The Fountainhead

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" (i.e., he threatened to quit). 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 hero, Howard Roark, is an ideal of Rand's Objectivist philosophy. He is an idealist, and an aspiring architect who will never compromise his work ethics for the whims and fancies of the establishment and 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 (though she essentially invited him to), 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 — 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.

Architectural theme

Ayn Rand dedicates this book to "the noble profession of architecture". She chose the architectural profession for the analogy it offered to her ideas, especially in the context of the rise of the Modern Movement in architecture. In her hands, this profession becomes a convenient vehicle for propagating her views — that the ego is supreme, and individualism and selfishness are virtues to be treasured.

The characters of Peter Keating and Howard Roark are placed in antithesis to each other. Keating still practices in an eclectic/neo-classical/historical mould even when the building typology is modern like a skyscraper and is therefore dishonest and imitative. He is also accommodating of changes suggested by others. This mirrors the various eclectic directions and the general willingness to adapt at the turn of the twentieth century. Roark, however, rejects history, 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 also 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, (

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 and has screenplay by Ayn Rand.

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