Well. Just finished The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and have a couple of observations. More than a couple actually. Note: The term “second-hander” refers to the villains, all those who support the suppression of individuality for the sake of the common good, or collectivism.
Ayn Rand is transparent about the physical appearance of her characters. The good guys are always rugged and they must be tall and thin, with “patrician” features, chiseled cheekbones and long straight noses. You know the type: oozing with testosterone. The woman who is deserving of such a man is nearly indescribable but you are left with a feeling of delicacy, and a beauty so refined that it is ethereal. Always thin, with a “sleek cap of light hair”. Today that might qualify as a bad hair day but back then sleek must have been the cat’s pyjamas. The bad guys are always described by the extent of their girth, or their extraordinary lack of masculinity. “Heavy-lipped”, with much attention paid to the size of jowls and stomachs. Take this description of one of the second-hand masses Ms. Rand so despises: “Her hips began at her ankles, bulging over the tight straps of her shoes…”.
There is controversy over the way in which our hero, Roark, and the woman who deserved him, Dominique, first became lovers. It’s rape, of course, and this is believed by some to perhaps be a result of Ms. Rand’s own sexual fantasies, that Dominique could only be satisfied by such a tower of masculinity who would take what he wanted, when he wanted. This being, of course, the one thing that could turn her on completely. But it’s still rape, and this was certainly not condoned back in the thirties and I can’t think why Ms. Rand didn’t stifle this bit of awkwardness for the sake of her novel. It is completely out of character for Roark to even think of doing such a thing.
Now we come to the plot. Dominique and Roark are both single, they have no encumbrances to their coupledom, so what happens? Dominique up and marries a second-hander for a rather vague reason, a clumsy method to drum up conflict. You be the judge. Here is Dominique’s rather lame excuse to Roark for why she married Peter Keating. “It would mean doing for you what I did for Peter Keating: lie, flatter, evade, compromise, pander to every ineptitude — in order to beg of them a chance for you, beg them to let you live, to let you function, to beg them, Roark, not to laugh at them, but to tremble because they hold the power to hurt you. Am I too weak because I can’t do this?” She isn’t able to stand by and see her man hurt because they won’t give him his fair chance (because of his rugged individualism and non-conformance of course). Actually, he doesn’t give a shit. But does he express that to her? Nah.
Next odd plot point. Dominique is “sold” to a newspaper guy, Gail Wynand, so Wynand will give Peter a coveted architectural commission. The message is, it’s okay to sleep with him, Dominique, so long as I get that work, which will make me even more famous. But, ha ha, Peter, even though Wynand is a compulsive womanizer and kind of a bad man, he is smitten with Dominique and marries her. Old Gail isn’t so bad after all, he had a real tough childhood, and got tired of people telling him he “didn’t run things” so he decided he would run things. You know the type. But still at the age of 51, he takes himself a wife, even though he’s had so many girlfriends (all beautiful of course) he can’t remember their names. But, again, there’s that ethereal-ness Dominique possesses.
The inevitable had-to-happen plot point. Roark and Wynand become the best of buds. To call it a “bro-mance” would not attach the importance it deserves. I don’t think men talk this way to each other – EVER! Not then and not now. Take this, Roark to Wybrand: “I think it hurts you to know that you’ve made me suffer. You wish you hadn’t. And yet there’s something that frightens you more. The knowledge that I haven’t suffered at all.” This relationship is even stranger because Wybrand does not know anything about Dominique and Roark’s past. They even become quite the threesome (not in a sexual sense, just hangin’ out good buddies) without ever mentioning: “So, Gail, did we ever tell you that…”
The climactic confusing plot point. Wynand tried to support his great friend, Roark, who is accused of being a horrible egotist and selfish. He did blow up a building and that’s another thing I thought was kind of an overreaction. Wynand is going against popular opinion of the second-handers but he can’t win. He loses everything, his newspaper empire and to top it all off, Dominique dumps him. Way to kick a guy when he’s down, Dominique. He really loved her too. So he’s lost everything, his business, his wife and his friend.
I noticed head-hopping. It might be the style called “third-person omniscient point-of-view.” I doubt Ms. Rand chose a style at all, but wrote the way she wanted. I prefer to think it’s that. I also think there’s a lot of telling versus showing, stilted dialogue and an overabundance of adverbs. She didn’t follow the three-act format, with story points at 25% and 75%. All these things are considered “no no” in today’s world of formulaic literature. Ms. Rand was lucky that she didn’t have to subject herself to it. No one followed rules back then and today, all the really great novelists don’t either.
And who am I to critique? I won’t have any books in print, seventy years after they were written.
Her descriptions and metaphors are brilliant, and while she is annoyingly repetitious and preachy about a philosophy that is pretty far out there, it’s an interesting concept. I like to read the reviews, but only the three or four-star reviews. The five-stars reviewers are mostly brain-washed by her ideas rather than her literature.
I’m glad I read it, and glad it’s over with too.
Leonard Mccombe/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images