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The Fountainhead from Notebook to Novel: The Composition of Ayn Rand’s First Ideal Man (Part 2)

Learn about the purposeful editorial principles Ayn Rand applied while writing and revising her manuscript.

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I turn now to a speculation about one important aspect of the characterization: the progressive removal from the novel, and from its hero, of philosophically bad Nietzsche-like elements that Ayn Rand found more and more objectionable and unnecessary in the course of the years she worked on this book. By eliminating from Roark these elements, she refined her characterization of her ideal man. By telling the story of Roark’s triumph — and by living it, as the very writing of the novel constituted a triumph of her own — she eliminated from her own work the last shreds of the Nietzscheanism she rejected. In a sense, Ayn Rand saved Roark from the Nietzsche in him — and Roark may have done the same for her.

Ayn Rand’s ultimate view of Nietzsche, as noted earlier, consisted of an appreciation of his poetic projection of a “magnificent feeling for man’s greatness” — accompanied by negative judgment of his philosophical errors. After being introduced to his writing during her first year of college (by a cousin who said “He has anticipated you. He has said all the things you’re saying”), she read Thus Spake Zarathustra, and went on to read most of the rest of Nietzsche’s work, “everything that was translated in Russian.” Although her reaction to his ideas was mixed (and her admiration was seriously undercut by her disagreement with his commentary, in The Birth of Tragedy from the Spirit of Music, on Apollo and Dionysus), the first books she bought in the United States were English translations of Beyond Good and Evil, Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Anti-Christ. She marked up her new copies to indicate her favorite passages.1

Reading her markings of Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil in the light of The Fountainhead, one notices what seem to be descriptions of the novel’s characters. Here, for example, is Roark: “But at the bottom of our souls, quite ‘down below,’ there is certainly something unteachable, a granite of spiritual fate, of predetermined decision and answer to predetermined, chosen questions. In each cardinal problem there speaks an unchangeable ‘I am this.’”2 Here is Toohey: “For to-day have the petty people become master: they all preach submission and humility and policy and diligence and consideration and the long et cetera of petty virtues.”3 Here is Keating: “a soft, inflated, delicate, movable potter’s form, that must wait for some kind of content and form to ‘shape’ itself thereto — for the most part a man without frame or content, a ‘selfless’ man.”4 Here is Wynand: “There are few pains so grievous as to have seen, divined, or experienced how an exceptional man has missed his way and deteriorated.”5 Here is Dominique: “Not to cleave to any person, be it even the dearest — every person is a prison and also a recess. . . . One must know how to conserve oneself — the best test of independence. . . . ‘Good’ is no longer good when one’s neighbour takes it into his mouth. And how could there be a ‘common good’! The expression contradicts itself; that which can be common is always of small value.”6 And again:

Life is a well of delight; but where the rabble also drink, there all fountains are poisoned.

And many a one who hath turned away from life, hath only turned away from the rabble: he hated to share with them fountain, flame, and fruit.7

A reader steeped in Nietzsche might well guess, even without Nietzschean epigraphs, that the author of The Fountainhead was familiar with Nietzsche.

Earlier in the present essay, I quoted the passages Ayn Rand had intended to place at the beginning of each part of The Fountainhead, as well as the passage that stood at the head of her manuscript; she removed them all. My subject now is not the explicit citations of Nietzsche, but the hints of his language and ideas, hints that are relevant to one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel’s composition: the differences between her first and final visions of Roark. I will deal, selectively, with several of these differences.

The first major area pertains to the relationship of the hero to the world outside himself: a noble soul, born to lead, superior to all others, spiritually isolated from a world entirely different from him and entirely hostile to him. Ayn Rand marked the following passage in her copy of Beyond Good and Evil:

I submit that egoism belongs to the essence of a noble soul, I mean the unalterable belief that to a being such as “we,” other beings must naturally be in subjection, and have to sacrifice themselves. The noble soul accepts the fact of his egoism without question, and also without consciousness of harshness, constraint, or arbitrariness therein, but rather as something that may have its basis in the primary law of things: — if he sought a designation for it he would say: “It is justice itself.”8

She marked, additionally, a passage stating that a society of “a good and healthy aristocracy” must serve as “a foundation and scaffolding, by means of which a select class of beings may be able to elevate themselves to their higher duties, and in general to a higher existence,” while the others are “reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments.”9 She marked a passage in Zarathustra pointing to the invulnerable, changeless will: “Yea, something invulnerable, unburiable is with me, something that would rend rocks asunder: it is called my Will. Silently doth it proceed, and unchanged throughout the years.”10 The noble soul is resented by all others:

Even when thou art gentle toward them, they still feel themselves despised by thee; and they repay thy beneficence with secret maleficence.

