The Watch that Ends the Night

MacLennan, Hugh

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Feb-04-1997
  • Last revised: Feb-15-2007


George Stewart had always loved his best friend's wife, Catherine. After her doctor husband, Jerome Martel, is presumed to have died in a Nazi prison camp, George and Catherine marry, respectful of Martel's memory and mindful of her chronic illness. The central crisis of the story, which is introduced in the first chapter, is the surprising return of Martel a decade after his death.

Martel still burns with the passion for social justice that took him to war in Europe. The long story of their lives is narrated by George through a series of flashbacks and reminiscences, in which Catherine's illness is ever present.


MacLennan modeled the character, Jerome Martel, on the life of Canadian surgeon, Norman Bethune, who served in Spain, where he founded a mobile transfusion unit, and in China, where he died working as a field surgeon under Mao ((see film annotation, Bethune: The Making of a Hero). Like Bethune, Martel has difficulties with his Montreal colleagues who respect his skills, but mistrust his commitment to social justice and his fascination with communism. Maclennan provides vivid descriptions of life in a 1920s New Brunswick logging camp, where Martel spent his childhood, and of Montreal in the 1930s and 1940s.



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