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Harrison Danneskjold

The Fountainhead, Part 3 (Gail Wynand), Chapter 2

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This is a scene involving the characters Dominique and Peter.

 

Peter Keating is a people-pleaser to the core. He's extremely handsome and popular and works for one of the most prestigious Architectural firms in the country (where he's paid extravagantly). He also hates architecture (a career he chose only to please the mother he despises) and doesn't have a single independent thought or opinion of his own. While he's talking to one person, he holds one set of ideas (the ones he thinks they want to hear) but for someone else's sake, he'll believe another set of ideas. Being that sort of social chameleon has served him pretty well so far (it's how he gained his popularity and his position) but for some unfathomable reason he can't stand to spend any amount of time alone.

Ayn Rand loosely based Dominique Keating on herself "in a very foul mood". She sees straight through Peter's games (and those of everyone else like him) and her only feeling about them is something like the sensation of a spider crawling across one's skin. She sees great men and heroes in the world, doing great things (like Howard Roark or Gail Wynand); she sees them being punished by envious mediocrities like Peter -punished specifically for their greatness- and, although she idolizes the heroes and desperately wants to see them enjoying the rewards they so deserve, she thinks they're doomed to be destroyed by the mediocrities. Over and over again she tries to convince them to give up their greatness, rather than suffer and die for it - and she practices what she preaches. She destroys anything she wants or cares about too much, or takes too seriously (knowing what leads people to strive for greatness) and only allows herself to indulge in meaningless, range-of-the-moment little whims (explaining, at one point: 'I never do anything for any reason except if it amuses me').

Dominique had proposed to Peter Keating almost two years before this, because she was in love with Howard Roark and because she considered Peter to be one of the slimiest little creatures she'd ever met. Peter agreed, despite his fear and hatred for "that Hellcat" and despite his true love for another woman, because a wife like Dominique could be socially useful to him.

 

And now, without further ado...

 

Quote
Spoiler

"WHY didn't you wear your emerald bracelet?" asked Peter Keating. "Gordon Prescott's so-called fiancee had everybody gaping at her star sapphire."
"I'm sorry, Peter. I shall wear it next time," said Dominique.
"It was a nice party. Did you have a good time?"
"I always have a good time."
"So did I...Only...Oh God, do you want to know the truth?"
"No."
"Dominique, I was bored to death. Vincent Knowlton is a pain in the neck. He's such a damn  snob. I can't stand him." He added cautiously: "I didn't show it, did I?"
"No. You behaved very well. You laughed at all his jokes--even when no one else did."
"Oh, you noticed that? It always works."
"Yes, I noticed that."
"You think I shouldn't, don't you?"
"I haven't said that."
"You think it's...low, don't you?"
"I don't think anything is low."


He slumped farther in his armchair; it made his chin press uncomfortably against his chest; but he did not care to move again. A fire crackled in the fireplace of his living room. He had turned out all the lights, save one lamp with a yellow silk shade; but it created no air of intimate relaxation, it only made the place look deserted, like a vacant apartment with the utilities shut off.
Dominique sat at the other end of the room, her thin body fitted obediently to the contours of a straight-backed chair; she did not look stiff, only too poised for comfort. They were alone, but she sat like a lady at a public function; like a lovely dress dummy in a public show window--a window facing a busy intersection. They had come home from a tea party at the house of Vincent Knowlton, a prominent young society man, Keating's new friend. They had had a quiet dinner together, and now their evening was free. There were no other social engagements till tomorrow.


"You shouldn't have laughed at theosophy when you spoke to Mrs. Marsh," he said. "She believes in it."
"I'm sorry. I shall be more careful."

He waited to have her open a subject of conversation. She said nothing. He thought suddenly that she had never spoken to him first--in the twenty months of their marriage. He told himself that that was ridiculous and impossible; he tried to recall an occasion when she had addressed him. Of course she had; he remembered her asking him: '"What time will you get back tonight?" and "Do you wish to include the Dixons for Tuesday's dinner?" and many things like that.
He glanced at her. She did not look bored or anxious to ignore him. She sat there, alert and ready, as if his company held her full interest; she did not reach for a book, she did not stare at some distant thought of her own. She looked straight at him, not past him, as if she were waiting for a conversation. He realized that she had always looked straight at him, like this; and now he wondered whether he liked it. Yes, he did, it allowed him no cause to be jealous, not even of her hidden thoughts. No, he didn't, not quite, it allowed no escape, for either one of them.


