To Gerald Loeb [Letter 136]

Item Reference Code: 143_LO1_006_001

Date(s) of creation

June 3, 1944


Gerald Loeb


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590 N. Rossmore Avenue
Hollywood, California

June 3, 1944

Dear Mr. Loeb:

Thank you very much for your very interesting letters. Now I have to answer four—and I’m glad that you are understanding enough to excuse my irregular answering habits. I am better this time than last, am I not? Some day I might catch up with myself.

First, about “He and She.” The last version you sent me is a great improvement on the previous one. It is not yet in the right short story form, but much nearer. I think you have grasped the idea of the form now—and you need some practice to master the technique. The main flaw in your story, as it stands now, is that the climax is not strong enough. It does not quite give the story the completeness and finality which a short story requires.

I agree with the notes of your author-friend, which you left on the margin of the script. I notice that he advises the same thing I wrote to you—that you should have longer passages of dialogue, an exchange of lines between characters, not just one line at a time. Your friend is right about the time element in the story. It is quite all right to have flashbacks—but the trouble in your story is that the reader can never be clear about the time at all, he cannot tell when you are speaking of the present and when it is a flashback. You must be very careful about this. You must always make your time sequence clear, make a clear distinction between general narrative and specific events taking place at a specific time.

The best thing in the story is that is sounds real, alive, the characterizations are clever, the observations subtle—and the whole carries a great deal of conviction. True, there are grammatical errors and awkward sentences, but that is not important. That comes merely from your uncertainty in the use of a fictional form. The virtues of the story, however, are important and show that you have writing ability. The rest you will get with practice. If you are getting tired of this story, I would suggest that you let it rest for a while, try another one, and then come back to this one. You cannot really learn except by writing and you cannot do it on one and the same story. If you rewrite it too much, you will go stale. After doing another short story, and maybe two or three, you would come back to this one with a fresh approach and much more assurance—and you will see

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what it needs, much better than if you attempt to practice on it over and over again.

No, I don’t agree with your friend who said that your story reads “like it was written by someone who is an amateur at life.” It does not read like that—but your friend’s remark sounds like the remark of someone who is an amateur at literature. Writing has nothing to do with an author’s personal life or experiences in the direct, factual sense your friend implied. It has to do with an author’s thinking—not with the actual events of his life. A book does reveal the author’s inner self, but not the superficial, accidental circumstances of his existence. You ask, in connection with this friend’s remark, whether the fact that you have never been in love will prevent you from writing about love. Of course not. Writing has nothing to do with factual experience. Only with creative imagination. To be exact, I would say: 10% observation, 90% imagination. If the subject of love is not the one you want to write about—you don’t have to. It is not literature’s exclusive and compulsory subject. If you do want to write about it, you can write without actual experience. Write of it as you imagine it. If you stick to a consistent idea of your own—it will come out real and alive, whether you’ve actually experienced it or not.

Incidentally, someone once said that ninety percent of the people would never have been in love if they hadn’t read about it. I am under the impression that your friends make too much of the fact that you’ve never been in love. Chances are they haven’t been either. What most people call love is anything else but. I would think—this is just surmise—that you haven’t been in love simply because you’re more particular and more honest with yourself than other people.

You ask, is anybody in “The Fountainhead” in love, beside Roark and Dominique. Oh my, yes. You ask, are Roark and Dominique in love. Most definitely. THAT is real love—it is not just physical, the physical is only the expression of the spiritual, or it could never have that much force and violence. Who else is in love? Why, Wynand is truly in love with Dominique. But above all, and greater, I think, than any other emotion in the book, is Wynand’s love for Roark. Wynand is in love with Roark—in every way except the physical. It is not a homosexual feeling—but it is love in the romantic sense and in the highest sense. Not just affection or admiration. As to Keating—no, he didn’t love anybody. Catherine is the nearest he ever came to it—but even then it wasn’t much, because—being actually selfless—he was not capable of any real and complete emotion.

You ask, what is Roark’s attitude toward women. Apart

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from Dominique “is he cold and virginal otherwise”? Yes, he is. Most cold and totally virginal. Because he is too highly sexed. Just as Dominique is. The highly sexed person is extremely selective. He, or she, can respond only to a special and great attraction. The lesser ones will have no effect on him. It is a mistake to think that the promiscuous person is the highly sexed one. Quite the contrary. It is the person of a sexually lower order who will respond to anything and anybody. It is the same difference as between a gourmet and a glutton. Which one of the two has the higher sense of food?

