The stars were clearly in alignment when the Classics Club wheel stopped spinning this weekend. It must have known that there are two reading events this month when we celebrate Celtic authors — Ireland Reading Month and the Dewithon Reading Wales month — because the spin landed within that part of my list devoted to Celtic authors.
Book #18 from my list is by a Scottish author but is set in the South Wales valleys, painting a bleak picture of life in the coal-mining communities in the 1930s.
The Citadel by A J Cronin, published in 1937, is based on Cronin’s own experience as a doctor in the valleys — including the town of Tredegar where I was born. So reading this book is going to have a personal resonance.
The novel is focused on an idealistic, newly qualified doctor, who arrives from Scotland to work as an assistant in a small (fictitious) Welsh mining town. He’s shocked to find high levels of disease caused by poverty and poor housing conditions but encounters resistance from other medical practitioners who cling to their traditional methods.
The Citadel was considered a groundbreaking novel when it was published because of its treatment of medical ethics. Cronin also drew attention to the injustice inherent in a health system where treatment was based on the patient’s ability to pay. As a result he was given credit as the inspiration behind the creation of the National Health Service in 1948.
There have been multiple film adaptations, the most renowned of which was the 1938 Oscar-nominated version starring Robert Donat, Ralph Richardson and Rex Harrison.
I’ve seen that film version many times in my life but never got around to reading the book on which it was based. Now, according to the “rules” of the Classics Club I have until 30 April to put that right.