Thy silent pride is always counter to their taste; they rejoice if once thou be humble enough to be frivolous.11

And when I lived with them, then did I live above them. Therefore did they take a dislike to me. For men are not equal: so speaketh justice.12

The noble soul, therefore, is eternally separate:

— at present it belongs to the conception of “greatness” to be noble, to wish to be apart, to be capable of being different, to stand alone, to have to live by personal initiative; and the philosopher will betray something of his own ideal when he asserts: “He shall be the greatest who can be the most solitary, the most concealed, the most divergent, the man beyond good and evil, the master of his virtues, and of superabundance of will; precisely this shall be called greatness; as diversified as can be entire, as ample as can be full.”13

She marked passages in Beyond Good and Evil concerning the “will to power,” and she underlined the following in Zarathustra: “and a right which thou canst seize upon, shalt thou not allow to be given thee!”14

Her initial image of Roark, in the notebook, has strong parallels with the marked passages in Nietzsche. From her notes of February 9, 1936:

He has learned long ago, with his first consciousness, two things which dominate his entire attitude toward life: his own superiority and the utter worthlessness of the world. . . . Being thoroughly a ‘reason unto himself,’ he does not long for others of his kind, for companionship and understanding. . . . And being a warrior above all, he does not even consider himself a warrior. . . . The world becomes merely a place to act in. But not to feel in. The feeling — all the field of emotions — is in his hand alone . . . born without the ability to consider others. . . . He has a tremendous, unshatterable conviction that he can and will force men to accept him, not beg and cheat them into it. He will take the place he wants, not receive it from others. . . . Other people do not interest him. He recognizes only the right of exceptions (and by that he means and knows only himself) to create, and order, and command. The others are to bow.15

Note that this man deals with other men by “force,” that he “will take the place he wants.” Although it is unlikely that she has in mind physical force, she does not appear to have in mind any sort of rational persuasion, either. To act without considering others, as he is described as doing, amounts to refusing to seek any personal values from others. The distinction between himself and all others is absolute — and its basis is innate.

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Ayn Rand’s earlier writing had contained similar statements. Kira’s Viking, dedicated to “a life that is a reason unto itself,” is a benevolent expression of the will to power.16 In an entry in her first philosophical notebook (May 16, 1934), she commented that liberal democracies are at fault for “giving full rights to quantity (majorities), they forget the rights of quality, which are much higher rights. Prove that differences of quality not only do exist inexorably, but also should exist. The next step — democracy of superiors only.”17 The clearest indication of Nietzsche-like elements in writing published during her lifetime was Bjorn Faulkner of Night of January 16th: “young, tall, with an arrogant smile, with kingdoms and nations in the palm of one hand — and a whip in the other.”18 Siegurd Jungquist, Faulkner’s devoted bookkeeper, acknowledges his role as “instrument” of a higher man: “Herr Lawyer, when little people like you and me meet a man like Bjorn Faulkner, we take our hats off and we bow, and sometimes we take orders; but we don’t ask questions.”19

Even in the final text of the novel, there are some traces of this view of the hero. Consider the description of Roark’s isolation in Stanton. The world resents the noble man: “People turned to look at Howard Roark as he passed. Some remained staring after him with sudden resentment. They could give no reason for it: it was an instinct his presence awakened in most people” (16–17).20 He is alone: “He had not made or sought a single friend on the campus” (25). He is isolated not only in Stanton, but in general: “He was usually disliked, from the first sight of his face, anywhere he went. His face was closed like the door of a safety vault; things locked in safely vaults are valuable; men did not care to feel that” (61–62). Henry Cameron explains the resentment for the noble soul as hatred for “any man who loves his work.” Cameron to Roark: “Do you ever look at the people in the street? Aren’t you afraid of them? I am. They move past you and they wear hats and they carry bundles. But that’s not the substance of them. The substance of them is hatred for any man who loves his work. That’s the only kind they fear. I don’t know why” (63–64). Roark himself, at one point, thinks of the world — writ large or writ small — as his enemy: “It was a race he was running now, a race between his rent money and . . . he did not know the name of the other contestant. Perhaps it was every man whom he passed on the street” (175). In his pain, he considers (then rejects) the possibility that he has no chance:

