Cover of the first edition
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The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand, and her first major literary success. More than 6.5 million copies of the book have been sold worldwide.
The Fountainhead's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an individualistic young architect who refuses to compromise his artistic and personal vision for worldly recognition and success. The book follows his battle to practice what the public sees as modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. How others in the novel relate to Roark demonstrates Rand's various archetypes of human character, all of which are variants between Roark, the author's ideal man of independence and integrity, and what she described as the "second-handers". The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress, or both, allow the novel to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work. Roark is Rand's embodiment of what she believes to be the ideal man, and his struggle reflects Rand's personal belief that individualism trumps collectivism.
The manuscript was rejected by twelve publishers before editor Archibald Ogden at the Bobbs-Merrill Company risked his job to get it published. Despite mixed reviews from the contemporary media, the book gained a following by word of mouth and became a bestseller. The novel was made into a Hollywood film in 1949. Rand wrote the screenplay, and Gary Cooper played Roark.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 History
- 3 Major characters
- 4 Main themes
- 5 Reception and legacy
- 6 Adaptations
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
In the spring of 1922, Howard Roark is expelled from architecture school for refusing to adhere to the school's conventionalism. He believes buildings should be sculpted to fit their location, material, and purpose, while his critics insist that adherence to historical convention is essential. He goes to New York City to work for Henry Cameron, a disgraced architect whom Roark admires. Peter Keating, a popular but vacuous fellow student who Roark sometimes helped with projects, has graduated with high honors. He also moves to New York to take a job at the prestigious architectural firm of Francon & Heyer, where he ingratiates himself with senior partner Guy Francon. Roark and Cameron create inspired work, but rarely receive recognition, whereas Keating's ability to flatter brings him quick success. Keating works to remove rivals within his firm, and eventually he is made a partner.
After Cameron retires, Keating hires Roark, who is soon fired for insubordination by Francon. Roark works briefly at another firm, then opens his own office. He has trouble finding clients and eventually closes it down. He takes a job at a granite quarry owned by Francon. There he meets Francon's daughter Dominique, a columnist for The New York Banner, while she is staying at her family's estate nearby. There is an immediate attraction between them, leading to a rough sexual encounter that Dominique later describes as a rape. Shortly after, Roark is notified that a client is ready to start a new building, and he returns to New York.
Ellsworth M. Toohey, author of a popular architecture column in the Banner, is an outspoken socialist who shapes public opinion through his column and his circle of influential associates. Toohey sets out to destroy Roark through a smear campaign. Toohey manipulates one of Roark's clients into suing Roark. At the trial, prominent architects (including Keating) testify that Roark's style is unorthodox and illegitimate. Dominique speaks in Roark's defense, but he loses the case. Dominique decides that since she cannot have the world she wants, in which men like Roark are recognized for their greatness, she will live completely and entirely in the world she has, which shuns Roark and praises Keating. She offers Keating her hand in marriage. Dominique turns her entire spirit over to Keating, doing and saying whatever he wants, including persuading potential clients to hire him instead of Roark.
To win Keating a prestigious commission offered by Gail Wynand, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Banner, Dominique agrees to sleep with Wynand. When they meet, Wynand is so strongly attracted to Dominique that he buys Keating's divorce from her, after which Wynand and Dominique are married. Wanting to build a home for himself and his new wife, Wynand discovers that every building he likes was designed by Roark, so he enlists Roark to build the new house. Roark and Wynand become close friends, although Wynand does not know about Roark's past relationship with Dominique.
Washed up and out of the public eye, Keating pleads with Toohey for his influence to get the commission for the much-sought-after Cortlandt housing project. Keating knows his most successful projects were aided by Roark, so he asks for Roark's help in designing Cortlandt. Roark agrees to design it in exchange for complete anonymity and Keating's promise that it will be built exactly as designed. When Roark returns from a long trip with Wynand, he finds that the Cortlandt design has been changed despite his agreement with Keating. Roark dynamites the building to prevent the subversion of his vision.
Roark is arrested and his action is widely condemned, but Wynand orders his newspapers to defend him. The Banner's circulation drops and the workers go on strike. Faced with the choice of closing the paper or reversing his stance, Wynand gives in; the newspaper publishes a denunciation of Roark. At his trial for the dynamiting, Roark makes a speech about the value of ego and the need to remain true to oneself. The jury finds him not guilty. Roark also wins over Dominique, who leaves Wynand for Roark. Wynand, who has finally grasped the nature of the "power" he thought he held, shuts down the Banner and asks Roark to design one last building for him, a skyscraper that will testify to the supremacy of man. Eighteen months later, the Wynand Building is under construction and Dominique, now Roark's wife, enters the site to meet him atop its steel framework.
