“I am often asked whether I am primarily a novelist or a philosopher. The answer is: both. In a certain sense, every novelist is a philosopher, because one cannot present a picture of human existence without a philosophical framework. In order to define, explain, and present my concept of man, I had to become a philosopher in the specific meaning of the term.” – Ayn Rand.
For the months of November and December, Readmore’s book club will examine Ayn Rand’s pioneering novel, The Fountainhead.
I always find that before diving into a new book, it is helpful to gain more knowledge about the author’s life and beliefs to gain a better understanding of their writing. No matter what you read, the author’s own personal life will find some way to reflect through their work. This blog entry serves the purpose of helping us to better understand Ayn Rand and her philosophies behind The Fountainhead.
Ayn Rand was an inspirational and powerful writer and philosopher. Her ideas were innovative and unheard of for many, but fiercely influential. The philosophy that she studied is named Objectivism. Unofficially, Ayn Rand called this idea “a philosophy for living on Earth”.
On February 2nd, 1905, Alissa Zinovievna Rosenbaum was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. After she was born, her parents, Zinovy Rosenbaum and Anna Borisovna, had two other daughters.
When Alissa was old enough, she attended a progressive school, which is a familiar concept in Europe that began in the late 19th century. Progressive schools are heavily focused on flexibility and the individual learning needs for a child. While Alissa soared through her studies and academically flourished, she unfortunately struggled socially.
Alissa grew up during the Russian Revolution, in 1917. This revolution took place when the working class citizens of Russia worked to overthrow Tsar Nicholas ll. Nicholas was not a strong leader. Historians have named him indecisive and have called his style of government ineffective and outdated. He is nicknamed “Bloody Nicholas” because during his coronation, there was a massive crowd stampede that resulted in thousands of dead and injured civilians. These factors led people to take action against their ruler. A man named Vladmir Lenin, who studied politics and became impacted by Karl Marx’s ideas, led the Russian Revolution, and eventually created the Soviet Union.
In the midst of the Russian Revolution, Zinovy Rosenbaum’s pharmacy was seized by communist organizations. This made Alissa extremely unhappy with Russia’s new government.
Alissa eventually attended Leningrad State University, where she studied history. She was taught about the minds of famous philosophers Plato and Aristotle. Once graduated, Alissa enrolled in a cinematography program, with the dream of achieving the occupation as a screenwriter.
In 1926, Alissa moved to the United States after receiving a letter from cousins of hers who lived there. She took the letter as an opportunity to further her experience and career in the film industry in America. Once she arrived, she changed her name to Ayn Rand. After six months, Ayn moved to Hollywood. Once in Hollywood, by pure chance, Ayn met Cecil B. DeMille, one of the most successful producers and directors during this time. Cecil B. DeMille was responsible for the creation of The Ten Commandments (1956), Cleopatra (1934), The King of Kings (1927) and another seventy projects. Her introduction to the producer led her to become an extra, and then eventually, she obtained her dream job as a screenwriter. Later, she became a filing clerk in the wardrobe department for Radio Pictures Inc., one of the biggest film studios in Hollywood’s early days. Shortly, Ayn became the head of the department. She continued to write short stories, plays, and film ideas in her spare time.
In 1929, Ayn married an actor named Frank O’Connor. They met in 1927 while working on the film The King of Kings. Frank had a small part in the film, and Ayn was only an extra. After they had married, Frank worked on a farm the two owned while Ayn pursued her career as a writer and philosopher. Ayn considered Frank her muse. In one interview, she said that her greatest accomplishment was marrying him. As well, she is also quoted saying, “Every hero was modeled after him. I sometimes took an entire monologue from him and slipped it into my book. When I couldn’t think of a title for one of my novels [Atlas Shrugged], he did. He told the whole story in two words”. Ayn Rand and Frank O’Connor had two very different minds. Ayn’s focus was on subjects such as philosophy, and Frank enjoyed the arts and painting. Although the couple had two very different minds, they were both equally creative in their thinking.
Ayn Rand has written several successful plays and novels. She began with Night of January 16th, which was also known by the title Penthouse Legend. It was a courtroom drama which was filled with the theme of individualism. The play went on Broadway in New York City. Then came Ideal, which was novel that she developed into a play. It was about a film star that was severely self-absorbed and in the midst of escaping from the law. In 1989 the play was finally produced, and the novel has been recently published in 2015. In 1936, Ayn published her first novel called We the Living. The story is a devastating romantic tragedy. It was Ayn’s first statement about communism. It follows a character named Kira Argounova in post-revolutionary Russia who refuses to conform to the policies of the Soviet Union. A novella named Anthem came out later which takes place in a collectivist dystopian society. Ayn explores the theme of losing one’s identity once again, but this time, in a more severe manner. In Anthem, the word “I” could not be used.
Fun fact about the novel Anthem! If you’re a fan of the band Rush, they released a song called Anthem in 1975 as a tribute to Ayn Rand. It is off of their Fly By Night album.
Atlas Shrugged, a famous piece of hers, is about the events of an economic collapse taking place in America after many years of collectivist rule. The main character named John Galt leads a strike with hopes for change.
Other than her creative fiction pieces, Ayn Rand has also published many nonfiction novels. Her novels nonfiction novels follow her own ideas on capitalism, selfishness, romance, and many other topics.
It took seven years for Ayn Rand to create The Fountainhead. It was published in 1943. It was rejected by a dozen publishers. It eventually sold over seven million copies.
This novel follows the story of Howard Roark, an intelligent architect. The twenty-one year old has innovative ideas for architectural designs, but he is expelled from the Stanton Institute of Technology for not following traditional styles of design. The Fountainhead explores once again explores Ayn’s ideas on how essential individualism is for a society, and how collectivism is not beneficial for humanity to run. Ayn expresses the importance of how individuals should make their own objective decisions. This novel acts as an introduction to her theory of Objectivism.
Ayn Rand Still Influences Today
Ayn Rand passed away from heart failure in her New York City home on March 6th, 1982. She and her husband are now buried together.
The works of Ayn Rand are still discussed today. Many debates continue to take place over what she believes in. Some see her as controversial, while others see her as a complete inspiration.
I will leave you with one final Ayn Rand quote:
“Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values”.
If you are interested in Ayn Rand and her theory of Objectivism, I highly recommend taking a look at the site aynrand.org. It explores all of her ideas in further detail.
If you want to discuss Ayn Rand and The Fountainhead, I suggest taking a look at our book club where you can talk with likeminded individuals about your favourite novels! Anybody is welcome. You do not need prior book club experience to join. Feel free to find our book club at letsreadmore.ca/book-club/.
Let’s read more!