The Fountainhead: Meet Cute

The Fountainhead: Meet Cute November 10, 2017


The Fountainhead, part 2, chapter 1

At the end of part 1, Roark went bankrupt and was forced to close his firm. Renouncing the corrupt world of professional architecture, he left New York City to toil in obscurity in a granite quarry in Connecticut. Part 2 begins with him in the quarry, where he’s been breaking rocks for two hot summer months:

He stood on the hot stone in the sun. His face was scorched to bronze. His shirt stuck in long, damp patches to his back.

…The quarry rose about him in flat shelves breaking against one another. It was a world without curves, grass or soil, a simplified world of stone planes, sharp edges and angles. The stone had not been made by patient centuries welding the sediment of winds and tides; it had come from a molten mass cooling slowly at unknown depth; it had been flung, forced out of the earth, and it still held the shape of violence against the violence of the men on its ledges.

Sedimentary rock is for socialists. If you’re a real Objectivist, it’s igneous or nothing.

Roark spends his days drilling into granite, a brutally hard task that demands all his strength. He spends his nights lying in the woods behind the simple shack where he lives, relishing the feeling of exhaustion. It keeps him from having to think about everything he’s lost:

Sometimes, not often, he sat up and did not move for a long time; then he smiled, the slow smile of an executioner watching a victim. He thought of his days going by, of the buildings he could have been doing, should have been doing and, perhaps, never would be doing again. He watched the pain’s unsummoned appearance with a cold, detached curiosity; he said to himself: Well, here it is again. He waited to see how long it would last. It gave him a strange, hard pleasure to watch his fight against it, and he could forget that it was his own suffering; he could smile in contempt, not realizing that he smiled at his own agony.

This is about the closest Roark ever gets to a human emotion. He reacts to his own pain and suffering as distantly and impersonally as if it were happening to someone else. Apparently, it would detract from his manly awesomeness for him to genuinely feel despair or anguish.

What’s absent from Roark’s reaction is any concept of guilt or self-blame. As far as we’re told, he never has a moment of regret or a wish that he had done anything differently. The failure of his business is treated as if it was an act of God, instead of an entirely predictable result of the many, many dubious, inexplicable, or just plain bad business decisions he made. As far as he’s concerned, it’s everyone else’s fault for not immediately giving him the success he deserves on a silver platter – end of story.

Meanwhile, it just so happens that Dominique Francon is spending the summer at her father’s mansion in Connecticut, very near the quarry which he also owns. She spends most of her time luxuriating in solitude, seeing no one, not even the house servants. But one day, she decides to pay a visit to the quarry out of curiosity:

When she came out of the woods to the edge of the great stone bowl, she felt as if she were thrust into an execution chamber filled with scalding steam… The air shimmered below, sparks of fire shot through the granite; she thought the stone was stirring, melting, running in white trickles of lava. Drills and hammers cracked the still weight of the air. It was obscene to see men on the shelves of the furnace. They did not look like workers, they looked like a chain gang serving an unspeakable penance for some unspeakable crime.

While she’s looking out across the scene, she gets a glimpse of Roark. And like the oldest cliche in the book, their eyes meet, and it’s love at first sight:

Her eyes stopped on the orange hair of a man who raised his head and looked at her.

…She saw his mouth and the silent contempt in the shape of his mouth; the planes of his gaunt, hollow cheeks; the cold, pure brilliance of the eyes that had no trace of pity. She knew it was the most beautiful face she would ever see, because it was the abstraction of strength made visible. She felt a convulsion of anger, of protest, of resistance — and of pleasure. He stood looking up at her; it was not a glance, but an act of ownership.

This is something that became much more obvious in Atlas Shrugged: Rand’s instinctive linkage between a person’s essential character and their physical appearance. Like John Galt after him, Howard Roark is described as brutal, contemptuous and pitiless. These are supposed to be his good qualities, the ones that make Objectivist women weak in the knees (not to mention that he’s apparently decided he “owns” a woman the first time he lays eyes on her).

Still, this doesn’t account for why she immediately fixates on him out of all the workers. Somehow I doubt Roark is the only strong, angry-looking man in the quarry. The answer, I suppose, is that they both have the Objectivist Soul and people like that can recognize each other on sight. It’s similar to the way the protagonists in Atlas can tell immediately who’s a trustworthy fellow capitalist from the steadiness of their gaze and the strength of their handshake.

Dominique goes back to the quarry several times in the following days, knowing she’s dangerously infatuated but unable to resist the illicit thrill she gets from doing it:

She went back to the quarry three days later. She stopped over the ledge where he worked and she stood watching him openly. When he raised his head, she did not turn away. Her glance told him she knew the meaning of her action, but did not respect him enough to conceal it. His glance told her only that he had expected her to come. He bent over his drill and went on with his work. She waited. She wanted him to look up. She knew that he knew it. He would not look again.

What is this, Objectivist telepathy? Recognizing each other in a crowd is impressive enough, but Randian characters seem capable of conveying far more information than a mere human, just from a fleeting glimpse of the expression on their faces. Imagine how you could use it in business negotiations:

From the smoldering in her eyes and the firm line of her jaw, I knew she wanted to offer me a 30-year loan term at a variable interest rate of overnight Libor plus 3.25 percent, payable in quarterly installments with no prepayment penalties, with a call option to be redeemed in full at the lender’s discretion.

Several more days pass, and Dominique is unable to resist making another visit. This time, Roark is by the side of the path, and she runs into him before she sees he’s there:

It was strange to see him before her, without the defense and excuse of distance.

He stood looking straight at her. Their understanding was too offensively intimate, because they had never said a word to each other. She destroyed it by speaking to him.

“Why do you always stare at me?” she asked sharply.

… “For the same reason you’ve been staring at me.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“If you didn’t, you’d be much more astonished and much less angry, Miss Francon.”

Dominique says that he doesn’t talk like a lowly laborer, and asks what he used to be. He deflects the question (“Many things”), and she walks away without asking his name.

Believe it or not, this brief encounter is all it takes for both Roark and Dominique to decide they’re obsessed with each other. Neither of them knows anything about the other’s personality, likes or dislikes, but that doesn’t matter in their author’s eyes. A few minutes of staring at each other from a distance over a span of several days is a perfectly sufficient basis for a Randian romance.

And if you had some faint hope for a cuddly-puppies-and-flowers romance, guess again. Even though they don’t actually get together until much later in the book, Roark and Dominique’s relationship begins with a shocking act of violence. It’s the most misogynist scene anywhere in Ayn Rand’s published works, and that’s really saying something. Next week, we’ll start getting into it.

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