"The Fountainhead" is a novel about people engaged in architectural profession. There are characters who believe in creativity, originality and they are prepared to pay any price to prove that they are different. There are also characters who do not have any creativity about them, nor do they believe in that. But they get their success through manipulation and plagiarism. There is a villain with a made-up aura of intellectualism who believes in the right of masses to pull down anybody who is excessively independent and creative and who thinks freely with scant respect for the tradition handed down to the mankind by history. He also believes in manipulation and practises it with geometrical precision.
Peter Keating is an architect with high ambitions and zero creativity. He succeeds academically, getting a gold medal from the prestigious institution of architecture at Stanton. Howard Roark is a person of opposite temperament-free, creative and forthright. He does not want to tread the beaten track in his subject, not even for writing the answers for passing the exam, and finally gets rusticated from the institute for his rigid stance.
Peter Keating is picked up by a successful architect named Guy Francon as his employee at first and then his partner. To achieve such a phenomenal success in his career, Keating takes the help of deceit and does not hesitate to give a lethal psychological shock to a senior colleague who has been helping him all along.
Howard Roark tries his luck in the ruthless world of architectural profession. He gets a teacher in Henry Cameron who has a name and a history of success behind him but, nothing of that sort exists to this day. Right now, he is treated as the old-fashioned by the market. He warns Roark of the bitterness in his field but nevertheless accepts him as his disciple. Howard struggles on, from working on short commissions to being an employee with Guy Francon where Keating is already a senior executive and then to working in a granite quarry as a simple labourer. His chequered career does not bother him, for he loves his work and does not creep about anything as long as it allows him to work freely.
Here let me say a few words about the relationship between Peter Keating and Howard Roark, who are the students of the same institute doing the same business in the city of New York. While Peter gets a series of successes and does not know how they come to him, Howard Roark does not envy him. Rather on one occasion Roark actually designs a prestigious building for Keating who wins the commission producing that borrowed stuff. This friendly generosity catapults his prestige into a new height. Despite that, Keating is afraid of Roark all the time. He considers himself nothing more than a patch of dirt in front of the personality of Roark and hates him in his heart of hearts. Given chance, Keating comes forward to commiserate, to testify against him in the court of law. Yet Howard Roark does not take it to heart, let alone plan for retaliation.
Guy Francon, with whom Peter Keating works, has a daughter named Dominique. She is ravishingly beautiful, hugely talented, and unabashedly temperamental. She believes in thinking and acting as per her free will and has no concern for people who think ill of her. She works in a newspaper named the "New York Banner" and pens for a regular column which appreciates houses and buildings of New York. Her father, Guy Francon, does not think that his daughter is on the right track, for she is yet to fall in love with anyone. As a father, Francon would be happy to see her settled with a husband and family and an acceptably social temperament. He encourages Peter Keating to court her, but Dominique has scant regard for a person like Keating who is just a mediocre architect.
One day Dominique visits the granite quarry her father owns. She wants to get rid of the accumulated boredom that she feels her life is saddled with. There she finds Howard Roark. An extraordinary man at work, he attracts her attention by his charming physique and his graceful movement of limbs. She continues to gawp at him with unflinching attention. She falls for him and yearns to come closer. Roark comes to know about her inclination but remains silent. Finally Dominique invents a plea to call him to her bedroom by breaking a piece of marble and when he comes there to replace the marble, he rapes her.
The incident does not fill in her any sense of hatred for Roark; rather she welcomes more and more occasions of togetherness. They depart, but Dominique, on her return to New York, comes to know that the ordinary labourer of her father's quarry is none but a talented architect.
Dominique also knows the unprincipled dynamics of the architectural profession where every talent and creativity is just trampled under the feet, where a third-rate copy work robs all the acclaim due to the silent and the talented. She does one thing very interesting: she moves all possible corners, throws all her charm to stop Howard Roark getting a commission. Many a time Howard Roark is just about to clinch a deal, but it is always Dominique who pulls the string to eliminate him from the scene. Then she goes to Roark, triumphant and ready, and offers herself as a willing partner in his bed.
Initially it is not understood as to why Dominique does that sort of weird antics-why she snatches all the commissions from Roark and serves them on a platter to Peter Keating. But soon it stands explained. Dominique does not want Howard Roark punished and vilified for his talent and originality, his honesty and forthrightness. She knows the whole world has come together against an individual who understands his client, and who is true to oneself. She cannot stand the scene of mediocre backbenchers sitting in judgement on Roark.
Two other characters of importance are Toohey and Wynand. Toohey is an intellectual with a firm belief in collectivism and altruism, who hates such people with talent as like to have their way without any help from other sub-standard collaborators. He is a real orator, an accomplished columnist, and a confirmed bachelor, and he works in a newspaper to grab a ready platform for pushing his philosophy. He organises a worker's union there which gains in its nuisance power as time progresses. He organises other lowly achievers in the architectural profession and props them up as an alternative to the existing association of builders in America. He props the most worthless kind of poets and dramatists through the columns of the "New York Banner", the paper he works with and, in the process, earns everybody's gratitude that he can use in future for furthering his schemes of so-called altruism.
