November 14, 1948
Dear Mr. Carr:
I was deeply touched by your letter and your present to me of your novel. I appreciated it as one of the nicest gestures that one writer can do for another. I have read your book very slowly and carefully. Now I find myself profoundly puzzled. I assume that you want to hear my serious reaction, so I will state it, even though I am not certain whether you care to discuss philosophy.
From a literary aspect, THE ROOM BEYOND has a great deal of merit. Your style and your entire approach to writing are so superior to the vulgarly journalistic method of the majority of modern writers that it was a pleasure to read your book—up to a certain point. Up to the point where your philosophy took over.
Your theme and your philosophical ideas leave me stumped. I cannot understand why you liked THE FOUNTAINHEAD and how you could have chosen me as any kind of inspiration. The philosophy which you preach is the exact opposite of mine. Your heroine is supposed to represent the ideal of selflessness and altruism. The theme of THE FOUNTAINHEAD is a denunciation of altruism and self-sacrificing as the greatest evil conceivable. My philosophy is based on the idea that man is not a sacrificial animal, that it is man’s moral right and duty to exist for the sake of his own happiness. The character of Cristina in your book is the symbol of that which I consider as the total evil. In my book, her spiritual counterpart is Ellsworth Toohey.
The thought has even occurred to me that your intention in sending me your book was malice or sarcasm. But on rereading your letter, I concluded that it was not. Therefore, I am truly bewildered. Either you have no respect for me at all and assumed that I did not mean what I preached. Or you had no respect for your own ideas and so were able to like your own opposite—THE FOUNTAINHEAD. Or else, you simply have no respect for philosophy, ideas and convictions of any
kind whatsoever. But there is too much talent in your book—so I hesitate to believe that you are one of those superficial persons who dismisses the most profound issues of philosophy with some such meaningless thing as “the blending of opposites” and with some such assertion as that faith is above reason and the most monstrously irrational contradictions are to be ignored by means of some mystical emotion.
If you do not care to discuss these ideas philosophically, in rational terms, but wish to take refuge in mysticism—then, of course, this discussion is futile. I do not argue or deal with mysticism. I have no mystical instincts, intuitions or revelations of any kind—therefore, there is nothing you can communicate to me in those terms. But since you have approached me, I will answer you in the only terms I speak or respect—the terms of reason.
I want to point out to you that your own novel, the very story which you present, refutes and denounces the thesis of altruism which you set out to preach. Your talent as a novelist asserted itself in opposition to your weakness as a thinker. There are many examples of that in literature—where the honesty of a writer works to destroy his own mistaken abstractions. Tolstoy is a classic example of it. I believe that this is inherent in the medium of fiction. One can state any number of vague, undefined, contradictory abstractions in a nonfiction work. But a fiction story has to be told in terms of concrete reality. An impossible thesis cannot be translated into concrete action to illustrate it. When one attempts it, the story defeats the thesis. A reader will accept the author’s events and characters just as the author presents them, but not the interpretation which the author tries to force upon them. Now here is what I see in your story: the character of Cristina, just as she stands—and you have drawn her extremely well—is a vicious monster. I am judging her by her own actions and words—not by Daniel’s judgment of them—and I see the dreadful cruelty of the woman. She showed kindness only to the mindless and the miserable. The moment Daniel or any of the other characters brought up some issue more serious, more crucial and much more profound than an infected colon—Cristina met them with the most cruel weapon of all: sarcasm. That is the weapon of Ellsworth Toohey.
I was appalled when I read Cristina’s first meeting with Daniel Bryce. The way you present the sincerity of his love for her is magnificent and completely convincing. Here was a sensitive boy of thirteen, and here was a catastrophe in his life, upon which his entire future depended; Cristina did nothing but laugh at him (laugh casually!) in the coldest, most heartless manner every time the earnestness of his feeling
reached her. I could not imagine that an author had shown Cristina’s cruelty accidentally and was not aware of it. I thought you were doing a beautiful, subtle job of denunciation. But you weren’t. At the end I found that you did intend her as an ideal.
After that first meeting, the whole of Daniel’s life is a dreadful tragedy. It is not I who say so arbitrarily; it is you who have shown it, most convincingly. Daniel was robbed of all joy, of all ambition, of pride, self-respect and peace of mind. He went through life doing a kind of continuous, desperate penance for some nameless guilt which he had never committed. Daniel comes across very convincingly as a very sympathetic character, a man of courage, strength, intelligence—yet he is put on a torture rack for no reason whatever. If Daniel is the best, the healthiest human being among the characters in your story, then in his person Cristina has destroyed the best and most vital aspects of human life. The cruelty with which, understanding his tragedy, she keeps deserting him and then laughing casually as if nothing had happened when she meets him ten years later, is truly one of the most sadistic things I have ever read in literature. Her spiritual counterpart, my Ellsworth Toohey, has never done anything to match her cruelty. I think Ellsworth would have hesitated; her behavior would have been too much, even for him.
And what about the other characters in your story, all those men who loved Cristina and were influenced by her? All of them were left in a state of bitter, hopeless, frustrated longing. She helped Freeman Rabb and Leo Lasta physically, when they were sick children—then left them mangled and crippled spiritually, when they grew up. They—and also Dr. Hand—became men in whom the joy of living had been killed.
