AskDefine | Define fountainhead

Dictionary Definition



1 an abundant source; "she was a well of information" [syn: well, wellspring]
2 the source of water from which a stream arises; "they tracked him back toward the head of the stream" [syn: headspring, head]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a spring that is the source of a river
  2. an abundant source of knowledge, etc.


a spring that is the source of a river
  • Kurdish:
    Sorani: سه‌رچاوه‌
an abundant source of knowledge, etc.

Extensive Definition

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 examines the life of an individualistic architect, Howard Roark, who chooses to struggle in obscurity rather than compromise his artistic and personal vision by pandering to the prevailing taste in building design. Roark is a singular force that stands up against the establishment, and in his own unique way, prevails. The book 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 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 a screenplay by Rand herself.


Howard Roark, a brilliant young architect, is expelled from the School of Architecture of the Stanton Institute of Technology for refusing to abide by its outdated traditions.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. Roark’s highly successful but vacuous schoolmate, Peter Keating, moves to New York and goes to work for the prestigious architectural firm Francon & Heyer, run by the famous Guy Francon. Roark and Cameron create beautiful work, but their projects rarely receive recognition, whereas Keating’s ability to flatter and please brings him almost instant success at Francon & Heyer. Roark opens his own small office. His unwillingness to compromise his designs in order to satisfy the whims and ignorance of his clients eventually forces him to close down the office and take a job at a granite quarry in Connecticut, owned by Francon.
Keating has always been passively and lazily in love with Catherine (Katie) Halsey, the niece of Ellsworth Toohey, a columnist for The New York Banner and author of the popular column One Small Voice. While engaging in various high society social functions, Peter is introduced to Francon's daughter Dominique. She is beautiful, temperamental and idealistic; and works as the columnist. Peter finds himself physically attracted to Dominique, and wants her if just for the social benefit the relationship would bring. Dominique engages in the relationship for her own reasons, but then leaves for one of her regular extended getaways and finds herself at the family home in the same Connecticut town where Roark is working the quarry.
While Roark is working in the quarry, he encounters Dominique. There is an immediate physical attraction between the two of them. Dominique visits the quarry frequently to tempt Roark and requests that he be the one to repair some marble around the fireplace in her bedroom that she intentionally marred. When the repairs are complete, Roark and Dominique have aggressive and passionate sex.
Dominique has now discovered a person she not only desires but whom she cannot resist. But when she looks for Roark, he has left the quarry. At this point she doesn't even know Roark's name or true profession.
Roark is being noted in the press for the stunning building (The Enright House) he has recently designed. However, Ellsworth Toohey sees Roark as a threat. He is an undercover socialist and is covertly rising to power by shaping public opinion through his column and circle of influential associates. He seeks to prevent men from excelling by teaching that talent and ability are to be used only for the benefit of the masses and not for personal gain, and that the greatest virtue is self-sacrifice. Toohey sets out to destroy Roark. Toohey is planning to incite the public against Roark through a smear campaign he spearheads at "The Banner."
Roark's building is finished. The building's owner hosts a gala inviting all the who's who of the town including Toohey and other critics. This is where Dominique and Roark meet again and she realizes that the brilliant architect she admired and took a stand for was the man she was involved with in Connecticut.
Still out to destroy Roark, Toohey convinces a weak-minded businessman named Hopton Stoddard to hire Roark as the designer for a temple dedicated to the human spirit. Roark designs the temple, with a naked statue of Dominique, which creates the first public outcry towards Howard. As the building is shown to Stoddard for the first time just before its unveiling, its brilliance and uniqueness confuses Stoddard and Toohey takes this opportunity to further manipulate Stoddard into suing Roark for general incompetence and fraud. At Roark’s trial, every prominent architect in New York testifies that Roark’s style is unorthodox and illegitimate. Dominique defends Howard for the very first time, but Stoddard wins the case and Roark loses his business again.
That evening, Dominique pays Peter a visit, and makes him a one-time offer of her hand in marriage. Peter 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 Peter Keating.
Gail Wynand, owner of the Banner, believes he is in firm control of public opinion. People believe anything that is written in his paper, even if it is blatantly false. Born in Hell's Kitchen and a member of a gang while growing up, he had forced himself into the Gazette, eventually taking over and building up his empire. Wynand decides to build an ambitious real estate project, and because of the Depression, every architect of fame wants it. In order to sell the job to Peter, Toohey sends Wynand the Stoddard statue of Dominique as a gift. This prompts Wynand to meet with Peter and Dominique, and promises to give the project to Keating in exchange for letting Dominique take a yacht tour with him. On the tour, Wynand asks Dominique to marry him, and she agrees to leave Peter.
Meanwhile, despite bad publicity, Roark finds himself with periodic work. He is given a hotel project called the Aquitania which goes bankrupt and is not completed for years. Later, he is asked to design a resort called "Monadnock Valley", which is noted for its privacy, and is intended by the owners, in an act of fraud, to be a failure. However, the resort is a success, and Roark finds himself (perhaps for the first time) on the favored end of public opinion. Wynand finds that every building he likes is done by Roark, so he enlists Howard to build him a home. 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, Peter realizes he is a failure, and rather than accept retirement, he pleads with Ellsworth for commission to build the much sought after Cortlandt housing project. Peter knows that his most successful projects were aided by Roark, and he knows Roark is the only person who can design Cortlandt. Howard 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 spring-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. When the police arrive, he submits without resistance. 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, but Wynand keeps printing with Dominique’s help. Eventually after the whole public opinion is against Wynand and all of his staff has left him, he gives in and denounces Roark on the suggestion of his board members. At the trial, Roark seems doomed, but he rouses the courtroom with a statement about the value of selfishness and the need to remain true to oneself. Roark describes the triumphant role of creators and the price they pay at the hands of corrupt societies. The jury finds him not guilty. Roark marries Dominique. Wynand asks Roark to design one last building, a skyscraper that will testify to the supremacy of man and states, "Build it as a monument to that spirit which is yours...and could have been mine."
The book ends quickly after that with time moved up eighteen months with the Wynand Building well on its way to completion. The last scene follows Dominique (now Mrs. Roark), entering the site and rushing to meet the now vindicated and strong Howard Roark, Architect.