Wynand is the tycoon who owns the "Banner". It is his power of manipulation that pushes him to the top of the social ladder with a successful newspaper and a fat bank balance. He is a self-made person who knows all the tricks of silencing and outmanoeuvring the opponents. He invests in all those seemingly unprofitable projects of real estate but, at the end of the day, surprises everybody with the report of extraordinary successes from such hopeless projects. He is a lover of women who come to him to be showered with generous rewards in exchange of their sexual favours, but such relationships rarely thrive a minute more than he can endure. He owns a yacht and goes out to sea for months together for enjoying a quiet life of his own. He chooses his people well so that his newspaper empire works well in his absence.
Another character is Cathy, a homely timid girl of average beauty. She is the niece of the villain-intellectual Toohey. While she is in love with Keating, she does not want to assert it and leaves everything to the decision of Keating. Mr Toohey discourages her through his veiled warnings, saying that a life of spinster would suit her fine and she should do good for the society and follow the path of altruism. Despite his flair for deceit, Keating is seen to be true to Cathy as he chooses her company to release and confess like a faithful lover interested in an enduring relationship, but sadly the plot does not unite them. This leaves a lot of pathos for the readers to plod through.
Howard gets a foothold in the market and starts getting projects to implement. One such commission is to build a temple of human spirit for a rich tycoon. Toohey who is a friend to the tycoon strangely fails to persuade him to change his plan in favour of building a centre for disabled children. Roark gets the full freedom to design the building and complete its construction within a time-frame of one year. The tycoon leaves for a pilgrimage and when he comes back, a building greets him. But that happens to be totally opposite of what he has thought of. Lo, Mr. Toohey, who has not compromised with his loss of face, now instigates the tycoon to sue Howard Roark for delivering something not needed by him. The case continues and all the big names in the architectural world including Peter Keating testify against Howard Roark. Only Dominique testifies in his favour even if that costs her employment with the "Banner". Roark loses the case and pays for the remodelling of the building to house the handicapped children as contemplated by Toohey. A beautiful statute modelled on Dominique is removed from the modified temple.
Peter Keating proposes to marry Cathy but just before that can actually happen, Dominique comes forward with an offer to marry Keating. Surprised and happy, Keating wins everything without knowing a thing how this has been possible all of a sudden. Actually Dominique marries Keating not for love but for the opposite feeling she has all along nurtured against him. Her actual love is with Roark. No wonder the conjugal life of the Keating couple becomes anything but happy.
Toohey tries to trick Wynand into accepting Dominique as one of his women. He sends him a statue that was earlier sculpted with Dominique as the model. It is the same statue that Toohey had salvaged from the temple of human spirit. He succeeds in getting Wynand's nod to send the real Dominique. In fact, Toohey knows that Wynand is a connoisseur of art and sculpture and he chooses this particular gift to ensure that his victim falls into line. At that time the building trade is going trough a slump and Peter Keating is in the real doldrums. He knows Wynand is contemplating to commission a mega project. When Toohey actually throws the idea of sending Dominique for facilitating a commission through her charm and sex power, Keating does not see anything wrong in it. Dominique goes to him and then Wynand arranges a dinner and invites the Keating couple. Eventually he makes Dominique and her husband agree to his proposal that he would take Dominique with him in his yacht for a few months of cruise. This helps a new relationship to emerge and finally Dominique marries Wynand securing an easy divorce from Keating.
Now Dominique becomes Mrs. Wynand. She deliberately plays a second fiddle and does not interfere with Wynand's newspaper where from she had once lost her job for supporting Roark. Toohey is not at all happy with the development and feels insecure. His hatred for Dominique for her independent thinking comes to the fore and he thinks that his competitor has taken a lead over him. He starts conspiring against Wynand. Dominique who knows the viciousness of Toohey once warns Wynand to fire Toohey but the latter just brushes it aside.
Wynand is now happy with the love of Dominique. He wants to possess her more intensely and more exclusively than ever before. A building constructed in the exclusivity of the highland of Connecticut with all facilities but no outside intrusion would do well-Wynand thinks. He invites Roark because all his researches convince him that Roark is the only architect available around who can understand the needs of his client fully and design a building of perfection. He develops intimacy with the architect Roark and opens his heart and life's secrets to him unreservedly.
In time the bungalow becomes ready for occupation. Wynand moves into it with Dominique. It is something they like so much.
In the meanwhile Keating slides in his profession. Even his friend Toohey does not help him. Dominique gone, her father Guy Francon, now retired, does not help him. At that crucial juncture, a government housing project for the poor is launched. All the architects fail to design a building that will meet its cost and utility specifications. Everybody knows who can do that and, more than anybody else, it is Peter Keating who knows it the best. But in the past he had shown him the most ungrateful side of his personality and now he has no guts to approach him. Finally, on the persuasion of his concerned partner, he goes to him. Otherwise, he has none else to do, for the alternative scenario is a state of ennui and disaster.
