The Fountainhead, part 2, chapter 7
In her newspaper column, Dominique Francon publishes a fierce critique of Roark’s Enright House:
“And there it will stand, as a monument to nothing but the egotism of Mr. Enright and of Mr. Roark. It will stand between a row of brownstone tenements on one side and the tanks of a gashouse on the other. This, perhaps, is not an accident, but a testimonial to fate’s sense of fitness. No other setting could bring out so eloquently the essential insolence of this building… It will attract attention — but only to the immense audacity of Mr. Roark’s conceit. When this building is erected, it will be a wound on the face of our city. A wound, too, is colorful.”
Although the text says that the unwashed masses aren’t smart enough to notice, Dominique is actually paying Roark a compliment, in a sneaky and underhanded way. Read between the lines, her column says that the Enright House is offensive because it’s so much better than the other buildings around it as to make itself look out-of-place and ridiculous. It’s like a man wearing a tuxedo to a monster-truck rally. “By creating the contrast it will have made itself a part of the great ineptitude, its most ludicrous part.”
After her column is published, Dominique gets a call from Joel Sutton, a businessman who was about to give Roark a very important commission. He trusts her architectural judgment, and he’s startled and dismayed by her criticism of Roark’s work. He asks if she meant what she said, and she asks to meet him for lunch:
“You know, Joel,” she said, facing him across a table, her voice quiet, set, unsmiling, “it was a brilliant idea, your choosing Roark.”
“Oh, do you think so?”
“I think so. You’ll have a building that will be beautiful, like an anthem. A building that will take your breath away — also your tenants. A hundred years from now they will write about you in history — and search for your grave in Potter’s Field.”
“Good heavens, Dominique, what are you talking about?”
Dominique says that she knows Joel Sutton wants a building that’s “folksy and comfortable and safe… that everybody will like, everybody and anybody” – and that’s exactly what Roark won’t deliver. He’ll deliver a building that’s bold, controversial and different, which will get Sutton the kind of hostile attention he doesn’t want.
Incidentally, Joel Sutton is another proof that Rand’s views on capitalism hadn’t crystallized by this point. Sutton is “a successful businessman” who “had based his success on the faculty of understanding nothing about people”.
So far, so Randian. But unlike Roark’s Nietzschean contempt for humanity, Sutton loves everyone equally and wants to be loved in return. He’s concerned with what people think of him, which makes him cowardly and timid and easily dissuaded by an argument like Dominique’s.
Like the intelligent and competent villain Ellsworth Toohey, this is another character type who doesn’t fit into the ontology of Rand’s later work. By the time she wrote Atlas Shrugged, she had decided that anyone who was rich and successful was by definition a fearless nonconformist who sneers at popular sentiment. People who care about others’ opinions can only be quivering, jelly-like socialists.
Arguably, though, Sutton’s view is the more realistic one. If you’re selling a product to the public, you should care about public opinion. That’s why real businesses spend billions of dollars on advertising, market research and public relations: to burnish their image, to defend their brand’s reputation, to figure out that what they’re selling is the thing people want to buy.
But throughout her books, including this one, Rand was consistent in rejecting the idea that you should care about what your potential customers think or want or believe. In the neat and tidy world she scripted, you just have to work hard and persevere and success will magically find you.
Joel Sutton calls Roark and tells him that their contract is off. Worse, he’s giving the building to Peter Keating instead. He mentions in an aside that Dominique Francon, “whose judgment I value most highly”, was the one who convinced him. Sutton is expecting an argument, but Roark only laughs.
That night, Roark is sitting in his darkened apartment when there’s a knock on the door:
When he heard the knock at the door, he said: “Come in,” without rising.
Dominique came in. She entered as if she had entered this room before. She wore a black suit of heavy cloth, simple like a child’s garment, worn as mere protection, not as ornament; she had a high masculine collar raised to her cheeks, and a hat cutting half her face out of sight… She said:
“You are not surprised to see me.”
“I expected you tonight.”
Roark asks why she’s there, which is her cue to deliver a good old-fashioned monologue:
“If you wish.” Her voice had the sound of efficiency, obeying an order with metallic precision. “I want to sleep with you. Now, tonight, and at any time you may care to call me.
…You know that I hate you, Roark. I hate you for what you are, for wanting you, for having to want you… I’m going to pray that you can’t be destroyed — I tell you this, too — even though I believe in nothing and have nothing to pray to. But I will fight to block every step you take. I will fight to tear every chance you want away from you.
…I have hurt you today. I’ll do it again. I’ll come to you whenever I have beaten you — whenever I know that I have hurt you — and I’ll let you own me. I want to be owned, not by a lover, but by an adversary who will destroy my victory over him, not with honorable blows, but with the touch of his body on mine. That is what I want of you, Roark. That is what I am. You wanted to hear it all. You’ve heard it. What do you wish to say now?”
“Take your clothes off.”
Well, if that’s your kink, sure. But think about what it says that Rand equates these acts in her mind.
Dominique’s plan is to torpedo Roark’s career by getting commissions taken away from him. She’s not just trying to block him from achieving his dreams; she’s working, in a direct and concrete way, to see that he winds up destitute or dead (remember, she thought the creator of the Enright House should commit suicide). And in exchange, she’ll let him have sex with her, which evens the score, so to speak.
This only makes sense if Rand views sex not as a gesture of love or tenderness, but an act of contempt and sadism. Roark isn’t having sex with Dominique because he forgives her. Rather, it’s how he proves that her attempts to harm him are beneath his notice and that he can take her dignity and independence away from her any time he likes.
It’s the old double standard that says a woman’s accomplishments are diminished or nullified if she has sex with a man. That’s why the text says that her having sex with him “destroy[s]” her victory. (In the hands of a different writer, Dominique’s coming to Roark could be a boast: “I’m so powerful, I can sabotage your career and you’ll still want to sleep with me!”)
There are clear BDSM elements to this relationship. Dominique tries to defy Roark, and in return, he “punishes” her and makes her submit to his desires. What’s fascinating is that I’m not sure if Ayn Rand fully realized it.
Rand infamously said that the sex scenes in The Fountainhead come from “wishful thinking” [Anne C. Heller, Ayn Rand and the World She Made, p.178]. But in most literary tales of dominance and submission, any resistance on one person’s part is merely symbolic, just for the sake of titillation. The way Dominique and Roark’s relationship is written, where she’s literally trying to destroy his career, makes it a much higher-stakes proposition. And in exchange, we’re told, him having sex with her is like an “act of hatred” (we’ll see more on this next chapter).
Post-coital, they’re lying in bed together:
“Do you know that the Enright House is the most beautiful building in New York?”
“I know that you know it.”
“Roark, you worked in that quarry when you had the Enright House in you, and many other Enright Houses, and you were drilling granite like a … ”
“You’re going to weaken in a moment, Dominique, and then you’ll regret it tomorrow.”
It would be “weakness” for Dominique to admit to Roark how much she admires his work. You have to wonder if he was giving her advice just for her sake, or for his own as well. Could it be some kind of fetish of his, that he’s only capable of contemptuous Randian hate-sex, and he can’t get aroused unless his sex partner is someone who’s trying to destroy him so he can get into the proper mood?
Other posts in this series: