Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Ayn Rand and the Seductive Power of Howard Roark

Although Ayn Rand has gone down in history as a scary old right winger with a funny accent, I have to confess her novel, The Fountainhead, has me transfixed.



Perhaps it's the feel of the roaring Twenties when the skyscrapers rose in New York City and flapper girls brought a new glamor to a society that had thrown off the shackles of war. But this is not more of the hollow yet fascinating society of F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Fountainhead is a novel based on ideas rather than plot and its hero Howard Roark, is utterly alluring.

Roark is a gangling figure with a shock of red hair. He's not conventionally handsome. But it's his unwavering devotion to his principles that is his most appealing characteristic. From the outset we see an architectural student who has been expelled from his college because his designs are too outlandish and daring. In short Roark is too brilliant.

The Dean gives him one last chance but Roark doesn't care. In his conversation with the Dean he slights the trappings of the past and our slavish adherence to them, even daring to criticize the Parthenon.

While the sycophantic Peter Keating graduates top of his class and gets a position in one of New York's top firms, Roark persuades his hero, Henry Cameron - once one of the most promising architects of his era and an uncompromising post modernist, but now an alcoholic, to give him a job.



Roark relies on his brilliance and is totally uncompromising. When a developer offers to give him a contract if he will add a small classical feature to his building, Roark refuses. He loses his office and goes to toil in a quarry.

Roark is a bit like that person we all wanted to be when we set out. Before the world cut us gradually into little pieces with its constant drip drip of compromises and petty humiliations.

Rand contrasts Roark's dispassionism with the meddling and manipulative Ellsworth Toohey with his schemes, meeting groups and social programs. Toohey is loosely based on Joseph Stalin, the all powerful and brutal Russian dictator who represented all of the worst aspects of state intervention to the author who gre up in the Soviet Union.

Although Rand's ultimate championing of objectivism, selfishness, individuality and capitalism has its harsh aspect, there's something seductive about the life force of Howard Roark who is as natural a life force as a rock face, about the idea of not needing to rely on anybody else, of knowing your worth and standing on your principles.

There are few of us who can't say we haven't died a little inside at something we have had to do to keep our job or appease an unreasonable and powerful person. There's something seductive and satisfying about the idea of just walking away and being true to ourselves.



As anyone who has walked under the high glass ganties of Sir Richard Rogers' Lloyds of London building will realise, we don't have to live in someone else's past. We can dare to be different.

11 comments:

  1. Is it science fiction? I forced myself to read Atlas, Shrugged ten years ago so I could write an essay about it for a massive scholarship, sponsored by the publisher. Problem is, I hated the book with a passion. I couldn't even finish it. I'm just not a science fiction person.

    This book sounds fabulous though.

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    1. Nope it's kind of set in 1920s, 30s New York - it is a bit overlong - ugh. You have convinced me not to read Atlas Shrugged, J

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  2. I'm hearing more and more about Ayn Rand lately. I guess I need to read her books. Her views on selfishness and moral objectivism are pretty much the antithesis to everything I believe in but so many of my friends subscribe to those views.

    Great review!

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    1. Thanks for visiting Mandy - yes her views are scary. I can't say I'm a fan, but I guess there are some attractive qualities in individualism etc.

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  3. I don't know, 'the world is perishing in an orgy of self-sacrifice'. He's right, we do too much for other people(!) It sounds like he (she) was promoting the idea that some people are too special to care about others. And I imagine those special people would be the ones with the money and the power in the first place, not 'talent' or any such thing. I'm hearing that a lot here, so I'm not impressed. And all that without objectivism, Ayn Rand is not well-known in Spain.

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    1. well you raise a good point re that Starla - sadly I've found real talent isn't always rewarded and it's the ruthless people who rise to positions of power.

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  4. Btw, nothing against your review, I like it and Ayn Rand is always an interesting topic. It reminds me of that review about Gus van Sant's Psycho that gave the movie an A. I couldn't believe it when I've found it! Maybe I should challenge myself to look at some infamous book or film and try to give it a good review.

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  5. Never read this book or saw the movie. I don't know anything about it really. But I agree with you about walking away and being true to oneself.

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  6. Roark isn't someone I've ever looked up to, at all. But then, I'm not able to support Ayn Rand's philosophies, generally.
    Some Dark Romantic

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    1. so no gigantic poster of Ayn Rand looking old, scary and rightwing over your mantle piece then Mina?

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