Background and development
In 1927, movie producer Cecil B. DeMille charged Rand, who was working for him as a junior screenwriter, with writing a script for what would become the film Skyscraper. The original story by Dudley Murphy was about two construction workers involved in building a New York skyscraper who are rivals for a woman's love. Rand rewrote the story, transforming the rivals into architects. One of them, Howard Kane, was an idealist dedicated to his mission and erecting the skyscraper despite enormous obstacles. The film would have ended with Kane's throwing back his head in victory, standing atop the completed skyscraper. DeMille rejected Rand's script, and the completed film followed Murphy's original idea, but Rand's version contained elements she would later use in The Fountainhead.
In 1928, Rand made notes for a proposed novel titled The Little Street. Although that story was never written, Rand's notes for it contain elements that carried over into her work on The Fountainhead. David Harriman, who edited the notes for the posthumously published Journals of Ayn Rand, described one character as an "early version of Ellsworth Toohey".
Rand began The Fountainhead (originally titled Second-Hand Lives) following the completion in 1934 of her first novel, We the Living. While that earlier novel had been based partly on people and events from Rand's experiences, the new novel was to focus on the less-familiar world of architecture. Therefore, she did extensive research to develop plot and character ideas. This included reading numerous biographies and books about architecture, and working as an unpaid typist in the office of architect Ely Jacques Kahn. Rand began her notes for the new novel in December 1935.
Rand wanted to write a novel that was less overtly political than We the Living, to avoid being "considered a 'one-theme' author". As she developed the story, she began to see more political meaning in the novel's ideas about individualism. Rand also initially planned to introduce each of the four sections with a quote from philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas had influenced her own intellectual development. However, she eventually decided that Nietzsche's ideas were too different from her own. She did not place the quotes in the published novel, and she edited the final manuscript to remove other allusions to him.
Rand's work on The Fountainhead was repeatedly interrupted. In 1937, she took a break from it to write a novella called Anthem. She also completed a stage adaptation of We the Living that ran briefly in early 1940. That same year, she became actively involved in politics, first working as a volunteer in Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign, then attempting to form a group for conservative intellectuals. As her royalties from earlier projects ran out, she began doing freelance work as a script reader for movie studios. When Rand finally found a publisher, the novel was only one-third complete.
Although she was a previously published novelist and had a successful Broadway play, Rand had difficulty finding a publisher for The Fountainhead. Macmillan Publishing, which had published We the Living, rejected the book after Rand insisted that they must provide more publicity for her new novel than they did for the first one. Rand's agent began submitting the book to other publishers. In 1938, Knopf signed a contract to publish the book, but when Rand was only a quarter done with manuscript by October 1940, Knopf canceled her contract. Several other publishers rejected the book, and Rand's agent began to criticize the novel. Rand fired her agent and decided to handle submissions herself.
While Rand was working as a script reader for Paramount Pictures, her boss there, Richard Mealand, offered to introduce her to his publishing contacts. He put her in touch with the Bobbs-Merrill Company. A recently hired editor, Archibald Ogden, liked the book, but two internal reviewers gave conflicting opinions about it. One said it was a great book that would never sell; the other said it was trash but would sell well. Ogden's boss, Bobbs-Merrill president D.L. Chambers, decided to reject the book. Ogden responded by wiring to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." His strong stand got a contract for Rand in December 1941. Twelve other publishers (including Macmillan and Knopf) had rejected the book.
Rand's working title for the book was Second Hand Lives, but Ogden pointed out that this emphasized the story's villains. Rand offered The Mainspring as an alternative, but this title had been recently used for another book, so she used a thesaurus and found 'fountainhead' as a synonym.
The Fountainhead was published in May 1943. Initial sales were slow, but as Mimi Reisel Gladstein described it, sales "grew by word-of-mouth, developing a popularity that asserted itself slowly on the best-seller lists." It reached number six on The New York Times bestseller list in August 1945, over two years after its initial publication.