And this is another paradox of the mystical-altruistic viewpoint: while you stress, in theory, the superiority of the spirit over the flesh—you show, in practice, that Cristina helps people to cure the suffering of the flesh and gives them a horrible suffering of the spirit, instead. She heals the flesh and mangles the spirit. Is that what you wanted to say? I am sure you didn’t, but that is what your story says and shows.
On the other hand, the character of Wendra destroys your philosophy in another manner. You have tried very hard to make her unsympathetic—and yet she is the most vital person in your story. Did you notice that she is the only one who does some good for Daniel? You tell us that she had nothing but a selfish motive in mind. Quite true. And I say that only when one has a selfish motive in mind, can one be of any service to others. Your story proves my point. It is Wendra
who saves Daniel’s life when he is beaten up. It is Wendra who offers to give him her estate, in order not to let him live as her dependent—a truly noble offer which no altruist would ever make. The sole passion of an altruist is to see everybody dependent upon him. (Cristina loved only the crippled and helpless, that is, the dependent; she lost interest in them the moment they were cured and free.) It is Wendra who meets Daniel when he returns from the war, lost and lonely. Everything that Wendra does for Daniel is a joy and a comfort in terms of this earth. Everything that Cristina does is just another torture.
Now you may say that that is precisely your point, that one must live on earth in perpetual suffering—in order to be happy in some undefined fourth dimension after death. If that is your thesis, you should admit it openly to yourself and to your readers. You should state that you are an advocate of torture and death. Only on this earth? But self-deception aside, this earth is all that any of us know or care about or have a right to discuss.
It is not an accident that you had to make Cristina a supernatural being. Again, the honesty of your talent as a novelist asserted itself and made you do it. You could not have made her an actual human being of flesh and blood. An actual human being acting on the altruist premise is Ellsworth Toohey. Altruism is impossible to man—impossible by the whole nature of the universe. Altruism is death and destruction.
Throughout your novel you ran a race between yourself as a novelist and yourself as a mystic. The novelist won up to a certain point—and then the mystic destroyed the achievement. (That, too, is in the nature of reality.) The device which you chose for the structure of your novel—the prologue in which you promised the reader that your hero had a tremendous secret to disclose at the end of the story—was an excellent device and it kept up the reader’s interest. But surely you realize that a device of this kind amounts to a promissory note which the author gives to his readers. Its effectiveness lies in the readers’ trust that the author will live up to his promise and will disclose something of tremendous importance. When your disclosure finally came, your story collapsed. This reader experienced an angry sense of disappointment—the feeling of having been cheated. It was a fraud on two counts: First, philosophically—the idea you intended Daniel to disclose was nothing more than an assertion about life after death, presented in the vaguest terms, adding nothing that had not been said before, lacking all element of philosophical importance or freshness. Second, literarily—the fact that Daniel neither made his speech nor leaped from the balcony, but went back into the dining room as a vapid old man and nothing
happened except some bromidic toasts—was a dismal anti-climax. It was a dull thud. After such a build up, you had no artistic right to do this to your readers. And yet, on your premise, there was nothing else you could do. No story can reach a climax or a proper conclusion if it is built on a false principle—just exactly as a man cannot do it in real life.
Your “Coda” is an open confession that you knew you had not done right by your readers. It was an attempt to justify your position, to give the readers something of importance—but you had no arguments to offer.
The thing that struck me as the most revealing sentence in your book, as a kind of personal cry and as a clue to your own tragedy, is the question on Page 424—“Why else do men go on searching after they have lost their hope of finding anything, were it not from this secret ache where something indescribably precious has somehow slipped away, and must be recaptured?” I think I can answer you. The indescribably precious thing which men have lost is this earth. All men have it at first, in their childhood, perhaps before they learn to speak, before contact with others corrupts their minds. A child starts with the idea that this is a wonderful world in which he will be happy and that he has a moral right to be happy. The monstrous conceptions of turning himself into a sacrificial animal and of happiness being guilt never occur to him. Then, later, every idea he absorbs from the adults leads to a damnation of himself and of this earth. Yet, since he is a human being, he cannot accept completely the inhumanity which is taught to him. He retains a faint memory of the paradise which he has given up and lost. I am one of the very few people who have never lost it. This—I think—is what you drew strength from in THE FOUNTAINHEAD. And, if so, I am very happy that you did.[*]
I shall be interested to hear your answer, if you care to write me. I am unable to decide whether this letter will cause you to become my worst enemy or my best friend. I am curious—philosophically.
May I ask you to regard my letter as personal? It is intended for you as an author—but not for your publishers nor for quotation.
*The principal idea of this paragraph, as well as the play on “paradise … lost,” was incorporated into Galt’s Speech, where AR wrote of “the pain of hopeless longing—that somewhere in the starting years of your childhood, before you had learned to submit, to absorb the terror of unreason and to doubt the value of your mind, you had known a radiant state of existence, you had known the independence of a rational consciousness facing an open universe. That is the paradise which you have lost, which you seek—which is yours for the taking.”