He passed by buildings under construction. He stopped to look at the steel cages, he felt at times as if the beams and girders were shaping themselves not into a house, but into a barricade to stop him; and the few steps on the sidewalk that separated him from the wooden fence enclosing the construction were the steps he would never be able to take. It was pain, but it was a blunted, unpenetrating pain. It’s true, he would tell himself; it’s not, his body would answer, the strange, untouchable healthiness of his body. (175–76)

The manuscript has even more about his awareness that others resent and fear him for what he is, for what they see in his face (I, 333).

Dominique, in the final text, expresses a similar belief that the exceptional is feared, hated, imperiled.

She had always hated the streets of a city. She saw the faces streaming past her, the faces made alike by fear — fear as a common denominator, fear of themselves, fear of all and of one another, fear making them ready to pounce upon whatever was held sacred by any single one they met. . . . She had liked facing them in the streets, she had liked the impotence of their hatred, because she offered them nothing to be hurt. (242)

Hence, she deplores the exposure of the Enright House to a world unworthy of it.

A man who can conceive a thing as beautiful as this should never allow it to be erected. He should not want it to exist. But he will let it be built, so that women will hang out diapers on his terraces, so that men will spit on his stairways and draw dirty pictures on his walls. He’s given it to them and he’s made it part of them, part of everything. He shouldn’t have offered it for men like you [Toohey] to look at. For men like you to talk about. He’s defiled his own work by the first word you’ll utter about it. . . . A man who knows what he must have known to produce this should not have been able to remain alive. (244)

She is, of course, similarly afraid of the exposure of Roark himself to a world unworthy of him.

As readers of the novel, we know that the full story proves Dominique mistaken: the Nietzsche in her, so to speak, was wrong. But an examination of the notebook and the early chapters of the novel shows that, at some stage of composition, the Nietzsche-elements were present in Ayn Rand and in Roark.

But even in the passages I have quoted, there is a significant difference: the noble soul is the man who loves his work — an identification Nietzsche does not make. Roark, moreover, is progressively described as less Nietzsche-like regarding isolation. Whereas Nietzsche believed that the noble soul did not seek others of his kind, Roark is described as actively seeking his kind of face, his kind of person. Hence he is capable of friendship with Mike Donnigan, described as follows in the final text:

He worshipped expertness of any kind. He loved his work passionately and had no tolerance for anything save for other single-track devotions. He was a master in his own field and he felt no sympathy except for mastery. His view of the world was simple: there were the able and there were the incompetent; he was not concerned with the latter. (93)

The characterization of Roark in the later chapters of the novel soundly repudiates the Nietzsche-elements cited above. The view of the world as enemy is ascribed not to Roark, but to other characters — Cameron, Mallory, Dominique, Wynand — all of whom learn from Roark’s example and his triumph. The image of the leader to whom others bow, the exponent and practitioner of the will to power, is matched with Wynand — and his life demonstrates the hollowness of that image. Hence Roark is not the enemy of the world. He is not the Nietzschean noble soul, entirely separated from the lesser people, who are mere instruments. His purpose is not to inspire others, but he does so, from the staff who “loved him” as an act of loyalty not “to him, but to the best within themselves” (309) to the Monadnock draftsmen, for whom the work was “the highest experience in the life of every man who took part in it” (508). At his trial, his face and his words evoke a response from the people in the courtroom — whose “faces stood out, separate, lonely, no two alike” (674), each of whom has “known a different sense of living” (675), each of whom, seeing Roark, grasps “the manner of his consciousness” and is thus “free enough to feel benevolence for every other man in the room” (677). He is, as always, independent, but he is not universally hated, or feared, or alone.

'Roark is not the enemy of the world. He is not the Nietzschean noble soul, entirely separated from the lesser people, who are mere instruments.' Click To Tweet

I turn now to a particular aspect of the hero’s relationship to the world: his romantic encounters. In the passages marked by Ayn Rand, Nietzsche emphasizes man’s domination of woman. For example:

The happiness of man is, “I will.” The happiness of woman is, “He will.”

“Thou goest to women? Do not forget thy whip!”21

Nietzsche does not, in any of the passages she marked, treat sexual love as an expression of love: it is entirely an expression of power.