The major characters in the novel all represent different types of people, and essentially exist to contrast Howard Roark, who is Rand's image of the perfect man (and, to a lesser extent, contrast Toohey, who is shown as the absolute evil). Roark is the man who was 'as man should be,' who lives for himself and his own creativity, indifferent to the opinions of others. Dominique Francon is presented as the perfect mistress for Roark. Over the course of the novel she must learn not to fear society and not to let its flaws hinder her integrity. Gail Wynand is the 'man who could have been,' who rises from the poverty of his youth into an extremely rich and powerful position, but uses his superlative talent not to create for himself, but to control others, which leads to his own demise. Peter Keating is 'the man who couldn't be, and doesn't know it,' who wants to achieve as well as make a name for himself, but lives off the support and condolence of others, which is what leads to his demise. Ellsworth Toohey, presented as the complete antithesis of Roark, is 'the man who couldn't be, and knows it,' who, pessimistic about his talent when he was young, sets out to destroy others through guilt and altruism, because he knows that this is the only way he can accomplish anything. The novel is split into four sections, named after Keating, Toohey, Wynand, and Roark; each section (though the plot is completely chronological) is named after the character which fully shows his own nature in each one. The last one, in which Roark achieves his final victory, is named after him.

Howard Roark

Howard Roark is the main protagonist in the novel, whom Rand portrays as an ideal man. He is an aspiring architect with a unique, uncompromising creative vision, which contrasts sharply with the staid and uninspired conventions of the architectural establishment. He ignores the driving preoccupations of the world around him: wealth, status, regard amongst his fellow men. Roark takes pleasure in the act of creation, but is constantly opposed by "the hostility of second-hand souls" and those unwilling or afraid to recognize his creative ability. Roark serves as the basic mold from which the protagonists of Rand's other great novel, Atlas Shrugged, are cast.