A 25th anniversary edition was issued by New American Library in 1971, including a new introduction by Rand. In 1993, a 50th anniversary edition from Bobbs-Merrill added an afterword by Rand's heir, Leonard Peikoff. By 2008 the novel had sold over 6.5 million copies in English, and it has been translated into a number of languages, including Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch, French, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Italian, Japanese, Marathi, Mongolian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
As the protagonist of the book, Roark is an aspiring architect who firmly believes that a person must be a "prime mover" to achieve pure art, not mitigated by others, as opposed to councils or committees of individuals which lead to compromise and mediocrity and a "watering down" of a prime mover's completed vision. He represents the triumph of individualism over the slow stagnation of collectivism. He is eventually arrested for dynamiting a building he designed, the design of which was compromised by other architects brought in to negate his vision of the project. During his trial, Roark delivers a speech condemning "second-handers" and declaring the superiority of prime movers; he prevails and is vindicated by the jury.
The character of Roark was at least partly inspired by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Rand described the inspiration as limited to "some of his architectural ideas [and] the pattern of his career". She denied that Wright had anything to do with the philosophy expressed by Roark or the events of the plot. Rand's denials have not stopped other commentators from claiming stronger connections between Wright and Roark. Wright himself equivocated about whether he thought Roark was based on him, sometimes implying that he was, at other times denying it. Wright biographer Ada Louise Huxtable described the "yawning gap" between Wright's philosophy and Rand's, and quoted him declaring, "I deny the paternity and refuse to marry the mother." Architecture critic Martin Filler has said that Roark resembles the Swiss-French modernist architect Le Corbusier more closely than Wright.
Peter Keating is also an aspiring architect, but is everything that Roark is not. His original inclination was to become an artist, but his opportunistic mother pushes him toward architecture where he might have greater material success. Even by Roark's own admission, Keating does possess some creative and intellectual abilities, but is stifled by his sycophantic pursuit of wealth and recognition over morals. His willingness to build what others wish leads him to temporary success. He attends architecture school with Roark, who helps him with some of his less inspired projects. He is subservient to the wills of others: Dominique Francon's father, the architectural establishment, his mother, even Roark himself. Keating is "a man who never could be, but doesn't know it". The one sincere thing in Keating's life is his love for Catherine Halsey, Ellsworth Toohey's niece. Though she offers to introduce Keating to Toohey, he initially refuses despite the fact that such an introduction would help his career. It is the only exception to his otherwise relentless and ruthless ambition, which includes bullying and threatening to blackmail a sick old man and unintentionally causing his death. Although Keating does have a conscience, and often does genuinely feel bad after doing certain things he knows are immoral, he only feels this way in hindsight, and doesn't allow his morals to influence current decision making. Keating's offer to elope with Catherine is his one chance to act on what he believes is his own desire. But, Dominique arrives at that precise moment and offers to marry him for her own reasons, and his acceptance of the offer and betrayal of Catherine ends the potential of romance between them. His acceptance of Dominique's offer of marriage, which would help his career far more than a marriage with Catherine, is a quintessential example of his failure to stand up for his own convictions.
Dominique Francon is the heroine of The Fountainhead, described by Rand as "the woman for a man like Howard Roark". Rand described Dominique as similar to herself "in a bad mood". For most of the novel, the character operates from what Rand later described as "a very mistaken idea about life". Believing that the values she admires cannot survive in the world, she chooses to turn away from those values so that the world cannot harm her. Only at the end of the novel does she accept that she can be happy and survive.
The character has provoked varied reactions from commentators. Chris Matthew Sciabarra called her "one of the more bizarre characters in the novel." Mimi Reisel Gladstein called her "an interesting case study in perverseness" Tore Boeckmann described her as a character with "mixed premises", some of which were mistaken, and saw her actions as a logical representation of how her conflicting ideas might play out.
Gail Wynand is a wealthy newspaper mogul who rose from a destitute childhood in the ghettoes of New York City to control much of the city's print media. While Wynand shares many of the character qualities of Roark, his success is dependent upon his ability to pander to public opinion, a flaw which eventually leads to his downfall. In her journals Rand described Wynand as "the man who could have been" a heroic individualist, contrasting him to Roark, "the man who can be and is". Some elements of Wynand's character were inspired by real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, including Hearst's mixed success in attempts to gain political influence. Wynand is a tragic figure who ultimately fails in his attempts to wield power, losing his newspaper, his wife, and his friendship with Roark. The character has been interpreted as a representation of Nietzsche's "master morality", and his tragic nature illustrates Rand's rejection of Nietzsche's philosophy. In Rand's view, a person like Wynand, who seeks power over others, is just as much a "second-hander" as a conformist like Keating.