The Roark of the notebook is described, in the entry of February 9, 1936, in terms that recall this Nietzschean treatment of male-female relations:

Until his meeting with Dominique, he has had affairs with women, perfectly cold, emotionless affairs, without the slightest pretense at love. Merely satisfying a physical need and recognized by his mistresses as such.


Even his great and only love—Dominique Wynand—is . . . merely the pride of a possessor. . . . It is primarily a feeling of wanting her and getting her, without great concern for the question of whether she wants it. Were it necessary, he could rape her and feel perfectly justified. . . .

Ayn Rand’s earlier writing has passages reminiscent of Nietzsche’s language. The “whip” appears in the first edition of We the Living.22 In Night of January 16th, Karen Andre describes her first meeting with Bjorn Faulkner: “He seemed to take a delight in giving me orders. He acted as if he were cracking a whip over an animal he wanted to break.”23 The whip he implicitly cracks over this woman is analogous to his “whip over the world.” Her description of Faulkner’s attitude to morality and her attitude to Faulkner, also recalls Nietzsche:

FLINT: Now, tell us, didn’t Mr. Faulkner have a clear conception of the difference between right and wrong?

KAREN: Bjorn never thought of things as right or wrong. To him, it was only: you can or you can’t. He always could.

FLINT: And yourself? Didn’t you object to helping him in all those crimes?

KAREN: To me it was only: he wants or he doesn’t.24

In these texts, to be sure, the whip is accompanied by love (as is not the case in Nietzsche). The notebook, however, appears to disavow love (in Roark’s “cold, emotionless affairs”) and to emphasize power and the possibility of rape (in the case of Dominique).

This view, however, begins to disappear even in the manuscript, and is repeatedly contradicted by the final form of the novel. His affairs with Vesta and Heddy, while not described as love, are not cold or emotionless. Nor is Roark indifferent to Dominique’s desire, to “whether she wants it.” It is true that, in the manuscript, he is described as wishing to “break” Dominique, and he is surprised by his emotions after his first sexual encounter with her: “It had carried no significance in his mind last night; it had been nothing but the released violence of his body; he knew now that it had been a high point of his spirit” (II, 72). He is portrayed as more “unfinished” in this aspect of his development, as a spiritual work in progress.

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But the novel — especially in the later chapters — emphasizes not only the union of body and spirit, but also the spiritual union of these two people, rather than his power over her. In fact, the text subtly suggests that his power over her includes her power over him: “He defeated her by admitting her power; she could not have the satisfaction of enforcing it” (310). His refusal to have power over her in the sense in which she offers it to him — after her marriage to Peter Keating — is a significant milestone in their relationship. He refers to it later, in a conversation with Gail Wynand:

“Howard, have you ever held power over a single human being?”

“No. And I wouldn’t take it if it were offered to me.”

“I can’t believe that.”

“It was offered to me once, Gail. I refused it.”

Wynand looked at him with curiosity; it was the first time that he heard effort in Roark’s voice.


“I had to.”

“Out of respect for the man?”

“It was a woman.”

“Oh, you damn fool! Out of respect for a woman?’

“Out of respect for myself.” (548)

Wynand will eventually learn exactly who is the damn fool regarding the issue of power. Roark already knows exactly what kind of power he has, and what kind of power he refuses — over a woman or anyone else.

I close this analysis of the hero’s relationship to the outside world with a powerful image characteristic of Nietzsche and relevant to the novel — but differently relevant to different stages of composition. In her copy of Zarathustra, Ayn Rand marked the following passage:

How many things are still possible! So learn to laugh beyond yourselves! Lift up your hearts, ye good dancers, high! Higher! And do not forget the good laughter!

This crown of the laugher, this rose-garland crown: to you my brethren do I cast this crown! Laughing have I consecrated: ye higher men, learn, I pray you — to laugh!25

The phrase “still possible,” of course, was echoed not only in Ayn Rand’s description of the spirit of youth in her “Introduction to the Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition of The Fountainhead,” but, as noted earlier, as a repeated theme for Kira Argounova. Hence, to the extent that Roark’s laughter at the beginning of the novel is related to the Nietzschean laughter, he is, in effect, taking over where Kira left off. But Nietzsche — and Ayn Rand — had more to say about the laughter of the higher men. She wrote on June 25, 1938: “His laughter as the meaning of the earth around him, as its song, as the release of its tension. Triumphant, the complete ecstasy. (See Nietzsche about laughter.)”26 She had copied in her Fountainhead notebook the following passage from Zarathustra:

O my brethren, I heard a laughter which was no human laughter — and now gnaweth a thirst at me, a longing which is never allayed. My longing for that laughter gnaweth at me: oh, how can I still endure to live! And how could I endure to die at present!27

The suggestion of the alien — “no human laughter” — is developed in the notebook through the description of Roark in relation to the world: “The alien. What had been joy in him is now arrogance, what had been strength is now a challenge, what had been freedom is a nameless threat.” The man who laughs on the cliff is the man who is hated on the street.

Laughter in Nietzsche contains elements that pertain to the image of the isolated noble soul, to whom the world is hostile. As we have seen, these elements can be found in the early stages of the characterization of Roark, i.e., in the notebooks and in the early chapters. But in the later parts of the novel, the laughter changes as well. Roark’s laughter is not “no human laughter.” In Mallory’s shack on the site of the Stoddard Temple, in “the ease of complete relaxation,” the “four people who liked being there together” enjoy “the right to their lightness”: “Roark laughed as Dominique had never seen him laugh anywhere else, his mouth loose and young” (336). When Roark “threw back his head and laughed” at the discovery that the Monadnock commission was given to him in an attempt to assure failure, his laughter is dismissive, not defiant — because he does not share Mallory’s shock or his rage (511). Monadnock Valley itself represents laughter triumphant (505). There is no longer need or place for the Nietzsche-like laughter — in the hero’s relation to the outside world.

The second major area in which there are significant differences between the first and final images of the hero pertains to the relationship of her hero to reason, or the mind. The presentation of egoism, in the notebooks, does not initially specify rational egoism. The beginning of the Fountainhead notebooks (December 4, 1935) emphasize the concept of “egoism as a new faith,” loyalty to one’s own distinct values “for certain definite reasons.” A true egoist is “the man who puts his own ‘I,’ his standard of values, above all things, and conquers to live as he pleases, as he chooses, and as he believes.”28 Note that she does not specify the basis for the standard of values, and notice also that she refers to the egoist’s achievement as conquest. She explains that the choices, values, and standards are individual (as opposed to concessions to faith or authority), but does not specify reason.

She herself, to be sure, had always identified reason as a high value. But she did not begin her characterization of Roark by describing him as a thinker. Although reason is implicit in independence — because the independent self is the sovereign consciousness — she did not initially present Roark as pursuing a systematic course of thought. The notebooks do not emphasize his thinking, and the early parts of the novel indicate a Nietzsche-like separation of mind from body — with the mind deemed inferior to the body. For example, from Roark’s memory of months at Snyte’s office:

Some unconscious device of self-preservation had shut off within him the faculty of memory. [crossed out: he was clear and precise during any one moment of these days; but the moment past, nothing was left to recall it.] Whatever happened, he had decided without knowing the moment or seconds of decision, as if his body, not his thought, had resolved it for him; whatever happened was not his nor of him and his mind refused it existence in refusing it the eternity [?] of memory.29

From the same period of his life:

There was no mind. There was only a body walking, joyous, in the sheer urgency of motion. He was conscious only of the swing of his thighs, of the muscles of his stomach pulled tight, of his chest and shoulders relaxed, flung forward, being carried tightly, easily, in a long, smooth flight. He wanted to move. He did not care whether or why or that he did not care. (I, 440)

From the period in which he is waiting for commissions (a period discussed earlier, as a race between his rent money and every man he passed on the street, 175–76), the manuscript has the following:

He looked at the steel cages and his sharpest, his clearest perception was only that he could have done them better. That was real. That alone was real. There were moments, as he stood there, when he wanted to move forward, to stop the first worker in sight, to laugh, to ask him what in hell was the fool nonsense he was doing, to tell him what had to be done. For one instant, this impulse was clear and simple and natural, because he had forgotten everything else, he had forgotten the sidewalk on which he stood, the street, the men on the street and everything all these implied. He remembered, almost in the same instant, and he moved, but not toward the workers; he walked on, leaving the structure behind. He was not angry. Only he wondered why the things which stopped him were clear in his mind, but not to something quiet and secret in him, some hidden thing that had closed itself against them; why they were real to his [crossed out: mind] brain, but not to that thing; why he had accepted them calmly, but the thing would not accept them. And he wondered whether the calm of his acceptance had not come, perhaps, precisely from that one refusal in him, precisely because of that one closed door. (I, 576–77)