I am a little shocked at your supposing that Roark would “indulge commercially.” How could he? His whole nature is in the fact that he has a tremendous reverence for himself. That means—for anything pertaining to his life, actions and personality. And since sex is a most personal, most important matter, how could he degrade himself with a woman he despised? He would consider it a degradation. It is Keating and Toohey, in the book, who were cheap and promiscuous about their love lives. Incidentally, so it is in real life too. A person betrays his own valuation of himself in his attitude on sex. If the attitude is cheap and sloppy, the person has no real self-respect, whether he knows it or not. He usually does know it. As to Roark, I can imagine him having other mistresses, beside Dominique, but they would have to be very high types of women and his relation to them would never be casual. Since he could not find many such women, he simply didn’t care—and didn’t have time to care.

Your next question is: what picture did I re-dialogue? It was “The Conspirators.” But I did it for Hal Wallis—and he has left Warners—and another producer has taken the picture over, and changed everything in it, including the title. So I don’t think there will be much of mine left in it. Please don’t go to see it. I’d hate to have you accuse me of somebody else’s mess.

Now THIS is your $64 question: “What the idea for your next novel? A best seller? Or a propaganda story to please you?” Are you baiting me or is this serious? Do you really think anyone can sit down and say: “Now I’m going to write a best seller?” Why, of course it’s going to be “a propaganda story to please me.” Just like “The Fountainhead.” And if it becomes a best seller—that is what will make it sell—that it pleased me.

I mean this seriously and literally. NOBODY ON EARTH CAN WRITE DOWN. Unless a book pleases its author—it will not please anyone. If it pleases its author—that is no guarrantee that it will sell. But if its author has written it down, to make money—that is a sure

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guarrantee that it will not sell at all. Don’t pay any attention to and don’t believe the people who tell you that they despise their own works, that they write “just for money.” Such people are successful with trash—because that is the true level of their own minds. They don’t write down—they write on their real level. To be exact, actual trash is never successful, even commercially. There are many awful writers that are successful—but that is because they do well the job they choose, that of popular writing. Even pulp stuff has to be good on its own terms and requires its own skill. This cannot be simulated. The writer has to be on the level of his writing. Some authors have a gift in both fields—for serious books and for popular fiction. In such cases, their popular fiction is not trash. They write it because they like it, and they do it well. But any writer who attempts to “go popular” always fails, always has failed and always will fail. There have been good, serious writers of a high literary style, who tried and couldn’t write an acceptable Liberty Magazine serial, while much lesser writers could and did. This is simply because no man can sink beneath himself. It is really easier to surpass oneself than to degrade oneself. A man can make an effort up—to improve himself—but God help the man who makes an effort down. The conception of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps is more logical and feasible than the vicious popular fallacy that a man of talent can make himself sink below his own shoe-soles—that is, disregard his talent, his taste, his judgment, his literary standards, and write down to “the public” for financial reward.

Of anything I may tell you, which you might find of value—this is the most important: DO NOT SET OUT TO WRITE WITH YOUR EYES ON THE BOX OFFICE. IT CAN’T BE DONE.

You must write that which you consider good, to the best of your judgment, taste and ability. There is no other rule or standard to go by. If you commit the above popular error—it is a fatal error and your writing effort will be doomed in advance.

Above any minor technical advice which I might give you, I should like to straighten out your general approach to writing—which, I think, is terribly wrong, as indicated in many of the questions you ask. The above is one of them. I shall come to several others later. You seem to represent a peculiar combination: when you write a story, your approach is honest, direct and fresh, you write what you see and think, as you see it and as you think it—and therefore it is good. When you discuss writing in general, you seem to labor under several popular delusions, which are not your own, but something your heard. You must think these general questions over for yourself—and get rid of the popular misconceptions as quickly as you can. It would

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be no use to master grammar, style, plot construction, etc., while you’re laboring on erroneous and confused premises. That would be like attempting to build a motor car without any knowledge or understanding of the laws of physics. You must have a clear conception of what writing is, in essence and in principle, before you attempt to write. And of all the things which writing isn’t, box-office-chasing is the foremost.