"I've just finished The Gallant Gallstone," he said. "It's a swell book. It's the product of a scintillating brain, a Puck with tears streaming down his face, a golden-hearted clown holding for a moment the throne of God."
"I read the same book review. In the Sunday Banner."
"I read the book itself. You know I did."
"That was nice of you."
"Huh?" He heard approval and it pleased him.
"It was considerate toward the author. I'm sure she likes to have people read her book. So it was kind to take the time--when you knew in advance what you'd think of it."
"I didn't know. But I happened to agree with the reviewer."
"The Banner has the best reviewers."
"That's true. Of course. So there's nothing wrong in agreeing with them, is there?"
"Nothing whatever. I always agree."
"With whom?"
"With everybody."
"Are you making fun of me, Dominique?"
"Have you given me reason to?"
"No. I don't see how. No, of course I haven't."
"Then I'm not."

He waited. He heard a truck rumbling past, in the street below, and that filled a few seconds; but when the sound died, he had to speak again:
"Dominique, I'd like to know what you think."
"Of what?"
"Of...of..." He searched for an important subject and ended with: "...of Vincent Knowlton."
"I think he's a man worth kissing the backside of."
"For Christ's sake, Dominique!"
"I'm sorry. That's bad English and bad manners. It's wrong, of course. Well, let's see: Vincent Knowlton is a man whom it's pleasant to know. Old families deserve a great deal of consideration, and we must have tolerance for the opinions of others, because tolerance is the greatest virtue, therefore it would be unfair to force your views on Vincent Knowlton, and if you just let him believe what he pleases, he will be glad to help you too, because he's a very human person."
"Now, that's sensible," said Keating; he felt at home in recognizable language. "I think tolerance is very important, because..." He stopped. He finished, in an empty voice: "You said exactly the same thing as before."
"Did you notice that," she said. She said it without question mark, indifferently, as a simple fact. It was not sarcasm; he wished it were; sarcasm would have granted him a personal recognition--the desire to hurt him. But her voice had never carried any personal relation to 
him--not for twenty months.

He stared into the fire. That was what made a man happy--to sit looking dreamily into a fire, at his own hearth, in his own home; that's what he had always heard and read. He stared at the flames, unblinking, to force himself into a complete obedience to an established truth. Just one more minute of it and I will feel happy, he thought, concentrating. Nothing happened.
He thought of how convincingly he could describe this scene to friends and make them envy the fullness of his contentment. Why couldn't he convince himself? He had everything he'd ever wanted. He had wanted superiority--and for the last year he had been the undisputed leader of his profession. He had wanted fame--and he had five thick albums of clippings. He had wanted wealth--and he had enough to insure luxury for the rest of his life. He had 
everything anyone ever wanted. How many people struggled and suffered to achieve what he had achieved? How many dreamed and bled and died for this, without reaching it? "Peter 
Keating is the luckiest fellow on earth." How often had he heard that?
This last year had been the best of his life. He had added the impossible to his possessions -- Dominique Francon. It had been such a joy to laugh casually when friends repeated to him:  "Peter, how did you ever do it?" It had been such a pleasure to introduce her to strangers, to say lightly: "My wife," and to watch the stupid, uncontrolled look of envy in their eyes. Once at a large party an elegant drunk had asked him, with a wink declaring unmistakable intentions: "Say, do you know that gorgeous creature over there?"
"Slightly," Keating had answered, gratified, "she's my wife."
He often told himself gratefully that their marriage had turned out much better than he had expected. Dominique had become an ideal wife. She devoted herself completely to his interests: pleasing his clients, entertaining his friends, running his home. She changed nothing in his existence: not his hours, not his favorite menus, not even the arrangement of his furniture. She had brought nothing with her, except her clothes; she had not added a single book or ash tray to his house. When he expressed his views on any subject, she did not argue--she agreed with him. Graciously, as a matter of natural course, she took second place, vanishing in his background. He had expected a torrent that would lift him and smash him against some unknown rocks. He had not found even a brook joining his peaceful river. It was more as if the river went on and someone came to swim quietly in his wake; no, not even to swim--that was a cutting, forceful action--but just to float behind him with the current. Had he been offered the power to determine Dominique's attitude after their marriage, he would have asked that she behave exactly as she did.
Only their nights left him miserably unsatisfied. She submitted whenever he wanted her. But it was always as on their first night: an indifferent body in his arms, without revulsion, without answer. As far as he was concerned, she was still a virgin: he had never made her experience anything. Each time, burning with humiliation, he decided never to touch her again. But his desire returned, aroused by the constant presence of her beauty. He surrendered to it, when he could resist no longer; not often.