At this point in the composition of Roark, Ayn Rand describes a conflict between his mind or brain and the “hidden thing.” In the final text, already quoted, the conflict is expressed as follows: “It was pain, but it was a blunted, unpenetrating pain. It’s true, he would tell himself; it’s not, his body would answer, the strange, untouchable healthiness of his body” (176). Her actual point here, as she would have expressed it in full maturity, is almost certainly the conflict between the explicit and the implicit. But present in the language not only of the manuscript but also the final text, is the implication that the “secret thing” or the “body” is wiser than the mind or than what a man consciously “tells himself.” Nietzsche would have endorsed that implication. But as Ayn Rand moved ahead with her novel and her hero, she rejected any such implication, and instead identified the self, the ego, the “I,” explicitly with the mind — and identified selflessness as the mind’s enemy.

Here are a few examples, all from the parts of the novel written in or after December 1941. Kent Lansing tells Roark: “Integrity is the ability to stand by an idea. That presupposes the ability to think. Thinking is something one doesn’t borrow or pawn” (313). Roark tells Mallory: “Tell me about the things you think” (330). Toohey attacks the mind of his niece, Catherine Halsey, and thus destroys her sense of morality and even her capacity to use language: “Don’t think. Believe. Trust your heart, not your brain. Don’t think. Feel. Believe.” Catherine responds: “I didn’t think of it that way. I mean I always thought that I must think . . . But you’re right, that is, if right is the word I mean, if there is a word” (365). The Banner, at its worst, succeeds by bypassing the mind: “Its enormous headlines, glaring pictures and oversimplified text hit the senses and entered men’s consciousness without any necessity for an intermediary process of reason” (409).

But the most dramatic tributes to the mind — and to the mind in relation to the hero — appear in Part Four. At the beginning of this section, a boy on a bicycle, fresh out of college, “wanted to decide whether life was worth living” (503). He is ominously similar to Wynand, who confronted a similar question at the beginning of Part Three. When we meet him, he is in an environment similar to that in which we found Roark, at the beginning of Part One, and he faces that environment with thoughts similar to Roark’s.

He could not name the thing he wanted of life. He felt it here, in this wild loneliness. But he did not face nature with the joy of a healthy animal — as a proper and final setting; he faced it with the joy of a healthy man — as a challenge: as tools, means and material.

The setting, and even the language, suggests Nietzsche at his best, glorifying the creator. But the boy’s attitude is also close, too close, to Nietzsche’s view of the isolation of the noble soul from a hostile world: “He did not want to despise men; he wanted to love and admire them. But he dreaded the sight of the first house, poolroom and movie poster he would encounter on his way” (504).

He is, as it happens, a student of music — the very subject of the Nietzsche text that most undercut Ayn Rand’s admiration for Nietzsche, the subject Nietzsche treated as an invitation to celebrate the irrational. This boy, by contrast, wants to find “joy and reason and meaning in life” (503). He seeks happiness and achievement. He discovers Monadnock Valley, which is “a symphony played by an inexhaustible imagination, and one could still hear the laughter of the force that had been let loose on them, as if that force had run, unrestrained, challenging itself to be spent, but had never reached its end” (505). But this “music” is not Nietzsche’s music of the irrational: it is, instead, “the discipline of reason — music was mathematics — and architecture was music in stone.” He finds the courage to face a lifetime because the valley is real, and Roark built it. Roark rescues the boy from the (potential) Nietzsche in him — and reason is the means of salvation.

Roark’s mind — specifically his epistemology — protects Monadnock Valley and the crusaders who built it:

not the content of that thought, nor the result, not the vision that had created Monadnock Valley, nor the will that had made it real — but the method of his thought, the rule of its function — the method and the rule which were not like those of the world beyond the hills. (508)

His trial speech emphasizes the mind:

Man cannot survive except through his mind.

But the mind is an attribute of the individual. . . .

The code of the creator is built on the needs of the reasoning mind which allows man to survive. The code of the second-hander is built on the needs of a mind incapable of survival.