To come back to your questions, in the order received, I never thought of any sales when I wrote “The Fountainhead”—and I was told by an awful lot of so-called experts that it would not sell. Well, I knew it would—but I didn’t aim at sales, I didn’t give it any thought beyond the general thought that if I made it a good book it would have a chance to sell. I did not think of any box office rules, nor popular trends, nor public taste, nor Gallup plls of any nature whatsoever. I don’t suppose you realize how many established rules of the literary market-place I blasted to hell in that book; how many popular notions I ignored or reversed. Well, it sold—didn’t it? So I’m the last person on earth to whom anybody should say that writing according to one’s own conscience and standards is the opposite of commercial success. Or, as the populace puts it, “idealism is not practical.” I say—nothing is practical, except idealism. I could write you volumes to expound this particular point, but I suppose you understand. This idea that “idealism” and “practicality” are opposites is another vicious popular fallacy—and not only in the field of literature. It shows merely that those who say it do not really know what makes things work in practical reality—and do not know what constitutes idealism.

What is the idea of my next novel? I cannot tell you in a few words, this letter is too long as it is, but I can tell you that its general theme will still be the Individual against the Collective. Propaganda? Sure, if you want to call it that. Just to please me? Sure. Just that.

You asked me why “The Fountainhead” is a best seller. Do you want my sincere answer? Because there are more people of intelligence and good taste in the United States than I expected to find. I don’t think of it as “I have lived up to the public.” I think: “The public has lived up to me.”

Now to your second letter. Here is your second dangerous popular fallacy about writing. You say that a friend discouraged you about “He and She,” by making you realize that you wrote of events which had not actually happened. If I understood your point correctly. Don’t ever, ever think that you must write only of things which literally happened, and that if you do, your writing

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will be good. THIS is the foremost sign of the amateur. If you tell an amateur that his story is not good, he always declares indignantly: “Oh, but it really happened just like this!” The writer who doesn’t understand that this is beside the point is not a writer at all. It is ENTIRELY beside the point whether you copied the incidents of “He and She” from reality or invented them. Neither proves anything and neither has any relation to the value of your story. What matters is only how well you have presented the material and to what degree you have made it convincing on its own terms—not where you got it from. A story has to create and carry its own truth—not truth to actual facts. There is a tremendous difference here, which you must grasp thoroughly if you want to write fiction. It is the difference between literature and journalism, writing and reporting. Or—the difference between painting and photography.

There is a story told about Michelangelo which illustrates this beautifully: on one of his statues (that of David, I believe) he made a muscle which never existed on a real human body; when he was told that nature never created such a muscle, he answered that nature should have. That is the true artist.

In this connection, I want to mention a point out of your first letter. You said that some people told you that much of “The Fountainhead” couldn’t happen. Tell them for me that it happened in “The Fountainhead”—and if they don’t know what I mean, they have no business reading books at all. They don’t know the difference between a book and yesterday’s two-cent tabloid.

Now to your third letter. Your third popular fallacy is your submitting “He and She” to a psychiatrist for literary criticism. I was sort of aghast at this. I cannot imagine what made you do it—unless it is the popular delusion that psychiatrists understand human nature, and so should writers, and one can help the other. In the first place, psychiatrists don’t understand human nature. In the second place, if they did, on their own terms and methods it would be an understanding totally different from that of a writer. The approach is different, the basic premise is different—and the mixture of the two fields is totally fantastic. If you do not believe me, just look again at the advice this psychiatrist gave you—as you list it in your letter. I can say nothing about it, except that it was total nonsense. All of it. My opinion, on every point you listed, is the exact opposite of what he said.

Next time someone tells you about a character in your story that “Women do not do such things,”—just answer: “This one does.” That’s all there is to it.

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No, I don’t think that you should go to a school of journalism. Certainly not if your aim is fiction writing. If you had a literary school in mind, even than I wouldn’t know whether it would be wise. You might find it of some help—not in learning how to write, but in stimulating your interest in writing, and in judgment upon the writing of others, in general appreciation. If you feel you need that. You might try such a school, see if it’s interesting. But I wouldn’t give it too much time. Personally, I don’t believe in such schools. I never heard of a good one nor of any writer whom it had helped. I don’t believe that writing can be taught. The method I would recommend, and the one by which I learned is this: whenever you read any book or story, analyze it and ask yourself what makes it work. If you read a good passage which you enjoy—ask yourself what precisely makes it good, what is the technique used, how was the effect achieved. It is never accidental. If you read a bad passage, ask yourself what is the mistake, what makes it bad. Then, of course, don’t ever copy what you find good, don’t imitate—only learn the principle and apply it in your own way.

