A. J. Cronin: Wikis


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A. J. Cronin

Born Archibald Joseph Cronin
19 July 1896(1896-07-19)
Cardross, Scotland
Died 6 January 1981 (aged 84)
Montreux, Switzerland
Occupation M.D., Novelist

Archibald Joseph Cronin (19 July 1896 – 6 January 1981) was a Scottish novelist and writer of non-fiction.[1][2] His best-known works are Hatter's Castle, The Stars Look Down, The Citadel, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years, all of which were adapted to film. He also created the Dr. Finlay character, the hero of a series of stories that served as the basis for the popular BBC television and radio series entitled Dr. Finlay's Casebook.


Early life

Rosebank Cottage, Cronin's birthplace

Cronin was born at Rosebank Cottage in Cardross, Dunbartonshire, the only child of a Protestant mother, Jessie Cronin, and a Catholic father, Patrick Cronin, and would later write of young men from similarly mixed backgrounds. His paternal grandparents were the proprietors of a public house in Alexandria. His maternal grandfather, Archibald Montgomerie, was a hatter who owned a shop in Dumbarton. After their marriage, Cronin's parents moved to Helensburgh, where he attended Grant Street School. When he was seven years old, his father, an insurance agent and commercial traveller, died from tuberculosis. He and his mother moved to her parents’ home in Dumbarton, and she soon became the first female public health inspector in Scotland.

Cronin was not only a precocious student at Dumbarton Academy who won many prizes and writing competitions, but an excellent athlete and footballer. From an early age, he was an avid golfer, a sport he enjoyed throughout his life, and he loved salmon fishing as well. The family later moved to Yorkhill, Glasgow, where he attended St. Aloysius' College in the Garnethill area of the city. He played football for the First XI there, an experience which he included in one of his last novels, The Minstrel Boy, also published as Desmonde in the USA. Due to his exceptional abilities, he was awarded a scholarship to study medicine at the University of Glasgow in 1914. He was absent during the 1916-1917 session for naval service and graduated with highest honours in 1919, being awarded an M.B. and a Ch.B.. Cronin went on to earn additional degrees, including a Diploma in Public Health (1923) and his MRCP (1924). In 1925, he was awarded an M.D. from the University of Glasgow for his dissertation, entitled "The History of Aneurysm".

Medical career

Cronin served as a Royal Navy surgeon during World War I before graduating from medical school. After the war, he trained at various hospitals including Bellahouston and Lightburn Hospitals in Glasgow and Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, before taking up his first practice in Tredegar, a mining town in South Wales. In 1924, he was appointed Medical Inspector of Mines for Great Britain, and over the next few years, his survey of medical regulations in collieries and his reports on the correlation between coal dust inhalation and pulmonary disease were published. Cronin drew on his experiences researching the occupational hazards of the mining industry for his later novels The Citadel, set in Wales, and The Stars Look Down, set in Northumberland. He subsequently moved to London where he practised in Harley Street before opening his own thriving medical practice in Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill. Cronin was also the medical officer for Whiteleys at this time and was becoming increasingly interested in ophthalmology.

Writing career

Cronin with his wife, May, and sons, Andrew, Vincent, and Patrick, at their Storrington country home in 1938

In 1930, Cronin was sent on an enforced holiday after being diagnosed with a chronic duodenal ulcer. It was at Dalchenna Farm on Loch Fyne where he indulged his lifelong desire to write a novel, having theretofore "written nothing but prescriptions and scientific papers".[3] He composed Hatter's Castle in the span of three months, and the manuscript was quickly accepted by Gollancz, the only publishing house to which it had been submitted. This novel launched his career as a prolific author, and he never returned to practising medicine.

Many of Cronin's books were bestsellers which were translated into numerous languages. His strengths included his compelling narrative skill and his powers of acute observation and graphic description. Although noted for its deep social conscience, his work is filled with colourful characters and witty dialogue. Some of his stories draw on his medical career, dramatically mixing realism, romance, and social criticism. Cronin's works examine moral conflicts between the individual and society as his idealistic heroes pursue justice for the common man. One of his earliest novels, The Stars Look Down, chronicles transgressions in a mining community in Northeast England. Cronin's humanism continues to inspire - the film Billy Elliot was partly drawn from The Stars Look Down, and the opening song of the Billy Elliot the Musical is entitled this as a tribute.

A few of Cronin's novels also deal with religion, something he had grown away from during his medical training and career, and with which he reacquainted himself in his thirties. The example of his mother, a converted and devout Catholic, combined with his early years in a Jesuit school to make his religious beliefs important to him. Having suffered from a then prevalent bigotry, both with his parents' mixed marriage and at the time of his own marriage (his wife's family were Protestants), his Catholicism was ecumenical far before such tolerant attitudes became commonplace. In The Keys of the Kingdom, the priest protagonist's liberal philosophy, notably toward atheism, are quite remarkable considering the time at which the novel was written.[4]

Extremely diligent, Cronin liked to average 5,000 words a day, meticulously planning the details of his plots in advance. He was known to be very tough in business dealings, although in private life he was a good-humoured person to whom each day was an adventure.[4]

Cronin also contributed a large number of stories and essays to various international publications.