It was his mother who stated the thing he had not admitted to himself about his marriage. "I can't stand it," his mother said, six months after the wedding. "If she'd just get angry at me once, call me names, throw things at me, it would be all right. But I can't stand this."
"What, Mother?" he asked, feeling a cold hint of panic. "It's no use, Peter," she answered. His mother, whose arguments, opinions, reproaches he had never been able to stop, would not say another word about his marriage. She took a small apartment of her own and moved out of his house. She came to visit him often and she was always polite to Dominique, with a strange, beaten air of resignation. He told himself that he should be glad to be free of his mother; but he was not glad. Yet he could not grasp what Dominique had done to inspire that mounting dread within him. He could find no word or gesture for which to reproach her. But for twenty months it had been like tonight: he could not bear to remain alone with her--yet he did not want to escape her and she did not want to avoid him.

"Nobody's coming tonight?" he asked tonelessly, turning away from the fire.
"No," she said, and smiled, the smile serving as connection to her next words: "Shall I leave you alone, Peter?"
"No!" It was almost a cry. I must not sound so desperate, he thought, while he was saying aloud: "Of course not. I'm glad to have an evening with my wife all to myself."
He felt a dim instinct telling him that he must solve this problem, must learn to make their moments together endurable, that he dare not run from it, for his own sake more than hers.
"What would you like to do tonight, Dominique?"
"Anything you wish."
"Want to go to a movie?"
"Do you?"
"Oh, I don't know. It kills time."
"All right. Let's kill time.'"
"No. Why should we? That sounds awful."
"Does it?"
"Why should we run from our own home? Let's stay here."
"Yes, Peter."
He waited. But the silence, he thought, is a flight too, a worse kind of flight.
"Want to play a hand of Russian Bank?" he asked.
"Do you like Russian Bank?"
"Oh, it kills ti--" He stopped. She smiled.
"Dominique," he said, looking at her, "you're so beautiful. You're always so...so utterly beautiful. I always want to tell you how I feel about it."
"I'd like to hear how you feel about it. Peter."
"I love to look at you. I always think of what Gordon Prescott said. He said that you are God's perfect exercise in structural mathematics. And Vincent Knowlton said you're a spring morning. And Ellsworth--Ellsworth said you're a reproach to every other female shape on earth."
"And Ralston Holcombe?" she asked.
"Oh, never mind!" he snapped, and turned back to the fire.


I know why I can't stand the silence, he thought. It's because it makes no difference to her at all whether I speak or not; as if I didn't exist and never had existed...the thing more inconceivable than one's death--never to have been born....He felt a sudden, desperate desire 
which he could identify--a desire to be real to her.
"Dominique, do you know what I've been thinking?" he asked eagerly.
"No. What have you been thinking?"
"I've thought of it for some time--all by myself--I haven't mentioned it to anyone. And nobody suggested it. It's my own idea."
"Why, that's fine. What is it?"
"I think I'd like to move to the country and build a house of our own. Would you like that?"
"I'd like it very much. Just as you would. You want to design a home for yourself?"
"Hell, no. Bennett will dash one off for me. He does all our country homes. He's a whiz at it."
"Will you like commuting?"
"No, I think that will be quite an awful nuisance. But you know, everybody that's anybody commutes nowadays. I always feel like a damn proletarian when I have to admit that I live in the city."
"Will you like to see trees and a garden and the earth around you?"
"Oh, that's a lot of nonsense. When will I have the time? A tree's a tree. When you've seen a newsreel of the woods in spring, you've seen it all."
"Will you like to do some gardening? People say it's very nice, working the soil yourself."
"Good God, no! What kind of grounds do you think we'd have? We can afford a gardener, and a good one--so the place will be something for the neighbors to admire."
"Will you like to take up some sport?"
"Yes, I'll like that."
"Which one?"
"I think I'll do better with my golf. You know, belonging to a country club right where you're one of the leading citizens in the community is different from occasional week ends. And the people you meet are different. Much higher class. And the contacts you make..." He caught himself, and added angrily: "Also, I'll take up horseback riding."
"I like horseback riding. Do you?"
"I've never had much time for it. Well, it does shake your insides unmercifully. But who the hell is Gordon Prescott to think he's the only he-man on earth and plaster his photo in riding clothes right in his reception room?"
"I suppose you will want to find some privacy?"
"Well, I don't believe in that desert-island stuff. I think the house should stand in sight of a major highway, so people would point out, you know, the Keating estate. Who the hell is Claude Stengel to have a country home while I live in a rented flat? He started out about the same time I did, and look where he is and where I am, why, he's lucky if two and a half men ever heard of him, so why should he park himself in Westchester and..."
And he stopped. She sat looking at him, her face serene.

