The Fountainhead

RORY: Really? Try it. The Fountainhead is classic.
JESS: Yeah, but Ayn Rand is a political nut.
RORY: Yeah, but nobody could write a forty page monologue the way that she could.

The Fountainhead, 1943 novel by Russian-American author Ayn Rand, and her first literary success. The novel is about a ruggedly individualistic architect named Howard Roark, who battles against conventional standards and refuses to compromise his ideals. Rand said that Roark was the embodiment of her ideal man, and the novel reflects her views that the individual is more valuable than the collective.

Twelve publishers rejected the manuscript before Bobbs-Merrill took a chance on it, and contemporary reviews were mixed. However, it gained a following by word of mouth, and eventually became a bestseller. It has had a lasting influence, especially among architects, business people, conservatives, and libertarians. It was adapted into film in 1949, and turned into a stage play in 2014.

We here learn that Rory attempted to read The Fountainhead when she was ten, without success, but tried again when she was fifteen and liked it. Jess is taken aback by her recommending a text beloved of right-wing libertarians and “political nuts”, but Rory says she enjoys it as a piece of literature. The Fountainhead is absolutely full of characters having lengthy monologues where they clearly explain their philosophies, plans, and ideals.

The character of Howard Roark (allegedly based on architect Frank Lloyd-Wright) is a brooding man of few words, rather like Jess. Could Rory be recommending the book to Jess for that reason, to let him know that she likes a book where the protagonist is like Jess? A literary flirtation, like Jess annotating her copy of Howl?

Jess’ later career has a few things in common with Roark – neither of them graduate because they can’t be fettered by a conventional curriculum, both believe themselves to be misunderstood, both would prefer to take any paying job rather than compromise their creative integrity, and both become successful in their chosen fields.

More eye-raising is the character of Dominique, Roark’s love interest, and said to be his perfect match. Their first sexual encounter is so rough that Dominique describes it as a “rape”, and yet comes back for more, again and again. It’s a risque (or even plain risky) thing for a teenage girl to recommend to a boy she likes, and if this is a flirtation-by-literature, Rory seems to have suggested that Jess make things physical, even without her explicit consent.

3 thoughts on “The Fountainhead

  1. I’ve never understood why leftists don’t like The Fountainhead. It’s main character, Roark, is fiercely independent. Young progressives claim to be independent, yet they move in lockstep on social issues and cancel those who disagree with them. If they were truly progressive they would think for themselves, as Roark does.

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    1. Some left-wing libertarians do like it – it’s appreciated by both right and left libertarians (amusingly, Ayn Rand utterly despised
      libertarians, even though they’re her biggest fans).

      She is anti-state, so obviously she isn’t going to appeal to socialists. And her view is of a few extraordinary white alpha males changing the world while the rest of us drones do nothing. Presumably Jess Bezos and Vladimir Putin would be her heroes. Also, she does give the thumbs up to rape in this particular book because women like it; if this is progressive, then so are romance novels from the 1970s.

      Having said that, I did enjoy reading “The Fountainhead” when I was Rory’s age, but only as a piece of fiction, not as propaganda. It’s easy to read, and does have an absorbing story and characters. (I also enjoyed “Gone With the Wind” without for one moment supporting slavery).

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