What a nerve

The action takes place in a private clinic for “nerves” called Hopewell Towers—the tradition of giving cheery names to places for desperate cases lives on). The clinic is owned and directed by Dr Bragg, an immaculately dressed, pompous careerist. Among his staff is an ambitious and non-conformist young scientist, Dr Venner, who has been given a room to use as a laboratory that the sour matron, Fanny Leeming (who is in love with Dr Bragg, whose own wife has had an affair with Dr Venner), covets for use as a sitting room for herself. The other doctors are the avuncular Dr Drewett, over 70, a complete failure in the mode of doctors in Chekhov; Dr Thorogood, Dr Bragg’s nephew, a pretty brainless fellow; and Dr Murray, a young woman just qualified whose ambition it is to go to China as a medical missionary, and who comes to Hopewell Towers only to earn enough for her passage. But she falls in love with Dr Venner—who returns her love. To complete the complications, Dr Thorogood also falls in love with Dr Murray. The scene is set for melodrama.
In his laboratory, Dr Venner singlehandedly discovers a magic bullet for schizophrenia called betrazol (surely a reference to metrazol, which was used briefly to induce convulsions in psychiatric patients). This drug regenerates the nerve cells that have supposedly died in schizophrenia. In a fury of jealousy over Dr Venner’s love for Dr Murray instead of for herself, Mrs Bragg sneaks into his laboratory to burn his research records. Dr Murray enters the laboratory to put out the fire, but a bottle of ether explodes and kills her on the spot. One begins to see what the Dictionary of National Biography means by middlebrow.

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