The Citadel (novel)

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The Citadel
First edition
Author A. J. Cronin
CountryUnited Kingdom
Gollancz (UK)
Little, Brown (US)
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages446 pp. (UK hardcover)
ISBN 0-450-01041-4

The Citadel is a novel by A. J. Cronin, first published in 1937, which was groundbreaking in its treatment of the contentious theme of medical ethics. It has been credited with laying the foundation in Britain for the introduction of the NHS a decade later. [1] [2]


In the United States, it won the National Book Award for 1937 novels, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. [3]

For his fifth book, Dr. Cronin drew on his experiences practising medicine in the coal-mining communities of the South Wales Valleys, as he had for The Stars Look Down two years earlier. Specifically, he had researched and reported on the correlation between coal dust inhalation and lung disease in the town of Tredegar. He had also worked as a doctor for the Tredegar Medical Aid Society at the Cottage Hospital, which served as the model for the National Health Service.

Cronin once stated in an interview, "I have written in The Citadel all I feel about the medical profession, its injustices, its hide-bound unscientific stubbornness, its humbug ... The horrors and inequities detailed in the story I have personally witnessed. This is not an attack against individuals, but against a system."

Plot summary

In October 1924, Andrew Manson, an idealistic, newly qualified doctor, arrives from Scotland to work as assistant to Doctor Page in the small (fictitious) Welsh mining town of Drineffy (Blaenelly is the name given in some adaptations). He quickly realises that Page is unwell and disabled and that he has to do all the work for a meagre wage. Shocked by the unsanitary conditions he discovers, Manson works to improve matters and receives the support of Dr Philip Denny, a cynical semi-alcoholic who, Manson finds out in due course, took a post as an assistant doctor after having fallen from grace as a surgeon. Resigning, he obtains a post as assistant in a miners' medical aid scheme in "Aberalaw", a neighbouring coal mining town in the South Wales coalfield. On the strength of this job, Manson marries Christine Barlow, a junior school teacher.

Christine helps her husband with his silicosis research. Eager to improve the lives of his patients, mainly coal miners, Manson dedicates many hours to research in his chosen field of lung disease. He studies for, and is granted, the MRCP, and when his research is published, an MD. The research gains him a post with the "Mines Fatigue Board" in London, but he resigns after six months to set up a private practice.

Seduced by the thought of easy money from wealthy clients rather than the principles he started with, Manson becomes involved with pampered private patients and fashionable surgeons and drifts away from his wife. A patient dies because of a surgeon's ineptitude, and the incident causes Manson to abandon his practice and return to his principles. He and his wife repair their damaged relationship, but then she is run over by a bus and killed.

Since Manson has accused the incompetent surgeon of murder, he is vindictively reported to the General Medical Council for having worked with an American tuberculosis specialist, Richard Stillman, who does not have a medical degree, even though the patient had been successfully treated at his clinic. Stillman's treatment, that of pneumothorax, involved collapsing an affected lung with nitrogen, and was not universally accepted at the time.

Despite his lawyer's gloomy prognosis, Manson forcefully justifies his actions during the hearing and is not struck off the medical register.

Historical context

The novel is of interest because of its portrayal of a voluntary contribution medical association which is based (not entirely uncritically) on the Tredegar Medical Aid Society for which Cronin worked for a time in the 1920s, and which in due course became the inspiration for the National Health Service as established under Aneurin Bevan.

The Citadel was extremely popular in translation, being sold in book shops in the Third Reich as late as 1944. The scholar and Holocaust survivor Victor Klemperer noted, "English novels are banned of course; but there are books by A.J. Cronin in every shop window: he’s Scottish and exposes shortcomings of social and public services in England." [4] After the Second World War, it proved popular in Communist bloc countries as well, where Cronin was one of the few contemporary British authors to be published. [5]


The novel was made into a 1938 film with Robert Donat, Rosalind Russell, Ralph Richardson and Rex Harrison, and television versions include one American (1960), two British (1960 and 1983), and two Italian (1964 and 2003) adaptations of the novel. There are also three film adaptations of the novel in Indian languages: Tere Mere Sapne (1971) in Hindi, Jiban Saikate (1972) in Bengali and Madhura Swapnam (1982) in Telugu. [6] In 2017, an adaptation for radio by Christopher Reason was featured as the BBC Radio 4 15 minute drama. [7] In June 2021, a longer radio adaptation was broadcast by Radio 4 as two 45-minute episodes, written by Christopher Reason and Tom Needham. [8]

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  1. "An expectant public: 1948–2008 60 years of the NHS". Birth of NHS in Scotland. Scottish Government. 2008. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  2. "A.J. Cronin: Biography on Undiscovered Scotland". Retrieved 13 August 2023.
  3. "Booksellers Give Prize to 'Citadel': Cronin's Work About Doctors Their Favorite--'Mme. Curie' Gets Non-Fiction Award ...", The New York Times, 2 March 1938, page 14. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851–2007).
    Ballots were submitted by 319 stores; there had been about 600 ABA members one year earlier.
    • At the Hotel Astor luncheon, presenter Clifton Fadiman said, "Unlike the Pulitzer Prize committee, the booksellers merely vote for their favorite books. They do not say it is the best book or the one that will elevate the standard of manhood or womanhood. Twenty years from now we can decide which are the masterpieces. This year we can only decide which books we enjoyed reading the most."
  4. "I Will Bear Witness A Diary Of The Nazi Years". Retrieved 18 March 2020.
  5. Mckibbin, Ross (1 June 2008). "Politics and the Medical Hero: A.J. Cronin's The Citadel". The English Historical Review. CXXIII (502): 651–678. doi:10.1093/ehr/cen162. ISSN   0013-8266.
  6. "IN FOCUS - Dreaming of a better tomorrow". The Times of India. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  7. "15 Minute Drama, The Citadel". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2 November 2017.
  8. "The Citadel episode 1". BBC Sounds. Retrieved 17 June 2021.
    - "The Citadel episode 2". BBC Sounds. Retrieved 17 June 2021.