Degrees of ability vary, but the basic principle remains the same: the degree of a man’s independence, initiative and personal love for his work determines his talent as a worker and his worth as a man. . . . (679–81)

Nietzsche would never have spoken these words, and Ayn Rand, when she began this novel, did not plan to give these words to Roark. But she found, as she worked, that her subject — first-handedness versus second-handedness — required a tribute to the mind.

As she wrote on an undated page of her notes: “The worst crime of all on earth — to repeat a borrowed opinion. (We can’t all be geniuses, but independence of judgment is involved in any act or comment.)”30 We can’t all be geniuses. We can’t all be what Nietzsche would have called the “higher men.” The moral code of The Fountainhead, accordingly, was not a code restricted to geniuses. It was a morality for all men. But anyone can — and should — choose to use his mind. As Ayn Rand completed her novel, she left no doubt on that score.

Her statement of the novel’s theme, prepared late in the composition, emphasizes the role of the mind:

Basically, life is consciousness; to live means to think; the fundamental process which constitutes life itself is the process of thought; thought is the creator of all values; the practical application of thought is man’s work, his labor, his creative activity — and all labor is a creative activity to some degree. In these two realms — his thought and his labor — Roark is utterly independent of all men. He faces life as if he were the first man born. Nothing stands between the evidence of his senses and the conclusions his mind draws from them. “He is the life-giving principle itself, personified in a man.”31

Did Ayn Rand intend to leave in Roark a few subtle hints of the ideas she had rejected, or did she do so inadvertently? When she wrote the early Roark, was she herself in some sense the early Roark? Did she herself share the experience of seeing her enemy as everyone she met in the street? I hesitate to say that she left anything in the novel that was not her best intention. But the final editing of the novel was rushed: she said that, if she had had time, she would have weighed the possibility of revising to bring in Dominique earlier in Part One, once she had eliminated Vesta Dunning. The novel as we know it is, in a sense, chronologically her earliest published fiction. Although We the Living was originally published in 1936 and Anthem in 1938, she revised them both, in 1959 and 1946 respectively. With a first and final publication date of 1943, The Fountainhead is the oldest of the four, and the only one that she completed in haste.

'The moral code of The Fountainhead, accordingly, was not a code restricted to geniuses. It was a morality for all men. But anyone can — and should — choose to use his mind.' Click To Tweet

This preliminary study of the novel’s composition shows that the Nietzsche-like elements appear prominently in the notebooks, much less so in the manuscript, still less so in the final text, and hardly at all in the sections of the novel written after she signed her contract with Bobbs-Merrill. As she completed and revised her novel, she not only took out the Nietzsche quotations, but also endeavored to eliminate several negative Nietzsche-like elements. Nietzsche implies that there are different moralities for the noble and the others, that the will to power is an expression of strength, that the world is a hostile place for the noble man, that spiritual nobility is innate rather than self-made, that the noble soul has no commerce with reason. All that, Ayn Rand repudiated.

Before she left Russia, Ayn Rand had rejected Nietzsche’s irrationality: in the United States, she did not even purchase a copy of The Birth of Tragedy. But until she created her first ideal man, she had not entirely repudiated the rest of his philosophical errors. When she planned and began writing The Fountainhead, she included and even emphasized several Nietzschean elements: the world’s hostility to Roark, his lack of friends, the opposition between him and the world. But she ultimately changed all of that. The hostility vanished. The friends joined him, and as traders rather than serfs. No longer is any man in the street his enemy, because any man willing to use his own mind is an ally.

Creating the real Roark, residing in his world, she is able to remove any slivers of Nietzscheanism not only from the characterization, but from herself. She knows she can win.

Had she ever doubted it? Not often. “But,” she writes,

there was one evening . . . when I felt so profound an indignation at the state of “things as they are” that it seemed as if I would never regain the energy to move one step farther toward “things as they ought to be.” Frank talked to me for hours, that night. He convinced me of why one cannot give up the world to those one despises. . . . [T]hat night, I told Frank that I would dedicate The Fountainhead to him because he had saved it. (vi–vii)

I surmise that the night of that conversation was on or about June 10, 1940. The dedication page in the manuscript bears that date and reads: “To Frank O’Connor who is less guilty of second-handedness than anyone I have ever met.”

