I am going to give a bit more explanation about interpreting Lillian as a Victim. The stuff that follows is written with that interpretation. I do not think this is the only or even the best interpretation, just that it is one of many interpretations that are consistent with the text, and that it is an important interpretation.
For this interpretation, remember that almost everything that you see Lillian do in the book happens after eight years of marriage, so all of her “bad” behavior would be a response to eight years of this marriage.
The basic idea is that Lillian marries Hank starry-eyed and naive, in love with someone she thinks is a great and powerful man. He quickly tires of her and decides that he doesn’t like her at all, and proceeds to ignore her for the rest of the marriage, except when he wants to have sex with her. He makes no effort to get to know her as a person or take any interest in her thoughts, opinions, or interests.
Quotes from Atlas Shrugged, Part 1 Chapter 6, about when Hank and Lillian first got married:
He found himself held by the spectacle of a woman who was obviously pursuing him but with obvious reluctance, as if against her own will, as if fighting a desire she resented.
Lillian liked Hank and wanted to date/marry him, but also knew that it was improper for a woman to pursue a man. She would have preferred if he had pursued her, but she liked him enough that she pursued him anyway. She felt conflict about this though.
Regarding Hank’s feelings about Lillian from before the marriage:
It was the difficulty of the conquest that made him want Lillian. She seemed to be a woman who expected and deserved a pedestal; this made him want to drag her down to his bed. To drag her down, were the words in his mind; they gave him a dark pleasure, the sense of a victory worth winning.
And then from after their marriage:
She had never objected; she had never refused him anything; she submitted whenever he wished. She submitted in the manner of complying with the rule that it was, at times, her duty to become an inanimate object turned over to her husband’s use.
His desire for her had died in the first week of their marriage.
So Hank didn’t like the way that Lillian had sex. He didn’t like the way she acted or emoted during sex, and he realized it within a week of marriage, and he checked out of the marriage because of that.
Presumably Lillian was a virgin at that time, since she was a proper woman from money who was marrying a rich man. He already had sexual experience (it says that in the book). He hadn’t liked the way he felt after sex with the other women, and he also didn’t like the way he felt after sex with Lillian.
He wanted to feel like he was “drag[ging] her down” from a “pedestal”, like he was winning some victory. But she was too indifferent seeming, so sex didn’t feel like a conquest to him. It didn’t feel like he was winning some victory. She just gave in too easily, didn’t resist at all. He wanted to feel powerful, but instead he felt emasculated.
In contrast, here is a quote from the first time Hank and Dagny had sex, in Part 1 Chapter 8:
her defiance was submission, that the purpose of all of her violent strength was only to make his victory the greater—he was holding her body against his, as if stressing his wish to let her know that she was now only a tool for the satisfaction of his desire—and his victory, she knew, was her wish to let him reduce her to that.
Dagny was “defiant” and used “violent strength”. That is what Hank wanted. He wanted to overpower somebody, to feel like he was forcing them into something, to feel like he was winning a battle.
Sex with Lillian was unfulfilling for Hank because she just complacently allowed it, she never fought back. There wasn’t a victory to be won. There was no fight, no struggle.
Imagine Lillian did initially want sex. But she was a scared virgin who didn’t know what to do, and just tried to let her husband take the lead. And then when they had sex, he took no interest in giving her any pleasure, and just tried to get through it as quickly as possible, because her lack of resistance was so upsetting to him.
So sex was always unenjoyable for Lillian, even in the beginning, because her husband made it unenjoyable for her. And, as a proper woman, she couldn’t exactly do anything to remedy that. She was Hank’s wife after all, she didn’t want to act like a prostitute and make him hate her.
And within one week of the marriage, Hank gave up entirely. He completely checked out of the marriage, and decided that he didn’t even care about Lillian as a person. She wasn’t the sexual conquest that he wanted. The only values she ever held to him were as a sexual conquest and as the roll of his “wife”. So he kept her in the empty roll of his wife, but no longer had any interest in her as a person. Because she never was a person to him.
So imagine this from Lillian’s perspective. She just got married to someone she was attracted to, someone she pursued, someone she thought was a great and powerful man. And then she notices, within the first month of the marriage, that he has fully checked out. But she has no idea why.
So then what happens during the next eight years?
Hank keeps having sex with Lillian that he doesn’t enjoy, and she doesn’t resist. She finds the sex unenjoyable, which makes sense, because he makes no effort to make it enjoyable to her: he just makes it about him finishing as quickly as he can. But she continues to allow this, to not resist. Maybe at first, she is still hopeful that things will get better, that their relationship can work. But sometime within the eight years, she realizes things aren’t going to change, and she stops being OK with having sex. But she still doesn’t resist. She has seen the hints of his violence in other places, and she is afraid that any resistance will be met with violence.
From the sex scene with Hank and Dagny:
He took her wrist and threw her inside his room, making the gesture tell her that he needed no sign of consent or resistance.
Hank doesn’t care about consent. He doesn’t feel like he needs consent to have sex with Dagny, who is his business partner. So he definitely would not feel like he needs consent to have sex with his wife.
