The Fountainhead is a 1943 novel by Ayn Rand. It was Rand's first major literary success and its royalties and movie rights brought her fame and financial security. The book's title is a reference to Rand's statement that "man's ego is the fountainhead of human progress".
The Fountainhead's protagonist, Howard Roark, is an idealistic young architect who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision. The book follows his battle to practice modern architecture, which he believes to be superior, despite an establishment centered on tradition-worship. How others in the novel relate to Roark demonstrate Rand's various archetypes of human character, all of which are variants between Roark, her ideal man of independent-mindedness and integrity, and what she described as the "second-handers." The complex relationships between Roark and the various kinds of individuals who assist or hinder his progress, or both, allows the novel to be at once a romantic drama and a philosophical work.
The manuscript was rejected by twelve publishers before a young editor, Archibald Ogden, 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." Despite generally negative early reviews from the contemporary media, the book gained a following by word of mouth and sold hundreds of thousands of copies. The Fountainhead was made into a Hollywood film in 1949, with Gary Cooper in the lead role of Howard Roark, and with a screenplay by Ayn Rand herself.
Howard Roark, a brilliant young architect, is expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology for refusing to abide by its outdated traditions. He goes to New York City to work for Henry Cameron, a disgraced architect whom Roark admires - being formally Cameron's employee but in fact his disciple and in effect his adopted son. Roark’s highly successful but vacuous schoolmate, Peter Keating, also moves to New York to work for the prestigious architectural firm, Francon & Heyer. Roark and Cameron create inspired work, but their projects rarely receive recognition, whereas Keating’s ability to flatter and please brings him almost instant success despite his lack of originality.
Roark closes his office rather than compromise his drawings, and his ideals, to the whims of his clients. He takes a job at a Connecticut granite quarry owned by Guy Francon, whose beautiful, temperamental, and idealistic daughter, Dominique, beguiles Peter Keating.
While Roark is working in the quarry, he encounters Dominique, who has taken an extended holiday in the same town as the quarry. There is an immediate attraction between them, which results in peculiar flirtation and ultimate culmination in what Dominique subsequently describes as rape.
Ellsworth Toohey, a columnist for The New York Banner (a yellow press-style newspaper owned by Gail Wynand) and author of the popular column One Small Voice, is an outspoken socialist, who is covertly rising to power by shaping public opinion through his column and his circle of influential associates, and whose quite openly proclaimed designs are not understood or taken seriously. Toohey sets out to destroy Roark through a smear campaign he spearheads at the Banner. As the first step, Toohey convinces a weak-minded businessman named Hopton Stoddard to hire Roark as the designer for a temple dedicated to the human spirit and gives Roark carte blanche to design it as he sees fit. Roark designs the temple, with a naked statue of Dominique, which creates the first public outcry against Howard and Stoddard is (with Toohey's encouragement) appalled at what Roark has built. Toohey further manipulates Stoddard into suing Roark for general incompetence and fraud. At Roark’s trial, every prominent architect in New York (including Keating) testifies that Roark’s style is unorthodox and illegitimate. Dominique defends Roark, but Stoddard wins the case and Roark loses his business again.
Dominique believes that greatness such as Roark's should never be offered to a public unable to appreciate it, and decides that since she cannot have the world she wants (in which men like him are recognized for what they are) she will live completely and entirely in the world she has, which shuns him and praises Keating. That evening, Dominique pays Keating a visit, and makes him a one-time offer of her hand in marriage. Keating accepts, and they are married that evening. Dominique turns her entire spirit over to Peter, hosting the dinners he wants, agreeing with him, and saying whatever he wants her to say. She fights Roark, and herds all of his potential clients over to the slowly weakening Keating. Despite this, Roark continues to attract a small but steady stream of perceptive, intelligent clients who see the value in his work.
To win Keating a prestigious architecture commission offered by Gail Wynand, the owner and editor-in-chief of the Banner, Dominique agrees to sleep with Wynand. Wynand then buys Keating's silence and a divorce for Dominique and Keating, after which Wynand and Dominique are married.
