Authors: A. J. Cronin

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

British novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Hatter’s Castle, 1931

Three Loves, 1932

The Grand Canary, 1933

The Stars Look Down, 1935

The Citadel, 1937

The Keys of the Kingdom, 1941

The Green Years, 1944

Shannon’s Way, 1948

The Spanish Gardener, 1950

Beyond This Place, 1953

A Thing of Beauty, 1956 (also known as Crusader’s Tomb)

The Northern Light, 1958

The Judas Tree, 1961

A Song of Sixpence, 1964

A Pocketful of Rye, 1969

Desmonde, 1975 (also known as The Mistral Boy)

Lady with Carnations, 1976

Gracie Lindsay, 1978

Doctor Finlay of Tannochbrae, 1978


Jupiter Laughs, pr., pb. 1940


Report on First-Aid Conditions in British Coal Mines, 1926

Report on Dust Inhalation in Haematite Mines, 1926

Adventures in Two Worlds, 1952 (autobiography)


Archibald Joseph Cronin (KROH-nuhn), the Scottish physician who became for several decades one of the most popular writers in the English-speaking world, gave up a profitable London practice in 1931 to become a full-time novelist. Among the eighteen novels that he produced during the next half century, four were best-sellers. His work became known for its direct, simple style, unstinting social criticism, and Roman Catholic outlook. Cronin achieved a critical reputation as well for combining a concern for enduring values with melodramatic action and for fusing realism with a romantic flair.{$I[AN]9810001910}{$I[A]Cronin, A. J.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Cronin, A. J.}{$I[geo]SCOTLAND;Cronin, A. J.}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Cronin, A. J.}{$I[tim]1896;Cronin, A. J.}

The son of Patrick and Jessie (Montgomerie) Cronin, A. J. Cronin was educated at the University of Glasgow, where he received his M.D. He served as a surgeon in the Royal Navy during World War I and then practiced medicine in New South Wales from 1921 to 1924. Later, he served as a medical inspector of mines investigating occupational diseases in the coal industry, thereby unwittingly gathering material for at least two subsequent novels.

In 1926, Cronin opened a medical practice in London’s fashionable West End, but soon after ill health forced him to take a leave of absence. In the summer of 1930, while convalescing from gastric ulcers on a lonely farm in the Highlands, Cronin began to write a novel to while away the hours. The result was Hatter’s Castle, the story of James Brodie, a Scottish hatmaker obsessed with and ultimately ruined by the idea of his noble birth. The novel was accepted by the first publisher to whom Cronin submitted it and became an immediate best-seller in England. Although some faulted Cronin’s style as too dependent on nineteenth century novelistic techniques, critics on both sides of the Atlantic hailed him as an important new novelist.

His next two novels, Three Loves and The Grand Canary, disappointed critical expectations, but in 1935 The Stars Look Down was unanimously judged to fulfill the promise of the first novel. Set in a North England mining town, The Stars Look Down secured Cronin an international readership.

In 1937, Cronin again drew on his own experiences for the most controversial of his novels, The Citadel, the tale of a doctor who exchanges his work in a Welsh mining village for a fashionable London practice only to realize the value of the life he had abandoned. Critics praised Cronin’s sense of social responsibility in exposing the corrupting influences to which medical professionals who attempt to succeed financially and socially are vulnerable.

During the late 1930’s and early 1940’s, Cronin’s popularity as a novelist led to even greater commercial success through film adaptations of his works. The Citadel was filmed in 1938, and by 1941, two other novels, The Stars Look Down and Hatter’s Castle, had also been made into successful films, as was the play Jupiter Laughs, whose film version was renamed Shining Victory.

The 1941 publication of The Keys of the Kingdom, the story of a self-sacrificing Roman Catholic priest sent by his superiors as a missionary to China, where he learns the value of tolerance and patience, marked the height of Cronin’s popularity. The novel passed the half-million mark in sales and was a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. Although some critics found the central character unbelievable and the story relying too much on trite doctrine, others praised the book for portraying eternal and redemptive values, especially at a time when the world was caught up in the tragedy of another world war. The film version of the novel became an enormous box-office success in 1944.

