The Fountainhead: Bodice-Ripper, Part 2

Corset

The Fountainhead, part 2, chapter 2

[Content note: Descriptions of the aftermath of a sexual assault.]

After completing his rape of Dominique, Roark gets up and goes out – out the way he came, through the window into the garden. He never says a word the entire time, and he leaves without so much as a glance back at her.

She lay still for a long time. Then she moved her tongue in her open mouth. She heard a sound that came from somewhere within her, and it was the dry, short, sickening sound of a sob, but she was not crying, her eyes were held paralyzed, dry and open. The sound became motion, a jolt running down her throat to her stomach. It flung her up, she stood awkwardly, bent over, her forearms pressed to her stomach. She heard the small table by the bed rattling in the darkness, and she looked at it, in empty astonishment that a table should move without reason. Then she understood that she was shaking. She was not frightened; it seemed foolish to shake like that, in short, separate jerks, like soundless hiccoughs.

Bear in mind, these are the reactions Dominique has after Roark has left and she’s alone. If this was a rape fantasy scene, then even if she fought back for the sake of enacting that fantasy, she should let the facade drop once he’s gone. You’d expect her to stretch, sigh with pleasure, luxuriate in the feeling of having her desires satisfyingly fulfilled.

Instead, she behaves exactly like someone who’s just suffered major trauma. She’s sobbing, dry-heaving, violently trembling. She seems numb and disconnected from her own body, as if she were experiencing a dissociative state. And she displays the confused, irrational impulses that are common to people who are in post-traumatic shock:

She thought she must take a bath. The need was unbearable, as if she had felt it for a long time. Nothing mattered, if only she would take a bath. She dragged her feet slowly to the door of her bathroom.

She turned the light on in the bathroom. She saw herself in a tall mirror. She saw the purple bruises left on her body by his mouth… She fell on her knees, clasping the edge of the bathtub. She could not make herself crawl over that edge. Her hands slipped, she lay still on the floor. The tiles were hard and cold under her body. She lay there till morning.

Again, there’s just one line that hints at what Ayn Rand wants us to believe is really going on with this scene. The narration says that Dominique can’t make herself take a bath because “she wanted to keep the feeling of his body, the traces of his body on hers”.

But in the context of her other reactions, this doesn’t feel like a private moment of sinful delight. It feels more like a wave of shame so overpowering it leaves her unable to do anything. Someone who’s just had the best sex of their life isn’t likely to react by crawling into the bathroom, collapsing onto the floor and lying stunned and motionless on the cold, hard tiles all night. It’s more like an “Out, damn spot!” reaction – she feels so dirtied that a bath wouldn’t help.

All in all, this scene reads like a brutally accurate description of the aftermath of a violent rape. There’s nothing, other than the author’s extratextual insistence, to indicate that it’s anything other than what it appears to be.

That makes it all the more disturbing contrasted with the next scene, where Roark awakens in the morning and goes to work with a smile on his lips and a song in his heart:

They had been united in an understanding beyond the violence, beyond the deliberate obscenity of his action; had she meant less to him, he would not have taken her as he did; had he meant less to her, she would not have fought so desperately. The unrepeatable exultation was in knowing that they both understood this.

After reading in such graphic detail how Dominique has been traumatized, it’s revolting to hear Roark musing to himself about how much they both enjoyed it and how he just magically “understood” that she wanted to be taken like this. He never has even a moment of doubt whether the experience was any less pleasurable for her than it was for him.

This is entirely typical for a Randian hero who never experiences hesitation or uncertainty like normal human beings do. However, it’s also typical behavior for a sexual predator who’s convinced himself that he didn’t do anything wrong because his victim “wanted” it. In scenes like this one, the line between the two is very thin indeed.

As the days go by, Dominique’s memory of what happened also seems to grow strangely blurred:

She could accept, thought Dominique, and come to forget in time everything that had happened to her, save one memory: that she had found pleasure in the thing which had happened, that he had known it, and more: that he had known it before he came to her and that he would not have come but for that knowledge.

…She thought, if they knew … those people … that old life and that awed reverence before her person … I’ve been raped … I’ve been raped by some redheaded hoodlum from a stone quarry … I, Dominique Francon … Through the fierce sense of humiliation, the words gave her the same kind of pleasure she had felt in his arms.

What? What “pleasure” did Dominique feel when Roark raped her? There was nothing like this mentioned at the time. It’s as if the narration is describing a totally different scene than the one we just read. After all this time, I haven’t lost my capacity for amazement at how Rand could be oblivious to the clash between what she shows us and what she tells us.

Not surprisingly, Rand’s fans display the same talent for rationalization. Here’s how one of them describes what she took away from this scene, as quoted in an article by Amanda Hess:

“I know that many view it as a rape scene, but I definitely did not see it that way,” says Huynh of the Fountainhead scene. “Yes, there are elements of nonconsensual sex in that scene, but I was aware of Dominique’s feelings towards Roark and to me, she internally agreed to it,” she says.

“Elements” of nonconsensual sex. You know, like the heroine screaming in pain and sinking her teeth into the hero’s flesh and trying to bash his skull in with a lamp. That’s like saying the Jack the Ripper case had elements of murder.

Rand’s fans, like Rand herself, have overlaid the rape scene with their idea of what they want to be there rather than what’s actually there. The idea that a person can “internally” consent to rough sex, even when all their actions are sending the opposite message, is a gross and disturbing moral that can’t help but give aid and comfort to sexual predators, even if Rand herself didn’t mean it that way. If she was upset that her readers didn’t understand this scene, she has no one to blame but herself.

This chapter ends with a brief scene in which Roark gets an unexpected letter, forwarded to him from his last address in New York. It’s from the eccentric oil baron Roger Enright, who says that he wants to talk to Roark about a building, but hasn’t been able to find him. That same day, Roark is on a train heading back to the city. He has a fleeting thought of Dominique, but the idea of her “seemed distant and unimportant”.

When Dominique returns to the quarry a few days later, she realizes to her shock that Roark is gone. She asks the foreman about that “man with very bright orange hair”, only to be told that he quit unexpectedly and left town. She’s relieved, as well she might be, because she’s sure that he’s out of her life for good:

She walked swiftly, easily, in sudden relief. She wondered why she had never noticed that she did not know his name and why she had never asked him. Perhaps because she had known everything she had to know about him from that first glance. She thought, one could not find some nameless worker in the city of New York. She was safe.

What Rand meant by this was “safe from giving in to the temptation of falling in love with him”. But given the context, it’s hard not to read it as “safe from the danger of him becoming violent again”. That’s the only interpretation that would be plausible if this book weren’t about Objectivist telepaths who can read each other’s minds and know what the other person really wants, in spite of anything they might say or do to the contrary.

Amanda Hess’ article closes with an unsurpassable jab:

And for Rand, who was fond of invoking the tautological principle that “A is A,” when is rape not rape?

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