Wynand subsequently discovers that every building he likes is done by Roark, so he enlists Howard to build a home for himself and Dominique. The home is built, and Howard and Gail become great friends, though Wynand does not know about his past relationship with Dominique.
Now washed up and out of the public eye, Keating realizes he is a failure. Rather than accept retirement, he pleads with Toohey for his influence in favour of Keating to get the commission for the much sought after Cortlandt housing project. Keating knows that his most successful projects were aided by Roark, and he knows Roark is the only person who can design Cortlandt. Roark agrees to design it in exchange for complete anonymity -- and the agreement that it would be built exactly as he designed.
When Roark returns from a long yacht trip with Wynand he finds that, despite the agreement, the Cortlandt Homes project has been changed. Roark asks Dominique to distract the night watchman and dynamites the building to prevent the subversion of his vision. The entire country condemns Roark, but Wynand finally finds the courage to follow his convictions and orders his newspapers to defend him. The Banner’s circulation drops and the workers go on strike (thanks to Toohey's quiet conspiracy to "stack" the paper with those who agree with him, or those whom he can control), but Wynand keeps printing with Dominique’s help. Eventually the tide of public opinion rises against Wynand and most of his staff leaves in protest. Wynand is eventually faced with the choice of closing the paper or reversing his stance and agreeing to the union demands; he gives in, the newspaper publishes a denunciation of Roark over Wynand's signature.
At the trial, Roark seems doomed, but he rouses the courtroom with a speech about the value of ego and the need to remain true to oneself. The jury finds him not guilty. Roark marries Dominique. Wynand, who has finally grasped the nature of the "power" he thought he held, asks Roark to design one last building, a skyscraper that will testify to the supremacy of man: "Build it as a monument to that spirit which is yours...and could have been mine."
A brief epilogue eighteen months later shows the Wynand Building well on its way to completion. The last scene follows Dominique (now Mrs. Roark), entering the site to meet Roark atop the steel framework.
TOP 10 Quotes from the Fountainhead
1. "Never ask people.about your work.?(p. 33)
This is the advice Roark gives Keating when asked whether Keating should accept a scholarship to the prominent Ecole des Beaux Arts or a job at the New York's most prestigious architectural firm.
2. "You're too good for what you want to do with yourself.?(p. 62)
Henry Cameron tells Roark that he will suffer greatly because in spite of designing the most beautiful buildings, they will remain on paper and never be erected while he will watch mediocre others reap high commissions and glory because they are willing to copy the past.
3. "If I found a job, a project an idea or a person that I wanted-I'd have to depend on the whole world. Everything has strings leading to everything else. We're all so tied together. We're all in a net, the net is waiting and we're all pushed into it by one single desire.?(p. 143)
Dominique explains her fears of desiring anything or anyone to the editor of the Banner after she turns down a promotion which would advance her career. The independently wealthy Dominique doesn't desire a career.
4. "It was not necessary to wonder about the reasons. It was necessary only to hate, to hate blindly, to hate patiently, to hate without anger, only to hate and let nothing intervene, and not let oneself forget, ever.?(p. 194)
Keating realizes the depth of his hatred for Howard Roark after Roark returns the check he wrote to keep him quiet about the Cosmo-Slotnick Building. Roark entreats Keating not to fear because he would be ashamed to have his name associated with such a mediocrity.
5. "There is not a person in New York City who should be allowed to live in this building.?(p. 287)
After Roger Enright escorts Dominique to the Enright House, she writes in her column that no one should be allowed to inhabit the building. However, this is a veiled comment. Dominique really considers it so perfect that it should not be corrupted by people who will harm it and not appreciate its grandeur.
6. "We're alone. Why don't you tell me what you think of me??(p. 389)
After four architects redesign the Stoddard Temple into a home for "Subnormal Children,?Roark finally goes to see his redesigned temple where he meets Toohey who has been waiting for him. Toohey asks him to tell him what he thinks of him but Roark just looks quizzically at him. He hasn't been thinking of Toohey at all while Toohey has proudly believed he has destroyed Roark's peace of mind. He slithers away, dejected.
