Thursday, July 18, 2013
REVIEW of THE FOUNTAINHEAD by AYN RAND
Released in 1943
The Fountainhead has become an enduring piece of literature, more popular now than when published in 1943. On the surface, it is a story of one man, Howard Roark, and his struggles as an architect in the face of a successful rival, Peter Keating, and a newspaper columnist, Ellsworth Toohey. But the book addresses a number of universal themes: the strength of the individual, the tug between good and evil, the threat of fascism. The confrontation of those themes, along with the amazing stroke of Rand's writing, combine to give this book its enduring influence.
Ayn Rand had an interesting mix of literary skills. Her descriptions of people and scenery and sensory information are vivid, but her characters are as static as they come. I realize that her characters aren't really humans; they're ideas. But that's what makes her novels so perplexing. The characters don't change at all over 800 pages. They just weave in and out, shadow boxing each other without actually causing any internal bruising.
You have to like Howard Roark. He's the person you'd be if you never cared what anybody else thought about you or your work. You could be Howard Roark if you didn't have to worry about groceries or rent. But one has to eat, darn it.
And then there's Dominique Francon. I just didn't get her. At first I accepted her as an idea, or an ideal. The descriptions of her physical body are ethereal. She's not real. But if she's an ideal, why does she compromise so unflinchingly? She's made out to be Howard Roark's equal, but she sells her soul at least twice before their glorious reunification.
I'm sounding like I didn't enjoy this book. Really I did, but it left me unsettled. That's not such a bad thing.
One of the things I liked most was matching up Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright. The Stoddard Temple is the Unity Temple in Chicago. The Wynand House is Falling Water. Is Monnadnock Valley the parody of Taliesin? I think so. I read in a biography of Frank Lloyd Wright that Wright was so flattered by the book that he designed a house for Ayn Rand. The house was never built, but the plans exist. He included a fountain in front (which, personally, I don't think Howard Roark would have done).