Now—to the subject of the novel you are contemplating. Before I come to my opinion of the theme you describe, let me answer your general questions about it. You say: “I want (maybe mistakenly) something that will be popular and can make a picture.” I have already explained, above, why I think that to want this is to want very, very “mistakenly.” Nobody knows what will or will not be popular. Look at the percentage of failures and mistakes in this respect among publishers who’ve spent their lives trying to guess “popularity.” Look at any best-seller list and see what contradictory things are popular. People like a certain book—and the same people like its exact opposite. Actually, there is no such thing as a set popular taste. It’s another delusion. Apart from the fact that it is morally bad to aim at “popular taste” and technically not feasible for any writer—it is simply and totally impossible, as a matter of practical reality. Just as impossible as the “sure fire systems” of race-horse or roulette gamblers. It’s the people with “systems” that loose the most money.

But I want to stop for a moment here and ask you: why do you want to write a book which must be a best-seller? I think it’s important that you answer that question to yourself. It will clarify your whole attitude toward writing. Certainly, you don’t want it in order to make money. If money is your only objective, why learn a new trade when you have been so successful at your present one? Let me try here to think for you—I hope you won’t consider this presumptuous, since you ask my sincere and serious advice. Obviously, it is not the money from a best-seller or from movie rights that you want. And it is not fame, in

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the sense of seeing your name in the papers or signing autographs among the cafe society. You are not that type of man—and I don’t think you would even enjoy that. And it is not prestige—you have prestige, of a more solid kind than that of best-selling authors. And it is not the desire to be “successful”, in the vulgar sense of the failures who want to justify themselves and convince themselves of their own value—through popular acclaim. You are successful, in the best sense of the word, you made your own way in a very difficult profession. You don’t need to convince yourself of your own ability and competence as a human being—you have convinced yourself, you have objective proof of that. Well, all the above are the usual reasons that make people want to write best-sellers—and none of these reasons apply to you. Now let me tell you what I think is your reason—I would be very much interested to know whether I guessed right.

You want to write because you feel attracted to that form of expression, because you have writing ability and many things you’d like to express. But—being a competent man, devoted to the idea of competence and contemptuous of inefficiency—you want to make sure that you do a good job in anything you undertake. And you got the idea that competence in writing is to be gaged by financial returns. That the only standard by which you can learn whether you’ve done a good job is in the best-seller lists and in the movie rights. Actually, you want success, in the real and proper sense of the word, the success of a competent workman—but the standard by which you propose to judge such success is the standard of the fakes and the phonies.

Now, to go a step further. I think I know the reason which led you to this mistake. The reason makes the mistake understandable and excusable. Your profession—Wall Street—is the only one in which making money is a proper primary goal, in which it is legitimate and honest and right to set one’s standards by the aim of making money. Because—that is the proper primary purpose of a stock exchange—to make money through exchange. Secondarily, this exchange provides the life blood of industry, helps to develop it, finds backers for new ventures—etc. But—this is the important point—only secondarily. By the very nature of the activity, stock brokers and investors deal in stocks in order to make money. Not in order to develop industries. If you went into Wall Street for the purpose of, say, building up the stock of Chrysler as against the stock of Ford, you would fail. Chrysler, on the other hand, if he engaged in stock market activities as a manufacturer, for the purpose of building up his company—would have to be successful in that—not successful in mere exchange. His primary purpose would be his company.

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Yours—the activity of exchange. Now, don’t make the mistake here of saying: ah, but the overall aim of any activity and any profession is to make money. It might be and it might not be. That is irrelevant. The point is that when you choose any activity, you must act according to the nature and terms of that activity—if you want to succeed. Chrysler’s aim might be to make money. But since he has chosen to make it through the activity of an automobile manufacturer—his first concern, within that activity, must be the one proper to it. What? TO MAKE GOOD AUTOMOBILES.

