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Branden on the Reaction to The Fountainhead

In The Passion of Ayn Rand, Barbara Branden discusses the publication of Ayn Rand's first commercially successful novel, The Fountainhead, and the critical reaction that followed:

The Fountainhead was published in May 1943.

[...]

One of the first reviews called it an interesting book about architecture, and said its message was that we ought to do something about the people in the slums. Another announced that the ideas it presented were selfish and reactionary. Another described Roark as a selfless architect. A socialist reviewer attacked it ferociously. There were many attacks, most of which ignored the ideological content and damned it as dull, badly written, with implausible characters: "Miss Rand can only create gargoyles, not characters." None of the major magazines, with the exception of The Saturday Review, even mentioned its existence. None of the reviewers, including those who praised it, stated the theme of the novel. The one fact -- more than any other -- that Ayn had wanted to public to know, was that this was a book about individualism. For all practical purposes, it was if the press were under censorship; "individualism" seemed to be forbidden, the terrifying word.

There was a storm of objections to the climax of The Fountainhead. In articles, reviews, and discussions, the assumption was often that Roark had dynamited Cortlandt Homes "because somebody changed the look of his building, and he didn't like it, so he blew up the home of the poor." These critics had not read the fine -- or the large -- print. Ayn had mad it clear that the issue involved was breach of contract. The contract for the building guaranteed that it would be erected as it was designed. It was a government project; the government could not be sued or forced to honor its contract without its consent. Roark had no legal recourse by which to undo the butchering of his work.

[...]

There was an exception to the generality of the reviews. On a week day shortly after publication, Archie [Ogden, Rand's editor] telephoned to say he wanted to read Ayn an advance copy of a review by Lorine Pruette which was to appear in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. "I don't want to hear it," Ayn said wearily. "I've had enough." "You'll want to hear this one," Archie told her.

Lorine Pruette wrote: "Ayn Rand is a writer of great power. She has a subtle and ingenious mind and the capacity of writing brilliantly, beautifully, bitterly." The review made explicitly clear that the theme of the book was individualism versus collectivism. "Good novels of ideas," Pruette stated, "are rare at any time. This is the only novel of ideas written by an American woman that I can recall ... You will not be able to read this masterful work without thinking through some of the basic concepts of our times."

"It saved my whole sense of the world at that time," Ayn was to say. "It's the only intelligent major review of a novel I have had in my whole career."

Later reviews, several of which Ayn considered intelligent and perceptive, came in from other cities. But professionally only New York reviews counted, she believed.

From The Passion of Ayn Rand by Barbara Branden, pp. 178-179. Omissions from the text are shown with bracketed ellipses. All other punctuation and spelling is from the original.

Additional keywords: Ann Rand, Anne Rand, Any Rand, Barbara Brandon


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