Dominique Francon

Dominique Francon is the heroine of The Fountainhead, described by Rand as "the woman for a man like Howard Roark," with Roark representing Rand's ideal human. Dominique is the daughter of Guy Francon, a highly successful but creatively inhibited architect. Peter Keating is employed by her father, and her intelligence, insight and observations are above his. It is only through Roark that her love of pleasure and autonomy meets a worthy equal. These strengths are also what she initially lets stifle her growth and make her life miserable. She begins thinking that the world did not deserve her sincerity and smarts, because the people around her did not measure up to her standards. She starts out punishing the world and herself for all the things about man which she despises, through self-defeating behavior. She is held a protagonist, but is not (throughout the bulk of the novel) without flaw. She initially believes that greatness, such as Roark's, is doomed to fail and will be destroyed by the 'collectivist' masses around them. She eventually joins Roark romantically, but before she can do this, she must learn to join him in his perspective and purpose.
However, Dominique Francon must learn the long hard way not to let a flawed society and misled zeitgeist inhibit her creative and emotional expression and drive, nor poison her hope in her own ideals. By the end of the story, Dominique no longer cares what anyone thinks or does. She lives her life for herself and no one else. She learns to love and create freely and passionately, and no longer cares whether or not the world is worthy of her expression. She has a new world now that is hers alone. Finally, it is the act of creating, loving, and living in which she finds happiness, rather than the results of these successes, no matter how good or bad the recognition may be. It no longer matters what might happen or what others think, because the happiness she finds cannot be taken away from her. She learns to be the change she wishes to see in her world. Her new world, that in which she sets the standards by which all will live in regards to any association with Dominique, is worthy of her beautiful mind and heart because it belongs to her and no one else, and is shared on her terms alone. That is, Dominique's terms as well as those with the same individualistic, objectivist and uncompromising ideals.

Gail Wynand

Gail Wynand is a powerful newspaper mogul who rose from a destitute childhood in the ghettoes of New York City to control the city's print media. While Wynand shares many of the character qualities of Roark, his success is dependent upon his ability to manipulate public opinion, a flaw which eventually leads to his destruction. Rand describes Wynand as "a man who could have been." It has been speculated that Wynand is partially based on real-life newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, since Hearst himself started by taking over his father's newspaper and spread from there. Hearst was also known as the father of the Yellow Papers, which Wynand is known for in the realm of the Fountainhead. Furthermore, much like Wynand, Hearst had his own dream house constructed in California, the landmark Hearst Castle. Eventually, both real and fictional moguls sold out their empires, taking the businesses public, in order to keep the newspapers from going under.

Peter Keating

Peter Keating is also an aspiring architect, but is everything that Roark is not. His original tendency was to become a painter, but his opportunistic mother pushed him toward architecture where he might have greater material success. Keating's creative abilities are mediocre, but his willingness to build what others wish him leads to temporary success. He went to architecture school with Roark, who helped him with some of his less inspired projects. He is subservient to the wills of others - Dominique Francon's father, the architectural establishment, his mother, even Roark himself. Keating is "a man who never could be, but doesn't know it," according to Rand. The one sincere thing in Keating's life is his love for Catherine. Also, Catherine is Ellsworth Toohey's niece, but Keating initially refuses her suggestion to introduce him to her uncle. He does this despite the fact that an introduction to the influential architectural critic Toohey would help his career. In all other circumstances Keating is absolutely relentless and ruthless in furthering his career, even to the extent of bullying a sick old man and causing his death. Keating's offer to elope with Catherine was his one chance to act on what he believes is his own desire. But, Dominique arrives at that precise moment and offers to marry him for her own reasons, and his acceptance of the offer and betrayal of Catherine ends the potential of romance between them. Both Keating and Catherine end up embodying the soulless result of devoting oneself to altruism.

