The Fountainhead


Background and development

When Rand first arrived in New York as an immigrant from the Soviet Union in 1926, she was greatly impressed by the Manhattan skyline's towering skyscrapers, which she saw as symbols of freedom, and resolved that she would write about them.[45][46] In 1927, Rand was working as a junior screenwriter for movie producer Cecil B. DeMille when he asked her to write a script for what would become the 1928 film Skyscraper. The original story by Dudley Murphy was about two construction workers working on a skyscraper who are rivals for a woman's love. Rand rewrote it, transforming the rivals into architects. One of them, Howard Kane, was an idealist dedicated to erecting the skyscraper despite enormous obstacles. The film would have ended with Kane standing atop the completed skyscraper. DeMille rejected Rand's script, and the completed film followed Murphy's original idea. Rand's version contained elements she would use in The Fountainhead.[47][48]

In 1928, Rand made notes for a proposed, but never written, novel titled The Little Street.[49] Rand's notes for it contain elements that carried over into her work on The Fountainhead.[50] David Harriman, who edited the notes for the posthumously published Journals of Ayn Rand (1997), described the story's villain as a preliminary version of the character Ellsworth Toohey, and this villain's assassination by the protagonist as prefiguring the attempted assassination of Toohey.[51]

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Rand began The Fountainhead (originally titled Second-Hand Lives) following the completion of her first novel, We the Living, in 1934. That earlier novel was based in part on people and events familiar to Rand; the new novel, on the other hand, focused on the less-familiar world of architecture. She therefore conducted extensive research that included reading many biographies and other books about architecture.[52] She also worked as an unpaid typist in the office of architect Ely Jacques Kahn.[53] Rand began her notes for the new novel in December 1935.[54]

Rand wanted to write a novel that was less overtly political than We the Living, to avoid being viewed as "a 'one-theme' author".[55] As she developed the story, she began to see more political meaning in the novel's ideas about individualism.[56] Rand also planned to introduce the novel's four sections with quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche, whose ideas had influenced her own intellectual development, but she eventually decided that Nietzsche's ideas were too different from hers. She edited the final manuscript to remove the quotes and other allusions to him.[57][58]

Rand's work on The Fountainhead was repeatedly interrupted. In 1937, she took a break from it to write a novella called Anthem. She also completed a stage adaptation of We the Living that ran briefly in 1940.[59] That same year, she became active in politics. She first worked as a volunteer in Wendell Willkie's presidential campaign, and then attempted to form a group for conservative intellectuals.[60] As her royalties from earlier projects ran out, she began doing freelance work as a script reader for movie studios. When Rand finally found a publisher, the novel was only one-third complete.[61]

Publication history

Although she was a previously published novelist and had a successful Broadway play, Rand had difficulty finding a publisher for The Fountainhead. Macmillan Publishing, which had published We the Living, rejected the book after Rand insisted they provide more publicity for her new novel than they had done for the first one.[62] Rand's agent began submitting the book to other publishers; in 1938, Knopf signed a contract to publish the book. When Rand was only a quarter done with the manuscript by October 1940, Knopf canceled her contract.[63] Several other publishers rejected the book. When Rand's agent began to criticize the novel, Rand fired the agent and decided to handle submissions herself.[64] Twelve publishers (including Macmillan and Knopf) rejected the book.[61][65][66]

While Rand was working as a script reader for Paramount Pictures, her boss put her in touch with the Bobbs-Merrill Company. A recently hired editor, Archibald Ogden, liked the book, but two internal reviewers gave conflicting opinions. One said it was a great book that would never sell; the other said it was trash but would sell well. Ogden's boss, Bobbs-Merrill president D.L. Chambers, decided to reject the book. Ogden responded by wiring to the head office, "If this is not the book for you, then I am not the editor for you." His strong stand won Rand the contract on December 10, 1941. She also got a $1,000 advance so she could work full-time to complete the novel by January 1, 1943.[67][68]

Rand worked long hours through 1942 to complete the final two-thirds of her manuscript, which she delivered on December 31, 1942.[68][69] Rand's working title for the book was Second-Hand Lives, but Ogden pointed out that this emphasized the story's villains. Rand offered The Mainspring as an alternative, but this title had been recently used for another book. She then used a thesaurus and found 'fountainhead' as a synonym.[65] The Fountainhead was published on May 7, 1943, with 7,500 copies in the first printing. Initial sales were slow, but they began to rise in late 1943, driven primarily by word of mouth.[70][71] The novel began appearing on bestseller lists in 1944.[72] It reached number six on The New York Times bestseller list in August 1945, over two years after its initial publication.[73] By 1956, the hardcover edition sold over 700,000 copies.[74] The first paperback edition was published by the New American Library in 1952.[75]

A 25th anniversary edition was issued by the New American Library in 1971, including a new introduction by Rand. In 1993, a 50th anniversary edition from Bobbs-Merrill added an afterword by Rand's heir, Leonard Peikoff.[76] The novel has been translated into more than 25 languages.[note 1]

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