The Fountainhead | Study Guide

Ayn Rand

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The Fountainhead | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead is a fascinating philosophical novel that has sparked a great deal of discussion, debate, and controversy since its publication in 1943. The novel's protagonist, Howard Roark, works as an architect in New York City after expulsion from school. Roark's departure from his university reflects Rand's main theme throughout the novel: the power of and need for individualism over collective thought. As Roark proves that his own unique architectural ideas are preferable to the status quo of the industry, Rand meditates on the need for individualistic thought and assertion in a world swaying toward communal practice.

The Fountainhead earned Rand a great deal of criticism, particularly for the fact that her characteristic philosophy can be seen as encouraging selfishness and dissuading work that benefits the greater good. Rand's thought, and The Fountainhead in particular, has been referenced and quoted a great deal in contemporary conservative politics. The novel is especially popular among libertarians, members of a political party that shirks government regulation in favor of personal freedom. For this reason, some conservative American politicians have even gone so far as to call Rand their favorite author.

1. The Fountainhead was loosely based on the life of famous American architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a renowned American architect who designed the famous Fallingwater home in Pennsylvania, a stunning modern house built over a rushing waterfall. Rand admired Wright and wrote to him persistently for interviews while working on The Fountainhead. Rand explained:

I am writing about a thing impossible these days. You are the only man in whom it is possible and real. It is not anything definite or tangible that I want from an interview with you. It is only the inspiration of seeing before me a living miracle—because the man I am writing about is a miracle whom I want to make alive.

Although Rand viewed the architect as a hero and modeled her protagonist Howard Roark on his traits of individual expression through architecture, Wright never granted her the interview. The two did meet in 1945 and became friends, although Wright had still not actually read The Fountainhead at the time. However, Rand, who knew nothing about architecture before starting the project, extensively used Wright's notes and published writings about his work while writing The Fountainhead.

2. Rand's editor risked his job to get The Fountainhead published.

Rand had a hard time getting The Fountainhead published—in fact, she faced 12 rejections before an editor showed interest. The editor, Archibald Ogden of Bobs-Merrill Publishers, was extremely enthusiastic about the novel despite the company's skepticism. Ogden was so convinced that The Fountainhead needed to be published that he risked his career to do so. In defense of Rand's work, Ogden wrote to his boss, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." Critics have noted how Ogden's real-life defiance of his industry's status quo mirrors Roark's rebellion against the architectural norms in The Fountainhead.

3. Rand's admiration of the Manhattan skyline led her to write The Fountainhead.

Rand had no architectural background when she started working on The Fountainhead, and she'd never so much as taken a single class in the field. She was inspired to use architecture as the backdrop to her philosophical novel by her enduring love and admiration of the New York City skyline. Rand grew up in Russia, and she spent her childhood in awe of American films that featured Manhattan's towering skyscrapers. The author came to the United States in 1926 and finally got to see the city that inspired her. She believed the buildings in New York City represented the endless creative potential of the individual and chose architecture as Roark's profession for this reason.

4. The Fountainhead's antagonist, Ellsworth Toohey, was inspired by a British socialist politician.

In The Fountainhead, Ellsworth Toohey clashes with Howard Roark, supporting a collectivist approach to architecture in opposition to Roark's individualism. Rand based her antagonist on the British politician Harold Laski, who served as the chairman of the British Labour Party and taught at the London School of Economics. Laski was known for his socialist, collectivist approach toward politics, and Rand strongly disagreed with his ideology. She once attended a lecture held by Laski and noted:

I don't remember a word of that first lecture, but what impressed me was that it was completely the soul of Toohey in the flesh. I had the character in the general sense, but the mannerisms, the kind of sarcasm, the kind of pseudo-intellectual snideness that he projected was invaluable.

