After working with the Parisian physiologist, François Magendie, Dr. John Leggate returns to England to practice in the town of Middlethorpe in the late 1840s. He is obsessed with making a research discovery that will help humanity and establish his name. He falls in love with the intelligent and gifted Marian Brooks who aspires to a career as a concert pianist after study in Leipzig with Felix Mendelsohn. They marry and find happiness at first, but she is troubled by discovery of his past affair in France, and he is troubled by her abandoning music simply to be the type of wife he never wanted.

Leggate has a theory about the origins of cholera, but his painstaking work shows him two things: 1. his original idea is mistaken, and 2. the disease is spread by water. He does not publish, though he announces his intentions to do so. Intimidated by skeptical colleagues, he is unable to write, and the problem is exacerbated by a newspapermen who makes unwarranted accusations because he holds a grudge against Leggate’s wife.

Marian wants to help him, but he rejects her offers and retreats into himself. Their marriage is threatened. Just as cholera returns and the town learns from Leggate’s insights, John Snow publishes his famous observations on cholera. Leggate is scooped. He and Marian migrate to Canada where he is accepted for his skills and desire to be of service and she establishes a conservatory of music. Their marriage is restored.


A stylish book, divided into musical movements; Fuga, Romanza, Andante, Doloroso, and Finale. The author is a professor of psychology, specializing in emotions, at the Ontario Institute of Studies in Education in Toronto. He has unapologeticaly borrowed from the history of medicine and of literature, especially from George Eliot’s Middlemarch (Leggate for Lydgate; Marian Brooks for Marian Evans and Dorothea Brooks).

The evocative descriptions of sewage, society, and macho professionalism, together with reference to real figures in the past of medicine and music, recreate the observations and reasoning that preceded the important discovery that water transmits disease. But the "natural history" is also an intriguing exploration of the stages of a marriage--John and Marian change to accommodate their own obsessions, each imagining that the other expects it. His obsession is solo discovery and fame; hers is a powerfully intimate partnership that blends intellectual friendship and sexual passion.

Pursuit of the obsessions distorts the very characteristics they had initially loved most. The New World allows them to rediscover their original goals and each other, in the belief that they have shed the constraints of Europe. Yet, the novel also suggests that Leggate’s writer’s block and Marian’s aversion to her music had been self-destructive choices. The New World could be a state of mind.



Place Published

Toronto, London, New York



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