Since this was Hank’s view, it would make sense that Lillian would have some sense of it. She would have some inkling this was there, even if he never said it directly. So she continued to do what she needed to do to survive, and never resisted sex. She knew that resistance would likely lead to violence. I think the book does provide evidence for that: it seems to be the thing he actually wanted from sex. So, ironically, if Lillian had resisted sex, maybe Hank would have liked that better: he would have gotten to have the violent sex with her that he craved, he would have gotten the feeling that he was winning a victory, that he was dragging her down.
One thing about the book that is particularly bad is that we are supposed to read Lillian’s indifference during sex as her doing something mean to Hank. We are supposed to read it as if she is denying him the conquest, denying him pleasure, denying him enjoyable sex.
What else is going on in Lillian’s life? She is being ignored by her husband, who routinely comes home late without notice, and forgets simple commitments that he makes to her. He is a great businessman, able to run an entire business and invent things, but he apparently can’t figure out how to use a calendar or a to do list.
Also, Lillian has to live with Hank’s mother and brother, whom she doesn’t actually get along with.
Part 3, Chapter 6, regarding Hank’s mother’s feelings about Lillian:
there had never been much love between Lillian and her
So Lillian had to live with her mother-in-law that she didn’t actually get along with. And she had to do it while her husband spent a lot of time away from home. So most of her time with him was just in the evenings, when he finally made it home from work, with his family there. And then the rest of the time, she had to spend time with her mother-in-law that didn’t like her. That would be hard on most people.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Lillian cannot easily escape this marriage. Divorce was hard to obtain and highly stigmatized. She can’t just leave him and marry someone else. And she she can’t leave him without potentially being ostracized by the community.
Also, he has hints of violence, and also feelings of possession and ownership over the idea of his “wife”. So she would be afraid that if she tries to leave and dishonors him in that way, then he could get violent or even kill her. And that isn’t just some hypothetical fear. It is very dangerous to leave an abusive relationship. Women should be wary of that. There is a reason that transition houses in secret locations exist. Many abusive men do not get overtly violent until the woman tries to leave. If you feel like your partner may be dangerous, you need to call a crisis line and make a plan to leave them. Do not tell an abusive partner you are planning to leave them. That is dangerous. At the time in the book, crisis lines and women’s transition houses didn’t exist like they do now. Women were not supported in leaving. So if Lillian wanted to avoid violence, she had no choice but to stay, and to try to make the best of things, while also trying to avoid triggering any overt violence from Hank.
Also, consider that even if she feels this way, she is also probably still trying to have a relationship with him. She knows she is stuck in this situation for the rest of her life, until one of them dies, so she is trying her best to make it work. And part of her may still love him, and still think that they could be happy. Maybe she blames herself for his distance, and thinks that if she could be a better wife, maybe he would be nicer to her and care about her more. This is common. It is common for abused women to still love their abusers and want to make things work.
There is the issue of Lillian not liking her friends. So, remember she is going through an immense amount of pain in her marriage, and she can’t leave. She lives in a society that would not even support her leaving, and does not believe marital rape even exists. So, from her point of view, it is dangerous to have any close friends. She doesn’t want to have conversations where she accidentally lets too much slip. So she keeps a distance from other people, and just goes to empty social gatherings. She tries to keep up the appearance of being a great man’s wife, without ever being close enough to anyone to let the facade crack.
There is the issue of the social jokes Lillian makes, which are what we see in the book after eight years of marriage. Consider that she is trying her best to survive, and trying to keep things light and non serious. She can’t bring up any of her real complaints to Hank. He has already shown that he doesn’t care about what she wants or likes. He doesn’t care about her ideas or feelings.
So why does Lillian make social jokes? Maybe she is trying to deal with the pain, and trying to figure out a way to bring things up to him that doesn’t seem really serious. Instead of outright saying that it hurts her that he ignores her and can’t remember to come home on time, she makes jokes about it. This is really common. People do that all the time. They don’t want to outright say that someone’s actions are bothering them, so they make a joke about the actions. Most of the time, people should be more direct. But if you are in a situation where you fear violence if you are direct, then indirection is a reasonable response to that.
There is the issue of the bracelet. One thing with Lillian resenting the bracelet initially is that the bracelet partially represents what he has been ignoring her for for years. The bracelet represents the priorities that he has chosen over the marriage. It represents that his work and his metal will always be more important to him than she is. The “gift” he got her was specifically about the reasons he had been ignoring and neglecting her. It could be read as him giving her a reminder of her place.
Why did Lillian wear the bracelet to the anniversary party so ostentatiously? It is possible that was a misguided attempt to get Hank’s attention, to show him some appreciation. Maybe she was thankful he was doing the anniversary dinner, and she thought wearing it was a way to pay him some kind of tribute, and maybe if she did that, he would give her some attention. But then he didn’t give her any attention. He didn’t stay by her side or talk to her during the dinner. So then when people kept asking about it, she was embarrassed and she made a joke (that could also be read as a bit of a humble-brag). She felt bad that she was going through her anniversary party without her husband paying any attention to her (on their actual anniversary), even after she made an attempt to do something he would appreciate.
Anyway, this is not a full interpretation, just some explanation of one possible way to look at the character of Lillian. This would be the type of context to keep in mind when trying to interpret the words and actions of “Victim Lillian”.