In the fourth section of her novel, which she began writing on July 4, 1942, she describes a similar experience of tenacity, dedication, and joy. Under the direction of Howard Roark, his old draftsmen are building a summer resort at Monadnock Valley. Ayn Rand writes:

the year at Monadnock Valley remained in their minds as the strange time when the earth stopped turning and they lived through twelve months of spring. They did not think of the snow, the frozen clots of earth, wind whistling through the cracks of planking, thin blankets over army cots, stiff fingers stretched over coal stoves in the morning, before a pencil could be held steadily. They remembered only the feeling which is the meaning of spring — one’s answer to the first blades of grass, the first buds on tree branches, the first blue of the sky — the singing answer, not to grass, trees and sky, but to the great sense of beginning, of triumphant progression, of certainty in an achievement that nothing will stop. (508–9)

An achievement nothing could stop, indeed. That honor belongs to the ideal man and to the writer who brought him into being. On the last page of The Fountainhead, he stands at the top of the world, higher than any of Nietzsche’s “higher men.”

'This became Rand's task: to defend her idea of the heroic human spirit not through “the metaphysical original virtue of mankind as such,” but specifically through the presentation of a single human being.' Click To Tweet

But in creating her ideal man, even though she eliminated from him the problematic Nietzsche elements, she was in fact following through on an important insight that she had gained as a result of reading Nietzsche originally. He had saved her, she said, from a philosophical error. Before she read Nietzsche, she had thought that she needed to “defend man as the species,” and that she needed to formulate her protest against determinism by presenting the heroic essence of mankind. “But it’s a very mistaken formulation philosophically. And what Nietzsche made me realize is that it doesn’t have to be collective. In other words, that the species can be vindicated by one man.”32 This became her task: to defend her idea of the heroic human spirit not through “the metaphysical original virtue of mankind as such,” but specifically through the presentation of a single human being. In her fiction, she projects the human ideal through one individual. That is why, in The Fountainhead, the victory of Howard Roark is, as Henry Cameron says, a victory not just for him, “but for something that should win, that moves the world” (133). The ideal man, in himself, vindicates the species. This — whatever else she rejected and repudiated — she learned from Nietzsche.

Howard Roark built skyscrapers. Ayn Rand built Roark.

Reprinted from the English Language edition of Essays on Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” edited by Robert Mayhew and originally published by Lexington Books, an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc., Lanham, MD, USA. Copyright © by the author. Published in the English language by arrangement with Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, reprinting, or on any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group.

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  1. Biographical interviews (Ayn Rand Archives). The Archives also contain copies of the translations she read, with markings by John Ridpath that reproduce her original markings.
  2. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 161.
  3. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 286.
  4. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 127.
  5. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 117.
  6. ietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 47–48.
  7. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 109.
  8. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil,212.
  9. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 198–99.
  10. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 124.
  11. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 69.
  12. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 137.
  13. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, 138.
  14. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 205.
  15. Fountainhead notebooks, Ayn Rand Archives.
  16. The story of Kira’s Viking, cut from the manuscript of We the Living, was published in Peikoff, ed., Early Ayn Rand.
  17. “Philosophical Notebook,” Ayn Rand Archives.
  18. Ayn Rand, Night of January 16th, definitive edition (New York: Plume, 1987), 24.
  19. Rand, Night of January 16th, 80.
  20. In her later writing, Ayn Rand would not have stated, in her own voice, that the resentment was due to an instinct.
  21. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 81.
  22. See my “From Airtight to We the Living: The Drafts of Ayn Rand’s First Novel,” in Essays on Ayn Rand’s We the Living, ed. Robert Mayhew (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington, 2004), 32–33, for a discussion of this scene from We the Living (New York: Macmillan, 1936), 398.
  23. Rand, Night of January 16th, 82.
  24. Rand, Night of January 16th, 99.
  25. Rand, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 295.
  26. “Outlines of The Fountainhead,” Ayn Rand Archives.
  27. Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra, 168.
  28. Fountainhead notebooks, Ayn Rand Archives.
  29. Scene cut from The Fountainhead, 105-23-55A, Ayn Rand Archives.
  30. Fountainhead notebooks, Ayn Rand Archives.
  31. “Theme of ‘Second-Hand Lives,’” in “Synopses of ‘The Fountainhead,’” Ayn Rand Archives.
  32. Biographical interviews (Ayn Rand Archives).
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Shoshana Milgram

Shoshana Milgram, PhD and associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, specializes in narrative fiction and film. Her scholarship includes introductions to Victor Hugo’s novels, a study of Ayn Rand’s life up to 1957, and articles on Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Nabokov, and others.

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