The Fountainhead

The Fountainhead - Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand I'm an admirer of Rand's ideas and writing and I've rated her other novels five stars. Although I certainly find this one worth reading--I like Rand's style and think her ideas are worth considering--I have too many problems with the protagonist of this novel, Howard Roark, to rank this novel highly. First, the reasons I do think this novel worth a read. Rand's ideas are still provocative nearly 70 years after its publication. I can certainly understand how her paean to individualism could appeal, particularly to those trying to set a course in their lives. I actually like Rand's style--lyrical at times, compellingly readable and quotable. Two quotes in particular stand out in my mind. One is the best put down I ever read in fiction. Roark's adversary in the book is Ellsworth Toohey, who has done everything to destroy Roark. After Toohey's done his worst, he asks, "Why don't you tell me what you think of me, Mr. Roark?" Roark answers, "But I don't think of you." Perfect. And not just as a "line" but thematically as well, given the novel is about how a person is the well-spring of their own success and failure and those who try to bring them down ultimately irrelevant. The other quote that springs to mind is telling especially given those who accuse Rand of being Nietzschean. "A leash is only a rope with a noose on both ends." It's a thought of Gail Wynand, one of Rand's most poignant characters in the mold of a Pulitzer or Hearst--a newspaper publisher who sought power and influence by pandering to the public only to find who really has the power when it matters. He's a perfect foil to Roark. So yes, parts of the book do speak to me, but then there's the problem with Roark. Two in particular, and here below be spoilers, so be warned. **SPOILERS** The first problem is the infamous rape of Dominique by Roark. Rand said of the scene that if it is rape, it's "by engraved invitation" and a Rand devotee I brought this up to pointed out Dominique never says no. Nevertheless she does struggle, physically resist. If a word is not said, is it because a victim might feel she won't be heard? Dominique herself calls it rape. On the other hand the depiction of the act itself implies a consent in her reactions--so maybe what we have here is just "rough sex." Although I still might find this whole encounter between Roark and Dominque disturbing, I might in those terms give Rand the benefit of the doubt. Although even if I do, Dominque is for me the most problematical and inexplicable of Rand's characters. But then there's Roark's central act in the book--his blowing up of the public housing project. He defends himself in his trial and is said to choose jurors who'd be the kind who are unforgiving, and they acquit him. Problem is I can't acquit Roark, and can't believe the jury, particularly this jury, could have or should have. The deal he made with Keating was unenforceable and Roark knew that when he undertook to design the building. Those who built it certainly never knew the side deal Keating made. And for all that the book depicts Roark as taking care there would be no casualties--well blowing up a building because it didn't hew to his designs? I know Rand is of a romantic rather than naturalistic school but it is still the act of a terrorist, and the acquittal for me strains credibility even in a pre-9/11 world. Indeed, I'd argue the act violates several principles Rand espouses in her books--such as persuasion, rule of law and contract over force. Roark should have lost--and for me that undercuts Wynand's initial struggle to defend him of moral grandeur. The character of Roark and the central act of destroying the building is the cornerstone of the novel itself--and it's not one I find sound. So yes, three stars to indicate the novel is worth reading, but in my estimation still deeply flawed.