Do you see what I am driving at? The most greedy industrialist would not succeed if he told himself in effect: “People like lousy cars, let’s figure out what sort of lousiness appeals to them and then let’s manufacture it.” He must tell himself constantly that his primary job is to make good cars. Everything else—exploitation, advertising, any kind of clever sales campaigns—is secondary. The first thing is to have a good product. Sure, fakers have succeeded in selling water as patent-medicine. But this is not the proper, nor the solid, nor the lasting formula of success. The proper formula is: make a good product, then sell it cleverly. The product comes first, the financial rewards second. Even if the money is the manufacturer’s first aim—precisely in order to make it, he cannot place money first.

How does he decide what is good? By his own standards, knowledge and judgment. He might take into consideration what the public seems to like. But he would be insane to follow public taste, if he knew that the public is mistaken or foolish in its preference. He would not manufacture a car he thought to be crazy, if at the moment there existed a public fad for it. Now, in material things, such as industry, an objective common standard of what is good can be reached—approximately. (And even then—never without a long struggle. Just think what a battle it was to convince people that the automobile or the airplane or the movies were a good, sound invention.) Still, in material things, true worth is demonstrable. A car is good if it runs well. In the field of art—this cannot be done. There are no obvious standards. Oh yes, there are objective standards, too—but not obvious and not immediately nor easily perceived by all. Here, public taste is no criterion at all. Not one way or the other. If a book sells—it does not prove that it is good. Nor that it is bad. It proves exactly nothing—as far as the actual, intrinsic merit of the book is concerned.

But that, too, was only a side explanation. The main point is that both the industrialist and the artist have to place the quality of their product first. The financial reward is only the consequence. BUT, to come

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back to Wall Street, the stock market is the ONLY activity in which financial rewards are the first, direct, immediate and proper consideration. I say this not as reproach or criticism, but quite the contrary. A good stock broker must, to be practical, think only of that which will make money. This is his function—and the direct, complete test of whether he has succeeded or not. He would be foolish if he decided to plug pink securities with gold edges, in preference to blue securities with silver edges—for artistic reasons. That is not his function. Buying and selling securities that will make money—is.

Now, to embark upon a writing career and to be guided by the idea that money comes first and financial reward is the test of success—is foolish, because it is contrary to the nature of writing as a profession. The nature of it is to write good books. There are no common, popular standards of what makes a good book. You, the writer, must set the standards. You have no other choice. You might make money at it and you might not. What difference does this make to you? You want real success, not money to live on. Real success is not, cannot, never has and never will be determined by money in the field of literature. WRITE THAT WHICH YOU THINK IS GOOD. If, by your own honest standards, you find your writing good—you are a success. The rest is secondary and incidental.

I didn’t intend to write at such length about it, but this subject interests me very much—and I wanted to make it as clear as I could.

Well, now to the theme which you outlined for your novel. I think it is a very interesting theme—and an extremely difficult one to handle. It would require such a subtle handling of psychology and characterization that you would have to be in complete control of your technique before you attempted it. It seems to be an almost impossible undertaking for a first novel. However, if the subject appeals to you and you feel you can handle it—that is the main test. If you think you can do, do it. If you’re not sure of your means, of the technique—then, I would say, try an easier subject first. The idea, as such, is extremely interesting. I even think that it would interest many people (if you care about that)—because sex is surely a subject of interest to all—and the view upon sex of a mature man who is adolescent physically could throw a new light on the whole question. A new angle on an old and general problem is always interesting.

But, as you outline it, I don’t think your theme is finished or completed. You realize this yourself—you

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say that your $64 question is—“how does it end?” Why, certainly not the way you outline it. That is, not on the hopeless despair of the hero—nor on any artificial solution. As you describe the case, it seems to me that you’ve stopped right in the middle of a process. The mental state of the hero—the idea that man is a slave to sex and to nature, that there is an irreconcilable conflict between the mind and the sex urge—is a perfect description of the mental state of an adolescent. Not of a mature man. In the case of your hero—this mental state would be intensified ten fold, because he is developed intellectually, he is an intelligent man in every other way, and an experienced man—but in the matter of sex he is still a youth. That mental state, however, is NOT caused by his particular predicament. Only intensified by it. It is the normal mental state of very many adolescents when they discover sex. Not of all, but of many. The tragedy of your hero is not that he gets into such a state—but that it will take him longer to outgrow it than it would in the case of an actual adolescent. And the most interesting part of the process would be that he can outgrow it while consciously watching his own spiritual growth. And he will outgrow it. He has to. That, too, is a law of nature.

