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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.

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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 journal, is to project oneself into other personalities by helping them in secret, and then going to God, the Major Personality, in secret and requesting what one wants. First one must mend the wrongs in which one has been implicated, and then the process can begin. The success of this formula is attested to by one of Hudson’s beneficiaries, a well-known sculptor, who tells Bobby his own success was gained by following the formula.

Bobby decides to put Hudson’s method to the test and begins by rescuing Hudson’s daughter, Joyce, from a drunken brawl. Although his actions are misconstrued by the lovely Helen, he declines to correct her blame or accept credit for the rescue. In another trial of the formula, Bobby gives a substantial loan to a needy medical student; afterward, he begins to excel in his studies and experiences a sense of opening doors. Meanwhile, Nancy, who is also experimenting with Hudson’s formula, reports that although she cannot give particulars, amazing things are happening in her life as well.

After finishing medical school with top honors along with the student he aided, Bobby becomes a brilliant young resident with his own lab. He secretly supports Helen, whose finances have been depleted by an unscrupulous cousin. Bobby repays the debts and also rehabilitates the cousin, teaching him how to “project yourself through investments in other people” to earn additional personal power. Bobby goes on to tell his grandfather about the theory of the Major Personality, claiming that religion is sentimental, but this principle is scientific. Through performing these secret good works, Bobby obtains a vision of how to invent a new electric cauterizing scalpel, which quickly revolutionizes brain surgery. He becomes famous in his field. He makes friends with a minister, who joins him in his quest for a new religious vocabulary that uses modern terms and ideas. Says Bobby, “God’s not a hypothesis; He’s a source for power, energy, and dynamics . . . it’s not ethics; it’s science.”

Meanwhile Helen, after discovering that Bobby has intervened in her financial affairs to become...

(The entire section contains 1853 words.)

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