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The “Benevolent Rape” Scene?

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Speaking only for himself, J. Morton Spindle, Jr. suggests that it’s not always nice to be nice.

The “Benevolent Rape” Scene?
Being a Judicious Inquiry into the Proper
Parameters of Benevolence as Manifested in the
So-called “Rape” Scene of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead
by J. Morton Spindle, Jr.
(First published on TDO September 28, 1999)

Is Roark’s rape of Dominique in The Fountainhead inadequately benevolent?

In his book on being benevolent, David Kelley argues that benevolence is not only consistent with the rest of the Rand-articulated virtues but actually is entailed by them.

Dr. Kelley even goes so far as to aver that it is okay, rationally speaking, to be nice to people and maybe even say hello to them on the street. The assumption seems to be that benevolence as a standard operating procedure is entirely consistent with the “goal” of “human survival” in a “social context.” Even in its seemingly least defensible forms (for example, helping little old ladies across the street when on the basis of straightforward cost-benefit analysis you’d be better off shoving them into the gutter), the act of niceness constitutes a legitimate form of trade under the category of the trader principle, he claims.

Clearly, Kelley’s pitch for niceness is the reductio ad absurdam of his plumping for “tolerance,” according to which it is permissible vis-à-vis rational self-interest not to punch people in the nose who disagree with you.

This problematic approach to human relations generates many so-far unanswered questions, however. What about “rough sex,” for instance? How does that fit in to any such theory? But Kelley does not even discuss the famous rape scene of The Fountainhead.

The paradox is that there is much in the scene—when interpreted uncritically, anyway—which supports Kelley’s own theory of being nice. The text is startlingly much closer than you may remember to the civil and benevolent form of rape now enjoined by the most ardent feminists and some of the more extremist expressions of Kelleyism. Nowhere to be found are the implicitly sanctioned slaps, shoves, and nibbles of the Romantic fare of yore.

This is not a point in favor of Kelleyism, however. Far from it. As should be evident to any rational reader, the relevant passages would in fact be more successful, from a literary standpoint, had they been rendered in subtler, psychologically steamier, even outright non-benovolent fashion. And from a philosophical standpoint, only a very literal, obtuse reading of the novel could lend any support to Kelley’s very problematic and implausible advocacy of common courtesy and suchlike.

The following excerpts from scenes leading up to and culminating in the coercive taking of the chatelaine should be enough to establish the point.

THE INITIAL ENCOUNTER IN THE GRANITE QUARRY

…She stood, as insult to the place below, and to the cosmos. Her dress, the color of pale orange rind, too simple and too expensive, its pleats like the knife edges of sharp shards of orange-colored glass—her thin heels like spikes as daggers to stab the traitorous earth—the fragility of her body against the harsh lemon sky like a wind-whipped stem against a yellow background—were an emblem of grace, of protest and of doom that was both song and scream—not at all evocative of the fastidious drawing rooms she’d hailed from.

She looked down. Her eyes stopped on the orange hair—which also resembled orange rind, incidentally—of the incredibly sexy and dymamic man working hard in the quarry below who raised his head and looked at her. Their glances locked in a dynamic interplay of sexually-charged mutual cognition.

“Are you looking at me?” she inquired, harshly. “You don’t have any sexual interest in me, I hope?”

The man had gaunt, hollow cheeks and a severely pitiless cast to the planes of his countenance. Immediately she wanted to destroy him.

“Yes, I am looking at you,” he said contemptuously, tossing a chunk of granite out of the way of his drill. “Unless it bothers you.”

“It does bother me.”

He looked away and started up the drill.

“Hey you!” she shouted. “Mister!”

He turned off the drill. “Yes ma’am?”

“You needn’t call me ma’am. I’m Dominique Francon. My father owns this quarry.”

“Goodie for you.”

Her eyes became two narrow slits of gray; gray as the gray of the quarry granite. “You want something, don’t you? What do you want?”

“I want to take you sexually by force. Okay with you? I know you’re the type of dame who won’t put out for just anyone.”

“Goddamn you,” she hissed. “Submit the appropriate forms to the Ministry of Romantic Foreplay.”

And she whirled and was gone.

She wants it, Roark thought: she wants to be “taken by force,” so to speak, or she wouldn’t have asked me to file application with the Ministry of Romantic Foreplay when I mentioned my intention to do precisely that.

Roark didn’t think actually filing the forms was necessary. But that night he did so anyway, making sure to send Dominique’s copy to her by certified mail, and keeping another copy for his files. Better to cover your ass in these kinds of cases, he reflected.

When he had finished filling out the forms Roark felt tired, very tired. Dropping the forms off at the post office the next day was like a point reached for him—a stop. He waited in line with the rest of them. Then he had to turn around and go back to the quarry. He picked up the drill.