Why is man a slave to sex? Because he needs it so strongly? Well, his need of food is even stronger, and more urgent and more immediate. But nobody thinks of himself as a slave to food. We simply take for granted that we need it—and we are in complete control of the means by which we get it. We keep on inventing new means all the time—we find new pleasures in food—and the whole matter is not tragic at all. In fact, in a normal, modern civilization, to a normal, average man the problem of getting food is no problem at all. Yes, he does need food, he is not free to decide not to eat—but why should he decide that? He is free to satisfy his need in an endless number of ways, he controls his means of production—he is a free man. (I am speaking of a civilized, capitalistic society—not of a collectivist slave pen.) The basic fact about sex—its overpowering necessity—is the same. So the mere fact that man needs it does not make him a slave. Now, of course, his means of satisfaction are not as simple as in the matter of food. But still, he is in control of them. The thing that seems to terrify your hero is the fact that his satisfaction depends upon another human being, upon some woman. There is nothing so dreadful in that. Not if he found the right woman. It can appear terrible to him—only until he does find her. But if he doesn’t—well, as he matures and grasps the subject, he would learn that he can find a second-best substitute. Let’s say, not a wife, but an attractive mistress. It would not be sex at its best and highest—not the perfect union of the spiritual and the physical—but it would not be terrifying

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or degrading or enslaving. That typically adolescent feeling comes, I think, only from physical impatience—a strong physical desire that drives the man to women he despises, for lack of anything better, while his mind naturally objects. Why should his mind object if he found a woman he did not despise?

I don’t know whether you have copied your theme from an actual case or merely imagined it in the abstract. For the purposes of a novel it would not matter which. But, I think, in either case, you stopped half-way. If you have imagined it—starting with the conception of: what would be the fate of such a man if he existed?—you have not followed him far enough. Though he does sound very real indeed as far as you went. If you have taken him from an actual case which you observed—you have caught him in the middle of the process of growing up. This is not the end of your theme or your novel. Such a man would grow up. This would not be his final attitude on sex.

Now, could such a subject be treated in the movies? Of course not. Movies cannot treat of physical sex as such at all. It must always be disguised as love or called love. That is an absolute rule of the Hays office. But this would not prevent a studio from buying the screen rights to such a novel, if it were a good story. They never buy anything for the theme, only for story value. In the case of such a novel, they would not mention—on the screen—that the hero had a physical disability from which he recovered. They would treat it as the story of a mature man who is unhappy in his love for a woman—or for several women. They would simplify the issue to that, make it “respectable”—and use only the plot events of the story, if they liked the plot. Of course, the theme would be a detriment in their eyes. It would count against buying the novel. But they could buy it—if the story were good enough.

What would people think of the author who wrote it? Why, nothing in particular—as far as the subject is concerned. They would not hold it for or against him. They really do not judge authors by choice of subject. Only by how well or how badly he treats it. In this respect, they would think of such an author just as they would think of the author of “Cinderella.” Does he write well or badly? That constitutes the estimate of an author. Not what he writes about. Would people think that this is the story of the author’s private life? Not necessarily. Even if they did, they would ask only that it be an interesting and intelligent story. Their respect for the author would depend on that.

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Well, this covers every point of every letter. I’m afraid I’m a little too conscientious this time. Now, only your last note—about Frank Lloyd Wright. Yes, I know he liked “The Fountainhead”—he wrote me a beautiful letter about it—and it made me very happy. I’m not even sure that he really likes the story or Roark, but he was most enthusiastic about the thesis and the treatment of architecture. His letter was very lovely.

No, I haven’t bought the Storer house—I am thinking of buying it and have consulted his son, Lloyd Wright, about its condition. The trouble is that it requires a small fortune to put it in good repair—the present owners have let it go to pieces. So I’m not sure I’ll be able to buy it. But I love it. It’s a magnificent house.

If this reaches you at Taliesin—please give Mr. Wright my very best regards. Maybe you can tell him—if my letter to him and my book haven’t told him—how much I admire him.

I won’t attempt now any personal news on myself—this letter is really too much—I apologize for it—I really had no time to work on it and make it briefer.

With best regards from both of us,



Loeb responded that she was correct about why he wanted to write a bestseller, but he didn’t agree that financial success is not a measure of literary success or that automakers produce the best cars possible. Success, he wrote, is getting people to buy your product, whether it’s a car or a book.