. The look in her eyes, when she watched a heat of steel being poured, was like his own feeling for it made visible to him. When her eyes moved up to his face, he saw the same look, but intensified to a degree that seemed to make her helpless and silent. It was at dinner, that evening, that he asked her to marry him.

Why did she react that way to seeing the Mills? Why did intensifying it "seem to make her helpless and silent"? Admittedly, she never could've matched his genius (a fact that she was well aware of), but then again, neither could Eddie Willers. Eddie Willers openly admitted that he couldn't match Dagney or Hank Reardon's talent, and yet he's a thoroughly moral character. Why is it that Eddie's respect for talent make him moral, and yet Lillian's (apparent) admiration of the Mills made her seem "helpless and silent"? Why did she react that way to the Mills in the first place, and why didn't she continue to express admiration for the Mills later in the book?

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I suppose you could interpret it as follows?:

"Tone of admiration"

Lillian was a jaded socialite, presumably had never set foot in a factory, and was struck by the scale and danger of the enterprise. Also the (postmodern?) philosophical antics of her NY cabal are akin to Critical Theory / Cultural Marxism and she may have been awed by her capability to get closer to 'the mark' which Reardon represented to them. The topsy turvy anti-logic she later is identified as ascribing to would perhaps not have equipped her with the foreknowledge needed to immediately process the awesome scale of the scene. In short, it takes her by surprise. Also, the mill is a dangerous place, she may have intuited that it was not the place to apply her values at leisure, while the fires raged around her.

Also, re the above - pay attention to the action: her, immaculately dressed, tip toeing around the mill floor in her heels. This is a first for her. The other significant action is that she is speechless. She doesn't commend what he is doing or even condemn it. She says nothing. She is simply out of her element. From what we understand she already knows she is at odds with what she sees, but she has a romantic interest in Hank (which is later of course explained to be purely malicious), so we know she is scheming.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the scene is written from Hanks perspective. He is incredibly lonely, and perhaps the whole point of the scene is that Hank cons himself, as much as Lillian cons him? Besides her action of visiting him there she actually does nothing else which isn't effectively passive or likely manipulative. In the face of this Hank makes the mistake of seeing what he wants to see - that Lillian appreciates what he does, even though her actions do not prove it in and of themselves.

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