5. The Fountainhead received a great deal of backlash from feminist critics.

Beyond facing criticism for its political message, The Fountainhead also met with poor reviews from feminist critics. Many feminist scholars have noted that the relationship between Roark and Dominique is abusive in nature and have described the sex scene between the two as a depiction of rape. Rand has been accused of glamorizing sexual abuse in this passage because Roark and Dominique stay together even though Roark sneaks through Dominique's window and has sex with her without saying a word. The scholar Susan Brownmiller views this as a rape scene and explains:

When superman [Roark] rapes superwoman [Dominique], superwoman has got to enjoy it ... Rand becomes ... a traitor to her own sex.

6. Although often praised by conservative Christians, Rand was not a fan of religion.

Rand is often cited and lauded by conservative politicians in the United States for her philosophy of individual freedom. However, Rand disagreed with most of these public figures on a key matter: religion. The author was actually a committed atheist (a decision she made at the age of 13) and believed that believing in God was surrendering one's personal responsibility and autonomy. In an interview, Rand claimed:

Qua religion, no—in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason.

In addition, Rand was a supporter of women's abortion rights, and she rejected the idea that life begins at conception—a claim many conservatives support. Rand wrote an article on the subject in 1968, explaining:

Abortion is a moral right—which should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved; morally, nothing other than her wish in the matter is to be considered. Who can conceivably have the right to dictate to her what disposition she is to make of the functions of her own body?

7. Donald Trump stated that The Fountainhead is one of his favorite books.

The Fountainhead has received great praise from U.S. President Donald Trump. The president has been a longtime fan of Rand's philosophy of personal freedom—with some critics calling him an "Ayn Rand acolyte"—and has stated that The Fountainhead is one of his favorite literary works of all time. Some of the president's appointees, including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have also admitted they're Rand devotees. Rand's writings also received a great deal of attention during the tenure of President Barack Obama, when dissenters often invoked quotes from Rand's book during protests and demonstrations. President Obama responded to the popularity of Rand's philosophy, stating:

Ayn Rand is one of those things that a lot of us, when we were 17 or 18 and feeling misunderstood, we'd pick up ... Then, as we get older, we realize that a world in which we're only thinking about ourselves and not thinking about anybody else ... that that's a pretty narrow vision. It's not one that, I think, describes what's best in America.

8. Rand's life was turned upside-down during the October Revolution in Russia.

Rand was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, and lived there for more than 20 years before immigrating to the United States. In February 1917 and October 1917 were two Russian revolutions, which Rand witnessed firsthand. During the revolutions Russia's government was overthrown and transitioned to a communist state. Rand's father, a successful pharmacist, lost everything as a result, as his assets and pharmacy were seized by the communist regime. Shortly after this, Rand's family was forced to flee to a small town in southern Russia. Rand's perspective on the Russian revolutions clearly influenced her philosophical thought and showed her the dangers of collectivist thinking and socialist and communist policies as well as the disrespect of free enterprise.

9. The success of The Fountainhead led Rand to start a philosophical movement and organization.

The Fountainhead was so inspirational to some fans that they started a movement—referred to as a "cult" by some critics—in honor of Rand's philosophical values. Nathaniel and Barbara Branden, who both read The Fountainhead as students, met with Rand to start an organization and movement based on Rand's thought. Many friends of the Branden's joined, and Rand called these followers "the children" or "the class of '43." This group later expanded into the objectivist movement, releasing The Objectivist Newsletter, and finally founding The Nathaniel Branden Institute with offices at the Empire State Building in New York City.

10. A 1949 film adaptation of The Fountainhead was panned by critics—which infuriated Rand.

Philosophical novels are notoriously difficult to adapt for the screen, and The Fountainhead was no different. The film, released in 1949, was met with extremely negative reviews. Rand was upset that the adaptation focused more on the relationship between Howard Roark and Dominique than on the philosophical message, but there was one scene that enraged her even more. Roark's famous courtroom speech was edited down to fit the time allotment, and Rand considered this a bastardization of her work. Although Roark's speech, as it appeared, was the longest in any film at that point in time, Rand had demanded that everything she wrote would make it into the film as a condition. As a result, Rand refused to allow for a film adaptation of her other popular novel, Atlas Shrugged, as long as she lived.

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