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Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead was published 73 years ago, May 7, 1943. It became a best-seller, and then a classic of 20th century American literature. In 1993, The Atlas Society held a 50th anniversary celebration with talks by founder David Kelley and Stephen Cox, professor of literature at University of California, San Diego.
Cox spoke of the many subtle literary turns in the novel, emphasizing its unity as a complex whole. “The Romantic individualism of The Fountainhead is like DNA; it’s present in every cell, and it controls every cell.”
In “The Code of the Creator,” Kelley explained how the novel conveyed a new, modern moral sense by contrasting that sensibility with three older but still prevalent outlooks. In particular, he stressed the grandeur in Rand’s vision of human achievement:
In the introduction to the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Fountainhead, Rand notes that religion has had a monopoly on the concepts of exaltation, reverence, and worship—concepts that have “the emotional connotations of height, uplift, nobility”—concepts that refer to “the entire emotional realm of man’s dedication to a moral ideal.” Her ambition was to give these concepts a secular and individualistic meaning.
To pick one of many examples from the book, consider her description of the Enright House:
The walls of pale gray limestone looked silver against the sky, with the clean, dulled luster of metal, but a metal that had become a warm, living substance, carved by the most cutting of all instruments—a purposeful human will. It made the house alive in a strange, personal way of its own, so that in the minds of spectators five words ran dimly, without object or clear connection: “. . . in His image and likeness. . .” (308)
As a product of [the book’s hero, Howard] Roark’s effort, the building partakes of the qualities of its creator: it is a distillation of Roark’s life, his will, his mind. Invoking the phrase “in His image and likeness” from the book of Genesis, Rand invests the human act of creation with the awesome grandeur and power of God’s act of creating the world.
The essays by Kelley and Cox are available online:
Stephen Cox, “The Literary Achievement of The Fountainhead”
David Kelley, “The Code of the Creator.”
Both are included in The Literary Art of Ayn Rand, along with other articles that shed new light on the depth and complexity of Rand's profound, inspiring, and gripping novels.