Ellsworth Toohey

Rand describes Toohey as "a man who never could be, and knows it." Toohey is an architectural critic for Wynand's paper who uses his influence over the masses to hinder Howard Roark. Toohey is an unabashed collectivist, who styles himself as representative of the will of the masses. Having no true genius that such innovators as Roark possess, he makes himself excellent by manipulating excellence; to destroy that which is great and spread the word that altruism is the ultimate ideal. This is put forward in one of his most memorable quotes: "Don’t set out to raze all shrines – you’ll frighten men. Enshrine mediocrity, and the shrines are razed."
Rand used her memory of the British democratic socialist Harold Laski to help her imagine what he would do in a given situation. Lewis Mumford was also an initial inspiration.
In the biograhy of Toohey, it is mentioned that in his younger age he aspired to become a clergyman, but abandoned religion after discovering Socialism and considering that it better served his purposes. In that, Toohey's early career parallels that of Stalin, who had also trained for the priesthood in his young age - though Toohey's methods are much more subtle than those of the Soviet dictator, and he builds up a formidable power structure without resorting to an outright seizure of power or establishing a secret police apparatus.
Roark and Toohey being the precise antithesis of each other is emphasized by a similarity in the way that Roark's buildings are first introduced in the book ("They were the first houses built by the first man born, who had never heard of others building before him") and the way that Toohey's public speaking is introduced ("The voice spoke English words, but the resonant clarity of each syllable made it sound like a new languge spoken for the first time"). Toohey in fact very much wants Roark's recognition, claiming in effect that his pereception of the signficance of Roark's work and than destroying it makes him the equal of its creator - a claim which Roark rebuffs in their only face-to-face encounter in the entire book: "Why don't you tell me what you think of me, Mr. Roark?" - "But I don't think of you".

Main themes

Architectural theme

Besides dedicating The Fountainhead to her husband, Frank O'Connor, Rand dedicated it to architecture. She chose architecture for the analogy it offered to her ideas, especially in the context of the ascent of the Modern Movement, the convenient vehicle for portraying her views — that the Ego is supreme, and that individualism and selfishness are virtues to be treasured.
Throughout The Fountainhead, her definitions of "selfishness" and "selflessness" differ from their common denotations. Rather than using "selfish" in describing choosing one's interests over and against the welfare of others, she described an act as "selfish" if it remained true to one's ideals against the influence of history and society. "Selflessness" is the concept of losing one's self, not merely acting without regard for one's self or in the interest of others, but as being unable to determine and form one's desires and opinions without reference to those of others.
Peter Keating and Howard Roark are antithetical. Keating practices in the historical eclectic and neo-classic mould, even when the building's typology is a skyscraper, therefore, he follows and pays respect to old traditions. Moreover, he accommodates the changes suggested by others, mirroring the eclectic directions, and willingness to adapt, current at the turn of the twentieth century.
Roark, however, searches for truth and honesty and expresses them in his work. He is uncompromising when changes are suggested, mirroring Modern architecture's trajectory from dissatisfaction with earlier design trends to emphasising individual creativity. Roark's individuality eulogizes modern architects as uncompromising and heroic masters. Some readers speculate that Roark is an American architect Frank Lloyd Wright; both Rand and Wright denied it.

Literary significance and criticism

Lorine Pruette, a New York Times reviewer wrote that the book was "a hymn in praise of the individual... you will not be able to read this masterful book without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our times."
Benjamin DeCasseres, a columnist for the New York Journal-American wrote of Roark as "an uncompromising individualist" and "one of the most inspiring characters in modern American literature."

