The Fountainhead

by Ayn Rand

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Critical Overview

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Critical response to The Fountainhead after it was published in 1952 was decidedly mixed. Readers disagreed about the merit of the philosophy Rand expressed in the novel as well as her characterizations and writing style.

In "Ayn Rand's Neurotic Personalities of Our Times," Paul Deane notes that while "some critics have praised Rand for writing novels of ideas, calling her a thoughtful spokesperson for laissez-faire capitalism, many others have found her work too simplistic and didactic." Positive reviews include Dayana Stetco, who, in her overview of Rand for the Reference Guide to American Literature, claims that the novel is "a celebration of the self—a victory of individualism over collectivism." Chris Sciabarra in his article on Rand for American Writers insists that Rand has clearly and persuasively presented complex ideas" in the novel. Lorine Pruette's review for the New York Times Book Review commented that this "novel of ideas," unusual for a female author, revealed Rand to be "a writer of great power" with "a subtle and ingenious mind." Pruette favorably compared the novel to Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain and Henrik Ibsen's The Master Builder. Her review, however, criticized the stance Rand took on the incompatibility of self interest and altruism.

Some reviewers find the characters in the novel to be merely mouthpieces for Rand's philosophy. In his article on the author for National Review, Joseph Sobran writes that Rand's "characters, on the page, often seem to be played by mediocre thespians who can't resist making their lines pat and their gestures extravagant." He adds that "every speech seems to hammer home Objectivist doctrine." Philip Gordon, in "The Extroflective Hero: A Look at Ayn Rand," insists that the novel's characters are "psychically stiff heroes" and that the author "presents nothing new with which to penetrate the legitimate and salient deliberation regarding connections of self to others."

Others, however, praise Rand's literary skills. Sciabarra argues that Rand is "in command throughout stylistically and intellectually" and that the novel is "remarkable in its literary style and plot, the complexity and interest of its several memorable characters, the interweaving of her philosophy within the framework of fiction, and its epic scope and grandeur." While N. L. Rothman in the Saturday Review criticizes Rand's negative position on collectivism, he applauds her characterization of Howard Roark. Pruette applauds Rand's "capacity of writing brilliantly, beautifully, bitterly."

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