The Fountainhead

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The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand (ISBN 0452283760). The book was Rand's first major success and its royalties and movie rights made Rand famous and financially secure. The book was rejected by 12 publishers before a young editor at the Bobbs-Merrill Company publishing house wired to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you". The Fountainhead was made into a Hollywood film in 1949, with screenplay by Rand herself.

The book's title is a reference to a quote of Rand's: "Man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress."

The novel

The hero is Howard Roark, a hard working, aspiring architect whose plans and goals are waylaid at every end by "the hostility of second-hand souls". His pleasure is in the act of creation, and his calm, reserve, and selfishness are woven together into a person Rand means for us to admire and emulate.

The story is also about Dominique Francon, a woman torn between two loves -- not of men but of power, pleasure, and a self-dominance she grows to understand through her relationship with Roark. Roark and Dominique first see each other while the former is working in a quarry owned by the latter's father. He later comes to her home and rapes her, an event that leaves Dominique filled with a possessiveness for Roark that drives her into the arms of another man.

Gail Wynand, a newspaper mogul who raised himself by the bootstraps from the ghettoes of New York City, believes himself to be the highest of men. He has the power to do anything, command anything. Until, that is, he meets Roark, a man whom he helps to destroy. Wynand, after seeing a naked statue of Dominique sculpted by Steven Mallory, a friend of Roark's for one of his buildings, the Stoddard Temple, falls in love as much with the woman as the artistry of the statue. Dominique and Gail are married.

There are many other characters like Henry Cameron, Roark's mentor who was destroyed by "the system"; Peter Keating, a colleague and friend of Roark whose only individuality is a direct reflection of others; Ellsworth Toohey, the man whose power is directly proportionate to the number of times he says he is unimportant.

Cameron is a former architect who, at one time, enjoyed a period of prosperity. However, when his practice of originality becomes rejected in favor of reproducing classic architecture, his firm slowly dies and eventually becomes nonexistent; Cameron and Roark being its last employees. His philosophy in architecture is something that Roark has based his own philosophy on, to an extent, which is why, at the outset of the novel, Roark is so determined to work for him.

Major characters

Howard Roark

Howard Roark is the hero of the novel, whom Rand portrays as a paragon of Objectivist ideals. He is an aspiring architect with a unique, uncompromising creative vision, which contrasts sharply with the staid and uninspired conventions of the architectural establishment. Roark takes pleasure in the act of creation, but is constantly opposed by "the hostility of second-hand souls" and those unwilling or afraid to recognize his creative ability. Roark serves as the basic mold from which the protagonists of Rand's other great novel, Atlas Shrugged, are cast.

Dominique Francon

Dominique Francon is the heroine of the novel, described by Rand as "the woman for a man like Howard Roark". She is the daughter of a highly successful but creatively inhibited architect, and it is only through Roark that her love of power, pleasure, and self-dominance meets a worthy equal.

Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand is a powerful newspaper mogul who rose from a destitute childhood in the ghettoes of New York City to control the city's print media. While Wynand shares many of the character qualities of Roark, his success is dependent on public opinion, a flaw which eventually leads to his destruction. Rand describes Wynand as "a man who could have been".

Peter Keating

Peter Keating is also an aspiring architect, but is everything that Roark is not. Keating's creative abilities are miserably inadequate, but his willingness to build what others wish him leads to temporary success. 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", according to Rand.

Ellsworth Toohey

Rand describes Toohey as "a man who never could be, and knows it." Toohey is an architectural critic for Wynand's paper who uses his influence over the masses to hinder Howard Roark. Toohey is an unabashed collectivist, who styles himself as representative of the will of the masses. Having no true genius that such innovators as Roark possess, he makes himself excellent by manipulating the masses to believe that mediocrity is excellent. Toohey serves as the primary villain in the novel, and the gravest enemy of Objectivist ideals. Toohey is also the only character in the novel to have political goals. He is attempting to establish a Communist dictatorship in America by altering people's view of excellence; to destroy that which is great and spread the word that altruism is the ultimate ideal. This is put forward in one of his most memorable quotes: "Don't set out to raze all shrines -- you'll frighten man. Enshrine mediocrity, and your shrines are razed." It is in this that makes Ellsworth Toohey Ayn Rand's most evil villain; unlike the characters in Atlas Shrugged, who are really just blindly following Toohey's religion, Toohey knows exactly what he is doing -- and why.

Plot synopsis

Keating and Roark attend the same prestigious architectural school. Keating graduates at the top of his class (with scornful assistance from Roark) and eventually becomes a prominent partner at the firm of Guy Francon, Dominique's father. Roark, however, is expelled from the school for refusing to allow the curriculum to dictate how he should create. Roark finds refuge with Henry Cameron, an architect who shares Roark's vision but whose career has been destroyed by his own unwillingness to compromise.

While Keating and Francon find great success for a time reproducing classic architecture, Roark labors in Cameron's dying firm. Cameron, defeated by society, soon dies, and despite some initial commissions, Roark is unable to sustain his own firm, and takes a job at a granite quarry. It is here that he catches the eye of Dominique Francon, who was impressed with Roark simply by virtue of his appearance and the way he carried himself, illustrating Rand's belief in love at first sight. Dominique later has Roark come to repair her fireplace (which she purposefully broke) in order to learn more about him. Dominique maneuvers Roark to her house, and allows Roark to rape her (this scene has been described as "rape by engraved invitation"), beginning their love affair. Roark soon receives an important commission and returns to New York.