7. "I'm a parasite. I've been a parasite all my life.?(p.575)
Keating honestly tells Roark about how he perceives himself and begs him to design the Cortlandt Homes project for him and to put the name Keating on it. Roark tells him he will design the project as long as Keating agrees that absolutely no changes will made. Keating's statement demonstrates deep introspection but not enough for him to change his basic personality. He is doomed.
8. "One can't put on an act like that-unless it's an act for oneself, and then there is no limit, no way out, no reality.?(p. 600)
Keating has made progress as an individual. He sees the full effect of Toohey's evil nature and mind control in the older Katie who has come to be enslaved by Toohey's philosophy of altruism and communalism.
9. "It's I who have destroyed you.by helping you.?(p. 611)
Peter Keating explains to Howard Roark that things got away from him and two other architects ruined the Cortlandt building by making disfiguring additions. He takes responsibility but Roark says it was not Keating who destroyed Roark but Roark who destroyed Keating when he helped him by anonymously designing buildings under Keating's name for the satisfaction of seeing them constructed.
10. "We don't want any great men?I shall rule.?(p. 635)
In his lengthy monologue in Keating's apartment, Toohey finally confesses his intentions. He wants power and in this effort attempts to make people into selfless beings, who in addition to altruism and excessive guilt forget how to be happy themselves. Since great people don't buy into this philosophy and thus obstruct his path to complete power and domination, he wishes to eliminate them.
About The Novel
List of Characters
Howard Roark The hero of the story. It is his struggle to succeed as an architect on his own terms that forms the essence of the novel’s conflict. His independent functioning serves as a standard by which to judge the other characters—either they are like Roark or they allow others, in one form or another, to control their lives. Roark is the embodiment of the great innovative thinkers who have carried mankind forward but are often opposed by their societies.
Henry Cameron Roark’s mentor. He is an aged, bitter curmudgeon—and a commercial failure—but he is the greatest architect of his day. He is an early modernist, one of the first to design skyscrapers and a man of unbending integrity. Roark admires Cameron as he does no one else in the novel. His life exemplifies the fate of many innovators who have discovered new knowledge or invented a revolutionary product, only to be repudiated by society.
Dominique Francon An impassioned idealist who loves only man the hero. Dominique is Roark’s lover, his greatest admirer, and, simultaneously, an ally of Roark’s most implacable enemy—Ellsworth Toohey—in the attempt to ruin his career. Dominique, though a brilliant woman, holds a pessimistic philosophy throughout much of the novel that prevents her from fulfilling her vast potential.
Guy Francon Dominique’s father. A phony architect, who achieves commercial success by two means: copying from the great classical designers, and wining and dining prospective clients with urbane wit and charm. His great financial success despite his unprincipled methods provides some of the evidence on which Dominique originally bases her conclusion that the world is essentially corrupt. Francon’s tutelage helps Peter Keating develop into an even more unscrupulous manipulator than his boss.
Peter Keating The foil to Roark. He lacks the backbone to ever stand alone, and spends his life forever seeking the approval of others. He even codifies his toadying attitude into a formal principle: “Always be what people want you to be.” Keating is an outstanding example of a status-seeking conformist.
Mrs. Louisa Keating Peter’s mother. She seeks respectability above all. She teaches her son to put the values of others before his own. By encouraging her son to surrender his mind to others, she is indirectly responsible for causing his ultimate self-destruction.
Ellsworth Toohey Architectural critic and spiritual power broker. Toohey is simultaneously a cult leader acquiring a private army of slavish followers and a Marxist intellectual preaching socialism to the masses. Roark’s refusal to obey threatens his hegemony in his own field, so he dedicates himself to Roark’s destruction. The villain of the novel, Toohey represents collectivism in its most undiluted form.
Catherine Halsey Toohey’s niece and Keating’s fiancée. Catherine is an honest girl of only modest intellect and ambition, but she loves Peter sincerely. Keating’s betrayal of her robs her of the only personal goal that she possesses and drives her to become one of her uncle’s obedient followers.