Ellsworth Monkton Toohey, who writes a popular art criticism column, is Roark's antagonist. Toohey is Rand's personification of evil, the most active and self-aware villain in any of her novels. Toohey is a socialist, and represents the spirit of collectivism more generally. He styles himself as representative of the will of the masses, but his actual desire is for power over others. He controls individual victims by destroying their sense of self-worth, and seeks broader power (over "the world", as he declares to Keating in a moment of candor) by promoting the ideals of ethical altruism and a rigorous egalitarianism that treats all people and achievements as equally valuable, regardless of their true value. As one reviewer described his approach:
Aiming at a society that shall be "an average drawn upon zeroes," he knows exactly why he corrupts Peter Keating, and explains his methods to the ruined young man in a passage that is a pyrotechnical display of the fascist mind at its best and its worst; the use of the ideal of altruism to destroy personal integrity, the use of humor and tolerance to destroy all standards, the use of sacrifice to enslave.
His biggest threat is the strength of the individual spirit embodied by Roark.
Rand used her memory of the British democratic socialist Harold Laski to help her imagine what Toohey would do in a given situation. New York intellectuals Lewis Mumford and Clifton Fadiman also contributed inspirations for the character.
Rand indicated that the primary theme of The Fountainhead was "individualism versus collectivism, not in politics but within a man's soul." Apart from scenes such as Roark's courtroom defense of the American concept of individual rights, she avoided direct discussion of political issues. As historian James Baker described it, "The Fountainhead hardly mentions politics or economics, despite the fact that it was born in the 1930s. Nor does it deal with world affairs, although it was written during World War II. It is about one man against the system, and it does not permit other matters to intrude."
Rand dedicated The Fountainhead to her husband, Frank O'Connor, and to architecture. She chose architecture for the analogy it offered to her ideas, especially in the context of the ascent of modern architecture. It provided an appropriate vehicle to solidify her beliefs that the individual is of supreme value, the "fountainhead" of creativity, and that selfishness, properly understood as ethical egoism, is a virtue.
Roark's modernist approach to architecture is contrasted with most of the other architects in the novel, starting with the dean of his architecture school, who tells Roark that the best architecture must copy the past, rather than innovate or improve. Roark repeatedly loses jobs with architectural firms and commissions from clients because of his unwillingness to copy conventional architectural styles. In contrast, Keating's mimicry of convention brings him top honors in school and an immediate job offer. The same conflict between innovation and tradition is reflected in the career of Roark's mentor, Henry Cameron.
The Fountainhead has been cited by numerous architects as an inspiration for their work. Architect Fred Stitt, founder of the San Francisco Institute of Architecture, dedicated a book to his "first architectural mentor, Howard Roark". According to architectural photographer Julius Shulman, it was Rand's work that "brought architecture into the public's focus for the first time", and he believes that The Fountainhead was not only influential among 20th century architects, it "was one, first, front and center in the life of every architect who was a modern architect."
Reception and legacy
The Fountainhead polarized critics and received mixed reviews upon its release. The New York Times' review of the novel named Rand "a writer of great power" who writes "brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly," and it stated that she had "written a hymn in praise of the individual... you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our time." Benjamin DeCasseres, a columnist for the New York Journal-American, wrote of Roark as "an uncompromising individualist" and "one of the most inspiring characters in modern American literature." Rand sent DeCasseres a letter thanking him for explaining the book's individualistic themes when many other reviewers did not. There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed many of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. A number of negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, such as one that called it "a whale of a book" and another that said "anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing." Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand's style "offensively pedestrian."
The year 1943 also saw the publication of The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson and The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane. Rand, Lane and Paterson have been referred to as the founding mothers of the American libertarian movement with the publication of these works. Journalist John Chamberlain, for example, credited these works with his final "conversion" from socialism to what he called "an older American philosophy" of libertarian and conservative ideas.
Responses to the rape scene
One of the most controversial elements of the book is the rape scene between Roark and Dominique. Feminist critics have attacked the scene as representative of an anti-feminist viewpoint in Rand's works that makes women subservient to men. Susan Brownmiller, in her 1975 work Against Our Will, denounced what she called "Rand's philosophy of rape", for portraying women as wanting "humiliation at the hands of a superior man". She called Rand "a traitor to her own sex". Susan Love Brown said the scene presents Rand's view of sex as "an act of sadomasochism and of feminine subordination and passivity". Barbara Grizzuti Harrison suggested women who enjoy such "masochistic fantasies" are "damaged" and have low self-esteem. While Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein found elements to admire in Rand's female protagonists, she said that readers who have "a raised consciousness about the nature of rape" would disapprove of Rand's "romanticized rapes".
