Magnificent Obsession Summary

Overview (Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The protagonist of Magnificent Obsession, brilliant brain surgeon Dr. Wayne Hudson, has his own hospital in Detroit, a worrisome playgirl daughter, and a beautiful young bride. While on holiday, he drowns after a water accident because a respirator he kept handy was being used to resuscitate a drunken young man who was friends with his daughter, Joyce. The young man, Bobby Merrick, awakes in Hudson’s hospital and is mystified by the coldness with which he is treated by the staff. He learns of Hudson’s death through Nancy Ashford, the hospital superintendent who has devoted her life to Hudson. Nancy suggests that Bobby can assuage his guilt by using his wasted potential to take Hudson’s place. While Bobby considers this proposition, he learns that Dr. Hudson has secretly given money, advice, and help to countless people, declining to be repaid by saying, “I’ve used it all up.” Bobby decides to embark on the quest to replace Hudson and becomes friends with Nancy, who shares with him all Hudson’s papers, including a secret journal written in code. Bobby accidentally meets Helen, Hudson’s young widow, who becomes attracted to him without knowing who he is.

By decoding Hudson’s journal and interviewing Hudson’s devotees, Bobby learns that the surgeon achieved professional success through a series of clandestine good works, swearing his beneficiaries to secrecy. Bobby, who scorns churches and religion, is at first disillusioned to learn that Hudson’s method was extracted from the teachings of Jesus. He is intrigued, however, with Hudson’s assertion that one can do, be, or have anything one wants by following this secret formula, which Hudson claimed revolutionized his life. The key to power, according to Hudson’s...

(The entire section is 720 words.)

Magnificent Obsession Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The staff at the Hudson Clinic is worried about the head of the hospital, Dr. Wayne Hudson. The doctor has suddenly become nervous and haggard, a bad condition for an eminent practicing surgeon, and his staff tries to advise the doctor to take six months away from his work. The doctor himself surprises his staff by announcing that he is about to marry his daughter’s school friend, Miss Helen Brent. The couple are married within a short time and live at the doctor’s lakeside cottage. Soon afterward, a shocking tragedy occurs at the lake. Dr. Hudson drowns because the inhalator that might have saved his life had been dispatched across the lake to resuscitate a wealthy young playboy, Robert Merrick.

While he is recuperating, young Merrick believes that the doctors and nurses at the Hudson Clinic resent him. He does not yet know that he is alive at the expense of the life of the hospital’s chief surgeon. He questions the superintendent of the clinic, Nancy Ashford, who had been in love with her chief, Dr. Hudson, but Ashford does not give him a satisfactory answer. Later, overhearing a conversation, Merrick discovers why the people at the hospital seem to despise him. He talks again to Ashford, who tells him the only way he can ever make amends would be to take Dr. Hudson’s place in life by becoming a great surgeon.

After weeks of pondering on the idea of going to medical school, Merrick decides that he will try to fill Dr. Hudson’s place. When he tells Ashford of his plans, she tells him the story of the doctor’s many philanthropies. She also gives him a book the doctor had written in code. After many days and nights of perseverance, the young man manages to break the cipher. When he has done so, it seems to him that the doctor, whom he has come to look upon as an ideal, had been a lunatic, for the book is a strange, mystic tract about doing good. From Ashford, he learns that the deceased doctor had been a great mystic, believing that his gift as a surgeon came to him from what he called the Major Personality. That power was earned by doing good unknown to others, philanthropy that would aid the recipient in leading a valuable life of service.

During the next few years, Merrick attends the state medical school. One night, as he sits studying, he suddenly feels a call to go to a nightclub where he knows Joyce Hudson, the doctor’s daughter, is to be. After rescuing her from a drunken scene, he takes her home. There he meets the doctor’s widow, Helen Hudson.

That semester, Merrick almost fails at medical school. Discouraged with his own efforts, he decides to experiment with the knowledge he gained from the dead surgeon’s manuscript. He aides a fellow student, Dawson, who is about to leave school because he lacks...

(The entire section is 1133 words.)