[Little, Brown, $2.50]
THE doctor has been an increasingly common character in literature since the sixteenth century. Usually an incidental figure, he has been successively satirized, caricatured, sentimentalized, or made to appear impossibly heroic. Rarely, if we except Middle-march, the fine old professor from Montpellier in Madame Bovary, and a few other examples, have writers succeeded in discerning and accurately portraying the development of the character of a young physician under the stress of professional experience, the moulding of personality by the anxiety of unshared responsibility, by the strain of tragic failure, and by pride in independently achieved success.
In our own day, in which the extraordinary velocity of medical discovery has lent it a popularizing value equaled only by love, atomic physics, and aviation, medicine has inevitably come in for its due share of attention from novelists, dramatists. and writers for the screen. Yet very few of the modern books and plays which deal with medical subjects have escaped distortion by inaccuracy and sensationalism or cheapening by heroics.
No one could have written as fine, honest, and moving a study of a young doctor as The Citadel without possessing great literary taste and skill and, at the same time, an almost scientific conscientiousness in regard to accuracy of observation. Dr. Cronin’s distinguished achievement is the restrained and almost impersonal manner in which he allows his characters to develop, naturally and logically, against the background of conditions and circumstances with which he is completely familiar in every detail. His Manson is neither a hero nor a genius. He is a reasonably well-trained, intelligent, and ambitious young doctor, intensely earnest about his calling, and instinctively impatient with the pretense and professional incompetence which still linger (diminishingly) here and there in medical practice.
Sympathetically portrayed, he is never the sentimentally ennobled lay figure so popular in most modern medical fiction. Outside of his professional work he is as ill-balanced as most other normal human beings. Keen in his work, he is amazingly ignorant of most other forms of knowledge. (We guess his general education from the fact that he had never heard of Trollope.) He is at his best when responsibility calls forth his courage and devotion. Success makes him boastful, failure embitters him, and under strain he is as dependent on Christine as though he had been her child.
He is, in short, one type of the hundreds of young men who enter the practice of medicine each year, as his friends are other types equally true to life. Together they represent, more accurately than we have ever seen it achieved, the reactions which the experiences of medical practice call forth in men of varied endowment of character and intelligence.
Although the book is entirely free of critical comments on the organization of medicine in England, one cannot read the earlier chapters which deal with the conditions prevailing among the ‘company doctors’ in the Welsh mining districts without some anxiety about the growing tendency toward similar organization in our own country.
Indeed, one of the striking characteristics of Mr. Cronin’s story is its power to arouse thought as though from actual observation — not as though from something read in a book. One sees the world through the eyes of Dr. Manson and Christine; and they as well as many others — Dr. Abbey, Denny, young Hampton, and Dr. Page — linger in the mind as though they had been living people whom one had known and whose lives one had shared.
If these are the signs by which one can recognize a great novel, then Mr. Cronin has written one.