Rand's posthumously published working notes for the novel indicate that when she started working on the book in 1936 she conceived of Roark's character that "were it necessary, he could rape her and feel justified". However, after the novel's publication, Rand denied that what happened in the scene was actually rape, referring to it as "rape by engraved invitation" because Dominique wanted and "all but invited" the act, citing among other things the conversation after Dominique scratches the marble slab in her bedroom in order to invite Roark to repair it. A true rape, Rand said, would be "a dreadful crime". Defenders of the novel have agreed with this interpretation. In an essay specifically explaining this scene, Andrew Bernstein wrote that although there is much "confusion" about it, the descriptions in the novel provide "conclusive" evidence that "Dominique feels an overwhelming attraction to Roark" and "desires desperately to sleep with" him. Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy said that while Dominique is "thoroughly taken," there is nonetheless "clear indication that Dominique not only consented," but also enjoyed the experience. Both Bernstein and McElroy saw the interpretations of feminists such as Brownmiller as being based in a false understanding of sexuality.
The Fountainhead has continued to have strong sales throughout the last century into the current one, and has been referenced in a variety of popular entertainments, including movies, television series and other novels. Despite its popularity, it has received relatively little ongoing critical attention. Assessing the novel's legacy, philosopher Douglas Den Uyl described The Fountainhead as relatively neglected compared to her later novel, Atlas Shrugged, and said, "our problem is to find those topics that arise clearly with The Fountainhead and yet do not force us to read it simply through the eyes of Atlas Shrugged."
Among critics who have addressed it, some consider The Fountainhead to be Rand's best novel, such as philosopher Mark Kingwell, who described The Fountainhead as "Rand's best work—which is not to say it is good." A Village Voice columnist called it "blatantly tendentious" and described it as containing "heavy-breathing hero worship".
The book has a particular appeal to young people, an appeal that led historian James Baker to describe it as "more important than its detractors think, although not as important as Rand fans imagine." Allan Bloom referred to the novel as being "hardly literature", one having a "sub-Nietzschean assertiveness [that] excites somewhat eccentric youngsters to a new way of life". However, he also wrotes that when he asks his students which books matter to them, there is always someone influenced by The Fountainhead. Journalist Nora Ephron wrote that she had loved the novel when she was 18 but admitted that she "missed the point", which she suggested is largely subliminal sexual metaphor. Ephron wrote that she decided upon re-reading that "it is better read when one is young enough to miss the point. Otherwise, one cannot help thinking it is a very silly book." Architect David Rockwell said that the film adaptation influenced his interest in architecture and design, and that many architecture students at his university named their dogs Roark as a tribute to the protagonist of the novel and film.
In 1945, Rand was approached by King Features Syndicate about having a condensed, illustrated version of the novel published for syndication in newspapers. Rand agreed, provided that she could oversee the editing and approve the proposed illustrations of her characters, which were provided by Frank Godwin. The 30-part series began on December 24, 1945, and ran in over 35 newspapers.
In 1949, Warner Brothers released a film based on the book, starring Gary Cooper as Howard Roark, Patricia Neal as Dominique Francon, Raymond Massey as Gail Wynand, and Kent Smith as Peter Keating. The film was directed by King Vidor. The Fountainhead grossed $2.1 million, $400,000 less than its production budget. However, sales of the novel increased as a result of interest spurred by the film. In letters written at the time, the author's reaction to the film was positive, saying "The picture is more faithful to the novel than any other adaptation of a novel that Hollywood has ever produced" and "It was a real triumph." However, she displayed a more negative attitude towards it later, saying that she "disliked the movie from beginning to end", and complaining about its editing, acting and other elements. As a result of this film, Rand said that she would never sell any of her novels to a film company that did not allow her the right to pick the director and screenwriter as well as edit the film, as she did not want to encounter the same production problems that occurred on this film.
In June 2014, an adaptation for the stage (in Dutch) was presented at the Holland Festival, directed by Ivo van Hove, with Ramsey Nasr as Howard Roark. The production subsequently went on tour, appearing in Barcelona in early July 2014, and then at the Festival d'Avignon later that month.
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