Influence of The Citadel

The Citadel incited the establishment of the National Health Service in the United Kingdom by exposing the inequity and incompetence of medical practice at the time. Dr. Cronin and Aneurin Bevan had both worked at the Tredegar Cottage Hospital in Wales, which served as the basis for the NHS. Cronin's novel informed the public of corruption within the medical system, planting a seed that eventually led to necessary reform. Not only were the author's pioneering ideas instrumental in the creation of the NHS, but the popularity of his novels played a substantial role in the Labour Party's landslide 1945 victory.[5]


It was at university that Cronin met his future wife, Agnes Mary Gibson, who was also a medical student. May was the daughter of Robert Gibson, a master baker, and Agnes Thomson Gibson (née Gilchrist) of Hamilton, Lanarkshire. The couple married on 31 August 1921. As a doctor, May helped her husband with research and worked in the dispensary while he was employed by the Tredegar General Hospital, and she also assisted him with his practice in London. When he became an author, she would proofread his manuscripts. Their first son, Vincent, was born in Tredegar in 1924. Their second son, Patrick, was born in London in 1926. Andrew, their youngest son, was born in London in 1937.

With his stories being adapted to Hollywood films, Cronin and his family moved to the United States in 1939, living in Bel-Air, California, Nantucket, Massachusetts, Greenwich, Connecticut, and Blue Hill, Maine. In 1945, the Cronins sailed back to England aboard the RMS Queen Mary, where they stayed briefly in Hove and then in Raheny, Ireland before returning to the U.S. the following year. They subsequently took up residence at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City and then in Deerfield, Massachusetts before settling in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1947. Ever the nomad, Cronin also frequently travelled to his homes in Bermuda and Cap-d'Ail, France, where he summered.

Later years

Portrait of the author by Stephen Conroy

Ultimately, Cronin returned to Europe, residing in Lucerne and Montreux, Switzerland for the last twenty-five years of his life and continuing to write into his eighties. He included among his friends Lord Olivier, Sir Charles Chaplin and Audrey Hepburn, to whose first son he was godfather. He died on 6 January 1981 in Montreux, and is interred at La Tour-de-Peilz. Many of Cronin's writings, including published and unpublished literary manuscripts, drafts, letters, school exercise books and essays, laboratory books, and his M.D. thesis, are held at the National Library of Scotland and the University of Texas.



Selected periodical publications

  • "The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met: The Doctor of Lennox," Reader's Digest, 35 (September 1939): 26-30.
  • "Turning Point of My Career," Reader's Digest, 38 (May 1941): 53-57.
  • "Diogenes in Maine," Reader's Digest, 39 (August 1941): 11-13.
  • "Reward of Mercy," Reader's Digest, 39 (September 1941): 25-37.
  • "How I Came to Write a Novel of a Priest," Life, 11 (20 October 1941): 64-66.
  • "Drama in Everyday Life," Reader's Digest, 42 (March 1943): 83-86.
  • "Candles in Vienna," Reader's Digest, 48 (June 1946): 1-3.
  • "Star of Hope Still Rises," Reader's Digest, 53 (December 1948): 1-3.
  • "Johnny Brown Stays Here," Reader's Digest, 54 (January 1949): 9-12.
  • "Two Gentlemen of Verona," Reader's Digest, 54 (February 1949): 1-5.
  • "Greater Gift," Reader's Digest, 54 (March 1949): 88-91.
  • "Irish Rose," Reader's Digest, 56 (January 1950): 21-24.
  • "Monsieur le Maire," Reader's Digest, 58 (January 1951): 52-56.
  • "Best Investment I Ever Made," Reader's Digest, 58 (March 1951): 25-28.
  • "Quo Vadis?," Reader's Digest, 59 (December 1951): 41-44.
  • "Tombstone for Nora Malone," Reader's Digest, 60 (January 1952): 99-101.
  • "When You Dread Failure," Reader's Digest, 60 (February 1952): 21-24.
  • "What I Learned at La Grande Chartreuse," Reader's Digest, 62 (February 1953): 73-77.
  • "Grace of Gratitude," Reader's Digest, 62 (March 1953): 67-70.
  • "Thousand and One Lives," Reader's Digest, 64 (January 1954): 8-11.
  • "How to Stop Worrying," Reader's Digest, 64 (May 1954): 47-50.
  • "Don't Be Sorry for Yourself!," Reader's Digest, 66 (February 1955): 97-100.
  • "Unless You Deny Yourself," Reader's Digest, 68 (January 1956): 54-56.
  • "Resurrection of Joao Jacinto," Reader's Digest, 89 (November 1966): 153-157.[6]

Film adaptations

Selected television credits

Selected radio credits

See also

Further reading

  • Salwak, Dale. A. J. Cronin. Boston: Twayne's English Authors Series, 1985. ISBN 080576884X


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ Cronin, A. J. Adventures in Two Worlds. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1952, pp. 261-2.
  4. ^ a b Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  5. ^ R. Samuel, "North and South", London Review of Books 17.12 (22 June 1995): 3-6.
  6. ^ Dictionary of Literary Biography

External links

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