Reviews: The Fountainhead
Kind Of A Roadblock...
Alright, this is coming from a fan of Ayn Rand and a one-time objectivist who loves these books. They're thought-provoking, and quite good as long as you view them as editorials or debate material by a different means instead of stories. I really enjoyed The Fountainhead, and think others could enjoy it too. But. There is a scene in the book where the protagonist rapes a woman and she likes it and ends up falling in love with him. If you can get past that, you'll find a very compelling book with strong metaphor and a deliciously bitter tone. If you can't get past that, well... I'd stay away.
Waaay better than Atlas Shrugged
As someone who's long had an interest in Rand's philosophy, even though I strongly disagree with pretty much all of it, I decided to about a year ago to sit down and read through her two most important novels, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. Suffice it to say that if you're only going to read on of them, read The Fountainhead. I was pleasantly surprised by the novel, and after reading Atlas Shrugged, I appreciate it even more. Although the later book is generally held as Rand's Magnum Opus, and foremost "masterpiece" by her followers, The Fountainhead is superior in pretty much every way. While the characters of Atlas are universally pushed into "Brilliant, Unwavering, Ultra-rational Aryan Supermen"-heroes and "Moronic, Pathetic, Repulsive Crybaby"-villains, the people of Fountainhead are generally more complex, interesting and well-written. Though Howard Roark is rather wooden and Mary-Sueish (he's right about everything, never makes any real mistakes, always gets the last word etc.), he's a fountain of emotionality and complexity compared to John Galt. Peter Keating is a character I will always praise Rand for: he's an excellent character, someone who's generally on the side of the "bad guys", but is nevertheless a very sympathetic, conflicted and tragic character with both good and bad sides, and feels like a living breathing person; I actually liked and sympathized with him much more than with Roark. Ellsworth Toohey is infinitely better as a villain than the pathetic pushovers from Atlas; he's an actual threat to Roark, and in some ways just as brilliant and intelligent as he is, and you understand why people like him and want to follow him. Most importantly, characters are allowed to have personalities, quirks and interests unrelated to being mouthpieces for Rand or strawmen to knock over. There are of course several bad sides to the novel. While nowhere near as as Anvilicious as Atlas, it's still very preachy and overblown at times. Some of Rand's uncomfortable views shine though occasionally; the infamous rape scene between Roark and Dominique, her less than progressive views of the physically and mentally handicapped, references to "leprous savages in the jungle" by the heroes, etc. Still, it's a mostly enjoyable read, and far better than Rand's more famous novel.
Whether you love it or hate it, it will make you think!
Let's make this clear. Ayn Rand's work is a massive case of Your Mileage May Vary. In essence, her work savagely deconstructs the dominant moral beliefs of much of Western Civilization without any mercy. As she burns Christian and Comtean altruism down to ashes, she erects a competing moral theory that argues morality should be focussed not on society, but on the individual and the individual's life. In short, Rand argues against selflessness, and argues for selfishness. This in and of itself would make someone hate Ayn Rand. But this is mostly due to mischaracterization. Rand's "selflessness" was Auguste Comte's original definition of Altruism, i.e. "live for others" (the ultimate purpose of every person must be the service of other persons). Rand's "selfishness" is closer to what most people would refer to as "individuation" and "flourishing." But, unfortunately, misinterpretations persist (due in no insignificant part to deliberate misinterpretations by Rand's detractors, as well as the rather hostile behavior of some of her supporters). Regardless, The Fountainhead is, by literary standards, the most sophisticated of Ayn Rand's works. There are few Author Filibuster moments, and much use of subtle allegory. She writes in a rather strident, bitter tone, which personally I like. It is a truly thrilling and liberating experience to see thousands of years of accepted moral wisdom be dismembered. Her use of architecture as a metaphor for a human being's character is memorable. Yes, this is, style-wise, an epic novel. The mundane facts of day to day life are disregarded when they get in the way of allegory. Protagonists are, like in Dostoyevsky's novels, embodiments of sets of ideas rather than approximations of how most people act in the real world. The good thing about this book, even if you disagree with it, is that it will make you think. It will force you to critically examine the moral ideals you are frequently confronted with. Even if you think Objectivism would not work in real life, it is quite probable you will find something admirable and beautiful about Ayn Rand's vision of what life and humanity can be like.
Like all of the Author Tracts dedicated to a philosophy that fits with sociopathy like a lock to a key this book is loathsome. The plot pretty much works for Rand's self-insert character. Yes, it has the typical workings of an artist struggling with trying to be accepted for something original but boy is it mishandled. Some good advice for an architect with that goal is to take jobs that you can, try to get as much control over the design in those jobs and compromise where you can't, building up your reputation so that future projects will give you even more control over the designs, essentially meaning to "Hold fast when you can and compromise when you need to," which is more mature than Roark cares to be. Roark also has a massive ego (indicative of his sociopathy since it is impervious to the views of others) that causes him to think that the only person that matters in the construction of a building is himself (finance your own buildings then you would be right to think that), causing him to have contracts made that ensure he himself has full control over the design, which he then abuses with something inappropriate like a nude statue of Dominique then claims that the public is offended because they can't see his genius. The Big Bad is your typical Rand villain, who does his actions For the Evulz, an incredibly poor motivator and is the biggest part I hate about "A=A"; it's something that egomaniacs use so that they can believe that anyone who disagrees with them is either evil or stupid. The end had a massive Wall Banger where Roark throws a childish temper tantrum by blowing up a building because his plans for the building were changed instead of say taking them to court for contract violation. He then gets away scot-free for this in an infuriating case of Artistic License – Law since he is able to use a bunch of honeyed words to get the jury to side with him and ignore how he without a doubt did the crime.