Cronin turned again to personal experience in the novel The Green Years and its sequel, Shannon’s Way, stories of an Irish boy reared in Scotland, and in his autobiography, Adventures in Two Worlds. Cronin married another physician, Agnes Mary Gibson, in 1921, and they had three sons–including Vincent, who also became a novelist. After World War II ended, Cronin became a citizen of the United States, where for a time he made his home in Blue Hills, Maine, and later in Greenwich and New Canaan, Connecticut. He spent the final twenty-five years of his life in Switzerland. He continued to write well into the 1970’s, though his popularity had begun to wane by the 1950’s. Late in life, Cronin again used his medical background to create Dr. Finlay’s Casebook, one of Britain’s longest-running television series.

Cronin’s contribution to twentieth century letters can be considered to lie in the communal values he espoused in his fiction. In 1958, Cronin remarked of contemporary novelists, “They don’t seem to have the stimulation of–I won’t say the Christian ethic–but they seem to have no light to guide them.” Cronin had deeply felt ethical beliefs, and he was able to transmit them compellingly through his writing, setting the standard for such a literature in his time.

BibliographyBartlett, Arthur. “A. J. Cronin: The Writing Doctor.” Coronet 35 (March, 1954): 165-169. This readable, entertaining piece provides biographical details concerning Cronin’s transition from life as a doctor to life as a writer.Bromley, Roger. “The Boundaries of Hegemony.” In The Politics of Theory: Proceedings of the Essex Conference on the Sociology of Literature, July, 1982, edited by Francis Barker et al. Colchester, England: University of Essex, 1983. Examines class structure in The Citadel.Cronin, Vincent. “Recollection of a Writer.” Tablet 235 (February 21, 1981): 175-176. One of Cronin’s surviving sons writes a moving appreciation of his father, with biographical details and a discussion of Hatter’s Castle through The Spanish Gardener. His novels were both “indictments of social injustice” and expressions of “a deep religious faith.” From the latter stemmed “the warm humanity which gave his novels a worldwide appeal.” Quotes from two messages of sympathy sent to the family.Davies, Daniel Horton. A Mirror of the Ministry in Modern Novels. New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. This perceptive piece compares and contrasts the portrayal of a Protestant missionary in W. Somerset Maugham’s “Rain” and Cronin’s The Grand Canary and The Keys of the Kingdom.Frederick, John T. “A. J. Cronin.” College English 3 (November, 1941): 121-129. One of the earliest important considerations of Cronin’s reputation in the light of his flaws as a writer. Discusses Hatter’s Castle, The Grand Canary, The Citadel, The Stars Look Down, and The Keys of the Kingdom. Judges Cronin’s novels to suffer from a lack of humor, an absence of stylistic grace, an obvious construction, and some feeble characters. On the positive side, finds a “deliberate choice of fictional material of the highest value and importance, unquestionable earnestness of purpose and–most important of all–positive evidence of capacity for self-criticism and for growth.”Fytton, Francis. “Dr. Cronin: An Essay in Victoriana.” Catholic World 183 (August, 1956): 356-362. This important discussion covers the man behind the novels and his religious thinking since his return to the faith. Divides the works into two groups: those before The Keys of the Kingdom (which grow in quality) and those after (which descend in quality). Claims that “the descent exactly corresponds with the author’s growth in religious conviction.”Salwak, Dale. A. J. Cronin. Boston: Twayne, 1985. This book-length study of Cronin offers a full introduction to his life and works. After a discussion of his life as a doctor and his transition to that of a writer, examines each of Cronin’s novels and concludes with an assessment of his career. Supplemented by a chronology, notes, a comprehensive bibliography (listing primary as well as secondary sources with brief annotations), and an index.Salwak, Dale. A. J. Cronin: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. This annotated bibliography is an indispensable research tool for those interested in tracing the judgments passed on Cronin, the writer and the man, by his English and American readers from 1931 until his death in 1981. The annotations are descriptive, not evaluative, and are fully indexed, and the introduction traces the development of Cronin’s literary reputation.
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