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To the Readers of The Fountainhead [Letter 590]

Item Reference Code: 083_24B_005_001

Date(s) of creation

1945

Recipient

Readers of The Fountainhead

Transcript

In response to enquiries from readers, Bobbs-Merrill, in 1945, began distributing a pamphlet that Ayn Rand wrote about herself and her writing. This pamphlet was included as an Appendix in the original edition of the Letters of Ayn Rand.

 

[Page 1/Cover]
A LETTER
from
AYN RAND

Author of
THE FOUNTAINHEAD

[Page 2]
To the Readers of The Fountainhead:

I am glad and grateful when readers wish to know what kind of person wrote The Fountainhead—but I find it extremely difficult to answer, because the answer is contained in the question. There is nothing of any importance to be said or known about me—except that I wrote The Fountainhead.

When I am questioned about myself, I am tempted to say, paraphrasing Roark: “Don’t ask me about my family, my childhood, my friends or my feelings. Ask me about the things I think.” It is the content of a person’s brain, not the accidental details of his life, that determines his character. My own character is in the pages of The Fountainhead. For anyone who wishes to know me, that is essential. The specific events of my private life are of no importance whatever. I have never had any private life in the usual sense of the word. My writing is my life.

I decided to be a writer at the age of nine—it was a specific, conscious decision—I remember the day and the hour. I did not start by trying to describe the folks next door—but by inventing people who did things the folks next door would never do. I could summon no interest or enthusiasm for “people as they are”—when I had in my mind a blinding picture of people as they could be.

I decided to become a writer—not in order to save the world, nor to serve my fellow men—but for the simple, personal, selfish, egotistical happiness of creating the kind of men and events I could like, respect and admire. I can bear to look around me levelly. I cannot bear to look down. I wanted to look up.

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This attitude has never changed. But I went for years thinking that it was a strictly personal attitude toward fiction writing, never to be discussed and of no interest to anyone but me. Later I discovered I had accepted as the rule of my life work a principle stated by Aristotle. Aristotle said that fiction is of greater philosophical importance than history, because history represents things only as they are, while fiction represents them “as they might be and ought to be.” If you wish a key to the literary method of The Fountainhead, this is it.

I left home when I was quite young and have been on my own ever since. My life has been “single-tracked,” or anything anyone wishes to call a life consciously devoted to a conscious purpose. I have no hobbies. I have few friends. I do not like to “go out.” I am unbearable—to myself and to others—when I stay too long away from my work. Nothing else has ever mattered to me too much.

The only exception to that last line is my husband, Frank O’Connor. The Fountainhead is dedicated to him. He is my best proof that people such as I write about can and do exist in real life.

I have never studied writing nor taken any formal course in literature. I did have a college education, but whatever I learned I had to learn by myself and in my own way. I did not attempt to write professionally until I knew what I was doing and felt that I was ready. I sold the first screen story, the first stage play and the first novel I ever wrote. The screen story was called “Red Pawn” and was bought by Universal

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Pictures. The play was “The Night of January 16th,” which ran on Broadway in the season 1935-36. The novel was We, the Living, published in 1936.

Yes, I’ve had a hard struggle before, between and after these jobs. I had to earn my own living before I could start writing. After I started, I had to earn my living whenever the money I made by writing was exhausted. I did all sorts of odd jobs: I have been a waitress, an office clerk, a reader for film companies. I could not concentrate on a business career, but had to take such jobs as could be held temporarily and would leave me free to write in my spare time.

At present, I live in California where I have bought a small ranch. My home is a modern house—glass, steel and concrete. I am now working part of my time as a screen writer for Hal Wallis Productions. Film rights to The Fountainhead have been bought by Warner Brothers; the picture will go into production soon. I am now starting to work on my next novel.

There has been a steady stream of letters from readers of The Fountainhead—more, I regret, than it was possible to answer. I shall attempt here to answer the questions asked most often.

The Fountainhead started in my mind as a definition of a new code of ethics—the morality of individualism. The idea of individualism is not new, but nobody had defined a consistent and specific way to live by it in practice. It is in their statements on morality that the individualist thinkers have floundered and lost their case. They had nothing better to

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offer than vulgar selfishness which consisted of sacrificing others to self. When I realized that that was only another form of collectivism—of living through others by ruling them—I had the key to The Fountainhead and to the character of Howard Roark.

