I have a complicated relationship with The Fountainhead. I first read it when I was 22, and actually fantasized about being Howard Roark. So strong, principled and uncompromising! I went through a period of despising all convention and thinking I was above anything my parents found important. That also could have been Nirvana/grunge talking. Whatever the case, Howard Roark had a great impact on my college-to-career transition.
And little wonder that my 22 year old self loved the book. Rand writes powerfully, almost sermonically. Roark himself uses his trial as a platform to preach his individualist creed. With Roark set as Rand's human ideal, she develops the other characters as archetypes as well. For example, heroine Dominique Francon worships individualism (destroying works of art before others can diminish them through their criticism, worshiping Roark to the point of allowing him to dominate her sexually) and becomes Roark's perfect individualist partner. Then there's Ellsworth Toohey, a collectivist critic who loathes imagination and artistic talent, damaging reputations in the name of keeping the status quo safe from all invention. Toohey is Rand's version of sheer evil. The other characters fall somewhere along this good/evil continuum between the polar opposites of Roark and Toohey. People as principles - Rand uses this device to near perfection, as far as my 22 year old self was concerned. As Rand hoped, I loved Roark, found the compromisers like Peter Keating weak and pathetic, and hated Toohey. Then I grew up.
I read The Fountainhead again 15 years later, in 2007. I still enjoyed the drama, and found myself once again rooting for Howard Roark against the critic Toohey. I also noticed how significantly my relationship with Rand's ideal principles had changed. Yes, we are all individuals, but we're also linked through families and ever-broadening forms of community. Dominique Francon looked more pathetic than before. And I now understand Roark's physical domination of Francon in the bedroom as rape, not as a simple character development device. Rand seems inconsistent to my older mind. How can the ultimate individualist allow for one individual to rape another? How can an individualist like Rand take her anti-collectivist thought so far as to demonize altruism? In my ever-evolving world, Rand and her archetypes look less the hero than uncaring sexual deviants.
Hence my complicated relationship with Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. I recommend the book, but hate that I like it enough to recommend it.