Places: Magnificent Obsession

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1929

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Domestic realism

Time of work: Early twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedBrightwood Hospital

Brightwood Magnificent ObsessionHospital. Fictional Detroit hospital sometimes called Hudson’s Clinic in honor of Dr. Wayne Hudson, whose brilliant brain surgery has made the place famous. The hospital is described as being white, neat, and having a variety of well-lighted rooms; however, it also harbors a dark mystery concerning Hudson’s life and work. Hudson is strongly driven by secrets he learned from an artist who drew his ideas for gaining creative power from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In the mysteries of brain surgery, the inescapable connection between the physical and the spiritual forms a hinge that holds together the novel’s central drama. Hudson’s work at Brightwood is symbolic of the modern struggle of humans to understand themselves as more than machines.

The rich playboy Robert Merrick is taken to Brightwood Hospital after a boating accident. There, he not only recovers, but also discovers his vocational calling to become a brain surgeon in order to atone for his inadvertent part in Hudson’s death.

Lake Saginack

Lake Saginack. Lake overlooked by Dr. Hudson’s Flintridge home. Its black waters and steep sides symbolize the depths of life and death into which Hudson perpetually dives in spite of his fears. For Robert Merrick and his grandfather Nicholas Merrick, this lake is a place of leisure–for swimming and sailing. Ironically, when young Merrick has a sailing accident and is saved from drowning by a resuscitation apparatus belonging to Hudson, Hudson himself drowns in the lake and cannot be saved because his apparatus is not available. Thus, his life ends in the same waters where the younger man’s life is renewed.


*Paris. France’s capital city is the home of Merrick’s widowed mother. To Merrick, the city represents a world of posturing and pretense that he avoids as much as possible, even as he tries to avoid memories of his very unpleasant childhood at home with two parents who hated each other.

Gordon’s Gardens

Gordon’s Gardens. Cabaret in Detroit where young people, such as Tom Masterson and Joyce Hudson, go for wild parties and heavy drinking. Merrick rescues Joyce from an incident there with an acrobat who uses her as a stage display, even though she has passed out.

Sources for Further StudyBode, Carl. “Lloyd Douglas–Loud Voice in the Wilderness.” American Quarterly 2 (Winter, 1950): 340-352. Argues that “to know Douglas’ novels is to understand our country at least a little better.”Bode, Carl. “Lloyd Douglas and America’s Largest Parish.” Religion in Life 19, no. 3 (Summer, 1950): 440-447. Discussion of the author and his works.Bourget, Jean-Loup. “God Is Dead, or Through a Glass Darkly.” Bright Lights Film Journal 48 (May, 2005). A film critic discusses film adaptations of the novel by John M. Stahl and by Douglas Sirk.Carroll, Noel. “The Moral Ecology of Melodrama: The Family Plot and Magnificent Obsession.” New York Literary Forum 7 (1980): 197-206. Relates the novel to literary concerns.Dawson, Virginia, and Betty Wilson. The Shape of Sunday. London: Peter Davies, 1953. This “intimate biography” of Lloyd Douglas by his daughters gives many anecdotes of his life. Gives the personal background to the writing and reception of Magnificent Obsession.Goddard, O. E. Review of Magnificent Obsession. Methodist Quarterly Review 79, no. 2 (April, 1930): 317-318. A contemporary review from the novel’s first publication.Kunitz, Stanley, ed. Twentieth Century Authors. First Supplement. New York: H. W. Wilson, 1955. Basic information about Douglas in a literary dictionary.Von Gelder, Robert. Writers and Writing. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1946. The prolific book reviewer reprints his interview with Douglas about the writing and about the impact of Magnificent Obsession.
Categories: Places