The key statement to the whole conception of The Fountainhead is in Roark’s speech: “I wished to come here and say that I am a man who does not exist for others. It had to be said. The world is perishing from an orgy of self-sacrificing.” All the rest of the book is a demonstration of how the principles of egoism and altruism work out in people and in the events of their lives.

I have been asked why I chose to present a philosophy of ethics in fiction form. I am interested in philosophical principles only as they affect the actual existence of men; and in men, only as they reflect philosophical principles. An abstract theory that has no relation to reality is worse than nonsense; and men who act without relation to principles are less than animals. Those who say that theory and practice are two unrelated realms are fools in one and scoundrels in the other. I wanted to present my abstract theory where it belongs—in concrete reality—in the actions of men.

Readers have asked me whether my characters are “copies of real people in public life” or “not human beings at all, but symbols.” Neither is true. My characters are not copies of real persons. No serious writer ever “copies” people in that naive, journalistic way. What I did was to observe real life, analyze the reasons which make people such as they are,

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draw an abstraction and then create my own characters out of that abstraction. My characters are persons in whom certain human attributes are focused more sharply and consistently than in average human beings.

Readers have asked me whether there is a real prototype of Howard Roark. Literally—no. Essentially—yes. Every man who has an innate sense of independence and self-respect, and a spark of the creative mind, has that much of Roark in him.

One reader wrote to me saying that Roark “could not possibly be a human being.” Actually, Roark is the one genuine human being in the book—because he embodies precisely those qualities which constitute a human being, as distinguished from an animal. Keating is subhuman—because he has no independent existence, no mind of his own, no moral quality.

If Keating were the typical representative of humanity, we would never have risen out of the swamp and the cave. It was not the Keatings who got us out. Never mind about there being more Keatings than Roarks. It’s the Roarks who count.

Readers have asked me why I chose architecture as the background of my book. Was my choice motivated by any previous knowledge of architecture or architects? No. When I made my first notes for The Fountainhead I knew nothing whatever about architecture, had never dealt with it in any way, and had never met an architect. I chose it deliberately as the background best suited to my thesis. A builder is one of the most eloquent representatives of man’s creative faculty.

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Once I chose that background, I had to face the somewhat terrifying task of learning something about it. I did two years of reading and research, then got a job in the office of a New York architect. I enjoyed the job tremendously. Nobody in that office knew my real purpose in working there, except the head of the firm. I shall always be grateful to him for taking a chance on me—he had no idea of what kind of book I might write. He never questioned me about it. He was extremely helpful and generous in giving me information. Professional etiquette doesn’t permit me to give his name in print; but it is a prominent name. After I left his office, I did not see him again for five years—until I came back and put the galley proofs of The Fountainhead on his desk. I am glad to say that he liked the book, even though he was a bit shocked by it.

How long did it take me to write the book? Seven years. I spent the last and final year writing steadily, literally day and night; once I wrote for thirty hours at a stretch, without sleep, stopping only to get some food. It was the most enjoyable year of my life.

The Fountainhead owes its appearance in print to the courage of one publishing house and of two men: Richard Mealand, story editor of Paramount Pictures, who read the manuscript and recommended it to The Bobbs-Merrill Company; and Archibald G. Ogden, who was editor of Bobbs-Merrill at that time. They were men who had the integrity to form an independent judgment and the courage to act upon it. I mention their names here in token of my gratitude.

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The success of The Fountainhead has demonstrated its own thesis. It was rejected by twelve publishers who declared that it had no commercial possibilities, it would not sell, it was “too intellectual,” it was “too unconventional,” it went against every alleged popular trend. Yet the success of The Fountainhead was made by the public. Not by the public as an organized collective—but by single, individual readers who discovered it of their own choice, who read it on their own initiative and recommended it on their own judgment.

I did not know that I was predicting my own future when I described the process of Roark’s success: “It was as if an underground stream flowed through the country and broke out in sudden springs that shot to the surface at random, in unpredictable places.”

To every reader who had the intelligence to understand The Fountainhead, the integrity to like it and the courage to speak about it—to every one of you, not in mass, but personally and individually, I am here saying:

Thank you.
AYN RAND