This novel portrays a period of history in a small town in Belgium during which the foundation and decay of a medieval university takes place. A psychiatrist, scion of an old Belgian family, converts the university into a mental hospital. The attitudes of the psychiatrist toward mental diseases are demonstrated to contain elements of a degenerative nature ascribed to decendants of old families. Environmental traditions, the acute hostilities of the townspeople and interreactions of the insane population of the hospital is vividly represented. The psychiatrist himself, unable to withstand the impact of the total problem, subsequently becomes insane.
The novel primarily features the timelessness of the problem of mental disease as it has permeated human cultural history through the ages. It is enjoyable, though not easy reading, and does not offer pat solutions.