Peter Keating goes to his friendly competitor Howard Roark. Nay, he is his mentor, his saviour at the moment. The latter agrees to do the design for him on a couple of conditions: first, in implementing the project nobody else should be associated except Keating; and the second, there should be absolutely no deviation from the design.
Then Howard Roark and Wynand go for a long cruise.
When Roark comes back, he finds the most flagrant violation of his conditions. There are other architects in the project employed on the recommendation of Toohey and the alterations they have brought upon the original design are simply outrageous. Peter Keating shows his helpless face.
Roark decides the ultimate: he blows up the building by dynamite. Then he surrenders himself to law. The legal fight continues and Roark fights his own case. There is no pleader to plead his case, to find legal lacunae in the complainant's story. There Roark gives an inspiring speech in favour of the ideals he lives for: the intellectual integrity. Anything made after butchery of intellectual freedom should be eliminated. There should be respect for the intellectual property right so that a nation can progress and the human world should discourage all acts of second-hand manipulation in the name of creativity. Finally the jury okays the stand taken by Roark and sets him free of the charge.
During the thick and thin of the court battle and the organised smear campaign of the press under the active instigation of Toohey and company, Wynand tries to support Howard Roark. He uses his newspaper. There is a backlash. His paper is almost stopped due to strikes when Wynand deals with the disgruntled workmen and the editorial staff with his iron hand. Dominique comes forward with all her experience as an ex-newspaper woman, but before her labour could bear any result, Wynand gives in. He gives a conciliatory statement in his newspaper which, in effect, is a statement against Howard Roark. This irks Dominique and revives all her love for her ex-lover Howard Roark.
Wynand comes to know about the old relationship between Roark and his wife Dominique. He applies for a divorce and the same comes to him easily, thanks to the usual technique the divorce lawyers employ. Now Dominique is freed to go with Howard Roark and Wynand to revive the old glory of his newspaper as the most sensational daily of New York. Guy Francon is happy with the development.
Finally Wynand hires Roark to build the tallest and the most magnificent building in the skyline of New York.
What I liked in it:
(1) This is a wonderful book, voluminous yet engrossing, and much of this has something to do with its style. The whole book is immensely readable. The sentences here are small but full of force, incisiveness and sarcasm. Sometimes, owing to large paragraphs packed with philosophies, it tends to become boring, but a little patience there pays. The reader immediately discovers himself marvelling at a punchline or a statement of stark philosophical truth.
(2) Its plot is a sound one with relationships permutated and twists well placed. Events are made to happen at regular intervals if not in rapid successions. There is nothing very complicated about it though we find on an occasion or two where twists do appear suddenly to turn the plot. For example, Dominique's peculiar behaviour of animosity-intimacy with Roark is more than explained when it is revealed that she does that with a purpose: to keep her lover away from accepting commissions from those who would not understand his creativity.
(3) Here a great philosophical conflict is very deftly dealt with by the help of a simple plot but rich and fully explored characterization. Whether any field of profession is to be left to the mediocre manipulation or to the original, forthright, creative souls is raised throughout the length and breadth of the work. Finally, like every author trying to reward the readers for reading his/her book, she settles down to a happy end. But the issue raised still continues, and at the end of the day, readers cannot help realising that.
(4) Among the fully explored characters are Toohey, the villain-intellectual and Dominique, the temperamentally talented lady. They are not the stereotyped ones, but have newness in them. Every personal whim can be made acceptable to the world if it is presented with a coat of philosophy and it is not necessary that the presenter should sincerely believe in them or follow them. How true! Toohey represents that aspect. Dominique is ravishingly beautiful, but at the same time talented. Here beauty and intellect have been made to go together. She uses her sex appeal as such to reach the higher object of her life: the peace and compatibility. She accepts two divorces but without great self-disgust. She is not the one who would use her sex appeal for other baser things in life, like money, professional success, and societal influence.
A few things I thought I did not like:
(1) Dominique is raped by Howard Roark and eventually their relationship blossoms into one of great love. Does it mean she decides to forgive him? Yes, there are sufficient hints how they are same in their view of life and their love for intellectual integrity. They raise voice against the prevailing rule of mediocrity in their own way. But merely on the basis of compatibility, reader cannot accept the love between these two characters as the normal happening. Ayan Rand should have made Dominique clearly forgive Roark and that would have brought the characters to the domain of perfection.
(2) In the middle of the book, one might feel the progress in the storyline is slow. This is more due to the long-winded conversations than for any defect in the over-all storyline. One gets the complete feeling at the end. The book lives up to the expectation it creates as its plot unfolds.
Finally, it is not a book that has great actions to narrate. There is nothing contemporary if by that word one understands mobile phone, internet, GPS or gizmos. It is about a great philosophy of universal relevance and Ayan Rand shows that philosophy in action. The characters are eminently suitable for acting their roles in the plot and they have not strayed out of their defined roles. This makes it believable. And immensely readable!
A. N. Nanda
Labels: Book Review