I’m getting too old for this shit, he thought.

THE ENGRAVED INVITATION

After several more carefully choreographed encounters, Dominique presented Roark with an affidavit laying out that she wanted him to come fix the damaged marble of her fireplace; that she had scratched the marble herself as an excuse to demand his presence and to attempt, and fail, to humiliate him; that Roark hereby had her permission to damage the marble work further as manifestation of masculine contempt for her feckless desire to humiliate him as prelude to her being taken by him by force; and that she would provide him with further instructions at that time. Roark was to be paid his normal wage.

After Roark had initialed the affidavit, Dominique walked away, disappointed. She felt that their secret understanding was lost. He had complied with the new stipulation as if but a simple job plus sexual adventure were involved that she would have offered to any other rippling-muscled, orange-rind-haired workman.

Then she felt the sinking gasp inside, that feeling of shame and pleasure which he always gave her: she realized that their understanding had been more intimate and flagrant than ever—in his natural acceptance of an unnatural offer; he had shown her how much he knew—by his lack of astonishment.

She turned. “Do you realize the shame and pleasure you are giving me by this unnaturally natural acceptance of an unnatural offer?” she asked him.

“Yes I do,” said Roark. “My contemptuous indifference to your overtures will be followed by violently taking you by force.”

“I will send you an engraved invitation,” said Dominique, “you bastard.”

Roark received the engraved invitation by certified mail the next day.

THE CHIPPED LIMESTONE FIREPLACE SCENE

When Roark came by to fix the scratch in the fireplace he said, “Good evening.” He walked with the relaxed, muscle-bunched tension of a cougar.

She said: “Good evening.”

Roark walked straight to the fireplace.

“I see the inconsequential scratch,” he said.

“Yes.”

“Well…guess I’ll go ahead and create some damage.” He struck the fireplace with a sharp utensil. “Okay…now it’s damaged and has to be replaced. That what you wanted?”

She asked calmly: “Know what kind of marble this is and how to get another piece like it?”

“Sure toots.” He went to work removing the marble.

“Got anything else to say?” she asked finally.

“Yes. This is an atrocious fireplace.”

“What would you know of architecture?” she sneered.

“Well, I’m an architect. Actually, I worked for your father once. He fired me, because of my integrity. Have you seen my work? It’s quite good. I’m a genius.”

She shrugged. “So you have integrity, eh?”

“Lots of it. Like you.”

“I don’t believe in integrity. The world destroys it, much as I will have to destroy you. For example, I threw a beautiful statue down an elevator shaft so it would smash to pieces and no one else would ever have to see it and thereby sully its magnificence. I have to protect you, Roark. I will do so by obliterating you like a gnat.”

“Now why would you want to do a fool thing like that?”

“It’s too complicated to explain. I’ll send you several recent volumes of my diary though and you can….”

“Okay, send me the volumes,” said Roark, realizing this was not going to be such an easy lay after all. “The marble can be replaced within a few days. I will be sure to get exactly the same kind. You know, I hope, that this type marble is created by suppressed pressures bubbling up to the surface, much like the suppressed pressures of our psychologies, eager to erupt all over the place.”

“Okay.”

Roark turned to leave.

“Wait!” yelped Dominique, her hair swaying like liquid mercury.

“Yes?”

“Will you set the new piece yourself?”

Roark froze. He had wanted it to be a surprise.

“No,” he said slowly. “No…I won’t. Somebody named Pasquale Orsini will do it.”

THE ARRIVAL OF PASQUALE

A couple days later Pausquale Orsini set the marble.

Dominique was furious that Roark had not been the one to come.

“Damn him!” she said. And yet, she had known ahead of time that it would be Pasquale Orsini.

“Red down at the quarry, he said you wanna I setta the mar—”

“Yes yes,” she said.

Immediately she shot off a telegram to Roark: DO NOT BE IN QUARRY WHEN I ARRIVE EARLY TOMORROW EVENING 6:32 PM STOP BE ON HORSE PATH NEAR WILLOW TREE AT THIRD BEND STOP I WILL LASH YOU WITH TWIG AS I GALLOP PAST STOP DO YOU AGREE STOP IF SO SIGN ATTACHED AND RETURN STOP.

Early the next day she received the signed permission.

The next day she struck him across the face with the twig.

“Ouch!” he said.

She had struck him much harder than was necessary.

RAPE QUA RAPE

“Here to rape me?” she asked when Roark arrived “unexpectedly” at her home the next day.

“What do you think?” asked Roark, reaching into his back pocket.

But he had left the engraved invitation back at the cabin.

Damn. Damn damn damn.

“Uh…I’ll be right back,” said Roark….

J. Morton Spindle, Jr. is a poet, scholar and raconteur who makes his living as an accountant in Utica, New York. His favorite hobby is badminton.

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