Library of Congress dispute

Ayn Rand's heir Leonard Peikoff inherited many of Rand's manuscripts. During her lifetime, Rand had apparently made a comment at one point saying that she would donate her manuscripts to the Library of Congress upon her death, a bequest she later had reservations about.
The Library of Congress requested the manuscripts, and demanded that Peikoff present them to the library. He considered his options, and after a heart attack in July 1991 he decided to turn over the manuscripts. He had his assistant box all of the manuscript pages except for two--the first and last pages of The Fountainhead--which he had framed. In their stead, he had the pages photocopied so that the manuscripts would be "complete." An appraiser went through the manuscripts and notified the Library of Congress about the replacement pages, but the Library of Congress replied that it was of no consequence.
Some years later, Peikoff held an interview in his home with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times, and when asked about the pages (which had been framed and hung on the wall of his office), Peikoff joked about having "stolen" them from the Library of Congress. This apparently went into the article, and not long after that the Library of Congress contacted Peikoff and demanded that he return U. S. Government property.
After consulting with his lawyer, Peikoff determined that there was not much he could do about his situation. While perhaps he had a right to keep the papers and even though they were legally his (his argument is that he had never donated them to the library, so they had never been property of the U. S. Government), and even though he might win a lawsuit against the government, the process would be long and expensive. So he signed a capitulation agreement, but supplied the condition that the Library of Congress must come and retrieve the pages themselves. This retrieval was videotaped by a friend.
Peikoff's personal narrative of the story and video of the manuscript pages' retrieval can be found on his website.

In popular culture

Due to the controversy surrounding the book and the influence the book has because of its popularity, 'The Fountainhead' is often referenced in popular culture. The book often appears in literature to suggest Objectivist-related thought or change within a character, such as with the character Janet in the 1992 motion picture Singles or the character Sawyer in the television series Lost. Other examples of popular culture make plot-references more generally, such as when in the TV series Gilmore Girls, Rory calls Lorelai "the Howard Roark of Stars Hollow", or in the film Dirty Dancing, when waiter Robby Gould suggests Baby read "The Fountainhead" or in the film adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel A Scanner Darkly where Charles Freck chooses to have a copy of the novel on his dead body when committing suicide, in order to make a statement. Most often, however, the Fountainhead appears simply as a reference to the title or a character name, such as the song "The Fountainhead" by The Bluetones, the band The Enright House (named after a house 'Howard Roark' builds for 'Roger Enright'), or in the television series Desperate Housewives, when 'Howard Roark' appears as the name of the architect of a golf pro-shop. In the videogame Bioshock, references to Ayn Rand's ideas abound, and it is possible that the name of one of the characters, "Frank Fontaine", is a reference to "The Fountainhead." Also in the latest iteration of the Pokémon series, Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, one of the boss characters is a red-haired miner named Roark, a deliberate reference to the novel. In one episode of Frasier, Frasier Crane recalls how at the age of 8 a bully snatched his copy of the book and threw it under a bus.

Film adaptation

The 1949 film is based on the book and stars Gary Cooper as Howard Roark, Patricia Neal as Dominique Francon, Raymond Massey as Gail Wynand, and Kent Smith as Peter Keating. The film was directed by King Vidor, with the screenplay written by Ayn Rand. Ayn Rand wrote the entire speech that Howard Roark gives at the end of the film, and demanded that it be read exactly as she wrote it. The director, King Vidor, initially agreed, but when shooting commenced on the scene, Vidor decided to tighten it up a bit. Upon hearing this, Rand called the head of the studio demanding that the whole speech be filmed. Rand won out, and Vidor filmed the entire speech. The scene goes on for nearly six minutes, one of the longest speeches ever in a feature film.
While the movie cropped out major pieces of the story, the general tone and intent was not significantly affected. However, one piece of drama was added. In the film, Gail Wynand killed himself in the last portion of the movie having secured Roark to complete his dream of the Wynand Building. In the book, he does not kill himself. Dominique divorces him, and marries Roark. Gail is not mentioned again. Wynand's suicide in the film was likely because of Vidor needing a final dramatic touch to wrap up the third act.
It should be noted that in the book Wynand does contemplate suicide several times, and that when giving in to the strikers and letting his paper denounce Roark he feels that he had in effect killed himself, even if remaining physically alive; thus, the film's interpretation does not truly stray far from the book.


Further reading

  • Essays on Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead
fountainhead in German: The Fountainhead
fountainhead in Spanish: El manantial
fountainhead in French: La source vive
fountainhead in Hebrew: כמעיין המתגבר
fountainhead in Dutch: The Fountainhead
fountainhead in Swedish: Urkällan

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