"Oh God damn it!" he cried. "If you don't want to move to the country, why don't you just say so?"
"I want very much to do anything you want, Peter. To follow any idea you get all by yourself."
He remained silent for a long time.
"What do we do tomorrow night?" he asked, before he could stop himself.
She rose, walked to a desk and picked up her calendar.
"We have the Palmers for dinner tomorrow night," she said.
"Oh, Christ!" he moaned. "They're such awful bores! Why do we have to have them?"
She stood holding the calendar forward between the tips of her fingers, as if she were a photograph with the focus on the calendar and her own figure blurred in its background.
"We have to have the Palmers," she said, "so that we can get the commission for their new store building. We have to get that commission so that we can entertain the Eddingtons for 
dinner on Saturday. The Eddingtons have no commissions to give, but they're in the Social Register. The Palmers bore you and the Eddingtons snub you. But you have to flatter people whom you despise in order to impress other people who despise you."
"Why do you have to say things like that?"
"Would you like to look at this calendar, Peter?"
"Well, that's what everybody does. That's what everybody lives for."
"Yes, Peter. Almost everybody."
"If you don't approve, why don't you say so?"
"Have I said anything about not approving?"
He thought back carefully. "No," he admitted. "No, you haven't....But it's the way you put things."
"Would you rather I put it in a more involved way--as I did about Vincent Knowlton?"
"I'd rather..." Then he cried: "I'd rather you'd express an opinion, God damn it, just once!"
She asked, in the same level monotone: "Whose opinion, Peter? Gordon Prescott's? Ralston Holcombe's? Ellsworth Toohey's?"


He turned to her, leaning on the arm of his chair, half rising, suddenly tense. The thing between them was beginning to take shape. He had a first hint of words that would name it.
"Dominique," he said softly, reasonably, "that's it. Now I know. I know what's been the matter all the time."
"Has anything been the matter?"
"Wait. This is terribly important. Dominique, you've never said, not once, what you thought. Not about anything. You've never expressed a desire. Not of any kind."

"What's wrong about that?"

"But it's...it's like death. You're not real. You're only a body. Look, Dominique, you don't know it, I'll try to explain. You understand what death is? When a body can't move any more, when it has no...no will, no meaning. You understand? Nothing. The absolute nothing. Well, your body moves--but that's all. The other, the thing inside you, your--oh, don't misunderstand me, I'm not talking religion, but there's no other word for it, so I'll say: your soul--your soul doesn't exist. No will, no meaning. There's no real you any more."

"What's the real me?" she asked. For the first time, she looked attentive; not compassionate; but, at least, attentive.

"What's the real anyone?" he said, encouraged. "It's not just the body. It's...it's the soul."

"What is the soul?"

"It's--you. The thing inside you."

"The thing that thinks and values and makes decisions?"

"Yes! Yes, that's it. And the thing that feels. You've--you've given it up."

"So there are two things that one can't give up: One's thoughts and one's desires?"

"Yes! Oh, you do understand! So you see, you're like a corpse to everybody around you. A kind of walking death. That's worse than any active crime. It's..."

"Negation?"

"Yes. Just blank negation. You're not here. You've never been here. If you'd tell me that the curtains in this room are ghastly and if you'd rip them off and put up some you like--something of you would be real, here, in this room. But you never have. You've never told the cook what dessert you liked for dinner. You're not here, Dominique. You're not alive. Where's your I?"

"Where's yours, Peter?" she asked quietly.


He sat still, his eyes wide...

 

 

Edited by dream_weaver

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