Gail Wynand Powerful publisher of vulgar tabloids. Wynand combines a mixture of independent and dependent methods of functioning. In his personal life, he lives by his own judgment, but he panders shamelessly to the masses in his career. He is Roark’s closest friend, yet the way he has sold his own principles to gain power is in sharp contrast to Roark’s integrity. Wynand’s life shows that it is impossible to attain happiness by embodying mutually exclusive premises.
Alvah Scarrett Wynand’s chief editor. An unthinking “mom and apple pie” type of conservative, he is invaluable to Wynand as a means of gauging public opinion. Though loyal to Wynand, his abject conformity makes him easy prey for Toohey. He embodies the trite conventionality of popular culture.
Austen Heller Newspaper columnist who defends the rights of the individual. That he gives money generously to help political prisoners around the globe shows his respect for the independent mind. He gives Roark his first commission by hiring him to build a private home, then remains a trusted friend.
Steven Mallory Sculptor of significant ability, who portrays man the exalted hero in his figures. He sculpts the statue of Dominique for Roark’s Temple of the Human Spirit. He, too, is a valued and loyal friend of Roark’s.
Mike Donnigan Construction worker. He knows construction, scorns social opinion, and goes by his own judgment. A lifelong friend of Roark’s, Mike’s life shows that a person does not have to be a genius to be independent, but he must be willing to live by his own judgment.
Roger Enright Innovative businessman. He conceives a new idea for an apartment building—the Enright House—and hires Roark to build it. As a man who overturns previous thinking when entering a field, he is naturally attracted to Roark’s revolutionary designs. Enright’s life shows the independence necessary to be a successful entrepreneur.
Kent Lansing Member of the board set up to build the Aquitania Hotel, a luxury establishment on Central Park South. He battles for years, against a variety of obstacles, to get Roark hired and to complete the hotel’s construction. Lansing is an example, as is Roark on a larger scale, of the unswerving dedication that an innovative thinker must possess if he is to reach his goals against a society opposed to change.
The Dean of Stanton Institute A traditionalist in architecture. His commitment to the established rules of design and unwillingness to consider new ideas make him the first of the many conformists with whom Roark comes into conflict. The Dean is more typical of Roark’s antagonists than is the evil Toohey, for he is merely a social conservative, blind to the possibility and value of progress. Important for “the principle behind the Dean” that Roark seeks to understand.
Ralston Holcolmbe Another traditionalist in architecture. Holcolmbe believes Renaissance is the only appropriate style of building for the modern world. He embodies a different type of conformity than Francon, who adheres to the Classical school of design. Both he and Francon are rigid dogmatists unwilling to consider the new ideas of modern architecture.
John Erik Snyte An eclectic in the field of architecture. Snyte refuses to cling slavishly to one school of design; instead, he combines clashing styles into a hodgepodge of contradictory elements. As a man willing to give the public anything it wants, no matter how vulgar or inane, Snyte represents conformity in yet another form. In his own unprincipled way, it is his willingness to let Roark design in his own style that makes possible Roark’s first commission.
Gordon L. Prescott A phony architect who seeks to impress people by spouting the terminology of Hegelian dialectic. He is not concerned with building effectively, but merely with winning adulation from a gaping public. One of an army of nonconformists who conform utterly to Toohey’s circle, Prescott is one of the characters illustrating that rebellious nonconformity is as slavish to the group as is blind conformity.
Gus Webb One of Toohey’s followers. An architect of the so-called “International Style,” which rejects the blind following of traditional schools for barren, flat-topped structures devoid of any logical plan. A virulent nonconformist, rebelling against civility, personal hygiene, and all aspects of a rational life, Webb is a crude and vulgar lout, whose mindless activism on behalf of the “workers’ revolution” contrasts with Toohey’s cultured advocacy of Marxism. Whereas Toohey is representative of the intellectual “Old Left,” Webb embodies the anti-intellectual, physical activism of the New Left.
Lois Cook Another mindless rebel and follower of Toohey. She is an avant-garde writer who dispenses with coherent sentence structure. Lois Cook deliberately builds the “ugliest house” in New York and cultivates a slovenly appearance as means to shock the middle class. She and Gus Webb, in blindly rebelling against the values of society, are as controlled by other people as is an abject conformist like Keating.