Archibald Joseph Cronin (1896-1974) was a Scottish novelist and physician. “The Citadel” is known as his most famous novel ever. It is a story of experiences of a newly just-out-of-school doctor, who goes to a Welsh mining town of Blaenelly to assist a Dr. Edward Page. the novel shows his drastic progress from checking on patients in mines to practicing in London. Cronin has a first-hand experience of this account for he was the Medical Inspector of mines and late a Doctor in Harley Street.
Another such popular mining novel of his, set in the North East of England, is “The Stars Look Down”. Both of these novels have been made into films as Hatter’s Castle, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years. A long-running BBC radio and television series, Dr. Finlay’s Casebook has been adapted from his novel Country Doctor, reviving it after several years.
About “The Citadel” by A.J Cronin:
“The Citadel” is a story about a doctor who has recently passed medical school and is coming to a small Welsh mining town of Blaenelly to be assistant to Dr. Edward Page. Later on in the novel, we trace his evolution from a doctor in the mines to a medical practitioner in London. The book talks about various unconventional and controversial new ideas about medical ethics. It exposes the corruption in medical practice where the dishonest doctors have “ raised guinea snatching and the bamboozling of patients as an art form” amidst such degraded and incompetent environment the protagonist, Andrew Mason, is having a hard time maintaining his scientific integrity and social obligations.
The novel incits the need of National Health Service and ultimately led to its commencement. The Citadel won the National Book Award, Favourite Fiction of 1937, voted by the members of the American Booksellers Association. According to a Gallup poll conducted in 1939, The Citadel was voted most interesting book that the readers have ever read.
Birth by A.J Cronin:
The story being discussed in context here is an extract from the author’s famous novel The Citadel. In the birth by A.J Cronin characters, the protagonist, Andrew Mason here, has an encounter with Joe Morgan, who along with his wife of twenty years are expecting their first child. Mason goes to perform the delivery and what he was expecting to be an uneventful night, turned out to an experience that would change his life forever.
Birth by A.J. Cronin Summary
Summary of The Story Birth by A.J Cronin begins with the protagonist Andrew Mason reaching Bryngower at nearly midnight, where, despite the late hours, Joe Morgan was waiting for him. Joe Morgan is shown to be impatient and anxious, pacing to and fro. On seeing Andrew he had expressed a sense of relief. Joe, who was “ burly driller” i.e a mine worker was there to take Andrew to his house, was glad that Andrew had come and says that he had been waiting for him for the last one hour. He informs Andrew that his wife has started the process of labor and is before time too.
Andrew was feeling a bit detached today, he recalled what had earlier happened that evening with Christine, the girl she loves, and tried not that disappointment surface. He is generally very receptive to his surroundings, but today he was not bothered and was feeling very distant from them. Together with Joe, they were going to 12 Blaina Terrace to Joe’s house to his expecting wife. But the narrator says that Andrew had no idea that the night that was about to come would be different, let alone be a life-changing experience.
When both of them reached Joe’s house, Joe, with restraint, said that he would not go inside but he was confident of Andrew’s capabilities and had faith in him.
Andrew saw a poorly furnished but a small and clean bedroom, up to a narrow stairwell. Inside the room, he saw Mrs. Morgan’s mother, a tall, grey-haired woman of nearly seventy. Along with her was a stout, elderly midwife who was waiting beside the patient and intently following Andrew’s expression. Mrs. Morgan’s mother offered to make Andrew a cup of tea. She knew it was not an ordeal that is going to span over short time, and she probably didn’t want the doctor to leave, and it was thus in the best interest to make his stay as comfortable as possible. Andrew was tired and he knew that if he went home he could steal an hour’s sleep but he chose to stay. In the kitchen downstairs, he drank the tea which he got from Mrs. Morgan’s mother. After an hour he went to check up on Mrs. Morgan and came down again. Everything was stagnant except for the wood burning in the fireplace. And also the sound of Joe’s steps pacing around outside. Mrs. Morgan’s mother who was sitting opposite to him was motionless, in her black dress and was continuously observing the doctor.
Andrew then began to contemplate about all those failures of relationships that as happening around, and how he was conflicted with the one he had. He was so engrossed in his thoughts that when he was addressed by the person sitting across him, he got startled. Mrs. Morgan’s mother told that Susann, i.e., Mrs. Morgan would not like chloroform if it would harm the baby. They had their hearts set on this child and everyone was looking for it. Andrew gathered himself together and replied that the anesthetic would not affect the baby and that both of them would be alright.
At half-past three the nurse called Andrew up, and it was a time that Andrew began with his work. After a long struggle, as dawn encroached upon them, a child was born, lifeless.
The doctor was terrified. After all that hard work and promises that he made, he went numb out of ambiguity and exhaustion. The doctor was torn between his two obligations, whether to resuscitate the child or to save the failing mother. His moral dilemma did not allow him to solve this problem with the conscious decision. With blind instinct, he first gave the child into the nurse’s custody and went on to tend to Susan whose health was deteriorating fast. The anesthetic was clouding over the woman’s strength and after the doctor’s frantic efforts, he was able to somewhat stabilize the woman’s condition. The doctor then turned towards the pale stiff child whom the midwife had placed beneath the bed. The pale whiteness which had spread over the tender body of the newborn made Andrew conclude that the child must be suffering from asphyxia or pallida, a condition caused by the lack of oxygen supply to the body. Andrew hastily tried to remember a similar case which he had witnessed at Samaritan and recalled its mode of treatment. He asked the midwife to bring him bowls of hot and cold water, both. The midwife rushed to the kitchen the complied to the doctor’s orders. Andrew then laid the child on a blanket and began a special method of respiration. The doctor then went on to submerge the child alternatively in each bowl. He continued the ordeal for over fifteen minutes without any positive reaction from the lifeless body of the child. A desperate sense of defeat was encroaching upon him but he refused to give up.
The midwife was watching the doctor’s actions in utter amazement. The doctor recalled the longing that Susan had for a child, that her mother had for a child and all that seemed futile to him now and beyond repair. The midwife begged him not to go on with this madness and to face the fact that the child is stillborn. But the doctor was determined not to let the efforts of the last half an hour in waste. As a last desperate effort, Andrew began rubbing the limp chest of the puny child with a rough towel, almost crushing it. Then almost as if in a miracle, the child’s chest heaved and let out a tuft of breath. After all, that effort coming to fruition beneath his fingers made him ecstatic. Signs of life appeared in the still body of the child letting out a satisfying cry, calming all the madness around him. The nurse thanked God for this miracle and Andrew handed her the child. The room was a mess, and Susan was still in a trance. Her mother was still praying.
Then almost mechanically, Andrew left, saying that he will fetch his bag later. He went downstairs to the scullery and had a long drink of water, after which he went out to meet Joe. He informs that everything was alright. It was five in the morning and everything was gently coming to life. The miners out of their night shifts were on the road. Tired and exhausted, Andrew walked along with them while in his mind all he could think was that at last, he has done something worthwhile. He had finally achieved the validation that he was striving for.