The Fountainhead polarized critics and received mixed reviews upon its release. The New York Times' review of the novel named Rand "a writer of great power" who writes "brilliantly, beautifully and bitterly," and it stated that she had "written 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 time." 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." Rand sent DeCasseres a letter thanking him for explaining the book's individualistic themes when many other reviewers did not. There were other positive reviews, but Rand dismissed many of them as either not understanding her message or as being from unimportant publications. A number of negative reviews focused on the length of the novel, such as one that called it "a whale of a book" and another that said "anyone who is taken in by it deserves a stern lecture on paper-rationing." Other negative reviews called the characters unsympathetic and Rand's style "offensively pedestrian."
The year 1943 also saw the publication of The God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson and The Discovery of Freedom by Rose Wilder Lane. Rand, Lane and Paterson have been referred to as the founding mothers of the American libertarian movement with the publication of these works. Journalist John Chamberlain, for example, credits these works with his final "conversion" from socialism to what he called "an older American philosophy" of libertarian and conservative ideas.
Responses to the rape scene
One of the most controversial elements of the book is the rape scene between Roark and Dominique. Feminist critics have attacked the scene as representative of an anti-feminist viewpoint in Rand's works that makes women subservient to men. Susan Brownmiller, in her 1975 work Against Our Will, denounced what she called "Rand's philosophy of rape", for portraying women as wanting "humiliation at the hands of a superior man". She called Rand "a traitor to her own sex". Susan Love Brown said the scene presents Rand's view of sex as "an act of sadomasochism and of feminine subordination and passivity". Barbara Grizzuti Harrison suggested women who enjoy such "masochistic fantasies" are "damaged" and have low self-esteem. While Rand scholar Mimi Reisel Gladstein found elements to admire in Rand's female protagonists, she said that readers who have "a raised consciousness about the nature of rape" would disapprove of Rand's "romanticized rapes".
Rand denied that what happened in the scene was actually rape, referring to it as "rape by engraved invitation" because Dominique wanted and "all but invited" the act, citing among other things the conversation after Dominique scratches the marble slab in her bedroom in order to invite Roark to repair it. A true rape, Rand said, would be "a dreadful crime". Defenders of the novel have agreed with this interpretation. In an essay specifically explaining this scene, Andrew Bernstein wrote that although there is much "confusion" about it, the descriptions in the novel provide "conclusive" evidence that "Dominique feels an overwhelming attraction to Roark" and "desires desperately to sleep with" him. Individualist feminist Wendy McElroy said that while Dominique is "thoroughly taken," there is nonetheless "clear indication that Dominique not only consented," but also enjoyed the experience. Both Bernstein and McElroy saw the interpretations of feminists such as Brownmiller as being based in a false understanding of sexuality.
Rand's posthumously published working notes for the novel, which were not known at the time of her debate with feminists, indicate that when she started working on the book in 1936 she conceived of Roark's character that "were it necessary, he could rape her and feel justified."
The Fountainhead has continued to have strong sales throughout the last century into the current one, and has been referenced in a variety of popular entertainment, including movies, television series and other novels. Despite its popularity, it has received relatively little ongoing critical attention. Assessing the novel's legacy, philosopher Douglas Den Uyl described The Fountainhead as relatively neglected compared to her later novel, Atlas Shrugged, and said, "our problem is to find those topics that arise clearly with The Fountainhead and yet do not force us to read it simply through the eyes of Atlas Shrugged."
Among critics who have addressed it, some consider The Fountainhead to be Rand's best novel, such as philosopher Mark Kingwell, who described The Fountainhead as "Rand's best work—which is not to say it is good." A Village Voice columnist has called it "blatantly tendentious" and described it as containing "heavy-breathing hero worship."
The book has a particular appeal to young people, an appeal that led historian James Baker to describe it as "more important than its detractors think, although not as important as Rand fans imagine." Allan Bloom has referred to the novel as being "hardly literature," one having a "sub-Nietzschean assertiveness [that] excites somewhat eccentric youngsters to a new way of life." However, he also writes that when he asks his students which books matter to them, there is always someone influenced by The Fountainhead. Journalist Nora Ephron wrote that she had loved the novel when she was 18 but admitted that she "missed the point," which she suggested is largely subliminal sexual metaphor. Ephron wrote that she decided upon re-reading that "it is better read when one is young enough to miss the point. Otherwise, one cannot help thinking it is a very silly book." Architect David Rockwell said that the film adaptation influenced his interest in architecture and design, and that many architecture students at his university named their dogs Roark as a tribute to the protagonist of the novel and film.
Pop culture references
In the film Dirty Dancing (1987) Baby confronts Robbie to pay for Penny's abortion. Robbie refuses to take responsibility and says "Some people count and some people don't" and then hands Baby a used paperback copy of The Fountainhead saying, "Read it. I think it's a book you'll enjoy, but make sure you return it; I have notes in the margin."
In Episode 7.7 "Mazel Tov, Dummies!" of 30 Rock, Jack reads a passage from The Fountainhead instead of the Bible.
In the film A Scanner Darkly (2006) the character Charles Freck unsuccessfully attempts suicide while wishing to be found dead in his apartment with his body gripping a copy of The Fountainhead. Due to drug-induced incoherence, he illogically believes that such an action will "indict the system and allow his death to achieve something".
In Episode 20.20 "Four Great Women and a Manicure" of The Simpsons, Marge takes Lisa to a salon for her first manicure, prompting a debate as to whether a woman can simultaneously be smart, powerful and beautiful by telling tales to one another. In the final tale, Maggie is depicted as "Maggie Roark," representing Howard Roark from The Fountainhead.
In Season 2 Episode 13 "A-Tisket A-Tasket" of Gilmore Girls, Rory encourages Jess to read The Fountainhead once more, saying that it is classic and that no one could write a forty page monologue the way she (Ayn Rand) could.
In Woody Allen's To Rome with Love, Monica (Ellen Page) talks about her desire to sleep with Howard Roark to impress her friend's boyfriend.
In Season 2, Episode 3 of Elementary, the book was found misplaced at the crime scene where Detective Marcus Bell remarks that "half the college kids in New York have that book". Sherlock Holmes then describes Ayn Rand as "The philosopher-in-chief to the intellectually bankrupt".
In the Frasier episode Frasier's Edge, Dr. Frasier Crane says to his mentor that his interest in psychiatry was sparked the day an older boy threw his copy of The Fountainhead under a bus.
In the film Identity Thief (2013), Sandy Patterson's boss Harold Cornish says to him: "I'll get you a copy of The Fountainhead. Then you’ll see why this is good for everybody." after questioning the hefty bonuses the higher-ups will be receiving.
In Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, planet Fountainhead is the historical homeworld of the Nietzschean people, orbited by Ayn Rand station. In the episode The Banks of the Lethe, Tyr throws a copy of The Fountainhead to Captain Hunt.