A literary style has two fundamental elements (each subsuming a large number of lesser categories): the "choice of content" and the "choice of words." By "choice of content" I mean those aspects of a given passage (whether description, narrative or dialogue) which a writer chooses to communicate (and which involve the consideration of what to include or to omit). By "choice of words" I mean the particular words and sentence structures a writer uses to communicate them.
For instance, when a writer describes a beautiful woman, his stylistic "choice of content" will determine whether he mentions (or stresses) her face or body or manner of moving or facial expression, etc.; whether the details he includes are essential and significant or accidental and irrelevant; whether he presents them in terms of facts or of evaluations; etc. His "choice of words" will convey the emotional implications or connotations, the value-slanting, of the particular content he has chosen to communicate. (He will achieve a different effect if he describes a woman as "slender" or "thin" or "svelte" or "lanky," etc.)
None of this is particularly objectionable or particularly insightful. The main criticism that could be essayed against it is that, in the hands of a malicious critic, the importance of a writer's style could be exaggerated and used as a pretext to malign great works of literature. Many of the greatest novelists were not particularly adept stylists. These include such writers as Stendhal, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Melville, Dreiser, and Faulkner, among others.
Rand proceeds to trot out two passage allegedly describing New York, one written by Mickey Spillane, the other by Thomas Wolfe. I say allegedly because the Wolfe passage is not really a description of New York, but rather, a description of the emotions stirred up within Wolfe's protagonist by the sight of New York. Rand, ignoring this distinction, concludes: "Wolfe's style is emotion-orientated and addressed to a subjective psycho-epistemology: he expects the reader to accept emotions divorced from facts, and to accept them second-hand."
The key term here is "subjective psycho-epistemology." In Objectivism, the term subjective has the same moral connotations as the term Satan has for a Christian fundamentalist. It is indicative of the deepest, most unregenerate evil. By claiming that Wolfe's works are "addressed" to a "subjective psycho-epistemology," Rand is suggesting that admirers of his work are afflicted with this very same subjectivism, and are perhaps deserving of psychological counseling, if not outright moral condemnation. Does Rand have any grounds for ascribing subjectivism (in the disparaging sense of the word) to Wolfe's admirers?
No, she doesn't. Wolfe presents a target-rich environment for the critic, because he was an immensely talented writer who often, alas, had nothing of any great importance to say. The best he could achieve was to write very eloquently (sometimes over-eloquently) of his own trivial thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Since many young people share or can relate to Wolfe's thoughts, emotions, and experiences, they are drawn to the grandiloquent poetry in which he expresses them. There is nothing in any of this to draw the sinister conclusion that Wolfe appeals to those afflicted with subjective psycho-epistemologies. All literature, to the extent that it appeals to emotions (and what literature doesn't appeal to the emotions?), appeals to the "subjective."
Rand takes her principle to even more questionable extremes when she writes:
Style is not an end in itself, it is only a means to an end—the means of telling a story. The writer who develops a beautiful style, but has nothing to say, represents a kind of arrested esthetic development; he is like a pianist who acquires a brilliant technique by playing finger-exercises, but never gives a concert.
The typical literary product of such writers—and of their imitators, who possess no style—are so-called "mood-studies," popular among today’s literati, which are little pieces conveying nothing but a certain mood. Such pieces are not an art-form, they are merely finger-exercises that never develop into art.
While Rand is correct that style is not an end in itself, this doesn't mean that "mood-studies" are not an art-form. What is a lyric poem, but a "mood study"? Why shouldn't a lyric poem (or a lyrical short story) not be a work of art? We once again are confronted with an example of Rand making sweeping pronouncements about issues she doesn't know much about and hasn't thought through.