Keating has fallen in love with a plain young woman, but his mother convinces him to submit to Guy Francon's desire for Keating and Dominique to fall in love. Dominique badgers Keating into marrying her rather than the woman he truly loves, as a way of testing Roark. In addition, Dominique embarks on a quest to hinder Roark's professional career, because she feels that the world is unworthy of Roark's creations.

In the meantime, through the machinations of Ellsworth Toohey, Roark receives a commission to build a temple to the human spirit. Roark creates a building with a nude statue of Dominique as its centerpiece, aware that he is falling into a trap. Toohey convinces Roark's client that the building is in bad taste and poorly designed, and when Roark refuses to alter the building he is sued for damages. Roark proudly refuses to offer any defense, and the money he loses in the suit is used to destroy the artistic integrity of his building.

Again through the work of Toohey, Dominique and Gail Wynand meet, and Wynand falls in love with Dominique. Dominique, in an effort to further test Roark and to punish Keating, divorces Keating and marries Wynand. Wynand happens across photographs of the temple in its original form, and is aghast when he learns that his own newspaper played a crucial role in the building's destruction. Eventually, Roark meets Wynand, and the two men become friends, although Wynand is unaware of Roark's relationship with Dominique.

The climax of the novel is precipated by Keating's desperate request for Roark's help in designing a government major housing project he wished to gain a commision for; Roark agrees to design the project, but on the condition that Keating not allow any changes to the design to take place. Keating makes a valiant effort, but is unable to prevent his associates from altering Roark's design, and the buildings aren't built according to Roark's wishes. Roark, in a calculated move, blows up the buildings. Dominique aided in the plan.

With Roark soon to stand trial for the crime, Wynand insists that his papers defend Roark to the fullest. However, Toohey's influence prevails, and the popularity of Wynand's papers plunges precipitously. Eventually, Wynand allows his board of directors to override his policy by joining the public opinion that Roark is a criminal, a move he realizes is suicidal for his pride and personal integrity, and his papers regain a portion of their popularity. Shortly after his policy reversal he shuts down the Banner and liquidates a large part of his media empire. Following Wynand's betrayal of Roark, Dominique finally accepts the parameters of her love for Roark, and leaves Wynand.

Roark, at his trial, expounds at length about why he acted as he did, explaining the role of the first-hander and the mind in achievement, essentially speaking in Rand's voice. Roark is acquitted. The novel ends with Roark accepting a final commission from Wynand to build a skyscraper, as a monument to who Roark is and who Wynand could have been.

Architectural theme

Ayn Rand dedicated this book to "the noble profession of architecture".

Rand wrote the characters of Peter Keating and Howard Roark to be fictional analogues to figures in the real fight for modern architecture in the early 20th century.

Keating builds in an eclectic/neo-classical/historical style and accommodates to changes suggested by others. Roark, however, searches for truth and honesty and tries to express these in his works. He takes an uncompromising stand when changes are suggested in his buildings. This mirrors the trajectory of Modern architecture, with its origins from dissatisfaction with earlier trends, and its emphasis on individual creativity.

The celebration of Roark's individuality can be seen in parallel with the eulogizing of modern architects as uncompromising and heroic "masters." It is likely that the character of Roark is based on the famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright - though Rand herself denied this.

If Roark is Wright, then it is reasonable to propose that his nemesis Ellsworth Toohey is a composite of Henry-Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson, although the image of Toohey is a lot more blatantly negative, and it is shown that he is aware of this in a conversation he has with Peter Keating. In an exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1932, Hitchcock and Johnson first lauded Wright as a precursor to what they dubbed the International Style, of the generally politically left-leaning Bauhaus architects. A few years later, they revised their view of Wright, seeing him as a "Romantic individualist".

Library of Congress dispute

As Ayn Rand's heir, Leonard Peikoff inherited many of Rand's manuscripts. During her lifetime, Rand had apparently made a comment at one point saying that she would donate her manuscripts to the Library of Congress upon her death, a bequeathal she later had reservations about.

The Library of Congress had no reservations, though. They continued to pester Peikoff about the manuscripts, and even resorted to demanding that he present them to the library. He considered his options, but after a heart attack in July 1991, he decided to turn over the manuscripts as Rand's initial, though reserved, wish had been. He had his assistant box all of the manuscript pages except for two--the first and last pages of The Fountainhead--which he had framed. In their stead, he had the pages photocopied so that the manuscripts would be "complete". An appraiser went through the manuscripts and notified the Library of Congress about the replacement pages, but the Library of Congress replied that it was of no consequence.

Some years later, Peikoff held an interview in his home with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, and when asked about the pages (which had been framed and hung on the wall of his office), Peikoff joked about having "stolen" them from the Library of Congress. This apparently went into the article, and not long after that the Library of Congress contacted Peikoff and demanded that he return U. S. Government property.

After consulting with his lawyer, Peikoff determined that there was not much he could do about his situation. While perhaps he had a right to keep the papers and even though they were legally his (his argument is that he had never donated them to the library, so they had never been property of the U. S. Government), and even though he might win a lawsuit against the government, the process would be long and expensive. So he signed a capitulation agreement, but supplied the condition that the Library of Congress must come and retrieve the pages themselves. This retrieval was videotaped by a friend.

Peikoff's personal narrative of the story and video of the manuscript pages' retrieval can be found on his website, Peikoff.com.

Film version

The film made in 1949 is based on the book and stars 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, with the screenplay written by Ayn Rand.

External link